Mate selection: this is why we so often fall in love with the wrong person

Choosing a partner That’s why we fall in love with the wrong person so often

Interview: Tilman Botzenhardt and Maria Kirady

GEO KNOWLEDGE: Professor von Sydow, are there people who keep falling in love with the wrong partners?

PROF. DR. KIRSTEN VON SYDOW: Yes, this does happen. Of course, no one should go to a therapist just because he or she is a little unlucky in love right now. But if relationships keep going the same way and fail because of the same problems, it’s worth thinking about the causes. Because some people simply don’t have a good sense of which partners are good for them – or how they can lead a stable relationship.

GEO WISSEN No. 58: GEO WISSEN No. 58 - Love: The dream of happiness together

GEO WISSEN No. 58 Love: The dream of shared happiness

What is the reason?

Most of those affected are bad at assessing other people’s behavior in relationships. They find it difficult, for example, to recognize whether their counterpart is at all interested in a firm partnership. There is, for example, the type "lonely cowboy", who initially appears attractive to some women – but who also clearly radiates that he is not available for a stable relationship. Such a man is suitable for an affair. But those who cannot distinguish whether the other person wants to commit or not may repeatedly seek relationships with such partners. And fail time after time.

How do such distorted perceptions arise?

They follow patterns that are formed in early childhood. What we expect from a relationship, how self-confident we are, how we perceive our counterpart: We learn all this in the first years of life from the bond with close caregivers, i.e. mostly from parents. From them the child hopes for attention and security. And the reactions of adults help determine the way in which the adolescent deals with needs and relationships. Psychologists distinguish four typical patterns.

Which are?

The first and most common type is the so-called "secure attachment": it occurs when the child can rely on the attention of his parents. Securely attached people are also confident later in life that other people like them, and they find it easy to form sustainable relationships with others. Of course, they can also be unlucky in love. However, it is rather unlikely that securely attached people systematically fall in love with the wrong person.

In contrast, about a quarter of the population develops the second type, the "insecure-avoidant attachment" type. It arises when parents frequently reject their child. The child then learns to suppress its need for affection. Often focus on independence, work and performance later in life, and are extremely reluctant to show themselves weak.

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Like the lonely cowboy?

This can be an extreme manifestation of this type. In couple relationships, partners of insecure-avoidant people often don’t have it easy because they are very concerned with their autonomy and are less able to show and name their feelings than other people. The third basic pattern, the "insecure-ambivalent attachment", can also cause difficulties. People who exhibit this behavior often did not experience predictable and stable relationships as children – and therefore usually want to reassure themselves of their partner’s affection again and again. He is often constantly worried that the other person does not like him enough or could leave him. This type belongs to approximately 15 per cent of the population. The rarest pattern, however, causes the greatest problems and is expressed by around five percent of the population in total: "disorganized attachment".

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What characterizes this type?

This pattern develops when children experience violence or abuse by trusted persons. Or when they grow up with parents who cannot give them any attention, for example because they suffer from depression, alcoholism or drug addiction. Children of such parents usually develop very chaotic attachment behavior: On the one hand, they seek protection; on the other hand, closeness causes them problems because they are always afraid of being hurt in close relationships.

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