I kept thinking if I just gave him more time, he’d learn to control his temper. I made excuses for his outbursts and I always made a point to emphasize his good qualities when I was hurt and upset. It took me six long years to realize that nothing was ever going to change.

—–

The funny thing is that I considered her my very good friend despite the fact she was always making snide comments about me. I would tell her she was hurting my feelings and she’d laugh and say that I was way too sensitive and didn’t have much of a sense of humor and, you know, I’d think she was right about me. We’d been friends since childhood. I finally woke up when I walked in on her, kissing my fiancé in my kitchen. I fired them both.

All humans, research shows, are highly motivated by loss aversion; we prefer the known to the unknown and the comfort and safety of the familiar even when the familiar makes us deeply unhappy.

Most of us have trouble leaving people, places, and situations. But unloved daughters—those who have insecure styles of attachment and whose emotional needs weren’t met in childhood—have the most trouble of anyone. They’re prone to stay long past the expiration date again and again.

Why is that?

  • They don’t trust their own judgment and question the validity of their feelings

Daughters who’ve been marginalized, ignored, or told that they’re too sensitive often second-guess themselves and their perceptions. Because they are in search of love and connection, they tend to make excuses for friends and partners who consistently fail to be attentive and caring. They tend to be pleasers and appeasers when there’s friction which just keeps the dynamic going.

  • They often normalize toxic and hurtful behaviors

Unloved daughters, especially those who have grown up with verbal abuse as a steady diet, who have been scapegoated or bullied in the family, or who have been told again and again that they are lacking, often don’t see that they’re being manipulated or mistreated because they’re used to it. Many of us ending up living what we learned in our families of origin.

  • They’re confused about what love and closeness look like

Many unloved daughters end up in relationships that are emotionally very volatile, especially those who have an anxious/preoccupied style of attachment. These women are apt to confuse the ups-and-downs of an unstable relationship with passion, especially if there is a lot of kiss-and-make-up sex.

  • They have trouble getting a bead on other people

Unloved daughters, absent knowing what love and support feels like in the day-to-day, often have trouble reading other people’s behaviors. They may find themselves in a relationship with someone who is highly avoidant and really doesn’t want close connection and think that he or she is just fiercely independent.

They may wrongly label someone who’s emotionally shallow as less demonstrative or more self-controlled. They are prone to mistake the grandiosity of someone high in narcissistic traits for strength, combativeness as merely competitive, emotional detachment for calm and collected. They may not pay attention to red flags that securely attached people would pick up on right away: a tendency to fly off the handle, vindictive behavior, being hyper-critical of others, always needing to be in control.

Many of these daughters will end up, at one point or another, in what I’m calling a “fixer-upper relationship” much to their detriment.

The problem with the “fixer-upper” relationship

It’s only in hindsight that I realize he never really changed at all. He was always concerned about himself, first and foremost, and never about me. I so badly wanted to believe that he loved me that I kept telling myself we were going to turn the corner. It was nothing more than my pipe dream. He had no interest in me deep-down.

Houses can be remodeled to suit our tastes, old furniture stripped and refurbished, but the fixer-upper relationship is something else entirely. When one person in a relationship sees the other as a DIY project in the making, the outcome is rarely positive; people can choose to change themselves but they cannot be changed by someone else.

The energy the unloved daughter brings to this kind of relationship is rooted in baseless hope—which has everything to do with her neediness and very little to do with the other person’s capacities or desires—and is fueled by intermittent reinforcement.

As the work of B.F. Skinner showed, getting what you want some of the time—being reinforced intermittently—is the most powerful motivator of persistence. And unloved daughters often get totally sucked into the loop, hanging on to the supposed “proof” that the person she is focused on is really capable of meeting her needs or being loving and attentive. It keeps her stuck.

The double whammy of the fixer-upper connection

Until the unloved daughter begins to understand how she’s participating in her own unhappiness, she’s likely to stay, continuing the carousel ride of hopefulness followed by hurt and disappointment. When her moment of recognition comes, it’s key that she take responsibility not just for choosing to be in a relationship with the wrong person but for her own behaviors that kept it going. People can change but only if they choose to.

Photograph by Charlies Deets. Copyright free. Unsplas