Unraveling The Reason Why Some Stay Toxic Relationships
All healthy relationships have high and lows. Many people, however, will stay in a toxic relationship long after the sparks of passion have lost their luster. The joy and happiness first experienced might be replaced by a level of indifferent comfort. Communication issues and ongoing conflicts may begin to increase as the unhealthy relationship further divides. These issues are often paired with a loss of respect, understanding and empathy. To an outside observer, the once cherished union may seem dead on arrival.
Individuals, with a healthy understanding of what a good relationship looks like, will often let a loveless relationship continue, even if this decision is saddening. But what about the people who stay in a toxic relationship when they know deep down it is not a good or safe place to be?
This concept is most puzzling in narcissistic relationships where an individual will stay in an abusive situation. Researchers, however, have uncovered a number of reasons why people stay in bad, low-quality relationships, ones that do not meet their needs.
Some of what follows applies to a large cross section of men and woman who decide to stay in a toxic relationship long past its expiration date. Others reasons are seen in situations where abuse is present. Both of these general reasons will be covered as we explore why people stay.
Fear of Loneliness
Many people stay in unhappy and potentially unhealthy relationships because they are afraid of being alone. The thought of waking up in the morning to an empty house can leave them feeling like the world is ending. This fear can override their desire to be happy. They may be codependent or suffer from codependency.
They justify their decision by internalizing the sentiment that a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all. As they say, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. To them, being with someone, anyone, is better than being alone and potentially unhappy.
“What will fill the void in my life once he is gone?” they worry. The distant couple may wake up every morning and ignore each other. They might be inconsiderate or indifferent to each other. There might be abuse present. But the placation of their fear of being alone leaves them feeling safe and more comfortable than entertaining the notion of making it on their own.
Sometimes people struggle getting out of a relationship because they have devoted a lot their time and energy into making it work. When we enter into a long-term relationship we invest ourselves into it. First we might get married or move in together. We buy pots and pans, furniture, pictures – all the things that go into creating a happy environment for ourselves and our loved one. We might have a child; get a dog or a cat. It is easy to understand why they may want to stay. It can be hard to let go of all you created and start over again.
Having children can add another dimension as to why people stay in a toxic relationship. Staying in a unhappy, unfulfilling or abusive relationship for the sake of the children is very common. There is a belief that children will be negatively affected if the relationship ends and are forced to deal with the separation of his or her parents.
Children are not blind. They are also well equipped to sense the tension in a household. What might be worse is if they witness abuse. When someone chooses to stay in a toxic unhealthy situation they are not teaching their children what love looks like. It only reinforces the concept in the child’s mind that they should endure pain, suffering and abuse in the name of love, rather than walking away.
Guilt And Feelings Of Failure
Tied to our investment into a relationship, some individuals stay in a toxic relationship because they feel guilty. Our society glorifies commitment. The concept of ‘for better or worse’ might ring through their minds. The thought of cutting their loses might be hard to consider.
Deep seated feelings of failure may also play a role in provoking guilt for wanting to leave. “Everything will be better if I only try a little harder.” Instead of ‘the relationship failing’, they take it personal and believe that they have failed in being a good partner.
They May Change
And although not guilt, many people will stay in unsatisfying relationships because they have the unfounded belief that their mate will change. They hope that in time and perhaps with a little more effort on their part, one day things will get better.
Some people stay in a unhealthy, romantic relationship because they care more about feeling comfortable than being happy. They would rather live in the lifestyle they have become accustomed to verses having to worry about financial troubles or a lowered socioeconomic state. Many times, they surrender their inner peace, joy and happiness to the security their current situation offers. They ultimately decide to stay where they are: miserable.
Women in particular, can find themselves trapped and virtually unable to leave a relationship if their significant other is the sole or primary wage earner in the household. They may not have any personal income or they may not believe they can make it on their own. They worry that they will be unable to pay the rent, buy food, afford their car payment or take care of their children alone. This limiting belief can be combined with the desire to have and maintain the lifestyle in which they have become accustomed.
Another reason why someone will stay in a relationship is because they have low self-esteem. Many people measure their worth based upon whether their partner accepts them or not. When we have low self-esteem we are fooled into thinking that we do not deserve more or can get any better. People with low self-esteem often get into abusive, narcissistic relationships. The abuse they experience further erodes their feelings of self-worth.
Individuals who come from a family of abuse or neglect have an increased chance of getting into a toxic relationship. They may not understand that what they are experiencing is abuse and should not be tolerated. Often, it is the only kind of love they have ever known. They do not realize that love should not hurt. Their misconstrued understanding of what normal or healthy love looks like can cause them to stay.
These individuals may also feel damaged or broken on some levels. They can often be afraid to stand up for themselves. They fear being rejected or abandoned. This can cause them to become codependent. They might be willing to do whatever it takes, including suffer, in order to maintain the relationship.
Focus on the Positives and Disconnection from the Negatives
People who find themselves in abusive relationship may also stay because they disregard or even forget the negative aspects of their partner bad behavior. The victim, during abusive situations, detaches and perhaps dissociates from unpleasant experiences.
They may also compare their current situation to a past relationship or a perceived potential one. They may rationalize their loved one’s transgressions by minimizing what they are doing. “At least he doesn’t hit me”, “Well, she doesn’t stay angry long” or “It’s been a while since he acted this way”. Each of these comments normalizes the situation and downplays the abuse that is taking place, thus making it more survivable.
Intermittent Reinforcement (Trauma Bonding)
Individuals who grew up in environments where there was trauma, abuse or neglect may also find themselves caught up in a narcissistic relationship and unable to escape because they are suffering from what is called a ‘trauma bond’. Toxic relationships always go through cycles. There are the ‘good times’, when you feel loved, the drama is low, and the tension, arguments and conflicts are unperceived. Then there are the ‘bad times’ where you feel like you are walking around on egg shells, choosing to stay silent out of fear of waking the raging beast.
These cycles of pain and reward actually causes biochemical changes in the body and brain which are highly addictive. There is nothing better than the high you get after a fight when the love and attention you have desired is restored. Victims of abuse, because of their own toxic past, often wait in patient anticipation for this precious gift to be bestowed upon them. The less frequent the reward, the more addicted the person becomes to their abuser.
This is why many trauma sufferers get bored when they meet a good and caring partner. They are used to the hormonal ups and downs that trauma bonding offers and see this as part of the process of loving and being loved. It is not that they want to experience the drama or the pain. Instead, their body is used to the hormonal rush set in motion by toxic individuals.
Why Are You Still There If You Are Unhappy?
People who stay in a toxic relationship when they are not happy often feel as if there is no way out. They feel trapped in their circumstances and unable to unravel themselves from their partners. The truth is: there is always a way out. You only have to chose being happy and love yourself enough to go.
If you find that you spend more time unhappy and worrying about your relationship, perhaps it is time for you to be honest with yourself. Be mindful of what you are thinking and feeling as you focus your attention on your relationship and yourself. It is okay to be selfish. You are the only one who can make you happy, so be strong and follow the guidance your inner voice is sharing with you.
Ending a unhealthy relationship can be hard. It is in these times that you have to be strong and find the courage to let go. You can set yourselves free! If you are unhappy in your relationship and especially if it is toxic, this is the most loving thing you can do for you.
If, on the other hand, you come to realize that your relationship can be saved, then it is time to roll up your sleeves and get busy bringing the love and intimacy you have lost back.
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