This is one of the questions that often inhabit lots of men’s and women’s minds, especially when something goes wrong again in a relationship. Theoretically, psychology offers different interpretations of the reasons why we often tend to – unconsciously – look for the same kind of partner, even if we are always left heartbroken and dumped.
The first one who comes to help is the founding father of psychanalysis: Sigmund Freud. He noticed how lots of people, neurotic and not, tried to recreate the necessary premises to relive events happened in their past. He defined this tendency “repetition compulsion” and said it was an unconscious disposition, which led people to put themselves into painful situations in order to repeat childhood experiences. In “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” Freud writes: “Thus one knows people with whom every human relationship ends in the same way: benefactors whose protégés (…) invariably after a time desert them in ill-will, so that they are apparently condemned to drain to the dregs all the bitterness of ingratitude; men with whom every friendship ends in the friend’s treachery; (…) lovers whose tender relationships with women each and all run through the same phases and come to the same end (…)” (cf. Freud, 1920)
The second fundamental theory which help us understand why we always get into complicated relationships is Bowlby’s attachment theory, which underlines the importance of a good mother-child relationship for the physical and psychological development of the child. According to Bowlby, if the child sees his mother as a “secure base”, as someone who makes him feel safe, he will explore his surroundings and he will bond with others without fear of suffering. In a couple dimension, if someone had a secure attachment with his mother as a child, he has probably interiorized a positive self-image, which will make him see himself as someone worthy of love, care and protection.
After Bowlby, lots of psychologists stated the existence of a link between attachment and intrapersonal relationships. One of the first was Mary Main, who found a big correlation between child attachment styles and adult attachment styles.
In “Attachment and love” Grazia Attili tries to explain what is behind the choice of a partner, also enlightening the existence of different ways of loving, which are often influenced by mother-child attachment. Anyway, it is important to remember that these theories do not predict our lives, they just can help us answering things we ask ourselves about our relationships. People have a clear idea of who they are, so they constantly – even though unconsciously – look for relationships that confirm their opinions about themselves and others. For example, someone who doesn’t believe to deserve love might look for unhealthy relationships to match his expectations, while someone who thinks to deserve it will probably look for a partner who responds positively to his needs. People act like this to keep a certain degree of internal coherence, to avoid crisis and confusion. Because of that, we often end up in the same situations over and over again – even though with different people – we try to be in a relationship with someone who will confirm and consolidate the opinion we have of ourselves.
In short, maybe, sometimes it would be better to be brave and put ourselves into new situations, instead of looking for confirmations of what we think to be. Maybe this could be a way to break the cycle of historical courses and resorts of our relationships’ sad destiny.
translated by Silvia Sanzò
Freud S., (1920), Al di là del principio di piacere, Mondadori, Milano.
Cocciolo L. Sala D., (1999), a cura di, Atlante della Psicoanalisi esplorare l’inconscio, Demetra, Verona.
Attili G., (2004), Attaccamento e Amore, il Mulino, Bologna.
Bowlby J., (1989), Una Base Sicura, applicazioni cliniche della teoria dell’attaccamento, Raffaello Cortina, Milano.
Blandino G., (2009), Psicologia come funzione della mente. Paradigmi psicodinamici per le professioni d’aiuto. Utet università, Torino.