It’s Not Just Your Imagination – Your Exes are Really Similar

Many of us realize that we are attracted to certain physical and personality traits in a partner. Being drawn to potential partners with blonde hair, a sense of humor, and who are physically active are some examples. Intuitively, we have a sense that we are drawn to certain types of people over and over again. If this is true, it means our exes have a lot in common. Recent research actually confirms this.

You Do Have a “Type”

Researchers from the University of California-Davis studied this issue of common traits in romantic partners through three separate but related studies. They compared over 1,000 heterosexual relationships by conducting interviews and tracking social media. The results showed that people actually do have a “type” of preferred partner. Also, the study indicated that people are drawn to partners with similar physical qualities for both short-term and long-term relationships. In other words, we’re attracted to a similar physical type, regardless of whether the person is ready/wanting a life-long relationship or a casual interaction.

Location Does Matter

One of the studies, conducted with young adults, looked at whether partners had similar qualities beyond physical attractiveness (such as intelligence and religious affiliation). The conclusion was yes, but it’s often because of the physical location where these young people interacted. In their case, it was at a school or college, where you often find like-minded people of similar intelligence.  Also, if you attend a church, synagogue, or other house of worship, you will meet people whom you have common ground and potentially meet a partner.


Interestingly, when it comes to physical attraction these attributes remain similar regardless of short-term flings or committed relationships. People still selected partners who had common physical characteristics, such as hair color or body type. Of course, it’s a challenge to determine how to measure attractiveness since this quality is very subjective. However, attractiveness was likely determined by participants’ self-reporting methods.

So What Does All This Mean?

Overall, the research indicates that our chances of finding a partner are determined where we live and also physical desirability. However, the researchers didn’t address the more complex issue of people who are repeatedly attracted to the same personality dynamic. Essentially, this means that many people who are repeatedly attracted to certain personality characteristics are often attracted to unhealthy characteristics. For instance:

  • Relationships that are controlling.
  • Relationships that create a codependency between both partners.
  • Relationships that involve drug or alcohol use/abuse.
  • Relationships that reinforce negative childhood experiences or unhealthy parent/child dynamics.

Unfortunately, not everyone realizes they are stuck in these relationship patterns or dysfunctional cycles. It often takes professional intervention to help you identify and understand the repeated themes at work in your relationship.

How Can I Tell If I am In an Unhealthy Relationship?

Oftentimes we don’t recognize these patterns ourselves, which means we blindly go from one unhealthy relationship to the next. This causes us to become stuck in relationships that are either unhealthy, unsatisfying or both. Working with a therapist can help uncover these unhealthy dynamics and identify the desirable qualities that you’ve been seeking in relationships. Once you have the insight, you are then able to take proactive steps towards changing those patterns to healthier ones. You then are able to seek loving and caring connections and avoid destructive and unhealthy partnerships.

It’s one thing to notice your exes all have the same physical appearance.  However, if you have consistently ended up in unhealthy relationships, working with a therapist can help you uncover any dysfunctional patterns. Then you will know which traits to look for in a prospective partner. In addition, you’ll  know which characteristics to avoid!


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