12 reasons why we stay in unhappy relationships


Why do so many of us cling to relationships that do not make us happy? Staying in an unhappy relationship is more common than you might think, and the reasons behind it are as complex as they are compelling. Let’s look into some of the key motives that lock people in place, even when their hearts long for something different. 

  1. Fear of Being Alone

Many people are really scared of being alone. This fear can be so strong that it makes them stay in relationships that do not make them happy. Being alone might mean feeling lonely and not having someone to share things with, which can seem harder than staying in a relationship that is not working well.

In his book Emotional First Aid, Dr. Guy Winch explains that dealing with loneliness can be tough because our brains are wired for connection with others. He suggests that this fear of loneliness can often keep us in situations that are not good for us, just to avoid feeling alone.

  1. Altruism

Some people stay in relationships because they really care about how their partner feels and does in life, sometimes more than their own happiness. They might be worried about what will happen to their partner if they are not there to help and support them, even if it means they are not as happy as they could be.

In the book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm discusses how genuine love often involves caring deeply for someone else’s happiness, sometimes at our own expense. He points out that this kind of care can make people stay in relationships even when it is hard on them emotionally, because they value their partner’s well-being so much.

  1. Financial Reasons

Money is a big reason why some people stay in relationships that do not make them happy. The worry about not having enough money to live alone or the fear of not being financially stable can make someone feel stuck in a relationship. This is often the case if one partner relies a lot on the other for money.

In her book The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel talks about how financial fear can deeply affect our life choices. She explains that the anxiety about money can make people remain in situations where they are unhappy because the fear of financial uncertainty is too great to take the risk of leaving.

  1. Obligation

Sometimes, people feel they must stay in a relationship because of duty. This duty can come from their culture, religion, or family rules. Many feel forced to stay because ending the relationship might look like a failure, or their community might not agree with the decision to break up.

In her book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert explores how obligations shaped by cultural and societal norms can strongly influence personal decisions about relationships. She discusses how these pressures can make someone stay in a relationship even when it does not make them happy, simply because leaving is not widely accepted or expected in their environment.

  1. Lack of Self-Trust

Sometimes people stay in unhappy relationships because they doubt their own decisions. If someone does not trust themselves to make the right choices, they might prefer to stay as things are, worried that leaving could be a mistake.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown discusses how self-doubt can deeply affect our life choices, including relationships. She explains that when people do not trust themselves, they often avoid making big changes out of fear of making the wrong decision, which can keep them stuck in situations that are not good for them.

  1. Minimizing

People often stay in unhappy relationships because they make the problems seem smaller than they are. They might tell themselves that things are not really that bad, focusing on the good times and ignoring how serious the bad parts are.

In The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner, she discusses how minimizing real issues can trap us in unhealthy patterns. Lerner explains that by downplaying the negative aspects and overemphasizing the positives, people can convince themselves to stay in situations that don’t truly serve their well-being.

  1. Shame

Feeling ashamed about not being able to keep a relationship happy can strongly influence someone’s decisions. Many people are afraid of being judged by others or feeling like they have failed personally, which makes them stay in an unhappy relationship instead of facing criticism from society or feeling let down by themselves.

In Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw, the author explores how shame can deeply affect our choices, including staying in relationships that are not fulfilling. Bradshaw explains that the fear of being seen as a failure or the discomfort of dealing with judgment can lead people to endure unhappiness rather than seeking a healthier situation.

  1. Negative Core Beliefs

Sometimes, people stay in unhappy relationships because they think poorly of themselves. They may feel that they do not deserve happiness or love, or believe that they can not find anything better than what they currently have.

  1. Hope for Change

The belief that an unhappy relationship will improve can make someone stay. They hold on to the good times and the potential they see in their partner, hoping things will get better or that their partner will change their ways.

In her book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Dr. Sue Johnson explains how this hope for change is a common reason people stay in challenging relationships. She suggests that clinging to the possibility of improvement, people often endure difficulties, hoping that the relationship will eventually return to happier times.

  1. Codependency

Codependency means one partner depends a lot on the other for emotional support, approval, and even their sense of who they are. This deep reliance can make it feel impossible to leave the relationship because their feelings of self-worth and emotional well-being are closely connected to their partner.

In the book Codependent No More, Melody Beattie explores how codependency can trap people in relationships where they feel they cannot survive independently. She discusses that when someone’s emotional state and identity are so tied to their partner, the thought of leaving can seem overwhelming and unmanageable.

  1. Dependency

Dependency is not just emotional but it can also be practical. Things like taking care of children, sharing daily responsibilities, or needing healthcare can make it hard for someone to think about leaving a relationship. These real, everyday needs can make the decision to leave complex and daunting.

In Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, Mira Kirshenbaum discusses how practical dependencies, such as shared childcare or financial ties, often create a significant barrier to ending a relationship. She explains that these practical matters can heavily influence someone’s choice to stay, as the logistics of separating might seem overwhelming or too difficult to manage alone.

  1. Familiarity

The comfort of knowing what to expect can be a strong reason to stay in an unhappy relationship. The usual routines and familiar situations, even if they are not fulfilling, can often seem easier to handle than the uncertainties of starting over.

In her book Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud discusses how the familiarity of our current circumstances can sometimes hold us back from making necessary changes. She explains that the fear of the unknown and the comfort of the known can keep people stuck in unsatisfying relationships because the thought of venturing into new territory feels too risky or daunting.

Wrapping up

Understanding these reasons can make it easier for people to see their situations more clearly and help them make better choices for their emotional health. This knowledge can encourage them to think about what they truly need and deserve from a relationship.

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