Q: Why do I fall in love with the same kind of people-even though they make me unhappy?

A:My clients often come to see me when problems in their intimate relationships have either reached a boiling point or won't budge.  When I ask them to make an educated guess as to why they are in this predicament, they often say, "I think I just keep choosing the same kind of wrong person over and over."

Now it's true that there are people to avoid such as abusers and con-artists, and that there are relationships that can't be fixed.  But often the problem lies more in how you and your partner interact rather than in the partners you choose.  Read that sentence again--it just might give you hope and chase away the blues.  Here is a guide that will help you think and act differently about love.

1. Know your Emotional Comfort Zone. Most of us have met potential partners and said to ourselves, "Nah-he or she is not my 'type.'" There's no chemistry, and you aren't attracted to him or her. Yet, even though you have scanty luck in choosing that same 'type," you keep doing it!  Why is that?

Allow me to introduce you to your Emotional Comfort Zone.  This zone is the sum of your early family and life experiences that conspire to make you feel more comfortable in certain relationship roles.So, for example, if you were the first born or the first of your sex in your family, it's likely that you tend to make decisions, take responsibility, and be the go-to person or  role model for other same sex siblings.

As burdensome as this role is, you are more comfortable with it than being the one who has to take orders or be a follower. So, it's no surprise that you end up people who like these qualities in you.  And just whom do you think would prefer that you be the decision-maker?  Yep, you got it-someone who is less effective at taking charge and following through.

 I don't mean that this person is necessarily a bad choice or a totally irresponsible person.  In fact, someone with an opposite style is often a great choice of partner because the two of you form a team where you each contribute something valuable and offer "checks and balance" to your partner's behavior.  Unhappiness sets in, though, when you and your partner's styles are so different that you can't meet in the middle.  You end up in heated arguments and jockeying for power or recognition of your feelings.

Solution: Understand the legacy of your emotional role in your family and childhood. Were you a follower, leader or challenger? How would you describe your "automatic" tendencies? I call these predispositions Emotional Default Drives.  

2. Observe your tendencies. By now, you're probably seeing that you might be part of the problem. You may not have chosen unwisely, but your behavior invites your partner to cooperate and "fit in" with your style too well. 

Solution: Put on your Observer Cap. Pay attention to how you prompt your partner to act in predictable ways. Watch how your partner responds.

3. Risk change and discomfort. Changing your automatic style is not easy. If you tend to give advice too soon, for example, it will probably feel awkward and not "like you" if you sit back and just listen. But if you don't want "the same old, same old" reaction, you have to be part of the solution and change your interaction style.

Solution: Talk to your partner. It's usually unkind to spring a new you on your partner. Explain that you've been doing some thinking and realize that your relating style contributes to the unhappiness. Ask your partner what he or she would like you to do differently. Pick an unresolved problem and "test drive" your new management approach. Accept that you will feel uncomfortable and need many attempts before you see change.

4. Date against "type" if you are single. I know I said that you should concentrate more on how you interact and not your choice of mate. However, if your choice is repeatedly the wrong one for you, perhaps you are unconsciously drawn to someone whose style over-complements your own and reinforces too strongly your Emotional Comfort Zone and family role.

Solution: Make dating adjustments. Yes, people with opposite styles often attract each other.  And this difference can add richness and growth to your relationship. However, if you are in an emotional rut and keep re-creating the same unhappy pattern, date someone who differs from your typical attraction. 

In the beginning you might want to bolt too soon from this new kind of date choice, but give the person a few tries.  Dating varying people is a good way to develop more diverse relating and problem-solving tools.  Allow the "chemistry" to develop over time.  Finally, accept that you will feel uncomfortable and even "disloyal" by changing your choice of mate. For example, if your family taught you that passivity is valued, you might feel uneasy choosing someone who is more assertive. 

5. Never tolerate or over-accommodate to abusive behavior. There certainly are unhealthy relationship patterns.  Do you feel disrespected? Does your partner hit or threaten you? Do you "excuse" this behavior because your partner has "good" qualities, too?

Solution: Get professional help. It's not easy being in a "hot and cold" relationship that veers to happiness and then depression. Your toleration of mistreatment maintains your partner's harmful behavior. Don't threaten to leave. Get a plan first. Seek professional help.  An abusive and volatile partner is a dangerous one. You can change your Emotional Comfort Zone of accepting the unacceptable.

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships.  For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com.