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"Notes" #19 "Bad Relationships-Why Do People Stay?"

A few months before Covid-19, I was asked to speak to a women's group on the topic of, "Relationships and Why They Fail". They were a hoot despite the seriousness of the subject. They asked some really tough questions and I did my best to answer them as honestly as I could. Many of these women were in abusive relationships and felt stuck, and were looking for answers. Here is a sampling of some of the questions they asked:

How do you know when to stay in a relationship (e.g. keep trying to make it better) and when to leave? I believe I tackled this question in "Notes" #13.

When you have only experienced unhealthy relationships, how do you start learning/experiencing healthy relationships?

What do you do if you feel like you want to leave a relationship but you can't because of other factors (e.g. staying for the kids, not yet financially independent, nowhere else to live, fear of retaliation from your partner)?

What are some steps to get ready to make changes in your relationship?

I certainly will be responding to these questions in the future, and starting with today's "Notes", with the topic, "6 Reasons Why People Stay In Bad Relationships" by Mike Bunchant.

1. People stay in bad relationships because they fear that they are not really an okay person.

Being in a relationship serves as "proof" that you are okay. After all, you have a partner. But the real problem is that you never look deeply into what it is that you believe is not okay about you. You sense you are broken in some way. You want to avoid feeling that uncomfortable "broken-ness". You don't want to open that can of worms. Staying with the "wrong" person helps to avoid looking at one's self. It's a massive distraction.
You stay for two reasons:
1) The other person makes you feel good about yourself (perhaps by comparison).
2) The other person makes you feel bad about yourself and you spend your days proving that you are really a good person. It's an ongoing fight and one that you don't want to give up. To give up might mean you lose this battle.

2. People stay because they're afraid of being alone.

This is very common. You would rather be in a mediocre relationship than be all alone. What you don't realize is that being alone, learning to care for yourself, and filling your own emotional needs is actually a prerequisite to creating a healthy romantic partnership. Your fear of being alone will make you a limited partner. You are in the relationship out of fear, maybe as much as you are in it out of love.

3. People stay because they believe that a difficult relationship represents a chance to grow-it's a spiritual path.

You believe that suffering paves the way to growth and enlightenment. And you believe that sacrifice is a good thing, a way to become a better person. But, these beliefs-in our opinion-are false. We believe that you can grow more and develop more spiritually when you are in a relaxed, healthy, vibrant partnership. Suffering is not the way to get there. Suffering only makes it harder to open your heart and reach your full potential as a person.

4. People stay in a bad relationship because they are making resource trade offs.
He makes the money. She keeps the house and manages the calendar. She needs security. He needs sex. (Or vice-versa). Both parties have struck a spoken or unspoken deal and are using each other to fill a need. Resource trade-offs are a means to an end, but that end usually does not involve intimacy or happiness. Interestingly, some people are so invested in the idea of trading resources that they do not believe any other kind of relationship is even possible. To resource traders, true love is a fantasy made up by Hollywood screenwriters.

5. Hollywood brainwashing causes some to stay in bad relationships.

Speaking of Hollywood, many people are brainwashed by decades of storybook endings. In the classic Hollywood three-act film structure, everything comes together in the third act - after the hero and heroine have been through seemingly impossible struggles. And the fairy tale ends there, right on that ultra-happy note. So, the resource traders have a point. This kind of cultural brainwashing leaves you believing that, regardless of the fatal flaws, everything is supposed to magically work out in the end. You end up waiting decades for the happy ending that never comes. Meanwhile, you are likely projecting to the world that your relationship is indeed wonderful. The truth becomes a source of shame. Ending the relationship feels like a massive defeat and an overwhelming embarrassment.

6. Self-sabotage: The king of cling.

The most provocative reason why people stay in bad relationships may be self-sabotage. Self-sabotage occurs when you do the opposite of what makes you happy. Why would you ever do that? Because it's what you know. You've spent years tolerating the misery and, well, everything else is terrifyingly unfamiliar. A fulfilled life with lots of joy is not your life. Happiness is for others, not you. This is the trap of self-sabotage. So, you stay - and contribute to the problem - even though it's painful. At least it is not foreign. You stay because you are most comfortable right where you are. Self-sabotage is a way of life for so many of us. 


Four important principles about relationships that everyone should understand before making life-altering decisions:

1. Staying in a bad relationship is one of the greatest sources of stress and depression. This fact is well researched. (A ten-year study established the link between bad relationships and depression.) Something must be done if the individuals involved want to lead full, and happy lives. Even the healthiest individual cannot avoid stress and emotional turmoil when locked into a painful, non-fulfilling relationship. Waiting for magic to happen is an exercise in futility.

2. It is usually better to repair a long-term bad relationship than to ditch it without any conscious effort at recovery. The recovery process most often requires the cooperation of both parties. If the day comes when you do part ways, it will be much easier (although still difficult) knowing that you gave it your best effort.

3. It is always easier to prevent a bad relationship than to recover from one. Don't overlook the red flags when you are dating.

4. Bad relationships don't turn good with greater commitment. If you are dating and it is bad, getting married will make it worse - much worse.

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