Are There Relationship Types?

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that there are some people who seem to pick the same “type” of person over and over, despite the fact that their relationships continue to end in disaster.  But when people say “type”, what do they actually mean?  Does type refer to a person’s preference in appearance, character, or personality -and which characteristic actually impacts the success of relationships?

Well, after some research, it seems the evidence points to all three. For example, there are a number of studies that suggest when it comes to physical preference, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  One particular study on physical liking suggests that 50% of people’s preferences for faces is unique to them, and who we find attractive is most strongly influenced by our life experiences.

According to Jeremy Wilmer, an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College, if most people were to rate the same faces for attractiveness they would agree about 50% of the time.  The other 50% seems to be based on personal experiences.  Now, when we say personal experiences, we mean experiences that go beyond basic environmental factors such as the city you grew up in, or the people you went to college with.  It deals more specifically with close interpersonal experiences like your circle of friends, the people who work on your team, or people you’ve dated in the past.   In other words, the close, interpersonal relationships we have with people are instrumental in each individual determining their physical preference “type”.

And while evidence on people having a physical preference has always been readily available, new research suggests that people may also have preferences when it comes to personality types, according to a study conducted by the German Family Panel. In this study, the researches followed participants for a period of 9 years.  They took data from those who had at least 2 partners during that time period, and whose partners were willing to fill out the questionnaires.  The outcomes showed that current partners described their personalities similarly to former partners.  This lead to the conclusion that people do have a specific  personality "type" that persists across relationships. The results were similar regardless of how many partners the participants had.  And on an even more interesting side note, the study found that the personalities of the partners were not only similar to each other, but to the participants themselves.

But even more mysterious when it comes to people’s “type” is character.  It is seemingly the most elusive quality that draws people together, because who we wish to be with character wise, does not always fit with who we end up with. The reason people’s character type is a little more mysterious, is because unlike personality and appearance which people tend to be drawn to consciously, most people are drawn to the character of their significant other unconsciously.  Very often, we choose people who will help us with unfinished business from our past.  For example, if as children we felt our caretakers did not fully meet our needs, we are more likely to end up in relationships with people who don’t meet our needs. Consciously, we may like to someone because we find them attractive, but unconsciously we’re drawn to them because their emotional unavailability reinforces a familiarity caused by an absentee parent.

The atmosphere we experienced when we were children, whether violence, chaos, rejection or emptiness very often is recreated when we are adults, and we are drawn to those people who will best help us recreate our old environments. The problem is the person who we are drawn to unconsciously, that is meeting our unresolved needs from the past, may not have qualities of a person that we consciously want – which ultimately leads to internal- and external conflict.

So now that we have concluded that people do in fact have a type, how do we go about breaking away from our type if our past relationships have not worked?  Please stay tuned for my upcoming post 7 Things You Can do to Stop Choosing the Wrong Partner when we talk about breaking old patterns and making better choices in relationships.

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