If your relationship ends, and you have an eye out for new people to date, don't be surprised if you end up falling for someone just like your ex. According to recent research, which looked at data from a nine year study in Germany, this tends to be exactly what happens. The study examined the personality traits of an individual's ex and their current partner, and found a significant degree of similarities.
This may explain why you have a "type" when it comes to dating, and possibly even why you keep having the same type of relationship. While many factors are involved, one way to explain it is your attachment style, or how you act in relationships, which is determined by your experience within your family while growing up. "Attachment styles can be broken down into three main groups: secure, anxious, and avoidant," Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Secure people are comfortable in relationships but are also comfortable on their own. Anxious people tend to be more of the 'clingy' type. Avoidant people tend to avoid emotional closeness and vulnerability."
Whatever your attachment style may be, you might find yourself attracted to people who feed into it, Nelson-Terry says. If you're anxious, for example, you might go for folks who are never truly available because it fuels that anxiety, and thus feels "right" to you, even if it isn't what you truly want.
It may also be that you're dating people with certain negative personality traits — like those who are controlling or emotionally detached — as a way of resolving old family conflicts. "We refer to this in the field of psychotherapy as 'the repetition syndrome,'" Arlene B. Englander, LCSW, MBA, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle. "The current love interest may share qualities that are similar to one or both of our parents and pre-consciously we are trying, as an adult, to finally resolve a situation which, as a [child], we felt too vulnerable and helpless to control."
That said, it could simply come down to enjoying certain qualities in people, and seeking them out as a result. "It is not always a bad thing to date someone who is like your ex," Nelson-Terry says. "Your ex is multi-dimensional and if you can find a person who exhibits qualities of your ex that you found created a strong relationship then it is no problem."
Typically, though, relationships end for a reason, and your partner's personality traits can play into that. So if you aren't happy with how things have been going, rest assured that "changes can be made with mindfulness, concerted efforts to date based on intellectual decision making more so than 'sparks' or 'instant attraction,' and efforts to challenge one’s own typical relationship styles and behaviors," Noel Hunter, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "Patterns never disappear, but can fade away over time as new patterns take shape and become reinforced."
One way to help create a different situation is by taking a step back and reflecting on what went well in the past, and getting "clear on the relationship patterns and personality traits that contributed to your unhappiness," Nelson-Terry says. And from there, checking in with yourself as you start to date again.
"Notice the way the person makes you feel, [and] how you feel after each interaction (phone call, date, text, etc)," Nelson-Terry says. "If you notice that you are feeling insecure in the relationship, feeling anxious, or noticing that you are not happy with the direction of the relationship, then that is a red flag that you may be dating someone who is like your ex."
It can also help to go to therapy to begin uncovering what may have contributed to your attachment style, if you aren't liking what you're seeing. You can even chat about what you're looking for in a partner, and create a few goals for the future, including how you might begin stepping outside your comfort zone. It's fine to date someone like your ex, if they had qualities you liked. But if this is a pattern you'd like to step away from, you certainly can.
Park, Y., MacDonald, G. (2019). Consistency between individuals’ past and current romantic partners’ own reports of their personalities. PNAS. 116 (26) 12793-12797. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1902937116
Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Arlene B. Englander, LCSW, MBA, licensed psychotherapist
Noel Hunter, PsyD, clinical psychologist