7 Reason People Stay In A Relationship Past It's Sell-By Date
13th December, 2010
“Why do people stay in relationships longer than they should?”
This question seems to come up a fair bit with lots of the clients I work with, so I decided it would be a great idea to summarize my thoughts and share them with you.
1) Fear of the Unknown
Although you are not happy in your relationship, you can’t imagine getting back out there and trying all over again. Sometimes it's a case of "better the devil you know”. Let’s face it, dating isn’t always easy and seamless. While it is supposed to be fun, many of us tend to find it very stressful. The fear of being rejected, the fear of talking with lettuce in your teeth on a first date, there are all kids of ways that dating can be scary!
2) Fear of Being Alone
A fear of being alone is a serious stressor for many of us. Humans are social creatures and we are happiest when we are in partnership with others. There are tons of statistics which show that we are healthier (lower blood pressure, lowered risk of cardiovascular disease) and we live longer when we are partnered up in a relationship or marriage. So, the fear of being alone is a STRONG fear that keeps many of us in relationships longer than we should be. The way we see it (on a subconscious level) is that being alone is life threatening.
There are really two ways that the fear of being alone might affect you: Either a) You fear you won’t find anyone else and you will be destined to be alone for ever, or b) You WILL find someone else but then find out that “the grass isn’t actually greener.” In this latter scenario, you leave something that wasn’t bad for something you thought was better. You find out it isn’t actually better at all, but now you are stuck because you can’t go back to what you left – he or she won’t have you. This is an issue that could cause serious remorse and regret. So rather than risk it, you stick with the status quo.
3) Uncertainty About What You Want
I’ve worked with many clients who decide to stick with the status quo until they figure out what it is that they want. I think this can be a great idea, provided the relationship isn’t abusive or unhealthy. My advice is to always take time to self-reflect, and understand who you REALLY are and what you REALLY want in life. I believe this is a key step to being happy in any long term relationship. So, if you don’t know what you want, I say take the time to figure it out! Whether you stay in your hum-drum relationship or not, care enough about yourself and your partner to do this work. Once you know yourself, you will do the “right thing” for you and the relationship.
4) Values Regarding Commitment
For some, “until death do us part” is a vow that is absolutely never meant to be broken. If you have the value and belief that marriage is forever no matter what, you may end up staying in a relationship longer than you should. Now this is not to say that I advocate divorce, because I certainly don’t – at least not as a first step! I fully believe that any two people on this planet could fall deeply in love and live happily ever after if both partners are committed, are willing to pursue their own self-growth and conscious evolution, and have the understanding that we truly are all one. If you approach your relationship from the position of “I am responsible” rather than from a blaming or criticizing position, you can stay together happily forever. However, it takes two. If both of you are not at the place in your life of wanting to make it work, then it will never work, and leaving may be the right decision for you.
5) Concerns About Survival
In low income relationships either one or both partners may not feel like they can financially afford to leave. And in some cases, even those who have a good paying job may feel like living on your own is too expensive so it’s better to stick it out and share the costs – even if it means staying in an unhealthy relationship.
6) The Belief or Hope That Things Will Get Better
If you are an idealistic and/or romantic type you may be staying in your relationship longer than you should because you believe that you can rekindle what you once had. This is not a bad way to be, but it will cause you to stay in a relationship longer than you should if your partner doesn’t have the same beliefs or hopes that things can or will get better. Although an idealist, you must do your best to be realistic about who it is you are dealing with. Do they share your same hopes and dreams? Or do they put you down all the time for having such an optimistic and idealistic view of how things should be?
When there are more important things in life to worry about than the health of your relationship or marriage you may stay in your relationship longer than you should. Complacency is an avoidance mechanism that causes you to distract yourself with work, parenting, family, friends, hobbies, etc. Rather than take an honest look at yourself, your relationship, etc. it’s easier to pretend that “everything is fine.” So you go along in life (sometimes for 15 or 20 years) before you wake up one day and realize that you just aren’t happy, and you haven’t been happy for a long time. Sadly complacency will keep you in this avoidance pattern until your unhappiness causes you to “hit rock bottom” with serious depression or anxiety before you are ready to wake up and make a change.
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