by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Question: Why do good women seek out relationships with men who treat them badly? I am one of them. I am a woman who has turned down opportunities to marry good men who treated me well, held good jobs, and probably would have been good husbands. When asked out on a date by a good man, it scared me, and I turned them down. Unfortunately, I have fallen for more than one creep who treated me badly, had bad habits, and didn’t hold a job. What is wrong with me?
I spent a couple of weeks trying to find a scientific answer to your question, but I didn’t find anything that was tangible and behavioral. So, I will share with you reasons women have told me as to why they repeatedly chose bad men. Some of this comes from group work where women challenged one another and had quite candid discussions, and some comes from those who have been in individual therapy.
Fear of being alone. Even after one or more broken relationships, some women have not learned there is something worse than being single. Fear sometimes drives an individual to seek out a not-so-good relationship while the opportunity is there. Instead of fearing being alone, a person should have a greater fear of spending the rest of one’s life living unhappily with the wrong person. If you are aware that you are dating or building a relationship with someone because you are afraid to leave—for whatever reason—find an honest friend or counselor who will help you through the pain of ending that relationship now, rather than suffering for years to come.
Fear of not being capable of attracting a man. For some women their self-worth is tightly tied to being able to attract a man. Though he may be a loser, and you know it, there is something in your psyche that needs to show the world you are able to find a man and keep him, even though there are obvious signs that he already has begun to manipulate you. Imagine a giant anaconda snake slowly wrapping itself around you, slowly squeezing the life out of you. If a relationship you are in is beginning to suffocate you, get help, get out of that relationship.
Your wounded self is infatuated. If you have been wounded, and many women have, you may be attracted to men who need fixing. If that is you, you may be seeking a relationship out of your wounded self. Your wounded self is the part of you that feels incomplete or damaged, always wondering if you are worth loving. Trying to fix another person is a way of unconsciously acting out how you wish to be treated. But realize this is going to be an unequal relationship. Get help! Find healing before you try helping anyone else heal.
You don’t value yourself. In your question you indicated that you sabotage potential good relationships out of fear. That may be related to feelings of inadequacies. There is nothing that interferes with the ability to experience an authentic, reciprocal relationship like chronic low self-esteem. It’s important that you challenge those secret thoughts of inadequacies and replace them with thoughts of adequacy. This may require professional help, and you should get it before you attempt to build another relationship.
Need for excitement. Some women find Steady Freddy too boring. You might know he would treat you well, put up with your idiosyncrasies, provide for you, and be a good father. But for some strange reason, that kind of man turns you off. If you have a need for someone who keeps your adrenalin pumping, sometimes fearing for your life, put your search for a man on hold and seek therapy.
Antisocial men are attracted to vulnerable women. Occasionally, I see Facebook posts by women telling the world how depressed or lonely they are. This is perfect advertisement for bad men who are suave and charismatic. They have one thing in mind—fulfill their needs at your expense. How do you spot an antisocial man? Some the traits are as follows: Superficial charm, a grandiose notion of self-worth, the need for stimulation and impulsiveness, pathological lying, often there’s involvement with drugs and alcohol, the ability to manipulate you, and a lack of remorse and empathy. This individual is not interested in what is best for you. He is interested only in what satisfies him. Some examples of his manipulation may include the following: Passive-aggressive behavior, threats either to you or to himself if you don’t comply, dishonest, withholding information, isolating you from those you love, making you believe you are the person with the problem (gaslighting), and verbal abuse (including silence).
Remember, the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. If he has a criminal record and a history of drug and alcohol abuse, it’s likely to continue. It is very unlikely you will be very successful with this project of reformation. Don’t be swept off your feet by his charm and charisma. It’s likely he’s good looking and charming, but he is a trap. And once in the trap, it’s very hard to free yourself from it.
Before you get into another relationship, make of list of the characteristics and values you would want in a husband. It’s possible Steady Freddie may look a lot more like the list you developed than any of the bad men you have fallen for.
If you fall into any of the categories above, I encourage you to end the relationship (unless it’s a married relationship) and not get into another one until you seek professional help. At a minimum, find a confidant who will be honest with you. This will likely save you a lot of pain.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]