Three divorces later, Susan finally discovered that she kept marrying the same type of abusive person over and over.
In the middle of an argument, Brian yelled and accidentally called his new girlfriend, “Mom.” Naturally, she ended the relationship.
Steve, who was shy, conservative, and introverted his whole life, married a flamboyant salesperson.
Why is there a strong attraction to a destructive partner? While there is no known origin of the saying, “Opposites attract,” the concept appears to be related to Coulomb’s Law of physics (1785). The electrical force between positive (+) and negative (-) is stronger the closer the two move towards each other. While this is true in nature, it can also be true in relationships. As two opposite people start to connect, the attraction to the other person might intensify because the other person might have a trait that one is lacking. This happened with Steve. The closer he became to his partner, the more he realized that his partner possessed the traits that he lacked and often wanted in himself.
But while opposites attract, so do dysfunctions. Some types of mental disorders naturally seem to be drawn towards others in a way that either compliments or repels the other. Another saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” helps explain how some people are naturally drawn to their own dysfunction. This is sometimes seen in narcissistic relationships where both parties lack empathy. Sometimes the best partner is someone else who lacks the same trait and therefore has no expectation of needing or providing empathy.
Yet another concept can be realized from British author and philosopher, James Allen (1909). “The soul attracts that which it secretly harbours, that which it loves, and also that which it fears.” This is perhaps the most precarious situation. The very thing a person might fear the most, they might have the strongest attraction towards. Susan experienced this in her marriages, she kept marrying abusive men. The consequences of this can be dangerous, frightening, and traumatizing for a person who has experienced severe abuse.
Understanding the natural attraction two people have for each other is an essential foundation for discovering a healthier alternative. Here are five common examples.
- Magnetic attraction. The closer two opposing magnets get to each other, the stronger the connection. This concept explains these three typical examples. While there are many more, these tend to be common attractions. The danger of magnetic attraction is that when there are too many differences, this increases arguments, frustration levels, and sometimes leads to elevated outbursts. These relationships tend to be marred in controversy and disagreements with little room for peace and acceptance.
- Introvert/extrovert: Introverts are drawn to those who are comfortable in social environments and can help to stabilize an otherwise anxious situation. Extroverts like the tranquility an introvert naturally possesses.
- Hyperactive/unhurried: Unhurried people tend to have moments when their brain is turned off which is a direct contrast to the constant over-thinking of most hyperactive people. In some way, each wants a piece of what the other does not naturally have.
- Sensitive/stoic: A sensitive person feels so deeply that it is a relief to be around a person who doesn’t. Stoic people tend to admire the intensity of the sensitive person.
- Like-finds-like attraction. This idea of “birds of a feather flock together,” manifests in relationships that are matched by two people with the same type of personality trait. Just like too much difference in personality results in arguments, too much of the same personality can have a similar effect. The danger of this relationship is “knowing each other so well,” that there is little need for communication resulting in assumptions about thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
- Passive-aggressive: No one understands a passive-aggressive person quite as well as another passive-aggressive person. This personality trait is marked by someone who feels an emotion such as anger but won’t directly express it. Instead, it comes out in forgetfulness or procrastination of a task that has been repeatedly requested. When both parties have this behavioral pattern, nothing is accomplished.
- OCD: A person with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) appreciates and values another person with similar behavior. The two tend to feed off each other and normalize their dysfunctional actions.
- Anxiety: Heightened bouts of anxiety and/or panic attacks are best understood by others who suffer from the same disorder. Those who don’t experience intense anxiety tend to minimize the situation and its’ affect. But anxiety breeding off anxiety tends to escalate not deescalate a situation.
- Matching dysfunction attraction. This list is a small sampling of common disorders that are naturally drawn towards each other in a cycle that perpetuates the continuation of each. Unfortunately, it also perpetuates and even highlights the dysfunction. The danger is that neither party sees their behavior as destructive and therefore settles for the unhealthy mental behaviors.
- Addicts/co-dependents: In order for an addict to thrive, they need someone who enables their addiction. Co-dependents get pleasure from rescuing others especially those who are typically forgotten or misunderstood by others. Addicts are happy to continue in their behavior as long as they can, even to their own detriment.
- Borderline/dependent: A person with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is well-matched with a person who has a dependent personality disorder (DPD). The BPD has an intense fear of abandonment which is a good match for the DPD who will not leave even a dysfunctional relationship.
- Aggression/suppression: The anger style of aggression likes to unleash on those who will not fight back, such as a person who suppresses their anger. Likewise, a suppressive person admires the aggressor’s ability to let go of their anger and not revisit it over and over. In a disagreement, the aggressor lashes out while the suppressor absorbs the anger.
- Parental attraction. Sigmund Freud believed that a person is often attracted to their opposite-sex parent in childhood. But weirdly enough some carry this subconscious attraction into their adult relationships. The danger with this attraction is that a person joins their parent and spouse together emotionally often treating their spouse more like a parent than a partner.
- Marry favorite parent: A person might enter into a relationship with another because of the strong similarities a mate possesses with the parent they most adore. While this might be favorable initially, sexual attraction often diminishes when the realization of the similarities becomes more conscious.
- Marry least favorite parent: By contrast, some enter into a relationship with a person very similar to the parent they least liked. This is a subconscious attempt to heal the broken relationship between the adult child and their parent.
- Reliving trauma attraction. Unfortunately, when trauma has not been dealt with properly, people often place themselves in similar places of vulnerability. The danger of this is the normalizing of dysfunctional behavior by marrying it again. Even worse is bringing children up in the dysfunction so it is again normalized for another generation.
- Abandonment: All too often a person marries another person similar to a parent or previous partner who abandoned them in the past. The second time of abandonment causes a person to question themselves instead of the type of person they married.
- Abusers/abused: This is most clearly demonstrated when a person finishes with one abusive relationship only to enter into another one. Until the reason for the tolerance of the abuse is addressed, a person will continue to repeat the abusive pattern.
- Addiction: Many children of alcoholics or substance abuse marry a partner who has the same or similar addiction. This adds to the initial trauma while repeating it for another generation.
- Childhood sexual abuse: Perhaps the saddest cases are when a person has experienced sexual abuse as a child and marries a sex addict or a sexual abuser. This is so damaging for the perpetual victim.
“Problems do not go away. They must be worked through or else they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit.” M. Scott Peck wrote in his book, “The Road Less Traveled,” which is the inspiration for this article. Healing from natural dysfunctional and dangerous attractions opens a person up to healthy functional relationships.