There is nothing more exhausting and painful than being in a relationship that feels wrong. While some relationships may seem obviously bad, commitment and love are very powerful forces that can make leaving someone a very confusing issue. Sometimes love has nothing to do with it, and the departure is solely based on principle. Other times the investment and attachment is so strong that getting out of what intuitively feels horrible is almost impossible. Every woman’s situation is different, and every decision is based on a variety of factors that are exclusive to that relationship. However, as a couple’s therapist, I see certain themes that come up in my work around this issue.
Here are the top 5 reasons women stay in bad relationships:
1. She doesn’t want to hurt their partner.
Many women are conditioned to put others first. When it comes to making decisions, they will consider everyone elseâ€™s feelings before their own. While the intention to not hurt loved ones is beyond reasonable, sacrificing oneâ€™s own happiness for the sake of others, and basing this kind of decision on other peopleâ€™s feelings will backfire. The feelings of guilt can be overwhelming and can cloud thinking, putting a woman in a damned if she does, damned if she donâ€™t scenario. This state of ambivalence can last months even years until the relationship becomes too unbearable and she leaves, or has an affair.
2. Her biological clock is ticking.
If a woman wants to have a child the idea of starting over close to child bearing age invokes feelings of desperation. She may feel that leaving the relationship, no matter how bad, robs her of her only chance to be a mother. The idea of having wasted all that time on something that won’t produce an offspring can be maddening. This is where some women begin to think (and hope) that children will change the relationship for the better. What she doesnâ€™t realize is that children create more strain, and that leaving the relationship is much harder when children are part of the equation.
3. Her lack of self-esteem causes her to â€œsettle.â€
Nothing erodes self-esteem quicker than an unhealthy relationship. Many women remain in dysfunctional relationships because they are convinced that it is all they deserve. They may also be â€œbrainwashedâ€ to believe that they are fully responsible for the unhappiness and dissatisfaction, which keeps them hopeful that they have the power to change themselves for the relationship. The result is a sacrificing of the self for the sake of saving the relationship as she morphs into the woman who obeys her partnerâ€™s wishes to keep the peace. Over time women lose perspective of what it even means to be in a healthy relationship, and so they settle into what they have, and ultimately end up becoming some broken version of themselves.
4. She doesn’t want to give up the dream.
For many women, being in a relationship is something they have been striving for their whole life. Being in a relationship is comforting, making the idea of being single again feel overwhelming. Getting into their current relationship took time and effort, and they invested everything in the hope that this was “the one”. For these women, leaving the relationship equates with leaving behind their fantasy and dream. There is a lot to uphold not only for herself, but for the friends and family that shared in the idea of forever.
5. The fear of being alone.
Staying in an unhealthy relationship to avoid being alone is more common than one would think. Being alone, and single, comes with a lot of stigma and is dreaded by many women. When the choice is between being alone or staying in a bad relationship, many women will choose the latter. The fear around being alone is usually irrational, but it can feel very real. The fear is sometimes so great that a woman would rather remain in a lonely relationship than face the solitude that comes with her breakup.
There are many things a woman needs to consider when deciding to leave her relationship. While the decision isn’t easy, there are definitely ways to get to a place of peace regardless of the outcome. Individual or couples therapy can provide the safe space to process feelings and work through some of the harder emotions like guilt, fear, anger and sadness. This is not a process to suffer through alone.
Dr. Andra Brosh October 11th, 2012