Attracting Emotionally Unavailable & Abusive Partners

Couple walking on the beach after being married

Every person who ever lived struggled with repeating behaviors they regretted, weren’t effective or they didn’t like! It is actually unavoidable to a degree; because of the way our brains work.

If you have re-entered relationships, begun others that turned out the same, or simply dropped your coffee on the same spot over and over then read on as we explore why this might be!

My Brain

Information about the world and how it works is logged in our brains and acts as a filter for our engagement with the world. Intricately woven in our sub-conscious awareness is a map that tells us how to relate, that grew out of our life experiences.

Everyone has a unique map, and it can change over time, but mostly it works quickly and imperceptibly to dictate our choices (1). Only through self-awareness, and exploration of the messages you learned could you begin to see your automatic assumptions, biases, and beliefs.

Let’s look together at a few of these areas that could keep you returning to and attracting emotionally unavailable and abusive partners.

Abusers Aren’t Advertised

Firstly, let’s remember that those who have a subconscious map that says, “it is ok to use and violate others” may not overtly know it, or show it initially. Those who subconsciously believe or accept that they need, or deserve to have sexual power over another, for example, perpetrate sexual abuse. Of course, these people seem normal and don’t have a warning sign attached.


Partners discussing emotionally abusive relationships over coffee

Many of us have experienced harsh or punitive relationships where we were ignored, demeaned, and generally made to feel less valuable than others. The collective impact of abuse is an inability to set good boundaries with people because our own boundaries were constantly violated (2).

For some, their subconscious doesn’t automatically hold them back where appropriate, rather they are pursuing acceptance or being heard. Unavailable or abusive people also lack relational and boundary skills and therefore may be more accepting of over-sharing.

They may also detect a desire for connection from the formally abused. Sadly it can be a little like a shark smelling blood in the water.

Believing Sex is Love

Another misconception often found underlying female sex addiction is that sex, or physicality is necessary to be loved.

This belief system will promote a more promiscuous or physically inviting stance that could be expressed in clothing or flirtatious behavior.

This becomes a problem when emotionally unavailable others or abusive partners look to exploit this access to sexual contact. The relationship may then be built on sexual experience but not have a true emotional connection to hold the relationship together.

Desire Not to be Alone

Another subconscious experience that is potent at driving towards many partners they may come to resent is the overwhelming imprint of having felt deeply alone. We, humans, terribly suffer when we are isolated, whether physically or emotionally.

For someone who has suffered verbal, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect, the desire to be known and ‘with’ someone can be huge. As you find another who could potentially be ‘with’ you, the desire to satisfy the hunger of ‘alone’ can cause you initially to look past the limitations and flaws in another’s engagement with you.

At first, it simply feels better to be in a relationship with all the initial endorphin rush—regardless of the relationships long-term potential.

Desire for Something Other than Smothering

Couple sitting amongst the lights

Almost the counter to neglect and disinterest is the experience of being smothered or used emotionally. (In actuality, someone neglecting or smothering you are both a denial of your own needs).

Those who have been a caretaker or the family supporter can find great solace in the arms of someone who isn’t ‘needy’ emotionally, who feels like they don’t demand much from you. However, these people can turn out to be emotionally taxing—the unavailable or the abusive that have a distorted relationship with their own needs.

Medicating Emotional Pain

The impact of being alone, or smothered leaves a great deal of emotional pain and distortion of relational needs. Addiction is a common result, as we grow attached to medicating pain.

Female sex addiction and substance abuse are common medications, which feels like an answer to the pain inside created by being alone, smothered or even sexually abused.

Normalized Abuse

When abuse is any form is a common experience in your life, you are far less aware of the warning signs, and the indications that something may be ‘off.’

In a sense, your subconscious scanning doesn’t pick up the subtle signs that should activate your sense of concern like someone who hasn’t suffered in the same way. It is like asking the fish to sense the water it swims in—very difficult because it is all the fish knows.

If you struggle with sex addiction, substance abuse, or unhealthy repeating relationships, you will do well to seek professional support. In this safe environment, you can learn to detect danger, build healthy boundaries, and learn to value yourself in a new way.

Paul LoosemoreAbout the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of where you can find his guide, or contact him.


[1] Matheson, L. (2014). Your faithful brain: designed for so much more. WestBowPress.
[2] Courtois, C. A., & Ford, J. D. (2016). Treatment of complex trauma: a sequenced, relationship-based approach. New York: The Guilford Press.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on September 24, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 24, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.