Home > abandonment, Outer Child > The Bigger and Better Syndrome

The Bigger and Better Syndrome

Also known as “Looking to Trade Up,” this syndrome is the scourge of committed relationships. You are attracted to a new person. She turns you on. You’re into her. You start seeing her every chance you get. The sex is hot. You feel close, connected. You begin to imagine a future together.

But as it gets more real, you wonder if there might be someone better for you out there, someone who gets you to feel even greater passion. In other words, if you were to commit to your current partner, would you be selling yourself short? Another woman starts coming on to you, and you start thinking about her. This changes the dynamics of your current relationship. Your partner starts to get needy and insecure. You feel the pressure. You feel engulfed and want to get out. You’re caught up in “The Bigger and Better Syndrome.”

How common is this syndrome? Very. It’s especially prevalent among “good catches.” They know they have options: The other fish in the sea swarm them. Having too many options is a problem. It makes it hard to make a final choice. You’re never sure if there might be someone better. So you delay “choosing the one you’re with.” The opposite end of the extreme is the person who latches on to the first person who shows any interest. You think “this is it.” Underneath, you are assuming “this is the best I can do.” You rationalize clinging to this person with “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” This can work out okay if you’ve picked someone who commits back to you– and someone who will grow with you over time.

But very often the person who clamps too quickly gets dumped. You’ve sent out all of your attachment tentacles to someone who is “looking to trade up.” Your partner eventually reverts to “surveying his other options.” You go into high gear to keep him. You are in pursuit mode. You are desperate to hold onto your catch. The emotional challenge serves as an aphrodisiac. You feel really hooked on this person – addicted. Your entire life revolves around keeping him. He, of course, in the meantime, is pulling back, resisting your engulfment.

Many eligible people out there have Bigger and Better Syndrome. They look like “winners” because they always seem to be on top. They seem to never get dumped. They are the one who does the pulling away, the leaving. They leave a long string of heartbroken lovers in their wake. This is good for their ego, bad for yours.

Yes, these people seem like the winners for a while. But if this syndrome continues into middle years, they wake up one day realizing they have a problem feeling love toward anyone who loves them back – especially for any length of time. Feelings of emptiness and loneliness creep in. Their life lacks a sense of purpose or meaning. They don’t know how to fill the hole except to continue finding partners who can make them feel infatuated. But they can’t sustain that feeling indefinitely, no matter who they fall for in the beginning. So out they go again in pursuit of “Bigger and Better.”

They are searching for the holy grail of lovers – someone who will keep them infatuated forever. He or she must be out there, they believe. But they continue to be surrounded by too many options, and they can never make a final choice. They have “Bigger and Better Syndrome” but don’t know how to fix it. What’s the solution? They have to hit bottom with feeling the emptiness – the futility of their current pattern. They have to recognize they have this syndrome. They have to become truly wise about how self-defeating these romantic escapades have become. They have become committed to change their ways. And then they have to take action.

This action consists of learning how to love – not just enjoying “pursuit mode” and infatuation, but learning how to love. Love as a verb. Love as a choice. Love as a cultivated behavior. Stay tuned…

  1. August 26, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    The constant search for the BBD is not only the restrictive force for “Breezers” and “The short Shrifted”, but a common denominator in divorce and a sought out remedy for the insecurity of aging.

    Another usless form of seeking happiness from external sources.

  2. David Harrison
    August 30, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Dear Dr. Anderson,

    Where on this Webpage is your ’email button’ link so that we can forward this article by email to friends, please?
    David Harrison

  3. August 31, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks for asking. I just added a share button to the blog. You can find it on the upper right hand corner of the page. Enjoy.

  4. Lisa S
    January 28, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    I find this to be totally true with my current boyfriend. He not only has BBS with relationships but in almost all areas of his life. I’m not sure that he has “hit bottom” so to speak. He’s 56 years old and I think he’s aware of the fact that he is the common demoninator in all his failed relationships. I totally relate to you saying that the significant other in a relationship with someone suffering from BBS gets emotional, desperate and feels addicted. This is happening to me and I’ve never been like this before. My question for you is: How do I get out? Every time I try, this addicted feeling comes back and I freak out. He keeps me dangling and says he loves me, but deep down I know this is just as long as it’s convenient for him and until he finds someone “better.” It truly is all about him and I don’t see this every changing. The irony is I really get nothing from this that’s positive any more…it’s a lot of misery and hurt. Why can’t I walk away?

  5. anthony
    July 23, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Dr Anderson, thank you for the information. Do you have a book for those who have the bigger,better syndrome?

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