Ever wonder why you, or someone you know, remain in an unhealthy relationship? There are times the love and affection may be gone, and we know the relationship is unhealthy and even dysfunctional, yet we stay. As a therapist, I’ve seen a number of reasons people continue to stay in unhealthy relationships.
Kids – Having children together is one of the main reasons people stay in a relationship that may be unhappy or dysfunctional. The majority of couples who share the responsibility of parenting don't want their kids growing up in a “broken home,” and having to be shuttled back and forth, from parent to parent. After all, it's not the child's fault if his or her parents decide to split up. Most parents of school-age children try to stick it out for the kids until they’re adults heading off to college, while others choose a time when the kids are grown enough to actually comprehend the situation. If this is you, ask yourself, “Do I want my child to observe his or her parents carrying on a loveless marriage?” Whether or not you’re ready to leave a relationship, marriage counseling can help you work through your concerns, including co-parenting, and make a decision that’s best for you – and your family.
Finances – Another primary reason people choose to stay with their partner or spouse, despite being in an unhappy relationship, is due to their financial situation. If one person in the relationship makes, or controls, all the money, it might be incredibly difficult for the spouse or partner to leave the relationship without having money of their own. We all begin relationships with high hopes of a lifetime of love, but we can’t predict in advance how a romantic partnership will turn out. It’s important to not only maintain your own financial reserve or source of income, but to be able to have an open and honest conversation about how money decisions will be made. A financial planner can help you assess your financial situation as a couple and plan for future contingencies.
Low Self-Esteem – It's not uncommon for both men and women to find themselves stuck in unhealthy relationships due to their own low self-esteem. If you feel that you’re not worthy of true love and respect, you might settle for someone who seems “good enough” but isn’t really the right person for you. You may not be making these decisions consciously, but may be repeating patterns from childhood that keep you stuck in dysfunctional, or even abusive relationships. Ask yourself, “Do all my relationships seem to look the same? Do I repeatedly find myself in relationships where my needs aren’t met or my rights violated?” If so, exploring these issues in individual therapy can help you get a clearer sense of who you are, and what you need and deserve, from your romantic partner.
Fear – Dating may be enjoyable for some people, but others prefer to always be in a relationship in order to feel secure in life. Fear of loneliness, and not being loved, is a fairly common reason people stay in unhealthy relationships. Sometimes we’re just terrified of being single yet again. If you and your partner have been together a long time, it might feel incredibly scary to imagine being alone, and entering the dating pool once again. If this describes your relationship, ask yourself, “Do I want to be ruled by fear? Or do I want to open myself up to true love and intimacy?” Therapy or life coaching can help you explore ways to take action towards your relationship goals.
Codependency – Often, people with codependent tendencies are drawn to one another and end up stuck in dysfunctional relationships. Each person may feel that they can't fully function without the other, and due to convenience rather than true love and caring, they continue to stay together. Codependency is particular common in relationships where addiction or substance abuse is present. If you’re in a relationship where your partner is addicted to substances, such as alcohol, or processes, such as sex or shopping, consider exploring your own codependent tendencies in therapy. A support group such as Al Anon, which puts you into contact with others experiencing the same relationship dynamics, can also be helpful.
Guilt – Feeling guilty is yet another reason people choose to stay involved in unhealthy relationships. If you’ve broken your partner’s trust in the past, by being unfaithful or lying, you may feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. You may be continuing in the unhealthy relationship because you feel you “owe” your partner something. If this sounds like you, ask yourself, “What do I owe myself?” While it’s important to honor your commitment to your partner, you also want to get in touch with what’s best for you. And if there has been a betrayal in the past, it’s crucial you and your partner receive couples therapy to work through the infidelity.
As a therapist, not only have I seen these relationship dynamics, I’ve helped individuals and couples work through them. You may be able to resolve your own relationship situation in a way that feels satisfying to you. If you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional.
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