You’ve probably heard the famous quote by Albert Einstein that says, “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
Given that definition, plenty of singles might want to get a mental health check-up. Why? Because lots of men and women are attracted to potential partners they’re pretty sure are wrong for them—confirmed by a history of failed relationships—but convince themselves that “This time it’s going to be different!”
Sure, it could be … but probably not.
We see it all the time: otherwise sharp, insightful individuals who fall for someone who is clearly (that is, clearly to friends, family members, and other objective people) not the kind of person who will make for a long-term, well-matched, soul-mate-quality partner.
Why do people keep falling in love for all the wrong reasons? At the risk of oversimplifying a complex dynamic, consider four prevalent possibilities:
1. Inadequate self-understanding. People who find themselves in one unsuccessful relationship after another usually do not know themselves well. They haven’t done much introspection, reflection, and self-evaluation—and therefore, they aren’t clear about what kind of person would make a marvelous match. If you want to select a superb partner, the place to start is with a careful understanding of exactly who you are. The more you know about yourself, the clearer will be your sense of inner direction when it comes to finding the love of your life.
2. Enticed by externals. Our culture places such overwhelming emphasis on appearance that even the wisest among us forget that external beauty is not a reliable predictor of internal goodness. Yes, there are plenty of beautiful people who are also kind, caring, and unselfish. But a pervasive myth in our society asserts that those who have it all together on the outside must have it all together on the inside. Eye-catching men and women have just as many hang-ups as those considered average or below average.
3. A case of “compensating.” Lots of men and women try to compensate for some real or perceived personality deficiency by choosing a partner who has the qualities they lack. This is precisely why opposites attract. A shy girl is drawn to an outgoing, life-of-the-party type of guy. A slob finds a neatnik irresistible. A man from an uptight, rigid family falls madly in love with a free-spirited, flaky woman. But how do these matches usually turn out? In a word, badly. Qualities that are attractive or easily overlooked at the beginning of a relationship often prove difficult to live with in the long run. Differences often create early attraction, but similarities almost always sustain enduring and satisfying relationships.
4. Trying to re-do or resolve past hurts. Attraction is often fueled by unmet childhood needs, so we may seek a partner who will help us meet those needs. Speaking about couples in mismatched marriages, psychologist Harville Hendrix explains: “The part of your brain that directed your search for a mate was trying to re-create the conditions of your upbringing, in order to correct them. It was attempting to return to the scene of your original frustration so that you could resolve your unfinished business.”1 This is not always a bad thing, but looking for someone to fulfill unmeet needs can cause us to overlook other relationship qualities that are detrimental.
If you find yourself attracted to members of the opposite sex who are mismatched for you, take a close look at why this is. The more you understand the reasons for your attraction, the better prepared you’ll be to make an excellent choice in the future.
1. Harville Hendrix, Getting the Love You Want (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1988), p. 36.