Why do I find myself in unhealthy relationships?

For some people, entering into unhealthy and toxic relationships can become a repeated pattern, and can leave them wondering why they are attracted to unhealthy people or why toxic people are attracted to them. It can be deeply upsetting and create fear of new relationships going forward when they always seem to end up with people who aren’t good for them.


The good news is this cycle can be broken and this article aims to help you understand why you might be stuck in the cycle of unhealthy relationships in the first place, as well as exploring a whole host of ways to break free from that cycle.

Understanding the cycle

There are numerous reasons some people get stuck in the cycle of toxic relationships and you’ll likely find yourself in several of these categories if you’re finding yourself repeating the pattern. Reasons include:

  • Familiarity and comfort – if you’ve grown up in a dysfunctional family environment where unhealthy family relationships were the norm, you may subconsciously seek out similar patterns in your adult relationships because it feels familiar, even if it’s harmful.
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth – those with low self-esteem and self-worth might believe they don’t deserve better treatment or love. Consequently, they settle for unhealthy partners who may reinforce these unhelpful beliefs, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.
  • Fear of loneliness – the fear of being alone or experiencing rejection can also drive people into unhealthy relationships. They may prioritise companionship over their well-being, leading them to tolerate abusive or harmful behaviour from their partner.
  • Co-dependency – this is another common factor in repeatedly entering unhealthy relationships. Co-dependent people often have an excessive reliance on their partner for self-esteem and validation. They may enable destructive behaviours or sacrifice their own needs to maintain the relationship.
  • Unresolved trauma and past issues – unresolved trauma or emotional wounds from previous relationships can create a pattern of seeking partners who replicate these negative experiences. Without addressing the issues, the cycle continues.
  • Childhood experiences – childhood experiences can play a significant role in shaping a person’s view of relationships. Those who grew up witnessing unhealthy dynamics such as parental conflict, abuse, or neglect, might internalise these behaviours as normal or acceptable. As a result, they may seek out partners who replicate these behaviours.
  • Love addiction – love addiction is characterized by an intense craving for love and affection, often leading to compulsive and desperate behaviours to obtain it. People with love addiction may repeatedly pursue unhealthy relationships because they mistake intensity and drama for love and passion.

It’s important to note that it is possible for you to be experiencing some of the above without being consciously aware of it. It can often take an outside perspective to help you see what is normal and what is not.

It’s also important to recognise that some of the above characteristics will leave a person vulnerable to ‘love bombing’ from the unhealthy partner and ‘trauma bonding’ in the relationship making it much more difficult to disconnect when things don’t feel manageable.

Breaking the cycle

Breaking the cycle is likely to mean committing to extensive work on yourself in order to build a healthier view of yourself, your experiences, and your relationships going forward. 

Work will likely include:

  • Self-reflection and awareness – recognising and acknowledging the pattern is the first step toward breaking free from it. Self-reflection and therapy can help individuals understand the root causes behind their choices thereby supporting a greater sense of self-awareness.
  • Building self-esteem – working on building self-esteem and self-worth is crucial. Engaging in activities that promote personal growth and practising self-compassion are both essential in building healthier relationships.
  • Establishing boundaries – learning to set and enforce boundaries is vital in breaking the cycle of unhealthy relationships. This involves identifying which behaviours are acceptable to you and which are not and being assertive in communicating your limits.
  • Identifying patterns – taking a close look at past relationships and recognising common themes and patterns is essential. This self-reflection can help people identify their own role in contributing to the cycle and understand the red flags they may have missed in the past.
  • Healing from past traumas – addressing unresolved traumas through therapy is crucial for breaking free from the cycle. By processing emotional wounds and learning healthy coping mechanisms, individuals can reduce the unconscious pull towards toxic relationships.
  • Developing emotional intelligence – improving emotional intelligence allows people to recognise and manage their emotions effectively. It enables them to identify situations and people that might trigger negative patterns, empowering them to make healthier relationship choices.
  • Seeking support networks – building a strong support network of friends, family, or support groups can provide much-needed encouragement, healthier perspectives and guidance. Talking to others who have experienced similar challenges can foster a sense of belonging and help individuals realise they are not alone.
  • Mindfulness and self-compassion – practising mindfulness helps individuals stay present and aware of their thoughts and behaviours. It encourages self-compassion which is vital in breaking free from self-blame and developing a healthier sense of self.
  • Re-inventing relationship priorities – shifting focus from seeking external validation through relationships to prioritising personal growth and well-being can break the pattern of entering unhealthy relationships. Engaging in activities that bring joy, pursuing hobbies, and setting realistic life goals can help foster self-reliance and independence.
  • Professional help – working with a qualified therapist specialising in relationship issues can provide invaluable guidance and tools for personal growth. Therapy can help individuals challenge their beliefs, develop healthier coping strategies, and work through relationship challenges.

Repeatedly entering unhealthy relationships can be a distressing and challenging pattern to break. However, with self-awareness, self-compassion, and professional support, you can overcome these destructive cycles and cultivate healthier, more fulfilling relationships in the future, including the relationship you have with yourself.

Recognising your worth and setting boundaries are essential steps on the path to breaking free from the grip of toxic partnerships and embracing a life of emotional well-being and happiness. It is possible. You can get there.

If you feel you are ready to make the positive changes you need to create a more fulfilled life for yourself, and you’d like some support to do it, I’d be more than happy to help. Having worked with survivors of domestic abuse for Women’s Aid, and with a background in supporting both male and female clients through narcissistic abuse, I’m more than confident we can work together to ensure you come out the other side a stronger, more resilient person with the utmost potential for healthy relationships in your future.

You can read more about me by heading to my profile where you’ll find all my contact details. I look forward to hearing from you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Manchester, Greater Manchester, M27 8UW
Written by Tracy McCadden, Counsellor & Supervisor BSc(Hons) MBACP
Manchester, Greater Manchester, M27 8UW

I have an educational background in Psychology, Counselling, & Cognitive Behaviour Therapy as well as a wealth of additional training, offering an integrative approach to clients' specific needs. My specialism is supporting clients recovering from abusive relationships, and I welcome clients that are committed to making a change for the better.

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