By Jed Diamond, PhD, LSCW
NABBW’s Associate for Male Menopause

We all want love, but we often have a hard time finding it and keeping love alive and well in our relationships.

According to statistics compiled by divorcerate.org, 40% to 50% of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce.

  • Most of us marry again, but the odds are against us.
  • 60% to 67% of second marriages don’t last and nearly 75% of third marriages fail.
  • Many have become fearful of “marriage” and look for a healthy long-term “relationship” without “typing the knot.”

Divorce statistics are notoriously difficult to gauge accurately. Whatever the actual number, we all want to have a healthy, loving, long-lasting relationship. But often feel disappointed.

Some just give up, get busy at work, or try to substitute good friends for the joy of partnered intimacy and love. Few people stop and ask themselves why so many of us hunger for love, intimacy, and the stability of a long-term marriage, but instead find pain, disconnection, and divorce.

Jed wrong love bookAfter going through two painful divorces, I decided to figure out why I was looking for love in all the wrong places.

Well, actually I first wrote a book about my experiences with the not so surprising title, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.

I’ve now been married three times and I’m happy to report that my wife, Carlin, and I seem to be defying the odds of third-marriage breakups. We’ve been together now for 35 years and our love continues to deepen. That’s not to say that we haven’t had our share of difficult times. We have. But we learned the secret of having the kind of relationship most of us long for, but have not been able to achieve. Unfortunately, many of us hunger for a “Type A,” but seem to get hooked on “Type Z.” Let me explain.

Most of us have a pretty good idea of the qualities we look for in a mate. I’ve looked for someone who is loving, nurturing, attractive, kind, intelligent, caring, and self-aware (I call this “Type A”). But when I look back on the qualities in the relationships I’ve actually been in I find they are often fiery, frightened, angry, attractive, uncompromising, wounded, and worried (I call this “Type Z”).

After two failed marriages and numerous dysfunctional relationships, I took some time to delve deeply into the question, “If I want someone who is Type A, why do I keep choosing women who are Type Z? I also had to ask, “If I want to express qualities of Type A, why do I slip into expressing the qualities of Type Z?” What I came to understand was that my Type-A desires were coming from my conscious mind, but my Type Z choices were driven by my subconscious mind.

Why the Subconscious Mind is So Powerful and Can Lead Us Astray

George Miller, Ph.D, is one of the founding fathers of modern cognitive psychology. According to Dr. Miller, the conscious mind puts out on average between 20 and 40 neuron firings per second, while the subconscious puts out between 20 and 40 million firings per second. In other words, in measuring the activity of the subconscious mind as compared to the conscious mind, we’re looking at a factor of about a million to one. No wonder we find ourselves looking for love in all the wrong places.

We think of our power conscious mind being in charge of our lives. If I want a Type A person who is loving and nurturing, I’ll just go out and find them. But our conscious mind is really like a flea who is riding an elephant. The flea may think he’s in charge, but the elephant goes where he wants. Often it’s to a Type Z person or relationship.

You might be at a party and are talking to an interesting person, seems Type-A all the way. But then you begin to feel a bit bored. Something clicks off in your mind. You walk away and your eyes are drawn to another person on the other side of the room. You turn on all your charm and soon you’ve made a connection. You don’t know why, but once again you’ve turned off to a Type-A person you might be happy with and gotten hooked on a Type-Z person you can’t let go of until you are both miserable and want to kill each other. Sound familiar?

Why do we find ourselves looking for love in all the wrong places and getting hooked on Type-Z addictive love instead of finding Type-A true love?

The subconscious mind works largely by association. It connects things to other things. In other words, it pays attention to resonances and it is always working in the background. It’s why we’re drawn to people who reverberate with feelings from the past.

The Three Little-Known Drivers of Our Subconscious Relationship Behaviors

1. Early family patterns

The first clue I got to the influence of early family patterns occurred when I took a closer look on the kind of people I tended to “fall in love” with. I reflected back on my two failed marriages and on the other relationships that hadn’t worked out. What they had in common was Type-Z qualities including women who were fiery, frightened, angry, attractive, uncompromising, wounded, and worried. When I thought about my mother and father’s relationship, I realized my mother was fiery, frightened, and worried. My father was attractive, uncompromising, and angry.

Reflect on your own Type-Z relationships. What qualities do they share? Think back on your mother and father’s relationship and see what qualities they may have expressed. We often recreate our family dynamics because they are familiar. They feel like home.

2. Relationship trauma

Most of us have experienced some degree of abuse, neglect, or abandonment in our intimate relationships. These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs for short) become internalized and damage our adult relationships. My father became depressed and angry and tried to commit suicide when I was five year’s old. Trauma always influences who we are drawn to and who we pull away from. Trauma can occur in our families and can also play out in later relationships. Again our subconscious will look for any resonance, no matter how small, and can cause us to turn off to a good Type-A prospect and be drawn to a dysfunctional Type-Z.

Here are some questions to ask that can help you recognize subconscious trauma:

  • Did you lose a parent through death, divorce, or emotional neglect?
  • Was a family member physically or emotionally sick when you were growing up?
  • Were you left (even for a short time) and you grew up feeling afraid of abandonment?
  • Did a parent drink or use drugs to a degree that they were absent emotionally?
  • Was a parent irritable, angry, or aggressive to you or other family members?
  • Did you have one or more painful breakups with someone you loved?

3. Sexual Selection: Reproductive success drives what men and women find attractive.

One of your direct ancestors died childless. Think what that means. Your mother found your father and they had at least one child. Also true of your grandparents, and it goes all the way back through your genetic line. The field of evolutionary psychology helps us understand, for instance, why men are drawn to women with smooth skin, large eyes, and a waist to hip ratio of 0.7. It also explains why women are drawn to tall men who are ambitious and successful.

In his book The Evolution of Desire, Dr. David Buss, one of the leaders of the field, says “The evolution of the female preference for males who offer resources may be the most ancient and pervasive basis for female choice in the animal kingdom.” Men are more often drawn to women who are youthful and beautiful.

These kinds of mate preferences made sense when our ancestors lived in harsh conditions. Women had to rely on big strong men for protection and to share scarce resources. Men had to depend on women who could bare healthy children that would carry on their genetic heritage.

So subconsciously men will be drawn to young attractive females and women will be drawn to tall successful males. These desires may have little to do with what will make us happy. If we didn’t understand this Carlin and I would have met briefly and gone our separate ways. She is slightly taller than me and I’m five years younger than her. But instead of giving in to our biologically driven desires and abandoning a Type-A romance and marriage, we worked through our initial discomforts and found we were perfect for each other.

Think about who your subconscious biological desires have drawn you to choosing. Ask if they turned out to be Type A or Type Z? Remember that feeling of chemical attraction or repulsion may lead you in exactly the wrong direction. You may turn away from your perfect partner, while being drawn to one loser after another.

Once we are in touch with where the “elephant of our subconscious” wants to go, we can learn to heal old wounds and get our whole mind working together. We can find the right partner for each of us and keep love alive now and forever.

Jed Diamond, Ph.D. has been a marriage and family counselor for more than 40 years. He is the author of 12 books, including Stress Relief for Men, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome and Men Alive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools.

He offers counseling to men, women, and couples in his office in California or by phone with people throughout the U.S. and around the world. To receive a free subscription to Jed’s e-newsletter go to www.MenAlive.com. If you are looking for an expert counselor to help with relationship issues, write Jed@MenAlive.com. Or, join Jed on Facebook!