When it comes to dating, we often find ourselves drawn to a specific “type” that aligns with our preconceived preferences. Sometimes, this type is something we’re consciously aware of, and it works for us. Sometimes, we consciously know it’s not working for us, but it’s still kind of exciting, so we keep doing it. And sometimes, this type is so subconscious that we can’t even decipher whether we’re in a repetitive pattern, falling into dating the same type of person again when it isn’t working for us.
In this article, we will discuss how people develop a type, how it connects to our early childhood, and how to bring more intention and consciousness into your dating. The goal is to date intentionally and mindfully, avoiding the re-creation of old patterns and breaking the cycle of finding the same type over and over again. We will provide specific tips to help you break these subconscious patterns.
The Repetition Compulsion in Dating
In matters of the heart, we’re often guided by our core beliefs, which psychologists refer to as schemas. These deeply ingrained beliefs take root in early childhood and have a profound impact on our attachment styles, influencing how we connect with others and select our partners. As a psychotherapist, I’m consistently struck by how certain clients repeatedly find themselves in relationships with the same type of partner, and this enduring pattern is undeniably powerful.
It’s important to understand that we all operate under a repetition compulsion, constantly seeking individuals who remind us of those early childhood figures, as we aim to create fresh emotional experiences that can repair unmet needs from our formative years. This phenomenon is referred to as “schema chemistry” when we find ourselves drawn to individuals who resemble our parents but ultimately fail to fulfill those unmet childhood needs.
Schema Chemistry in Relationships
Schema chemistry, the attraction to individuals resembling our parents but unable to fulfill our unmet childhood needs, is very common in dating. It’s a reflection of our inner desire to address those lingering emotional gaps from our formative years.
For instance, if someone has an abandonment schema and believes they will be abandoned in relationships, they might be attracted to individuals with a subjugation schema, who fear being engulfed in relationships. Another example is someone with a self-sacrifice schema, who believes others’ needs are more important, getting involved with a partner with an entitlement schema, prioritizing their own needs or if someone with a failure schema continues to become attracted to partners who have a perfectionism schema and are highly critical.
These scenarios illustrate schema chemistry, where we tend to choose partners who remind us of early childhood interactions with caregivers and attachment figures. We gravitate towards these partners because it feels safe and familiar. It’s part of our repetition compulsion, as we deeply desire to heal these early wounds and create emotionally restorative experiences.
Attachment Chemistry in Relationships
Attachment chemistry is similar, involving an attachment style or dynamic from early childhood that we continue to seek in our partners. An example is the chemistry between someone with an avoidant attachment style and someone with an anxious ambivalent attachment style.
These individuals are drawn to each other because they reinforce and maintain each others’ core beliefs (schemas). The person with an avoidant attachment style fears engulfment, while the one with an anxious ambivalent attachment style fears rejection and abandonment. Consequently, these complementary attachment styles create strong chemistry by reinforcing each other’s core beliefs.
We tend to be attracted to individuals who maintain our core beliefs because they feel familiar, often replicating our childhood dynamics. Despite knowing that this pattern might lead to hurt in the long run or harboring a sense of impending dread, it somehow feels safer.
On a subconscious level, we continue to repeat this pattern, even though it’s not beneficial for us in the long term. Breaking this deep, subconscious attraction can be challenging. However, achieving this transformation requires a conscious effort to move in that direction. To break free from this cycle, we must broaden our dating horizons, casting a wider net to connect with people who differ from our repetition compulsion.
Schema maintenance occurs when we find ourselves stuck in repetitive dating situations, where our core beliefs and fears persistently shape each new interaction. This happens because creating a self-fulfilling prophecy can feel secure and predictable. It’s what we’re familiar with, like the devil we know.
Schema maintenance can manifest in two distinct ways:
As explained above, this occurs when individuals are drawn to someone with opposing schemas, reinforcing their core beliefs and deepest fears, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, schema reinforcement involves behaviors triggered by one’s schemas, often leading to specific responses. Schema-reinforcing behaviors are actions or habits that align with and perpetuate one’s existing cognitive schemas or core beliefs.
These behaviors serve to confirm and strengthen the individual’s preconceived notions about themselves, others, or the world. For example, if someone holds a core belief that they are unlovable, they may engage in behaviors such as avoiding close relationships or pushing people away, which reinforce their belief of being unlovable. These behaviors maintain the maladaptive schema and make it difficult to challenge or change these deeply ingrained beliefs.
Another example is, if someone with an abandonment schema responds to their partner’s request for a timeout with schema-reinforcing behaviors like attacking, guilt-tripping, threatening, or clinging, they inadvertently invite the very behavior they fear. Even someone without opposing schemas may respond similarly.
Identifying and reducing schema-reinforcing behaviors is a crucial step in therapy to work towards modifying and adapting these relationship patterns. As long as individuals engage in these schema-driven behaviors, they may perpetuate these patterns in various relationships, regardless of their partners’ schemas or attachment styles. This underscores the importance of clarifying your schemas and attachment styles to cultivate secure behaviors in dating and relationships, breaking free from repetitive cycles and creating healthier connections.
Recognizing Schema Maintenance in Relationships
If you’re in a pattern of getting into schema maintaining relationships, you must be able to distinguish between schema chemistry and schema-reinforcing behaviors in dating. You need to decipher whether you’re attracted to a particular “type” of partner that perpetuates your existing schemas or if you’re engaging in behaviors that maintain those schemas. Understanding this distinction is both challenging and necessary for creating secure dating patterns.
When we consistently gravitate towards partners who mirror our existing negative beliefs, we risk perpetuating unhealthy relationship dynamics. On the other hand, schema-reinforcing behaviors like self-sabotage or avoidance can hinder our chances of building fulfilling connections. By deciphering these patterns and adjusting our behaviors accordingly, we empower ourselves to break free from these cycles and develop healthier, more secure dating habits.
Breaking Relational Patterns in Dating
Schemas can unconsciously influence our choices in modern dating. When individuals maintain and engage in schema-reinforcing behaviors, they may gravitate towards ambiguous or toxic dating dynamics, such as “situationships” or “delusionips.” Without clarity on personal values and desires, individuals risk repeating conditioned patterns, leading to unhealthy relationships.
One compelling reason to venture beyond your usual dating preferences is the potential to find more compatible partners. As we recognize unhelpful repetitive patterns, we can begin to see the limitations. Expanding our dating pool offers the opportunity to connect with individuals who can provide new and diverse emotional experiences.
Extending our dating criteria opens up opportunities for us to enter into relationships where our unmet needs from childhood can finally be fulfilled. These relationships have the potential to provide us with the emotional support and experiences that we may have lacked during our formative years.
Tips for Breaking the Repetition Cycle
To break free from the repetition compulsion, it’s vital to cast a wider net in our dating journey. By doing so, we open ourselves up to individuals who may not fit the mold of our early caregivers but can provide unique and fulfilling connections. This expansion allows us to move beyond the limitations of our past experiences and embark on relationships that nurture our growth.
If you’re determined to break your dating patterns and steer clear of your usual type, consider making a commitment to try out these guidelines that can assist you in transforming your dating and relationship habits:
1. Extend Your Dating Timeline
Challenge yourself to go on at least five to ten dates with each person before deciding to call it quits. Even if initial attraction seems lacking, continue to get to know them over these dates. Research suggests that proximity is a significant factor in forming partnerships. The longer you spend time with someone, the more comfortable you become, and feelings can develop. In today’s world of online dating, this approach can counter the distortion caused by a swipe-and-match culture.
2. Identify Your Schemas
Recognizing your schemas can be a real eye-opener. It not only sheds light on your attachment styles and dating habits but also reveals your core relationship needs. Furthermore, it helps you pinpoint the type of people you’re drawn to based on their fundamental beliefs. Once you’ve got a clear grasp of these core beliefs, you’re in a better position to steer clear of partners who maintain your schemas and open up to healthier, more fulfilling connections. Take the schema quiz to find out your relationships schemas.
3. Inquire About Relationship History
Before taking any intimate steps in the relationship, delve into your date’s past relationships. Understand their relationship history inside out. Ask about how previous relationships ended, who initiated those endings, what lessons they learned, and what contributions they made to any issues. Look for recurring themes and how they speak about their ex-partners.
This comprehensive insight can reveal if your date aligns with your values or if you’re unknowingly trapped in a repetition compulsion. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and ask detailed questions. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
4. Experience Different Contexts
To truly understand someone, engage with them in various settings. Meeting someone in just one context provides a limited perspective. Different situations bring out different facets of a person’s personality.
For instance, a scientist who may appear awkward on a first date could shine when you visit their lab, where their pride in their work shines through. Ensure you see your date in a variety of contexts, such as places of interest, hobbies, or situations related to their values. This includes observing them in different social scenarios, with both familiar and unfamiliar faces. Before committing or ending the relationship, ensure you’ve witnessed your date in numerous social and environmental contexts.
5. Test New Behaviors Early
Introduce new behaviors early in the relationship to gauge your date’s response. Experiment with actions that you hesitated to take with your previous partners. For instance, if saying no or requesting personal space was a challenge in past relationships, try these behaviors with your new date. Assess how they respond to see if it aligns with your needs in a relationship. This early testing can reveal whether you’re falling into the same patterns as before or creating a fresh, healthier dynamic.
6. Embrace Friendship
Be open to the idea of forming friendships with those you meet online, especially if there isn’t an immediate romantic spark. Let your date know that while a romantic connection might not be on the horizon, you value the opportunity to build a friendship.
This approach eliminates the pressure and game-playing often associated with dating. It also removes the rush to apply a label to the relationship, reducing the fear of rejection while providing space for proximity and genuine connection to flourish.
7. Model Healthy Relationship Dynamics
Behavioral modeling is an effective way to communicate your values, expectations, and desires in a relationship. It involves demonstrating through your behavior what you consider important and how you would like to be treated.
For instance, if you value honesty and open communication, you can model this by being transparent and open with your date. If kindness and respect are essential to you, show these qualities in your interactions. Actions that align with your values can convey more meaning and have a lasting impact on your date.
When you catch yourself in the urge to over-explain, defend, or excessively negotiate, take a moment to reflect. Consider whether this situation could be resolved through conversation or if there’s a specific request you’d like to express or behavior you’d prefer to demonstrate.
Actions speak louder than words, and showing someone what you value is a powerful form of behavioral modification. Instead of just telling them what to do, show them through your actions. Consistently behaving in alignment with your values and treating your date the way you’d like to be treated is key to breaking old patterns and evaluating whether you’re dating your typical type or fostering secure behaviors in your relationships
8. Focus on Values
Another important tip for expanding your dating horizons is to prioritize values over superficial aspects. It’s crucial to remain flexible when it comes to things you might not initially like but can easily change, such as a person’s choice of clothing, hairstyle, or the appearance of their living space.
These superficial preferences are negotiable and can evolve over time. For instance, over years of being together, you and your partner can influence each other’s sense of humor and even create humor together. You can also work on changing elements like the appearance of their apartment or their fashion style. These are aspects that can be adjusted to align better with your preferences.
On the other hand, values remain more stable and less susceptible to change; they embody the essence of who a person is and what they stand for. If an individual lacks honesty, loyalty, kindness, and authenticity, it’s unlikely that meeting the right person or falling in love will modify these traits.
Honesty, loyalty, and kindness are intrinsic; they cannot be selective. If someone has a tendency to cheat, they are likely to continue doing so. Therefore, it’s crucial to prioritize values when dating, seeking a partner who aligns not only in terms of strong chemistry but also in overall compatibility.
Following these guidelines can help you take a new approach to dating and develop meaningful connections beyond your usual type. Remember, change takes time, but it can lead to more enriching and fulfilling relationships.
With awareness and understanding of your relationship schemas, attachment styles, and type of person you’re attracted to, you can break your patterns and establish healthier relationships where your underlying needs are fulfilled within a secure bond. As you recognize the limitations of your patterns, you can actively seek partners who break the mold, offering different perspectives and experiences.
At the Bay Area CBT Center, known as some of the best therapists in the Bay Area, we focus on evidence-based treatments to strengthen their relationships, heal attachment wounds,, and overcome limiting beliefs for overall life improvement. Our services include in-person and teletherapy sessions, along with groups, workshops, and online courses, catering to a diverse range of needs for those seeking therapy in San Francisco. Our commitment to providing top-notch counseling in San Francisco, CA, ensures personalized and effective care for each client.