Years after escaping and ending one of the most destabilizing relationships in my past, I thought I could easily shed some light on why people stay in relationships when they really want to leave.
But there is a reason this discussion outlives the generations that try to define it. It is because there are no answers – just perspectives. And the only people with the right to decide are those facing the trouble.
I know what it’s like to stay in a relationship for far longer than I should. My personal curse was my tolerance. I was never staying or leaving – just stuck in one spot. Couples therapy, fighting, crying, hiding, more crying…I sat in that spot for over half a decade.
If you are seriously asking if you should run like hell from someone, then you know there is an existing threat to your safety, your happiness, or your well being. And if you stay, but with a heavy heart, simply moving on is evidently not that simple for you.
Others may lend their ‘two cents’ or give aggressive advice. However, as your compromises are not their burden, they will preach with ease. The catch is that real answers are never overtly concise, specific, or easy. If they were, you wouldn’t be reading this.
There is no reason for people to stay, when they know they should leave. But when you’re in it, there are many.
Remember when things were better?
Time and conflict are the most honest ways to meet your partner’s real nature – either it gains more visibility, or sometimes he or she changes.
If you desperately long to go back to the way things were, you are not accepting the person you are witnessing now, and you might actually be in a relationship with yourself. Accepting reality is a tough thing to do, but ask yourself, “What’s the alternative?”
When it’s bad it’s horrid, but when it’s good it blows your mind
Why do most addicts stay addicted? It feels really good. Once you convince yourself that you cannot live without a good sensation (imagine the best sex you ever had) – a step in the opposite direction becomes unthinkable.
But just remember that the sweeter the high, the more sour the low. The extremity of the pain is not always worth the fix.
When we see what we want to see and love what we want to love
Sometimes we forget that we are involved with real people, and not just the parts we like. We can forget that their riveting charm is just as valid and alive as their demons. “Oh she wasn’t being herself”, or “I know he won’t hit me again” won’t fix their bad parts. Every action means something.
In my case, he always had a reason to do what he did…but pretty soon he did not have a cause left to try to be any better.
It felt like home
Familiarity can be dangerous, when sleeping with an enemy.
After growing up in a local version of a Lifetime movie drama, there was very little that could crush me, and that built my threshold for pain.
I became so obsessed with surviving, that I never considered overcoming or changing my circumstances. I just knew how to bear. It felt so normal, like what I was accustomed to.
Perversely, I mistook temper for honesty, and concluded that all seemingly good men were masking an ill nature. It sounds quite off, but it’s true. And I’ve met other people who were abused in their childhood, who really think that a man (or woman) who shows his dysfunctional side more readily is honest, and that the nice guys are liars.
I should have demanded better, but it never occurred to me that I deserved it. And before I knew it, I was settling for what I knew instead.
Changing this pattern isn’t easy, but a good start is to identify the things in your past that tie you to pain, so that you know how to spot emotional traps, and avoid settling back into the familiar.
Not more than you can bear
Relationships are not supposed to be punishing. Yes they can be difficult, and mature people learn that it takes a lot of give to be able to take. But it should never feel like a cross you are condemned to carry.
Let’s face the truth. This is not church. We should never be in relationships to be martyrs, saviours or tragic heroes. So consider this…you are taking care of them, but who is taking care of you?
The waiting game
Some of us know that if better came along, we would run full speed from the current worse, but in the meantime we plan to stick it out. But quite like working with a mean boss, if you don’t send your résumé elsewhere, picture the next ten years at the same desk, or worse, being replaced against your will, after putting up with sh*t for years.
Finding someone new isn’t always easy. But staying with someone you don’t want to be with is unfair to both of you. Yes, you love the person, and not the situation, but always remember that their unhealthy behaviour affects you too.
As good as it gets
I’ve heard countless men and women swear that their options from the opposite (or same) sex are non-existent. That an entire gender is deplorable and without exception. If this is your belief, have you ever considered at least different levels of deplorable?
There will always be someone worse, and someone much better than the person you are with now. It really is a matter of choice. The chances are that if you raise your standards or demand to be treated with more respect, then you may just get it. Or you may realise that what you have is not as good as it can get.
Staying or leaving is even more painful in more complex situations, where someone’s life, or that of their children, may be at grave risk. I cannot tell you the better way is to leave, if the consequence may threaten your life.
I do believe, however, that we all have a choice – regardless of how horrendous or impossible the situation. No choice is better. It’s just to figure out what’s better for you.
Regardless of the complexity level, a circumstance will not change unless the person with the power to change it does. And sometimes that person is you.
People stay in compromising relationships for many reasons, but the lifespan of the arrangement will depend on what your heart can bear. Too often, however, we separate our heart from our head, working with raw emotion alone. If you are holding on because your heart has offered you reasons to stay, please don’t ignore the ones your mind has been collecting as well. I am convinced that the head informs the heart. Sometimes the most difficult step is to make up your own mind, and break your own heart to move on.