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Dysfunction Interrupted- How to Stop Choosing the Wrong Person

You may be wondering why you always seem to end up with the wrong kind of person in the wrong kind of relationship. A relationship where you are mistreated, disrespected or neglected. One where you have no chance of thriving; one that causes you depression and anxiety and obviously needs to end. Once again, you have wasted yet another period of time on a person you have no business being with.

This dynamic is almost always a product of choosing or accepting a relationship based on emotional baggage and dysfunctional thought patterns learned in childhood or early adulthood.  You may have been abused, betrayed, invalidated, or abandoned (emotionally or literally) by parents or caretakers, or made to feel that you were not capable of rational decision making.

You may believe you are better off with anyone than trying to get through life by yourself. You may think you are unlovable and lucky to get any attention at all. You may be uncomfortable alone and seek constant adoration, even if it is false or only comes in spurts.

If any of these sound like you don’t despair.

It is very possible for you to find the right relationship, one that is healthy, and giving: One where you can be the person you were meant to be, not some half-shell version, unable to thrive in a toxic environment. Yes, even if you have chosen the wrong relationship multiple times and are now in your 50’s, 60’s or even 70’s!

I am going to simplify this as much as possible by breaking down the dysfunctional process and giving you three tools to utilize in the choosing of your next significant other.

  1. Tool Number One is to slow it down, to a standstill if need be. That heady rush you feel when first meeting someone can be your worst enemy even though it feels wonderful at the time. That feeling can be a response to any of the limiting beliefs discussed above and seem like a relief to the anxiety they all cause. You may be reacting to your own needs, not the actual person. Telling yourself for example-“I am not alone” “I am lovable” “He/she has a paycheck,” you get the idea. The short-lived relief you feel blocks out any possible red flags in the other person. This feeling can also be a product of a feeling of familiarity, meaning you have ‘been there done that’ with someone else, usually with the same result. Sometimes we are tricked into thinking familiar is good.
  2.  Tool Number Two is to write yourself a checklist of what you would like in another person. Things that are non negotiable, such as drug abuse, things that are maybe negotiable like children from a previous marriage, and things you would like to share interests in. (You don’t have to have everything in common, but some things are nice.) Now decide where this new person stands on that list. If they don’t meet the criteria now they aren’t going to meet it later. You are off on the wrong road again. Time to have a nice dinner and move on.
  3. Now is the time for Tool Number Three because I know that at least half of you will continue on with the above person hoping they will change a bit or not trusting yourself to make the right call. This tool is where you stop and think right now about any red flags you have seen or felt (that you are ignoring). Anything at all. Some comment that was said that left you feeling weird, a facial expression that made you feel bad, a fact or detail that didn’t make sense, a story that you thought was mean-spirited or not within your moral code, things moving too quickly on their part. Anything. Write these down.

Although it seems simplistic, you now have the information needed to decide whether you move forward or not. Slowing it down allows you time to think and do some introspective investigation as to why this relationship is so important right now. If you are able to decide this is a product of an unmet emotional need other than companionship it will be better to work that out first. Enhanced self-esteem and trusting yourself are very achievable goals and make all the difference in how you approach the world.

The checklist keeps things easy. One page, three categories, done. Does this person meet the biggies?

Red flags arise for a reason and mean that you have a good brain that is trying to give you a warning. Like when it senses danger and the hair on your neck stands up. You should not ignore it in either instance. It is the first step in trusting yourself and is the easiest as it occurs at a gut level and really doesn’t require much thought.

You would not go back to stand under a falling tree to see what happens nor do you need to go back to the wrong person to see what happens. Neither outcome is positive. A good match for you will not have red flags. They may have habits or quirks you could live without but there is a difference, those habits and quirks should not leave you feeling confused or bad somehow.

Instead of panicking when you realize you are choosing the wrong person again, reframe your thoughts to be grateful you are not going to waste more time and focus instead on working out the bugs in your self-esteem and self-beliefs. Look forward to your life with a person you deserve who doesn’t cause you grief and frustration. Fill your time with fun things and personal development while you wait for the right partner to come along. The better you feel about yourself, the better choices you will make for yourself

Dysfunction Interrupted- How to Stop Choosing the Wrong Person

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Dr. Audrey Sherman is a licensed psychologist, coach and the author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. Her expertise is in defining, describing and transforming dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns learned in childhood or beyond that keep you anxious, depressed, angry, stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. Dr. Sherman developed the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and other free resources to help you determine the effects of these on your life. She works with individuals, conducts live and online workshops and trains others in her programs. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, you can visit her website.

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2019). Dysfunction Interrupted- How to Stop Choosing the Wrong Person. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Feb 2019
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