Why Do I Attract Selfish Partners?

"This is not how it was when we first met."

Posted Aug 24, 2020

As a therapist, I hear it every day: “He was not like this when we first met. He was nice, caring, and thoughtful.” Yet, after several weeks and months pass, a specific type of partner may slowly morph into someone who is consumed with his or her own feelings, perspectives, and wants. Indifference replaces care and affection.

Often a person is blindsided by a change in the demeanor of a partner. A partner who was once loyal and trustworthy is suddenly disinterested, aloof, and self-serving. Worse yet, he or she defends selfish acts and unfairly places blame on you.

What causes this change in personality and temperament? Unfortunately, it may be just a slow reveal. Underneath a confident surface may lie a deeply insecure partner who has emotionally manipulative tendencies. Initially, an insecure partner does not appear insecure because he or she often compensates with inflated defense mechanisms such as narcissism and grandiosity.

Most human beings with common sense realize it is important to appear nice and kind in order to garner another person’s trust. This is especially true in terms of dating. A person may work hard to win the faith of a genuinely kind-hearted person. Unconsciously, he or she may realize the position of power that is gained when the loyalty of a truly selfless person is won. The goal becomes winning the “prize” instead of falling in love.  

Yet, after obtaining the person’s love, the partner may feel insecure about holding onto it. Threatened by the person’s deeper capacities in comparison to his or her shallow motives, the partner may attempt to create ways to gain control. For example, a partner who persuades a person to move away from friends and family or convinces a person to accept a job with his or her company may be attempting to possess leverage in a person’s life. Having something to “hold over a person’s head” allows a profoundly insecure partner to feel secure.

Abruptly oscillating from loving to rejecting may also be a manipulation. This hot and cold style gives an extremely insecure partner emotional control because it keeps a person spinning and clamoring to regain the lost love. Playing on a person’s heartstrings provides him or her with the upper hand.

After a few weeks and months, a person may begin to see the cracks in his or her partner’s armor. Five signs may indicate a partner is deeply insecure.

1. Must win. Even during casual and informal contexts such as game night or pickleball, a deeply insecure partner needs to win at any cost and may cheat, pout, throw a fit, or quit if he or she is not winning.  

2. Throws adult “temper tantrums.” Adult temper tantrums incorporate yelling, blaming, cheating, throwing items, pouting, storming and quitting.

It is important to note that there is a difference between a temper tantrum and a person who is upset because a partner is not playing fair. Expressing this is important and a partner’s response is equally critical. When confronted, a partner who deflects accountability and denies his or her attempts to bend the rules in his or her favor may be revealing true character.

3. Pouts. Quitting/pouting is more than taking a time-out to calm down. It occurs when a person completely abandons a situation because he or she is not getting what they want.

4. Plays the victim to get out of doing something he or she does not feel like doing. This transpires when a partner takes advantage of a person’s empathy in order to escape an obligation. For example, Lisa says she isn’t feeling well so she cannot attend Ron’s charity walk, yet when Ron drives past a park on the way home, he notices Lisa playing tennis.

5. Plays the victim in order to elude accountability. For example, Rachel politely confronts Rick about his tendency to avoid addressing issues in the relationship. Rick says, “I was traumatized by my ex. She was impossible to please. Nothing I did made her happy. Can’t you just be happy?”

Lastly, a selfish partner’s spontaneous sprinkling of kindness also creates a good deal of confusion. A manipulative partner may attempt to camouflages multiple selfish acts by offering occasional niceties. A spontaneous and kind act may real a person back in. The partner is then able to continue exploiting the person’s trust.

An empathic person’s tendencies to self-reflect, understand another perspective, take responsibility for himself or herself, and embody conscientiousness for others, may make him or her easy to manipulate at the outset of a dating relationships. Yet a person should never change these valiant characteristics. Rather, understanding and breaking free of a relationship that abuses these attributes may be the answer.

It is important to note that as a person gains awareness of a partner’s egocentrism, the partner may be busy distorting interactions to convince the person that he or she is the selfish party. These distortions may muddy the waters and create self-doubt in a truly self-reflective and introspective person.

As a couples therapist, I believe the toughest aspect of this dynamic is the possibility that a selfish partner may unconsciously block awareness of how seriously he or she mistreats a loved one. Insight, self-awareness, empathy, and accountability may be deflected because they tax a fragile ego. Powerful distortions such as victim stance allow him or her to re-write an experience so he or she is rarely at fault.

As heartbreaking as it is, it may be best to end the relationship before things get serious. Because the partner lacks the capacity for sincere insight, remorse, and accountability he or she may not be capable of permanent growth and change. A person who feels intense remorse after a mistake, examines himself or herself for fault, and works hard to repair a rupture may be a person who grows every day. The rift between an emotionally healthy person and a person who is incapable of true self-examination may grow as the relationship progresses.

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