The habit of falling into and staying in a bad relationship beyond the expiration date has become a chronic problem in our culture. Understanding the reasons why you stay beyond what's good for you will prevent repeating patterns of bad choices.
You would be hard pressed to find someone who has never been in a bad relationship. We've all had our share of abusive, toxic and "going nowhere" partnerships that we either look back on with regret or learned from.
Most of what I work on in my psychotherapy practice is helping couples become better in their relational dynamics. I help them heal broken trust, release resentments from the past, and love each other more authentically. I also see a lot of people who are tired of repeating the same mistakes and who are ready to release old patterns that get them into dysfunctional love relationships. What I rarely get the chance to do is help people avoid bad relationships.
It can be really difficult to discern between a truly awful relationship and one that needs work. A bad relationship is one that would be considered toxic, abusive, or otherwise harmful to your overall health and wellbeing. A relationship that is salvageable or that can be improved stands on a strong platform of kindness, trust, respect and some form of love.
It's not until a partnership has been pummeled to the ground that we begin to realize that there might be a better way. Change most often comes out of deep pain and loss and this is also true when it comes to love. In the end, my work becomes more about sweeping up the ashes of what's been burned to the ground then adding a new addition to a relational structure that has a good, strong foundation.
I have found that there are a few solid reasons we end up in relationships and even marriages that don't work for us only to stay in them way too long.
Here are the top five reasons I see most frequently:
Choosing the Wrong Person
We choose a partner for several reasons, but most often it's because we feel we have found the perfect person. Idealized love is a natural part of romance, but you have to acknowledge the cracks in the mirror to really know if something will work. You need to see beyond the perfection into the dark recesses of your partner's humanity because that's ultimately what you're committing and relating to. Choosing a long-term partner cannot be taken lightly, and it does have to be a choice. Falling into a relationship because it "feels right" or out of desperation only leads to heartbreak and disappointment.
Who you're drawn to isn't always the right person.
When you feel a connection with someone it's usually chemical and familiar. Evolution has designed you to pick a partner that will give you the greatest chance for producing genetically sound offspring. Mother Nature can trick you into falling for someone because they offer protection, strength, virility and health. What she doesn't wire you for is the common sense to recognize if this person is trustworthy, loyal, honest and kind. This has to be mindfully learned and pursued with consciousness. The truth is that you can only know someone by spending time with them, and traversing some challenging life moments. This is where you'll get to the true character of your partner so be patient and let them show who they truly are.
Lack of Personal Introspection
When you don't know yourself intimately you're at risk for a bad relationship. You have to understand what you need to feel fulfilled and happy so you can properly choose a partner that can meet those needs. Like most people you have probably looked for someone who embodies the qualities you lack in yourself, which leaves you dependent on them for your fulfillment and happiness.
The intention behind finding your right partner is truly important if you want to avoid settling. Fear of never meeting anyone, not wanting to be alone, looking for someone to make you happy, recovering from a bruised ego, or fulfilling other people's ideals about your partner will land you in something that isn't right. Some healthy intentions for finding the right relationship are to share a life with someone, to feel a sense of support, or to build a family. Coming from a place of intention as opposed to avoidance will help you seek what you want over what you don't.
Overlooking Red Flags
Love is definitely blind, but this idiom is more about acceptance than it is denial. When you want something to work you'll talk yourself out of feelings that would be important to honor. Hoping a person will be different down the road or that they'll change over time is a sure indication that you're on the wrong path. Seek the relationship you want right now; not the one you hope to have down the road.
Relationships often find us more than we choose them so be kind and patient with yourself when you land in something that doesn't work. Get the right support and gain enough insight to prevent making poor choices in the future.