Why We Stay in Bad Relationships
Who hasn’t remained in a bad or go nowhere relationship longer than they should have? We’ve all done it against our better judgment, whether we want to admit it or not.
Many people, both men and women, stay in go nowhere, dead end relationships even when their personal dissatisfaction is so palpable it fills a room. Why?
1) Familiarity–the comfort of dysfunction vs. the discomfort of the unknown. Oftentimes, relationships are a matter of “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” We all make choices about how much we can deal with and what we can tolerate. Some people worry that they’ll end up in an even more dissatisfying relationship. They tell themselves that their current situation is a better option to meeting a new, possibly even more damaged mate or being alone.
I used these rationalizations in my late 20s when I was involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. I didn’t want to “go back out there” (dating) and wanted companionship beyond my dog. After giving myself a much needed reality check, I realized that a psychologically healthy dog with a bladder control problem is preferable to a crazy, emotionally abusive person any day.
2) The investment of time and energy. Sometimes, people don’t let go of relationships that they know they need to end because of the time and energy they’ve expended into them. It’s hard to admit you’ve spent months or possibly YEARS in a relationship that, for whatever reason–emotional, psychological health or “it’s just over”–needs to END. In fact, the longer you stick with it, the harder it is to walk away.
3) The trap of working harder. Yes, relationships take work, but they shouldn’t be a continuous struggle. Healthy relationships are a source of mutual comfort, support, and growth, which often involve challenging each other to be your best selves. Every relationship hits some bumpy spots in the road, but it shouldn’t be the Bataan death march.
If you keep having the same problems without resolution, the same arguments, the same hurt feelings and resentments, and have been to couples counseling for a significant period of time and can’t reach a place of understanding, just end it. If you can’t resolve the issues that bring you to couples work in 6-18 months, you should reconsider your choice to remain in that relationship.
Maybe you’re just not compatible. Maybe you’ve just grown apart. Maybe it’s an emotionally abusive relationship, in which case counseling rarely helps because the abusive partner uses treatment to blame and control and/or quits when confronted with his or her bad behavior and goes “therapist shopping.” Don’t confuse “working harder at the relationship” with entrenching yourself in the problem. It’s better to get out than dig your heels in deeper.
4) Shame and failure. It’s difficult to admit a relationship needs to end. Many experience ending a relationship with a sense of shame and failure. The real shame and failure is to waste your life in conflict and dissatisfaction or, in extreme cases, an emotionally abusive relationship.
Growth and change occur across a lifetime. Partners we choose for ourselves early in life when we’re still sorting through childhood baggage make sense at the time. However, as we resolve those issues, if our relationships don’t evolve with us, they will no longer fit. It’s never too late to let go of misery or resignation and embrace change.
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
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How Many Years Have I Hated You? by theXenon on flickr.