Have you ever looked back on a relationship and thought: “Why did it last so long?” or “Why didn’t I leave sooner?” In retrospect, it’s easy to reprimand yourself for ignoring the signs, “wasting” your time, or not “knowing” better. We often struggle to accept something we did or didn’t do if it doesn’t make sense to us in the present moment.
Or are you in a relationship that doesn’t serve you, but you are staying – maybe without fully knowing why.
Instead of allowing your relationship with your partner to negatively impact your relationship with yourself or make you hesitant to trust yourself with future decisions, it can be helpful to try to understand why you remained or settled for the relationship.
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Here are some common reasons we stay in relationships longer than they serve us. Remember, context matters, and this list is meant to prompt us to reflect on our own reasons.
You feel a lot of pressure. Maybe your family or friends really like your partner. Maybe you’re dating a colleague and it will be awkward if you break up. Maybe your faith community frowns upon divorce. Maybe you’re in your 30s and everyone is saying it’s time to “settle down.” Don’t let external opinions and expectations, rather than an internal resonance, drive your decision.
You’ve had this behavior modeled for you. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to grow up with parents who didn’t get along or didn’t love each other and stayed in relationships that didn’t work. Don’t accept that this is par for the course.
You believe you don’t deserve better. Even if you are unhappy, you may not think you deserve to be in a relationship that is fulfilling. I’ve heard people say “those types of relationships are for the smart and attractive people, not for me.” Be curious where this voice comes from. Did a parent tell you to be grateful for the bare minimum? Did an ex tell you that you don’t deserve more and that no one will want to “put up with you”? No matter where the voice stems from, it’s lying to you.
You are scared of being alone. If you are not used to being single or going through life independently of a romantic partner, being alone may feel like a big threat. The logic often lies in trying to grasp the sporadically happy moments, instead of being without the person altogether. Being single doesn’t mean you won’t be happy, nor does it mean you won’t find someone who aligns with you in the future. If anything, being single at least offers the space to try!
You dismiss relationship problems. Normalizing or minimizing problems is a common reason why you stay longer than you should. Phrases such as: “it’s not that bad” “other people have worse relationships” or “no relationship is perfect” can lead to staying in relationships that no longer serve you. Working through problems is a key part of any relationship, but knowing which issues you want to step back from (or can’t be solved) is equally important.
Wanting someone else: Leaving your partner for someone else is more about you than them
You are waiting for them to change. You’ve probably heard this multiple times, but it’s dangerous – and may I say, unfair – to date someone purely for their potential. It’s OK to see someone’s potential, but if they don’t fulfill it – would you still be happy? Can you be happy with who they are right now?
Feeling trapped: You may have commitment issues
You’re worried about hurting their feelings. You need to be aware of your significant other’s feelings but you can’t stay in a relationship just to avoid hurting them. You don’t deserve to stay in a relationship fueled by obligation, guilt, or pity, and they don’t deserve to be with someone who doesn’t actually want to be with them. You are not doing them a favor, you are robbing them of a reciprocal experience.
Exploring, nonjudgmentally, your reason for staying in a relationship that no longer aligns is a great way to gain understanding and compassion, and learn how to move forward.
Sara Kuburic is a therapist who specializes in identity, relationships and moral trauma. Every week she shares her advice with our readers. Find her on Instagram @millennial.therapist. She can be reached at SKuburic@gannett.com.