Have you ever noticed that sometimes the sweetest people are drawn to the “bad guys”?
I’ll never forget meeting Kelly*, early one morning on a summer day. Something about her sweet southern accent just made me like her, long before I knew anything about her.
She had come to see me in hopes of working through her relationship difficulties with her current boyfriend. She went on to describe her on again off again relationship with Andre*. Though he professed his undying love to her, his actions never quite seemed to follow suit. She had caught him in dishonesty, cheating, and flirting with other women. She had been a victim to his anger, rage and neglect and constant criticism. They had been together for 4 years, but unfortunately, each passing day seemed to uncover more baggage and dysfunction. No matter how much she loved Andre, he never seemed to fully love her back. But most of all, what she couldn’t understand is- why she could never let him go.
She loved him, more than she had ever loved anyone. And no matter how terrible he treated her, she just wanted to love him more. The thought of being alone was more terrifying than the thought of living with him- and through it all, she came to therapy in hopes of figuring out she could make their relationship better.
Have you ever found yourself in one of those relationships where like Kelly, you always seem to be doing all the work? Loving more, giving more, serving more- and getting very little in return.
I get so many emails and questions from people wondering why so many of the good people are drawn into such bad relationships. What is it about neglect, arguments, drama, and dishonesty that is so appealing? From the outside in, it seems like a no-brainer to say no to bad relationships and yes to good ones. But unfortunately, theory is so much easier than practice when it comes to this kind of relationship. Let me explain a little more.
No matter who you are, there is a part of you that was made to connect with the things that trigger your past. Because our identities begin to take shape at such a young age, we will always be drawn to the nostalgic. Whenever I hear the sound of an ice-cream truck passing by, there is something spectacular about that noise that makes my heart leap. The same emotions I felt as a child are re-triggered, and I instantly connect with that memory. Certain TV shows, times of the year, holidays, scents, and people trigger a reaction from my past whether or not I want them to.
But with all those good memories that shape our past- we are also made up of the opposite- painful memories, broken relationships, and trying times. When we look back there will always be a spectrum of emotional memories rooted in the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Just like the emotional trigger of the darling sound of the ice-cream truck brings me back to the roots of being a little girl, for many people, their negative emotional triggers serve the same purpose.
For Kelly, her relationship with Andre reflected a series of interactions with a father that was distant, uninterested, and unloving. A father who never cared to give her the time of day, no matter how hard she tried, how much she loved, or how well she behaved. Something within her connected with Andre, because within the dynamics of their relationship she found a place that was familiar and a role that was comfortable.
Sometimes, it is easier to connect with what is comfortable rather than what is healthy.
There are so many men and women out there, festering in the pain of a dysfunctional relationship because they have never found healing from the wounds of their past. Rather than working through the pain of their past- they unconsciously begin to replicate that pain through the relationships that they choose to enter and the people they choose to engage with. And let me just put it out there- Christians are not exempt.
If you find yourself in a dating relationship in which you are giving so much more than you are receiving, maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at where you at and where you’ve come from. What are the things that are keeping you in this place that you never imagined you would be? What are the beliefs you hold about yourself that cause you to believe that you don’t deserve any better than this? What is it about the chaos, the pain, and the neglect that make you feel comfortable- and what will it take to finally let go and begin to heal?
Rather than run to relationships to mask the pain of our past, we need to begin working through that pain on our own. We need to bring our pain, our insecurities, our vulnerabilities and our self-worth our of the secret and into the light of God’s healing grace and mercy. We need to come face to face with where we’ve come from in order to have any hope of moving forward into where we want to go.
For some, this will come with awareness, understanding, accountability, and the healing power of time. But for others (specifically, but not limited to, those who have a abuse history (physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual), or come from a family history of addictions) this may require some serious and committed work with the help of a professional counselor**.
The health of your relationship is a reflection of your personal health, because you will always attract the kind of person you believe you deserve.
So take a good hard look at your relationship history and ask yourself what that says about you. And then, take the steps to pursue change, healing, and health. Because at the end of the day, whether you believe it or not, there is a loving God who declares that by His grace you deserve that and so much more.
My dear friends, may you be challenged to finally pursue what you really deserve.
For more on working through your past, and finding and KEEPING a healthy relationship, pick up a copy of my book True Love Dates, today!
*As with all articles on this website, all names and identifying information have been changed to protect the identities and confidentiality of the individuals mentioned.
**To begin your journey of healing, go to www.aacc.net to find a professional counselor near you.
Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, 21 Days to Jump Start Your Love Life, and 21 Days to Pray for Your Love Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 150+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!