While it is true that part of attraction is physical, much of it has a lot more to do with familiarity (and often physical attraction is also based on particular kinds of familiarity). It is no coincidence that the root word of “familiarity” is “family”: When you choose a partner you feel very attracted to and excited about, it is likely because they remind you of someone who had a strong effect on you as a child. This attraction may come from a desire for an opportunity to resolve some of the hurt that you experienced as a child, and/or to re-experience some of your positive childhood moments. This goes beyond the trope of choosing mates based on “daddy” or “mommy” issues into much more complex interrelationships that reveal inner wounds that deserve attention and care.
If one of your primary caretakers was distant, you might choose someone who is distant as a way to attempt to fulfill your child’s desire to finally succeed in drawing a distant person closer. Or, if you had a primary caretaker who was very dramatic and intrusive, you might choose someone who has familiar behaviors in an attempt to have a different, rewarding experience where your boundaries are respected by someone with a similar personality. Unfortunately, many relationships are simply a replay of these old negative patterns rather than a resolution. Your inner child’s desire for repair is earnest, but when confronted with the familiar behaviors of your chosen partner, your inner child’s protective strategies take over. Instead of growing, you find that your habits take over: you become clingy with a distant partner or coldly push an intrusive partner away.
While you are attracted to what is familiar in your partner, unfortunately, that person also responds to you in the painful, and familiar ways you experienced in your childhood. This reputation propels you both into what we call a “negative relationship vortex” a reactionary space that offers limited tools for repair. The negative relationship vortex is the way that your and your partner’s wounds and protective strategies interact. We go deeply into the vortex and how to repair it in our upcoming book, Making Love Real. We’ve found that if you and your partner are willing to learn self-awareness and change old habits, you can find more satisfying and sustainable ways of relating that you may never have experienced as a child. These new ways of relating will offer you the joy, fulfillment, and longevity that you have been trying to create in your relationships. While your inner child may help you choose your partner, remember that you have many tools you can use to help them move beyond the vortex into a fulfilling relationship.