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Why do we marry the "wrong" person?

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

Do you ever wonder whether you are married to the right person? Or feel as though there is no hope in your love life? Do you ever find yourself wondering what it would be like if you left your marriage?

Yes? Well, that’s totally normal to be struggling with these questions.

Let’s put some context in place.

Firstly, we are all flawed human beings with our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It takes us an awfully long time to figure this out and when we do, it's painful and we will probably deny it at first.

We deny it because it's easier and less painful than to admit there's something wrong with us, that we're not perfect.

Everyone around us sees it – our friends, our parents and our ex-partners – they all know but people tend to not go around telling each other what’s wrong with them. Thank goodness!

Secondly, we live in a society that does everything to distract us so that we can’t spend any time alone with our thoughts. It is very hard to figure out how flawed we are on our own. We literally do anything to not spend any time speaking to our own selves. (It’s also one of the reasons that counselling can feel so uncomfortable at first but helps you listen to your own thoughts.)

The other thing that society does, is tell us that there is someone out there who is the right person, our soulmate. We are told to follow our instincts and to trust our feelings. This only leads to unhappiness because our instincts and feelings are driven by our childhood…hold that thought for a minute.

All these things together – the fact that we are flawed, our inability to see those flaws and our expectations to have a perfect relationship – all conspire against us to end up in relationships that feel "wrong".

In theory, we are free to choose our partners but we are unconsciously led by our childhood and our experience of love when we were little.

Familiarity is key in our choice of partners. We seek love and we recognise love, but only in a way that feels familiar to us, that of our childhood.

When we are born, all we know is love. That experience of being loved by our parents becomes our foundation; a sort of template of what love looks and feels like. Here’s a twist - the same goes for abusive or emotionally unavailable parents...the child thinks this is love.

So, we can be forgiven if we think that this is the kind of love that we expect in our adult romantic relationships.

Unfortunately, this does not lead to happy, romantic relationships.

We think we want a partner who will make us happy. In reality, we want someone who will make us feel familiar.

Love in our childhood is bound up with not just positive feelings but also feelings of disappointment, rejection, humiliation, shame, etc. (Our parents are also flawed human beings!) So, fundamentally, in our search for love, we are looking for someone who will love us but also make us suffer in order for us to feel love is real. Love is real when it feels familiar.

Try this. Think about your past relationships and write down the characteristics of people whom you found interesting and do the same for those whom you found boring. Can you see a pattern?

You may discover that you find people interesting when they display a certain behaviour that feels familiar to you, e.g. rejecting you, judging you, shouting at you. This inevitably leads to unhappiness in the name of familiarity.

Or, you might discover that the 'boring' people are the ones with characteristics that you like, but you're afraid of, at the same time. You're afraid of those characteristics because they're alien to you; they're unfamiliar and carry the risk of making you feel happy.

So, understanding our childhood and how it affects our adult relationships is the only way we can then choose to free ourselves from our past and choose our responses more consciously.

Our childhood forms the way we respond to our partners. So, you know how our parents are not perfect?! When we are little, there comes a point when we realise that we can love and hate our parents at the same time. This is an important psychological achievement as we realise that there are parts in our parents that we love and parts that we hate. This is also the key to finding love…because love means that we accept someone else’s weaknesses.

So, what is love? It’s our ability to see past our partner’s flaws and compromise that they are not perfect. Love is about accepting that they are not the right person, but they are good enough. To love means to work on our relationship for long enough that we end up being compatible.

So, is there hope? Do we all need to end our marriages? Well, no not exactly.

· The key is to accept that your original template for love will always be there, but your responses can be different.

· Compromising and accepting your partner’s weakness is a big step towards having a healthy marriage.

· Communicating without expecting the other person to telepathically know how you feel, will help you get in touch with your own vulnerable feelings so you can talk about how you feel.

· Becoming aware of what you resent and what you appreciate in your relationship will help you be more forgiving and grateful of your partner.

If you are struggling with feelings that your partner isn't right for you, and you'd like to spend some time exploring your own thoughts in a non-judgemental space, then counselling could give you the headspace to find the answers you need. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

You can email me


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