Why do we get so attracted to relationships that aren’t good for us? In this episode you’ll discover the surprising reasons why. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to actually rewire your attractions so you can find a relationship that brings lasting joy. This episode touches upon some of the most important dating lessons of all.
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Episode Table of Contents
- Attraction At First Sight
- The Broken, Colored Glass
- Letting Go of the Wrong People to Find the Right Love
Why We Get Attracted To The Wrong People
Why do we get so attracted to the wrong people and to relationships that aren’t good for us? And how can we actually rewire that so we get truly attracted to relationships that can bring us lasting joy? Stay tuned to the Deeper Dating podcast to find out.
Hello, and welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page, and today we’re going to talk about why we keep getting attracted to people who aren’t good for us and how we can actually rewire that. Every week, I’m going to share the greatest tools I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing and heal your life in the process because the skills of looking for love are nothing more than the skills of intimacy, and the skills of intimacy are the greatest skills of all.
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Attraction At First Sight
This is how we’ve been taught to understand our attractions. You’re either attracted to somebody right now when you meet them or you will never be. An example, let’s call this person Anne. Anne was attracted to guys who were kind of arrogant, but she didn’t appreciate being treated disrespectfully by people, least of all by her boyfriend. But still, cocky guys turned her on in a really visceral way, and nice guys just didn’t.
She wanted a husband, she wanted a family, but the people she was attracted to just weren’t marriage material, and the ones who were marriage material didn’t excite her. I know that that was true for me for decades. I know that so many of you might be able to relate to that. And if you can, you are definitely not alone because all of us are attracted to certain types that can knock us off balance, maybe a physical type, an emotional type, a personality type.
Couples theory teaches us, particularly the work of Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, teach us that the people who make us absolutely nuts with desire, weak in the knees, we feel sick inside, we feel aching, we feel longing, we feel obsessive, the reason why, to some significant degree, is because unconsciously we recognize that they can hurt us in the same way that our primary caregivers, usually our parents, hurt us when we were younger.
Attractions of Deprivation
Our psyche wants to go back to the scene of the crime to finally get this person who’s a representation of our parents to love us correctly. That means that it’s like there’s a seed of knowing that there’s going to be rejection, unavailability, disappointment, or hurt, and we want to get that person unconsciously to finally love us right, to repair the damage that was created a long time ago. That’s a fascinating concept.
These iconic attractions that just make us weak in the knees also can trigger our insecurities as well as our longings.
These relationships, which I call attractions of deprivation, are so intense, they’re so scratch-the-itch, they’re so I-have-to-get-this-person-to-love-me, and we always end up in those relationships with the feeling like we have to do something to finally win our partner’s love, or approval, or care.
These are not great relationships and in most cases don’t work. But they grab at us. They clutch at us. Again and again we try to make them work. As a psychotherapist, as a coach, and as a teacher of this process, I think that the place where I see people getting stuck the most is exactly here, trying to get someone to love us right who doesn’t really love us right or isn’t available.
A dear friend of mine, Michael Clemente, who I’ve talked about in some podcasts already, he said after a relationship like that that went on for many years, “You know, Ken, I have finally figured out how to get blood from a stone. Here’s how – You take the stone and you hit yourself on the head with it again, and again, and again until you are so dazed and confused that you don’t know where the blood is coming from, the stone or you.”
Drawing Blood From a Stone
He said that’s what those kinds of relationships are like for him. That’s a powerful image. Many of us have spent a really long time trying to get blood from a stone. Often, we see the red flags pretty early on, but we just can’t stop ourselves. Sometimes the really upsetting aspects of the relationship just don’t reveal themselves right away, and then they hit us like a horrible surprise.
But soon enough, these kinds of negative qualities ultimately become obvious whether your partner’s lying, or cheating, or unavailable in times of need, or sexually not interested in you, or overly critical, or selfish, or, in worst cases, addicted to serious substances, or in the grip of a serious psychiatric disorder, or truly abusive.
So okay, if these relationships are so painful, why is it not easier for us to break free from them? There’s so much here, and we’re going to be talking about this in different ways at different times. But one thing I want to say about that is part of the reason is existential. It’s so deep. It’s like we begin, our wiring tells us, and usually our early wiring tells us …
This person holds salvation. Why? Because they hold the possibility of real love.
To let go of this person to our deep inner self, our kind of youngest self, means giving up on love. It means kind of accepting a loveless existence because this person has come to embody to our psyches love, the essence of love, real love. So to let go of them is to let go of love. Three cheers really for that incredibly, maybe not so mature, but powerful, fierce part of us that says, I ain’t letting go of love. I am not letting go of love.
The Broken, Colored Glass
That’s not a healthy part in a way. But in another way, it’s a healthy part. It’s like a young part. The image I give is like a little kid who’s holding a beautiful piece of colored glass that’s broken. It’s cutting into their hands, but then not going to let go of it because to them it represents beauty.
That’s what happens to us. And on some deep level, we feel like we’re letting go of love, and the possibility of love, and the hope of love if we let go of that person. So what do we do about that? How do we change that? Well, here’s an image of this. Let’s just picture a scale. There’s two sides to the scale. One side of the scale is loaded down with these early and later beliefs that this person represents love and to lose them is to lose love because there is love there.
And in some real way, losing them is losing love because there’s real love there. There’s a lot of weight in that side of the scale. The other side of the scale needs to get filled with its own weight. What is that weight? Friends who remind us that this person is not good for us. Friends who remind us of people who were good for us. Friends who remind us that there is hope of finding real love.
That as long as we stay romantically obsessed to this bad relationship, we’re not going to be available for that. Let’s just back up a bit into something that comes from behavioral theory. These, what I call attractions of deprivation, are what behavioral theorists call intermittent reward systems.
Intermittent Reward System
Intermittent reward systems, actually, interestingly, are some of the absolutely most compelling forms of behavioral reinforcement that exist, and they’re are among the hardest to break free from. What’s an intermittent reward system? In an intermittent reward system, you don’t know when your reward is going to come. And you do get rewarded, but you only get rewarded sporadically.
You cannot control this person and get them to fully love you. You get these doses, these shots of intimacy, or love, or appreciation, and they turn you on so much, and they’re so exciting, and so wonderful, and so soothing, and you’re waiting for the real love to come, but it doesn’t. It never becomes consistent. But we don’t want to leave because we don’t want to lose our place in line.
We don’t want to miss the time when the reward is going to be coming at any given point. And we keep hoping that the reward will finally get more steady. These are intermittent reward systems, and they’re wildly hard to break free from. Back to this scale image. We need to load down the side that reminds us that this is not where love lies, that there’s another place where love lies.
That’s what I call attractions of inspiration, relationships with people who are kind, who are generous, who are honest, who have curated a good life for themselves, and who as time goes on we see are truly available and consistent. Not perfectly consistent, because we’re all human, not perfectly available, because we’re all human, but essentially so.
The Best Antidote
When we find a relationship like that with someone we’re attracted to, when we find a relationship like that with someone who has an innate goodness, an innate generosity, our hearts burst with happiness and we feel like this could be home. That’s what we want to experience. A therapist of mine said something that was so wise. She would say that …
The best antidote to an old hypnosis is through a current relationship with healing reality.
We’ve got this old hypnosis that we’re going to find love in these relationships with people who don’t really get us and can’t really love us. That’s a hypnosis. The true insight, the antidote for that is to be with people who represent real, consistent love and get reminded of that. That might be a therapist. That might be our friends. But we need to weigh down the other side of the scale with things that remind us of the antidote.
And the antidote is consistent love and people who remind us that, yes, we can find that in our dating life so that we can kind of painfully with great difficultly wean ourselves away from this relationship that’s giving us crumbs. And baby, it ain’t easy, but the reward is vast. Because when we truly make an existential decision to say no to those relationships, new doors start opening up. I’ve seen that in my life. I’ve seen it in the lives of countless people that I’ve worked with.
Letting Go of the Wrong People to Find the Right Love
Here’s a whole other really, really fascinating dynamic about these attractions of deprivation. Actually, when we get attracted to the wrong people, to someone who’s not really available or good for us, that’s one of the trickiest ways that our psyche creates to actually flee love. It looks like we’re seeking love, but we’re fleeing love. In those relationships, our fear of intimacy is actually hiding in plain sight.
We’re desperately seeking solid love from somebody who we know deep down won’t give it to us.
In an attraction of deprivation, in some weird way, we’re actually safe. Because even though we can have our hearts rip to shreds, stomped on, tortured, cut to pieces, on some level we’ve always known we’re not at risk. On some level we’ve known that this person somehow is not the kind of person we can ever truly trust. I have found that most people who are really drawn to attractions of deprivation, which was me for decades, those people feel least comfortable with available and caring people.
We may feel bored with those people, people who are really caring and available. We may look down on them a little because we feel like they’re so available. There’s got to be something wrong there. They’re not as valuable because they’re so easily available. It’s a development of an entirely new taste in sexual and romantic attraction.
So much of what I have done in my decades of working with people is helping people consciously build that new taste for what I call attractions of inspiration. It’s a task. It’s a job. It’s a glorious job to develop a taste for people who are going to give us lasting joy.
Attractions of Deprivation vs Attractions of Inspiration
Another piece here is that attractions of deprivation are often birthed of our fear of our own power and our fear of love. That’s really true.
Because when we’re with someone who’s truly available, we can be our full selves.
It’s in those relationships that we could do that scary thing of unfolding our wings and standing in our power, our uniqueness, our differentness, our creativity, our bravery. We can’t do that with attractions of deprivation because we’re too busy trying to get them to like us. With someone who’s available and present, we can do the most terrifying thing, which is spreading our beautiful wings. At bottom, attractions of deprivation are distractions from the scariest thing of all, the challenge of living the gifts in our lives. When we’re with someone who’s really available, then we have to face that challenge.
The great secret, I believe, the single number one, absolute, greatest secret to finding lasting love lies in learning the difference between your attractions of deprivation and your attractions of inspiration, and then making this bold choice to only, only follow your attractions of inspiration. It sounds really simple, but it takes decades for most of us to arrive at that truth, if we ever do. It’s a gutsy, gutsy choice, and my hope and my prayer for each of you is that you make that choice.
Recognizing attractions of inspiration actually takes time, it takes patience, and it takes attention. In those relationships, our challenge is to actually receive our partner’s caring, not to win it over and over. These attractions actually unfold differently, like the waves of traction, the kind of wavelengths of attraction in an attraction of inspiration are a little bit slower. They take more time. They’re more like a step-by-step thing.
We have moments where we’re just touched and moved by someone’s goodness, and then it kind of blends and mixes with sexual turn-on. That’s the most amazing experience, but it’s a little bit slower, and our fear often gets involved. It’s not always slower, but it’s often slower. Whereas the wavelengths of attraction in attraction of deprivation are like VOOM, way high up automatically, instantly, and then a crashed down of pain when the person is unavailable. VOOM, all the way up when we get rewarded again and again.
We need to learn to appreciate these wavelengths that are a little bit slower. I’ve talked about this before, but here are some markers so that you can identify your attractions of inspiration. And if you go out into the world saying, “This is what I want,” I promise you, if you’re someone that has had this history, the kind of history I’ve had and many people have had, I promise you making this change will change your future, your life, and your world.
So here are some of the questions you can ask as you date. Are you inspired by this person’s consistent caring and acceptance? Mostly consistent, because like I said, we’re all human. Are you inspired by this person’s goodness, by their decency, and their integrity? Is your love actually fueled by respect for the kind of person your partner is?
Are you and this person willing to do the hard work of healing the stuff that needs healing and talking about the stuff that needs talking about? And do you like who you become in the presence of your partner? Does he, or she, or they make you a better you?
The Path to Your Own Greatness
So finally, what I want to say is that relationships of inspiration are not just for lucky people. They’re for people who make the choices I’m describing here. Really, all of us can find these kinds of relationships by dating in wiser ways. When we do, we literally change our field.
The first step is to look for inspiration at least as much as you’re looking for sexual attraction. These relationships are not just your path to love, they’re your path to your own greatness. Through these relationships, you can find a way past the fears and the wounds that have made you smaller.
You’ll experience your partner seeing into your very core and loving what they see. With that comes a sense of bravery and an innate desire to share our gifts in all areas of our lives, not just out of obligation but out of this sense of joyful, brave, overflow. That makes us into just the kind of person we’re looking for, someone who inspires other people simply by being who they are.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Deeper Dating Podcast. I will see you next week. And again, if you could leave a review on Apple Podcast or elsewhere, I would so appreciate it. Thank you all.