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Boomerang Relationships

What drives them?

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

Many people seeking long-term relationships are drawn to similar kinds of partners. Whether they are comforted by familiarity, attracted to the same presentation of personality characteristics, or excited by the way certain people look or smell, they typically repeat those patterns.

But there is another set of relationship seekers who bounce from one kind of partner to another, often seeking the opposite of the partner they’ve been with. As a result, their relationships vary dramatically from partnership to partnership, because they crave the challenges those differences offer. When each relationship ends, they truly believe that it was because they just haven’t found the right person.

Those who care about them worry that their standards are unsatisfiable, and fear they are doomed to eternal discontent. Maybe their standards are too high, or they are searching for the wrong thing, or their fantasies are beyond what real-life relationships can ever provide.

In my work with these ping-pong partners, I have rarely found that to be the case. What I see instead are deeper and more compelling reasons behind why successful long-term relationships continue to elude them. It is not until they can more fully understand what causes them to embrace and then discard each new partner, that they can break those ever-seeking patterns.

If you are one of those people who has searched your entire dating life for the one person who could forever capture you and have never found him or her, you must search, instead, for what is causing your mission to fail.

Following are the eight most common reasons why many relationship seekers continually switch from one kind of partner to another.

Dependent on the Relationship Environment

If people only look to the outside stimuli for fulfilling their perfect partner, they will only choose to change that external experience rather than changing the way they, themselves, think and behave. The repeated presentation of the same self can only be successful if there are new partners to witness it. If they continue to count on the other to create the magic, they are bound to feel entrapped when predictability sets in.

Pre-Written Scripts

Many people who go from one relationship to another have a pre-written expectation of what enduring love should look like. They consciously or unconsciously expect their partners to somehow know what they are supposed to say and do according to those expectations. They become dissatisfied and disillusioned when their partner simply doesn’t think or act as expected in those scenarios.


If a person constantly seeks new experiences and loses hope after each one wanes, he or she may be suffering from clinical depression. Their brains may not make enough reward chemicals to keep them feeling alive and hopeful when a new experience ceases to be exciting. Any situation that produces those passions produces that reward chemical and lifts them temporarily out of the depression. Just the experience of falling in love makes them feel hopeful and involved. Sadly, those processes don’t stay that way forever, and the depression returns. Too often, it is erroneously blamed on the relationship.

Anticipated Rejection

“Perfect relationship” seekers depend heavily on being wanted and desirable. When their partners show any sign of pulling away, they often find reasons to end the relationship first so that they will not have to experience being abandoned. These responses may be unconscious but are clearly identifiable when they recur on a regular basis.

Seeking to Resolve Past Relationships

So many people search for a relationship that replicates unfinished or unresolved relationships from the past, particularly those from childhood. They are often unknowingly seeking to relive those prior relationships in each new one, hoping to resolve the past by changing the future. Many times, they find themselves drawn to a mother or father figure who is symbolic of unmet needs or too many unearned praises. It can even be the replication of a media figure whom they were once enamored with or a lost love from high school. Too often the partner who is on the other end of that choice does not fulfill that expectation, and the relationship ends.

Unintegrated Personalities

It is not uncommon for people to have many different aspects of their personalities that are not integrated. One part of them, for example, may ache for a parental figure who puts them on a pedestal, while another part of them simultaneously wants someone who challenges them. Or, they may act as if they are only wanting great sex, but inwardly ache for being loved for themselves, separate from their physical appeal. Some people are excited by someone out of reach, but can’t deal with the feelings of abandonment that may accompany that relationship.

Maybe There Really Is Someone Better for Me Out There?

Some people are relationship island hoppers because they are fearful that there may be a better opportunity at some later time. They sample and enjoy each relationship for a while and then eventually wonder whether it will ever satisfy them long-term. If they stay, will they regret it? If they leave, will they regret that loss forever? Their inability to solve that dilemma drives them to avoid any long-term commitment.


Many people who continue to seek new and different partners fear that, once the relationship they’re in is established, that they will cease being interested. However, it is unlikely that people who get bored are not facing the fact that they can also be boring themselves. They project same-old, same-old onto their partners without realizing that they have also stopped bringing any new stimulation or excitement into the relationship.

You may have one or two of these drivers, or perhaps even all of them. The good news is that your patterns can change and you can create the kind of relationship that will give you ongoing hope and joy. It is not about the relationship; it’s about transforming yourself.


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