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  1. #1
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    Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    I'm not writing on this subject because it necessarily applies to me today, although I suppose it must have, at one time. I'm writing because today I received two lengthy phone calls from two very important young women in my life. One of the calls was from my daughter, and the other from one of her peers--not a friend of hers, but a young friend of mine. Almost unbelievably, each of them called me on the same day for the same reason.

    Both of them told me that they had realized that they purposely seek out young men in relationships whom they "know" to be no good for them. My young friend said that she does it because she needs the drama, as well as the praises (for her beauty, intelligence, charm, etc.) that these young men invariably offer her. My daughter said that she does it unconsciously, because she's trying to conform to the model of the earliest male-female relationship she had ever witnessed; that is, the relationship between me and her mother, who divorced me after a relatively brief marriage some 15 years ago.

    Although I agree that the model my ex-wife and I presented to my tiny daughter was definitely not that of a healthy male-female relationship, I think it's more important at this stage that we find some way for her, as a grown woman, to find a healthier model of an intimate relationship within her experience, and to follow that model instead. What the two young women seem to have in common is a "need" to experience a dark side, even though it's a destructive dark side, in their romantic relationships.

    While I think it's great that they both have realized this, and it's probably a good thing that they decided they had to tell me about it, I'm a little bit overwhelmed. Did I, for whatever reason, think so lowly of myself that I unconsciously sought out a woman with whom I "knew" I could have a destructive and unhealthy marriage?

    The component that they both have in common is low self-esteem. They seem not to think themselves *worthy* of a positive, healthy relationship. Now, for my part, I basically, consciously, have no real desire to even be in a relationship. I'm not cynical about them; I just function best alone. Every now and then I have a girlfriend, but it never really goes anywhere, and usually the relationship just sort of fades out. But in my youth, it was very important to have a girlfriend. So I can't imagine that I would have on any level, consciously or unconsciously, sought out an unhealthy relationship.

    What do you guys think of all this?

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    Re: Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    My daughter said that she does it unconsciously, because she's trying to conform to the model of the earliest male-female relationship she had ever witnessed; that is, the relationship between me and her mother, who divorced me after a relatively brief marriage some 15 years ago.
    Even if this is true, I would think there would be other contributing factors like the low self-esteem you mentioned. Personally, I found some solace reading Love Sick : Love as a Mental Illness, which argues for a more rational approach to romantic love.

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    Re: Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    I wonder. In the lengthy phone conversation, neither of us wanted to delve too deeply into the distant past; however, I did notice that her memory of things that happened before she was four years old is somewhat distorted. She was four when her mother left me. But that aside, I think you're right, Daniel. There has got to be some other factor.

    Now that I think about it, though, I do think that I sought in my marriage a marriage similar to the one my Mom and Dad had. But in my case, I think that was a fairly positive model. My parents didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't fight very often, and certainly didn't abuse us. They also seemed to ease fairly well into their respective roles, and they stayed married for over 40 years, till the day Dad died.

    Perhaps one of the problems with my marriage was that I unconsciously expected my ex-wife to perform a similar role to that which my Mom had provided in her marriage with my Dad. But in any case, I tangent.

    The book description on Amazon looks interesting, by the way.

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    Re: Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    I did notice that her memory of things that happened before she was four years old is somewhat distorted. She was four when her mother left me.
    The adult version of human memory does not form until about age 3 or 4. Most people cannot recall events prior to that time (or more acccurately cannot retrieve them) because those memories exist in a different "filing system". Generally, what people do remember before age 3 are only traumatic memories which are stored in a more epsodic and emotional format, as opposed to the semantic format of adult memory.

    I suspect that what your daughter is suggesting is based more on "deduction" and perhaps things her mother has said than on reality.

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    Re: Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    You mentioned that you do not have desire to be in a relationship, Stargazer. That while you would engage in some form of a relationship, they all fizzle out. Perhaps your daugher seeks out men that are similar to you, just as you sought out a woman similar to your mother.


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    Re: Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    Harville Hendrix (author of the so-called Imago Therapy approach to couples counseling) argues that we seek in a partner someone who has the negative attributes of our parents.

    To put it bluntly, I think that's utter nonsense and the process by which he arrives at that conclusion is a textbook example of flawed logic.

    I do think parents help us to form our beliefs about relationships but we are just as likely to seek relationships with people who are decidely NOT like our parents as we are to seek partners who are like them. One of the factors is the kind of relationship we had with that parent and the kind of relationship our paretns had with each other. I'd also point out that parents are far from our only role models for relationships.

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    Re: Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    Quote Originally Posted by David Baxter
    I suspect that what your daughter is suggesting is based more on "deduction" and perhaps things her mother has said than on reality.
    I have suspected this as well. In fact, I think not only her mother, but my stepdaughter, provided her with fallacious information regarding events during her first four years of life, and that they did this for two reasons:

    (1) They simply don't themselves remember what actually happened. In the case of my ex, she may sort of choose not to remember, if you know what I mean.

    (2) In the event that they do remember, they have decided to create a different version of reality in order to more easily fend off questions my daughter had (as to the reasons for the divorce, etc.) that might have led to ugly psychic places.

    That said, I'm sure their intentions were good. The problem for me now, as one adult attempting to relate to my daughter as another adult, is that she seems to be drawing conclusions as to her present behavior patterns based largely on false data. And since I'm no longer in contact with either my ex-wife or my stepdaughter, it's not possible to engage in any constructive dialogue around it. Neither of the two has returned e-mails or phone messages from me for over a year now. Hopefully, however, my relationship with my stepdaughter will improve.

    Lana also raises an interesting point. My daughter may unconsciously be seeking out men who secretly don't really want to be in a relationship. Myself, I had had about five steady girlfriends prior to courting my ex, the last of which was a fiancee who broke off the engagement. I was pretty much done by the time I met my ex, but she aggressed so persistently I finally just gave in.

    In retrospect, I feel somewhat guilty that perhaps I didn't put my whole heart into the marriage. I was always faithful to her, but she could tell my work was more important to me. And everyone else could tell, too.

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    Re: Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lana
    You mentioned that you do not have desire to be in a relationship, Stargazer. That while you would engage in some form of a relationship, they all fizzle out. Perhaps your daugher seeks out men that are similar to you, just as you sought out a woman similar to your mother.
    The more I look at what you said, Lana, the more I wonder if it might be true....

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    Re: Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    Frankly, these explanations are too simple. With a lot of human behavior, I would think that there could easily be hundreds or thousands of environmental factors along with genetic factors that may be just as significant. Life, like history, is too complex to fully understand why things happened the way they did:

    History could have gone off in any number of different directions in any number of different ways at any point along the way, just as your own life can. You never know. One thing leads to another. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

    -- David McCullough, "Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are"

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    Re: Unconsciously Seeking Unhealthy Relationships?

    I see that now. She's using deductive reasoning to draw conclusions based on the only evidence she knows of, even if much of that evidence is false data. However, I'm not sure how important it is for her to understand what really happened, or if it's best to just let sleeping dogs lie. My concern is that I don't want her to go through her adult life with perceptions resulting from misconceptions, especially if it continues to interfere with her developing healthy intimate relationships.

    Less abstractly, her boyfriend/roommate just invited a girl from New York over to visit him, slept with her, and left the door open so she would be aware of what was happening. She's moving out this weekend.

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