Why You Might Attract Unavailable Partners

Part II: Why this pattern develops and how to change it.

Posted Mar 28, 2020

Antonis Liokouras/Shutterstock
Source: Antonis Liokouras/Shutterstock

When it comes to repeatedly attracting unavailable partners, there is one common denominator in the equation, and it’s you. This realization can be unsettling but also empowering, because the pattern starts and ends with you, which means you have the power to change it.

In Part I of this series, I covered the factors that often contribute to this pattern. Now that you’ve reflected about potential reasons for this pattern, below are 6 ways you can break the cycle: 

1. Determine Your Attachment Style and the Attachment Style of Partners You Are Typically Drawn To. Think of your attachment style as the blueprint for the partners you are drawn to and how you relate in your relationships. Research has shown that the relationship you had with your caregivers as a child helps shape your attachment style. 

There are four main attachment styles—secure, avoidant, anxious, and anxious-avoidant. This quiz can give you a better idea of your attachment style. Once you have determined your attachment style, you can reflect on how your attachment style influences the types of partners you are attracted to and the signs your previous partners exhibited a particular attachment style. For example, if you have an anxious attachment style, you may be prone to being drawn to emotionally unavailable people (who often have an avoidant attachment style).

2. Identify the Subconscious Wound You Are Trying to Heal. Often when people consciously want a long-term relationship, but keep attracting unavailable partners, there is a disconnect between their conscious desires and their subconscious beliefs.

Research has demonstrated that we are often attracted to partners who have similar qualities as our primary caregivers and seem familiar to us. Identify what you are subconsciously trying to heal from the past by attracting unavailable partners and work on healing it. For example, if you felt dismissed or rejected by one or both parents while growing up, acknowledge and explore the pain this caused you, then work on ways to show up differently for yourself, such as allowing space for your painful emotions, cultivating self-compassion, and engaging in self-care. 

3. Explore Times in the Past When You’ve Had Similar Feelings. Explore the initial feelings that come up when you realize you’re dating someone who is unavailable. When else in your life have you felt the same feelings of confusion, shame, or rejection? Pay attention to how you’re interpreting what this situation means about you (e.g., “I’m not good enough” or “I’m unlovable," etc.) and when this belief about yourself originally developed. When we experience such beliefs, they were often shaped in childhood and impact the partners we are drawn to. Bringing these beliefs and associated feelings into conscious awareness and practicing affirmations that counteract these beliefs can be a key step in deprogramming these beliefs. 

4. Create a List of Red Flags and Identify Your Non-Negotiables. Make a list of red flags that previous partners exhibited which indicated that the person was emotionally unavailable. Think about those initial warning signs—perhaps their communication with you wasn’t consistent, they had difficulty committing to plans ahead of time, or they gave you mixed messages. Next, determine based on this list what your top 3-5 non-negotiables are. For example, if a potential partner often takes more than 24 hours to respond to you, that may be a non-negotiable. Review this list intermittently, especially when dating someone new.

5. Give People You Wouldn’t Normally Be Drawn to a Chance. When you’re repeatedly drawn to unavailable partners, there may be a feeling of excitement and an initial spark that occurs between you and this person. Many people mistake this spark to mean this person is the right one for them when, in reality, feeling initially excited about someone may actually indicate the pattern is repeating again. 

On the other hand, if you feel neutral about someone, it’s usually a sign that this person isn’t the same type of partner you are typically drawn to. Try to keep an open mind and go out with this person on a few dates to see if there is potential for a genuine connection to grow between the two of you. 

Studies have demonstrated that your attraction to others can gradually increase over time. The mere exposure effect is the psychological phenomenon that indicates you are more likely to develop positive feelings about something you feel neutral about the more you are exposed to it.

In one such study of this effect, several women who were not students (all similar in appearance), were each instructed to attend a specific amount of college classes. The results indicated that a woman was perceived as more attractive by her classmates the more classes she had frequented. 

6. Tune into Your Wisdom and IntuitionWhen you’re dating someone new, try to pay attention to how you feel around them physically and emotionally. Following the first few dates with a new person, it can be helpful to meditate and journal in order to tune into how you’re feeling. Both meditating and journaling can help you date consciously and prevent subconscious beliefs from being in the driver’s seat.

Consider writing down answers to the following questions when you’re getting to know someone new: 

  • How do I feel around this person? 
  • How does my body react? What physical sensations do I experience when I’m with them? 
  • What do I like about this person? 
  • Is there anything about this person that reminds me of previous partners? 
  • Do they have any of the red flags that I indicated on my list? 
  • If a friend told me they were dating this person, would I approve, or have concerns about them? 

This can be a great exercise for increasing your awareness of potential red flags and breaking the cycle of dating unavailable partners.

Previously published in 2019 by The Problem With Dating.

References

Geher, G. (2000). Perceived and actual characteristics of parents and partners: A test of a freudian model of mate selection. Current Psychology, 19(3), 194–214. doi: 10.1007/s12144-000-1015-7

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.52.3.511

Moreland, R. L., & Beach, S. R. (1992). Exposure effects in the classroom: The development of affinity among students. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28(3), 255–276. doi: 10.1016/0022-1031(92)90055-o

Newcomb, T. M. (1956). The prediction of interpersonal attraction. American Psychologist, 11(11), 575–586. doi: 10.1037/h0046141