False Forms of Love: Unresolved Conflict Attraction Syndrome
“Lord have mercy I have done it again. For the third time I’m in a relationship having the same problems I had with my parents. I vowed to never let that happen again but here I am once more. What in the world makes this keep happening to me.” This type of lament and others like it are all too common in the world of romantic love. What keeps going wrong unfortunately is a common form of false love which keeps getting in the way of people’s chances for developing a healthy, real love relationship. Those who don’t know about this form of false love may be especially vulnerable to its influence. Here it is called the Unresolved Conflict Attraction Syndrome.
One of the most problematic forms of false love is Unresolved Conflict Attraction. In this syndrome a person is subconsciously attracted to having a false ‘fall in love’ experience with people who will come to present the same problems they had with one or more parents, or significant others, in their childhood. This can happen in a wide variety of ways. If they had a highly critical mother they are likely to date or marry someone who will become highly critical, just like her. If they had an abusive father they may date or marry someone who is or becomes abusive in the same way. A woman who had a very love-stingy father may keep falling in love with love-stingy men. A man who had a suffocating mother may date or marry someone who in time becomes emotionally suffocating. Those who had cold and distant parents may be attracted to cold, distant lovers or those who turn into ‘emotional icebergs’ later. The children of raging alcoholics may date or marry people who turn out to be raging alcoholics. These specific scenarios are endless in their variations but the underlying dynamic is the same. You can be mysteriously and strongly attracted to the people who will present you the unresolved love problems of your youth. Sadly for many people the never fixed, love destroying or love blocking difficulties of childhood and adolescence reappear in adulthood. The good news is knowing about it can help protect you from it.
You may wonder, “Why does this happen”? Here’s one way to explain or understand it. Your subconscious may make you want to get a copy of your problematic parent so that finally you can win their love, get the love you never got, fix the unfixed love problem of childhood, and resolve the unresolved love disappointments of youth. Another understanding is that subconsciously we are drawn to what we are familiar with at a deep subconscious level without ever knowing it consciously. Even if consciously we want nothing to do with repeating our childhood disappointments, a computer-like program in our head pushes us toward repetition of the familiar. Apparently it is as if something inside us says, “Here is someone unloving just like Mommy (or Daddy, or whoever) was, so maybe this time I can get her (or him) to love me if I just try the right way and hard enough. So, I am in love with this person, and I have to have them for my own”. Rarely does this work, but when it does work we then ‘fall out’ of false love with them because that relationship has no more purpose or attraction power.
An additional view of this phenomenon suggests that subconsciously we teach our spouse or lover to treat us in the less-loving ways we experienced in childhood or adolescence so we can have a chance to win the love we didn’t get earlier in life. We do that by responding most strongly to our lover when they act the most like our most unloving parent. That emotional intensity, in a strange way, rewards our love mate’s actions, and rewarded actions increase even when they are negative. Theoretically people can be, and often are, subconsciously attracted to those who embody the unresolved conflicts of their own earlier life. Psycho-dynamically such people may be compulsively driven to find and form relationships with those who can help them re-experience the love deprivation, conflicts and difficulties which robbed them of the love they unsuccessfully sought as children. Consequently we unknowingly are attracted to those who can give us our unresolved conflicts all over again. Thus, in this syndrome ‘adult love attempts’ mirror ‘childhood love attempts’ and usually get no better results than occurred in childhood.
A question you might want to ask is, “Can this attempt to fix the past by repeating it ever really work”? The short answer is probably not. There are several common outcomes of this syndrome. One is for a person just to keep going from one unsuccessful, conflicted lover or marriage to another with lots of love related agony and with nothing ever getting fixed. Another result occurs when a person just gives up on love relationships entirely. They then may live love-malnourished the rest of their life. A third outcome is when a person figures it out (often in therapy), grows sufficient self love and resolves the internal conflict, freeing themselves to go on to a healthy, real love that works. Thus, if you think you may suffer from an unresolved conflict attraction syndrome the best thing you probably can do is seek the help of a love-knowledgeable therapist or counselor. You also can explore romantic relationships with people you are more consciously attracted to because of their obvious good characteristics, rather than operating from your subconscious impulses and what seems like intuitive desires. Be very wary of anything that smacks of the ‘falling in love’ or obsessional, romantic fascination with near strangers phenomenon.
Taking lots of time to get to know someone and letting the relationship grow slowly also may be very important. Just knowing that this syndrome exists has helped some people avoid it or its repetition.
As always – Go and Grow with Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
♥ Love Success Question
Can you identify an unresolved or unfixed love related problem you had with a significant family member when you were growing up? If you can what you identified may represent your vulnerability to experiencing an Unresolved Conflict Attraction possibility. Knowing that may help you work it out and prevent its destructiveness from occurring or reoccurring in your life.