How to Stop Making the Wrong Relationship Choices

Relationship AdviceInitial chemistry is the spark that fuels a relationship, but that spark doesn’t always ignite for all the right reasons. Attraction is, to many of us, a mystery. How is it that qualities that led us to a person in the first place, can later repel us so strongly and lead to problems down the line? How does that cool confidence that once made us swoon turn into the soul crushing aloofness that distances us from a loved one? How does that first adorable hint of jealousy snowball into full-blown insecurity and dependence?

In my previous blog, “Why You Keep Winding Up in the Same Relationship” I explored this mystery, addressing why we often repeatedly choose similar partners and end up in the same unsatisfying or unsuccessful unions. How are we supposed to know when our attractions should be warning signs? What qualities should we steer away from when we don’t even know a person yet? Here I want to address some of these questions and propose a way out of the patterns that lead us to choose the wrong partners so that we can establish relationships with the right ones.

Identify Your Pattern

We don’t always fall for someone simply because their positive qualities compliment our own but also because their negative traits fit ours so well. Therefore, the first thing to do when entering into a relationship (or improving one, for that matter) is to take a look at yourself and at the history of your relationships. What are the qualities that you typically look for in a partner? Are there certain negative qualities that always seem to show up and eventually drive you crazy? Do you have a pattern of choosing a person with specific traits, only to end up dissatisfied with them? Do your relationships seem to always break up for the same reasons?

Once you recognize a pattern, you have something that you can work with. By figuring out how you go about ending up with the same objectionable partner in every relationship, you will know what to do to break this cycle. With each choice you make and action you take in a relationship, it’s important to have a good sense of what is operating within you that’s motivating your behavior.

Take Chances

When it comes to love, it is advisable to not only go into it with your heart; but to go into it with your head. That way, instead of automatically selecting the same type of person for the same negative traits, you can try selecting a partner who is entirely different. For instance, if you grew up feeling invisible or ignored, you may avoid someone who shows a real interest in you. Instead, you may feel more attracted to someone who is distant or withholding of affection.

You can consciously decide to be open to the possibility of being with someone who is different from the people you typically choose, for example, someone who expresses a strong attraction to you. This change will most likely cause you to feel somewhat ambivalent. However, because you have identified your pattern, you can be aware of the negative factors influencing your decision. Perhaps your disinterest in this person may be largely motivated by the very interest that he/she is showing in you.

When you consciously choose to break a pattern, you can establish a better relationship with a better, albeit unfamiliar, outcome. If you hang in there, and give this out-of-the-ordinary person a chance, you can become accustomed to this out-of-the-ordinary relationship. Yours could be one of those stories of friends who fall in love or unlikely seeming couples who live happily together.

If you are in a relationship, and you recognize that it is heading toward the same negative outcome as past relationships, you can stop the momentum and avoid another tragic ending. You and your partner are most likely collaborating in creating the negative dynamics in your relationship. Not only is he/she the same kind of person you always end up with, it is most likely that you are the same kind of person he/she ends up with, too. Even though there are real qualities we love and admire in the people we choose to become romantically involved with, we must consider that each of us is also making sure that the negative baggage we each carry fits nicely into one another’s undeveloped emotional compartments.

Talk with your partner about how your patterns of relating fit together and about how you may be playing out dynamics from your pasts with each other. As you discuss how they play out in your relationship, you will each have ideas of behaviors you can challenge and recognize that your relationship is not doomed. Remember that, in any relationship, you are going to face your own limitations as well as those of another human being. The better you know yourself and your partner knows him/herself, the stronger you will both be in dealing with these limitations. You can both evolve and grow in the relationship. As you each challenge yourselves and give up your old negative identities, you will discover new aspects of yourself and of your partner.

Listen to Your Friends

A helpful way of determining whether a strong attraction or a lack of interest is based on your true state of mind or elements of your past is to trust your friends. They tend to be much more objective about you. A friend of mine turned down her now-boyfriend for a full year because, according to her, he just wasn’t her type. When her friends met him, they were struck by what a nice guy he was and by how much he liked her. They encouraged her to be more open-minded and give him a chance. She decided to trust their advice, and accepted a date with him. This move turned out to be the biggest hurdle in her relationship; from there she went on to develop a relationship that was meaningful and loving.

Don’t Listen to Your Inner Coach

You can stop paying attention to the inner coach that predicts a negative outcome for your relationship, and promotes a negative view of you and your partner. You can ignore it when it is critical of you and when it distorts and exaggerates any of your partner’s shortcomings. This negative way of thinking, or “critical inner voice,” directs us to recreate the emotional environment we grew up in. If, as children, we were neglected, it warns us that we are going to be rejected. If we were intruded on, it tells us that a loved one is demanding of us. In almost no area is this coach as loud or tough on us than in our intimate relationships.

Think of your inner coach as an old dialogue that was scripted in your past and plays out in your current life. The goal of this voice is maintain a comfortable and familiar, yet highly negative view of yourself and your partner. Even when you’re with a partner you like, your inner critic operates to push them away, a topic I covered in the blog, “It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Truth Behind the Excuse.” By challenging your inner coach, you can maintain an objective and compassionate view of you and your partner.

One friend of mine tends to choose men who are financially unstable and literally need to be supported. At one point she told me, “I’ve never been with a man who paid his taxes!” She describes herself as a “Daddy’s Girl” who idealized her father. Her father instilled in her the importance of working and taking care of herself, despite the fact that he went bankrupt several times and even served time in jail for tax evasion. To break her pattern of choosing financially dependent men, my friend began dating someone who had a successful career, and was kind and generous to her.

She was enjoying their relationship, but at times she found herself having intensely critical thoughts. “What are you doing with this creep? He’s doting on you now but what good are you to him? He’ll probably get tired of you and leave you.” Her inner critic ridiculed her relationship and tore her boyfriend down. Fortunately, she used her friends as a sounding board and listened when they told her that her attacks on herself and criticisms of her boyfriend were ridiculous. She chose to ignore her inner critic and took advantage of the opportunity to develop a relationship that is characterized by mutual respect, appreciation and love for one another.

Hang In There

Change takes work and time, so be patient and hang in there. Personal change also benefits from support. There is so much to sort through in trying to understand the dynamics in a relationship. First there is what each person is bringing to the union, and then there is what is at play between them as a couple. That is why therapy is helpful for people who are challenging themselves and wanting to create better relationships.

It is possible to achieve this goal on your own but it is advisable to accept all the help you can get from friends and family members as well as from a therapist. Giving up on being able to have a close relationship is a terrible solution; it guarantees that you will never get what you want. You are siding with a critical inner voice that you don’t deserve anything or you don’t need anyone in your life. Aligning yourself with this cynical self-protective process is a form of self-denial that limits your life. It is better to love and get hurt than to never love at all. When you hang in there and challenge your pattern of negative relationships, you will be rewarded by getting to know yourself and your partner in a new way, in the context of a loving and meaningful relationship.

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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Raymond Bork

This article is insightful and very well written.

The only part I was unsure about was, ‘listen to your friends’.
In my experience advice from friends was usually devoid of clear headed thinking, with my best interests at heart.

Maybe I moved in the wrong social circles!

Nancy L

This was VERY helpful to me!!
I created a “relationship spreadsheet” (my therapist loves me) to highlight my patterns, good & bad. It was even color coded.

My issue was incredibly similar to the friend with financially unstable men. My parents never spoke of marriage & family when it came to my future, only education, career, & self-sufficiency. I was uncomfortable with being “taken care of”. I saw it as a weakness. As well as being irresponsible & needy, I noticed that all my exes were hilariously funny. Turns out it was likely a facade to hide real & self-imposed insecurities & inadequacies.

With my current relationship, I took the advice above & took a chance with someone who initially appeared very stoic & unreadable. He has very similar interests & is on a similar path in terms of spiritual, intellectual, & psychological growth; but most of all HE HAS HIS SHIT TOGETHER!!!

The risk paid off! The more time we spend together sharing ourselves, the more he is opening up to be very expressive & wickedly funny. He even looks different to me. Although I am still working through my discomfort with having a man take care of me, he understands where I am coming from & is going easy with it.

I can’t thank you enough for the insight & advice!!

Toni Wilson

Thanks so very much for the self help, Dr. Firestone . I don’t feel so lonely anymore . All this has given me the self help I needed to move foreward from an a breakup that ocurred last year with an ex-hubby that reminded me of my unloving mother & father that left emotional scars to my soul . Toni


It has gotten very hard for me to remain open to meeting a new man after my last relationship ended. I am a woman in my mid fifties and have never been married. I have had many boyfriends and thought for sure this last one would result in the marriage I had long awaited. I have come to the point where I rarely go out and expect people to see me as too old, which I never did before. Most of my friends have given up and that last boyfriend left me so shell shocked I can hardly imagine “stepping out” again. This is very unusual for me as normally I am a very happy an extroverted person. I actually feel as if I am past my prime dating days and it is not likely thatI will meet a new man. I know that sounds pathetic and I have never felt this way before in my life. I want a man very badly, but not just any man. I have always been particular and do not want to be with a man that man that is really unsuitable for me.i know what you mean about the “inner critics” because it comes at me from every direction, not just from within. Family and friends give me no confidence thatI will meet anyone. Even though I am beautiful and take very good care of myself and am a loving partner, I feel I will not meet anyone suitable at this point in my life. I am lonely and I never thought I would say this but I am practically resigned to it at this point.

The Real Answer

Hi Mary, i have the same problem like you do. I can’t meet a good woman to share my life with after i was married at one time before she cheated on me, and this certainly makes me very upset. I was a very good husband that was very caring and loving, and i was very committed to her as well. Now going out all over again is very sad for many of us men that really hate it, and wasting so much time, money, gas, and ware and tare on my car doesn’t help either. I really do feel that God is punishing me too for some reason, which i certainly don’t know why. And to look at so many other men and women that were very extremely fortunate to have met each one another with a family, makes it worse for us. I certainly don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life, and hopefully both our luck will change real soon. Best of luck. John.


God does not punish people to teach them lessons. (James 1:13). Instead of blaming him, blame the temporary world ruler (1John 5:19). Care and love coming soon.


hi just read your story. i too feel the same ways. beautiful and lonely after just breaking up with the wrong guy. i always go very the pretty bad boys.
how ya doing now?

The strange, Stranger.

Well I do not have much experience in the way of real life relationships, I been dating this one guy for a while online argued allot but we always got back on track, tell now that is.. we decided to go our separate ways when it came to being partners, but we staid friends.. now reading all of this an your past post.. I am kinda laughing on how true this all is.

for my ex he remained friends with allot of his exes, an after reading this i compared myself to them, an seen we all are allot alike, an he is like allot of my other relationships at the tail end of ours anyways.. at first we were each others world but then he started avoid me, i seem to find people who just wanna use me an in the end drop me on the side of the road, lol i need to ask someone about that.

I had a very negative childhood, with loads of baggage im sure im the cause in many of our arguments, it dont help he is autistic, but i guess im also defensive..

we say

I find or may be they find me…. women with money problems. mostly they have been impregnated with one or more children then abandoned. so they have money issues and quite often narcistic.


I’m financially unstable. Reading the part where a financially unstable guy was a creep was a little demoralizing. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I never want to be a burden to anyone, so I try to do what I can, but anxiety and OCD can often be crippling. I’ve never depended on a girlfriend financially, but I’ve had to depend on help from others, which I’m embarrassed to admit. I’m kind of caught in this mindset where I feel I should be punished for being a loser, like I deserve to be lonely, but I know that’s not healthy thinking.


Read it again. The guy who was the creep was the financially STABLE guy because she was used to guys who were NOT financially stable. Easy there. On yourself. 🙂


I googled information !!
My question was,why do I always pick horrible partners for relationships??
I guess because, I just dont feel good about myself in many ways.Although,I know im a good man,and have m!ny good healthy habbits.
After reading this post ,I never took chances to look for a better partner,if she liked me? I liked her.
I married at 48,first time,I divorced at 50.
Today im trying to convince myself,I have nothing to offer a good woman.THATS MY PATTERN!!!
I have always settled,even when i knew it was not good.But i thought buy trying,And doing my very best,they would see,and do theirs.
What ah bust!!!


My ex left our marriage after 27 yrs. He had been cheating for quite some time. I’ve been listening to my critical inner voice for so long. I appreciate you giving me a lot to think about and talk about with my therapist.

Mike Telling The Truth

Well now that most women are very high maintenance, independent, since they really don’t need a man anyway, gold diggers, since they love sleeping around with much older men with very big bank accounts, very selfish, greedy, spoiled, picky, narcissists, think they’re all that, and so much more can be added to that list as well. These are very excellent reasons why so many of us single men can’t meet a woman to accept us for who we really are, now that their greed and selfishness is everywhere today.


It’s unfortunate that these are the types of women you attract. Perhaps read the article again and come up with a plan for attracting women with a set of traits that’s compatible with a healthy relationship. Best of luck to you.


am in a relationship with a very nice guy which i love so much but I feel like he doesn’t love me anymore i found him sleeping with the other women that was bad for me in a very same bed that e are using please help do you i can continue with relationship


Wouldnt it be lovely to meet an intelligent man who respects u as a person and likes to communicate. All my relationships went wrong because 1. They were only interested in sex booze and football and 2. They found me boring. I am like a magnet to that type of man, don’t know why.

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