3 Reasons We Stay in Unhealthy Relationships and What to Do
Are you feeling neglected, punished, ignored, rejected, criticized in your current relationship? Have you tried couples therapy but still keep hitting a wall or have seen little or no improvement? Does your partner lie, or manipulate the truth in therapy making progress diffcult or impossible?
My goal in my practice is to encourage change and growth, but I do also know that sometimes it's very difficult to change and grow by ourselves when our partners, families, friends and surrounding people don't change with us or inspire, encourage or support the change. Too often I see people clinging to situations, lifestyles, and relationships long after it has ceased being a place of healthy, passionate growth for them.
We set up our life a certain way. We become accustomed to little every day things. We are creatures of habit but even so, is it in our best interest to hold onto something simply because we have invested time, money or energy into it? Yes, things may have been really good at one time, great in fact, times which inspired us to grow, times which inspired us to become our best selves, but that was then, if it is so difficult to get back to those times, is it worth all this blood, sweat and tears? Especially if there seems to be a fundamental road block, usually in the form of another entity, which in relationships is quite often the other party. If two people cannot agree to grow towards the same goals, plans and interests is it possible to make these relationship grow and thrive? And at what point do people finally say enough? Enough is enough? Does it really need to be this tough?
Every day I see people ignore the signs that a relationship is not only incompatible to who they are but prohibits them from growing into their truest expression. People lie to themselves, convince themselves that this relationship is worth saving, and that all it needs is a little work. People cling to past promises that were made together, memories that we made, plans that were laid all of which in the present day seem to be harder and harder to reach or put into practice. I often ask couples, what keeps you together, and when the first thing I hear is love I already know what is going on. You see, it has come to my attention that couples who are most happiest list a number of other things before mentioning love. Couples often mention common interests, helpful, loving, respectful things the other does for them, and qualities and traits they respect and admire about their partners when the relationship is going relatively well. When couples mention love as the very first thing, it's an indicator that much has been lost or there is little else holding them together, other than a commitment to follow through on their word, or words... of the past. "But, I love him/her," reminds us that it takes a little more than just love to make a relationship work.
A lot of this has to do with what we are taught and what we believe. One of the most common belief systems I see in these situations has to do with self esteem, and self worth. Many people stay in less than satisfactory situations, which are unhealthy because there is a core belief that they do not deserve any better. They may feel that this is good enough. That what is out there is much worse or that they may not find someone else. Although many of these situations are emotionally harmful, neglectful, painful or goes against a person's morals or values, people stay in these situations because they think it's better than the alternative, being alone and vulnerable. This misconception keeps people in emotionally repressive situations. And yes, while leaving the situation may leave you alone and vulnerable in the interim, people lack the foresight and the wherewithal to understand that this too shall pass, it is only temporary, a rite of passage which in thought is almost much bigger than the experience itself. On the other end awaits you personal freedom, and the potential to grow into something so much in sync with who you really are. In this scenario you believe you lack power, and in essence you continue to give it away daily.
Another reason people stay is because they are attached to the fantasy of the relationship, what is was once, or what it is supposed to be. They convince themselves of the importance of being true to their word, committed to their promises, especially if this is a marriage, or if there are kids, mortgage or some other attachments involved. Many people take their commitment quite seriously. Which is definitely a consideration to make. But, if this is you, I urge you to ask yourself what good you are doing by staying in a situation which is potentially harmful to you because it is also 9 times out of 10 also potentially harmful to your partner as well? In most cases, where one person feels neglected, punished, ignored, rejected, criticized, (insert negative adjective here) is the person on the other end, who may also very likely be feeling the same way and/or is acting in a way that is not in his/her best light either. There is also two sides to every coin, just as there are two persons (minimum) in every relationship. If one person is struggling, the other person is too, because the system is broken. By staying you are allowing this broken system to persist, and you and your partner are both being robbed of the opportunity to become better people.
And finally, the last reason people stay is out of financial necessity. This is the position with the least resources. If this is you, the fear of being homeless may be a real threat, and that is for you to know and decide. Finding resources for support may include finding food, shelter and clothing, and is obviously not to be taken lightly. But many also stay in this position because of a variety of other reasons, they have little to do with survival and more to do with such things as ego, saving face and/or loss of status. So, although it is important to find reliable resources within your community if survival is key, it is also important to ask yourself what you could realistically get by on.
Whatever your reason for staying stuck in a situation that is ill-suited for you, there is a professional term now to describe your situation, also often called Love Addiction, the label suggests you are staying in a situation which clearly is not good for you because you are addicted to some quality of it. This is where your work comes in.
If you find yourself in this situation the first step is acknowledging something is broken. If you've tried couples therapy but are still hitting a wall this list is for you:
1. Ask yourself what are you getting out of this situation? Make a list of pros and cons about the relationship. Obviously the cons outweighing the pros is a sign something might be amiss. But even more so, if the list of pros avoiding something like fear of being alone, poor, single?
2. Ask yourself what you are truly afraid of? Make a list of the scary "what ifs" that you truly fear, as these might also be the culprit as to what keeps you stuck.
3. Ask yourself what is important to you? Make an honest list of the things which you value in life. Do these resonate within your relationship?
4. Take an honest look at your life, look at the big picture and the small picture.
5. Get professional help, meaning join a Love Addictions group or see a therapist to help you understand why you are staying, and what your options are.
Moushumi Ghose is a Los Angeles based psychotherapist who specilazes in sex, relationships, couples therapy, alternative lifestyles and modern relationships. She also specializes in LGBTQI, non-monogamy, polyamory and open relationships.
She can be found at www.LASexTherapist.com