Why Do We Choose Partners Who Trigger Past Wounds?

Have you ever noticed how you (or a close friend or loved one) always seem to choose the same type of partner over and over again? Maybe you have a sibling who always ends up with someone who is controlling or constantly checking in on them. Maybe you have a friend whose relationships always end because of their partner cheating on them.

While it’s not strictly impossible that this recurring partner type is simply bad taste in significant others, there is far more likely an underlying reason for this unconscious preference. We’ve all heard that everyone has a “type” when it comes to dating, but many of us don’t realize all of the factors that go into creating that “type” and what factors we look for in a potential partner because of it. 

Today we’re going to explore some of the most common reasons why many of us keep choosing partners who very closely resemble our previous partners (and typically trigger our past wounds). 

Why Do We Choose Those Who Trigger Us?

Okay, in reality, there are tons of reasons why you (or someone else) may seem to constantly pick the worst possible partner time after time and “never learn” from their past. And, more often than not, these choices are subconscious and come from a desire to recreate our past experiences — often in the hopes of reaching a different outcome or “righting” a past wrong.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into three of the most well-established reasons why many of us find ourselves in a cycle of re-triggering old wounds with each new partner.

1. Attachment Style

The first reason why many of us choose partners who trigger us is because of something called an “attachment style.” The concept of an attachment style is quite straightforward. Essentially, all this term refers to is how a person forms emotional attachments. According to attachment theorists, everyone is characterized by one of four attachment styles — secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized — based on the discoveries of a famous study called the Strange Situation

We won’t dive into all the details of the study here, but the general idea of the study was to observe the attachment security of children in a child-caregiver relationship. In the study, the reaction of the child was monitored as they were separated and reunited with their caregiver as well as introduced to a stranger. This study resulted in the four types of attachment styles mentioned above.

A secure attachment style would mean that the child showed displeasure when their parent left and showed relief when they returned. This suggests that the child is used to their caregiver attending to their needs and giving them what they need, emotionally and physically — hence the displeased response when their caregiver leaves the space. The other three attachment styles are all considered insecure attachments, but each is characterized by a different reaction (or lack thereof) when a child is separated and reunited with their caregiver. For example, an avoidant attachment would be characterized by little to no reaction to their mother’s arrival or departure. This would signify that the child is accustomed to not relying on their parents to fulfill their needs and therefore show less dependence on them. 

Now, you may be wondering, what does someone’s caregiver-child attachment style have to do with your attachment style when it comes to choosing a romantic partner? The simple answer to this question is that the caregiver-child relationship is the first and often most influential relationship for us as humans. Because of this, it is no surprise that the type of attachment we had with our parents as a child would influence what we look for in a relationship in the future. For many of us, this influence is completely subconscious, and if we do not know to look for it, we may never notice it.

2. Transference

The next possible reason why you may constantly find yourself attracted to the same type of person is because of a concept called transference. Transference is the tendency we feel (again, often subconsciously) to seek out what is familiar to us. In a romantic or relationship setting, this typically arises as being consistently attracted to individuals who remind us of past partners or other relationships in our lives.

Typically, when we are in a familiar setting, situation, or even relationship, we feel more comfortable. We know what to expect because we have experienced it before. However, if you had an unhealthy or challenging relationship with your parents as a child or with lovers in the past, constantly — even if subconsciously) re-creating this type of relationship can be very harmful.

3. “Mirror” Concept

The final reason we’ll touch on here of why you may find yourself always choosing partners who trigger your past hurts is commonly known as the “mirror” concept. This mental framework posits that what we look for in others is a reflection of what we feel about ourselves or the challenges or issues we feel are unresolved from a previous relationship (or relationships). In essence, this concept helps bring reasoning as to why we always seem to attract individuals who amplify our feelings about ourselves — whether good or bad. 

So, for example, if you are someone who feels insecure about yourself or unworthy of a loving and supportive relationship and you find those feelings more pronounced when you are with your partner (or when you were with a previous partner), the mirror concept may be a good way to conceptualize why you keep finding yourself in these relationships.

How to Overcome this Cycle

Now that we’ve looked into a few reasons why you may find yourself in a cycle of constantly opening up old wounds in your new relationships, you may wonder what you can do to break this cycle and find someone outside of your current “type.” 

Realistically, the best way for you to overcome this cycle will depend on why you are in it. This said, there are a few tips we’ll explore here that can help you overcome this cycle of re-triggering old issues as you move forward in your life.

Recognize the Pattern and Connect the Dots

The first step in overcoming anything is recognizing it. After all, you can’t work to make changes and improve anything if you haven’t found out what is going on. So, the best thing you can do to begin breaking that cycle is to notice what your patterns are. 

Once you find the patterns, it is time to play a little game of connecting the dots to see if you can determine where each of those patterns stems from. Maybe it is a past relationship, or maybe you notice that you’ve never had any other experience, and you are simply trying to recreate what is familiar to you. No matter what your pattern is, determining where it comes from is the key to knowing what you need to work through to really break that cycle and move forward in your relationships.

Look for Individuals with a Secure Attachment Style

If you have an insecure attachment style, one of the best things you can do to break the cycle of triggering partners is to look for someone who has a secure attachment style. These individuals are more likely to help you identify where your hangups are as well as set a good example for how you can address these issues in a healthy way.

Work Through Your Past Experiences

As mentioned earlier, for many of us, the “type” we find ourselves drawn to time and time again is based on what we have had or experienced in the past. Now, this can be both a good and a bad thing, but when it comes to breaking a long-running cycle of unhealthy or unhappy relationships, it is often a bit more of a bad thing than a good thing. Luckily, because our choices in partners are quite often very heavily influenced by our subconscious mind, as we begin to bring these thoughts, patterns, and ideas to the forefront of our mind, we can better assess and identify where our hangups are.

Now, many times it can be hard to identify patterns and discern what issues your subconscious mind is constantly trying to resolve by constantly putting you in the same situation over and over again. This is where working with a therapist or counselor can really help because, as a third-party observer, they are able to more objectively identify where you are struggling. Additionally, as trained mental health professionals, therapists can help you discover the right strategies and techniques you need to overcome the underlying issues you are facing — which is instrumental in helping you break this constantly triggering cycle.

So, if you have been struggling with always feeling as if you are triggering old wounds every time you start a new relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out to Love Heal Grow today. Get in touch with one of our therapists who can help you not only discover what is keeping you within this painful cycle, but also help teach you the tools and strategies you need to finally break free and find the type of partner you are truly looking for in your life.


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