Have you ever noticed that sometimes the sweetest people are drawn to the “bad guys”?
I’ll never forget meeting Kelly, early one morning on a summer day. Something about her sweet southern accent just made me like her, long before I knew anything about her.
She came to see me in hopes of working through her relationship difficulties with her boyfriend. She went on to describe her on again off again relationship with Andre.
Though he professed his undying love to her, his actions never quite seemed to follow suit. She had caught him in dishonesty, cheating and flirting with other women. She had been a victim to his anger, rage and neglect and constant criticism. They had been together for four years, but unfortunately, each passing day seemed to uncover more baggage and dysfunction.
No matter how much she loved Andre, he never seemed to fully love her back. But most of all, what she couldn’t understand is—why she could never let him go.
She loved him, more than she had ever loved anyone. And no matter how terrible he treated her, she just wanted to love him more. The thought of being alone was more terrifying than the thought of living with him—and through it all, she came to therapy in hopes of figuring out she could make their relationship better.
I get so many emails and questions from people wondering why so many of the good people are drawn into such bad relationships. What is it about neglect, arguments, drama and dishonesty that is so appealing? From the outside in, it seems like a no-brainer to say “no” to bad relationships and “yes” to good ones. But unfortunately, theory is so much easier than practice when it comes to this kind of relationship.
Let me explain a little more.
You Connect With Your Past
No matter who you are, there is a part of you that was made to connect with the things that trigger your past. Because our identities begin to take shape at such a young age, we will always be drawn to the nostalgic. Whenever I hear the sound of an ice-cream truck passing by, there is something spectacular about that noise that makes my heart leap. The same emotions I felt as a child are re-triggered, and I instantly connect with that memory. Certain TV shows, times of the year, holidays, scents and people trigger a reaction from my past whether or not I want them to.
But with all those good memories that shape our past, we are also made up of the opposite—painful memories, broken relationships and trying times. When we look back there will always be a spectrum of emotional memories rooted in the good, the bad and the ugly.
Just like the emotional trigger of the ice-cream truck brings me back to the roots of being a little girl, for many people, their negative emotional triggers serve the same purpose.
You’re Comfortable With What’s Familiar
For Kelly, her relationship with Andre reflected a series of interactions with a father that was distant, uninterested and unloving. A father who never cared to give her the time of day, no matter how hard she tried, how much she loved or how well she behaved. Something within her connected with Andre, because within the dynamics of their relationship she found a place that was familiar and a role that was comfortable.
Sometimes, it’s easier to connect with what is comfortable rather than what is healthy.
There are so many men and women out there, festering in the pain of a dysfunctional relationship because they have never found healing from the wounds of their past. Rather than working through the pain of their past—they unconsciously begin to replicate that pain through the relationships they choose to enter and the people they choose to engage with. And let me just put this out there: Christians are not exempt.
You Need to Face Your History
If you find yourself in a dating relationship in which you are giving so much more than you are receiving, maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at where you at and where you’ve come from.
What are the things that are keeping you in this place that you never imagined you would be? What are the beliefs you hold about yourself that cause you to believe that you don’t deserve any better than this? What is it about the chaos, the pain and the neglect that make you feel comfortable—and what will it take to finally let go and begin to heal?
Rather than run to relationships to mask the pain of our past, we need to begin working through that pain on our own. We need to bring our pain, our insecurities, our vulnerabilities and our self-worth out of the secret and into the light of God’s healing grace and mercy.
We need to come face to face with where we’ve come from in order to have any hope of moving forward into where we want to go.
For some, this will come with awareness, understanding, accountability and the healing power of time. But for others (specifically, but not limited to, those who have a abuse history—physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual) this may require some serious and committed work with the help of a professional counselor.
Your Relational Health Reflects Your Personal Health
The health of your relationship is a reflection of your personal health, because you will always attract the kind of person you believe you deserve.
So take a good hard look at your relationship history and ask yourself what that says about you. And then, take the steps to pursue change, healing and health.
Because at the end of the day, whether you believe it or not, there is a loving God who declares that by His grace you deserve that and so much more.
This article appeared in an earlier form at TrueLoveDates.com. Used here by permission. The names “Kelly” and “Andre” are pseudonyms.
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.