Are you the kind of person that seems to keep attracting damaged or toxic partners? Do your relationships always end up as a dramatic nuisance rather than as a pleasant addition to your life? As a life coach in London, a common problem that coachees come to me with is toxic relationships. Having studied relationships and trauma in great detail, as well as working extensively on my own issues, here is a summary.

One reason we date the wrong people is that we often go back to what we know best or what is comfortable. Thus, we can subconsciously pick people who on some level, remind us of our parents. For example, if a person’s parent was emotionally distant, then it is very likely that person would later pick a partner who shows similar qualities. Our “relationship blueprint” is often dysfunctional and broken if our parents’ relationship was less than ideal.

Warning signs

Here are five signs to watch out for:

  1. Intensity - rapid sexual escalation or talk about sex too soon may mean that the person only knows how to show affection and intimacy through sex, which isn’t healthy. So meeting for a Tinder hook-up and expecting a healthy relationship to blossom afterwards is not a good plan. Another form of intensity is “love at first sight”; talking of getting married very quickly, moving in together, kids or big commitments too early could be a sign of love addiction.

  2. Recent Trauma - if the person you’re dating start talking about traumatic events very quickly after meeting you, this could be a sign they haven’t dealt with it. One classic example is speaking about a recent break-up and their ex-partner. They probably need a trauma therapist more than they need a relationship. It can also be another form of intensity.

  3. Insincerity - how real are you being with them, and vice versa? Are you being real or are you putting on act in the hope that they will like you? Are you trying to win their approval, and are they trying to win yours? Make sure that the real you is showing up. It’s far better to be yourself and to risk losing them early on than to put on an act which you will not be able to maintain long-term.

  4. Obsession - are you continually obsessing about them? Do they consume all of your thinking? Do you believe they are “the one” very quickly after meeting them? Whilst new love can be very exciting and intoxicating, obsession could also be a sign that you might be a love addict and that you believe on a subconscious level that this person will “fix” you. It could also be a sign that you have developed a “trauma bond”; that they have replicated your traumatic childhood relationships in just the right way.

  5. Resembles a Parent - Does this person remind you of one of your parents? In that case, you could be looking for someone to recreate your childhood wounds to try and resolve them. The problem is that this does not work out well as you end up being re-traumatised. So if one of your parents was overbearing and overshared with you, and this partner on some level reminds you of this parent, you will most likely end up feeling suffocated and want to end the relationship. Similarly, if this person you like reminds you of a parent that wasn’t available for you, you will most likely end up feeling needy and abandoned.

Breaking the cycle

Now that you know the signs to watch out for, how do you stop repeating the same mistakes?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Educate yourself on toxic relationships and the patterns to watch out for. Pia Mellody’s “Facing Love Addiction” is a fantastic book that highlights negative behaviours in relationships.

  2. Attend a 12-step recovery fellowship that deals with sex and love addiction/intimacy issues.

  3. See a life coach and explore which actions you can take to make healthier and nurturing choices in your life.