RELATIONSHIPS: Why do I stay if I am unhappy

How is it that we can stay in unhappy, unfulfilling and unhealthy relationships, what keeps us from leaving?


Sometimes we have put the other person on a pedestal.  We idealise them or the relationship as perfect, acknowledging the good and denying what isn’t okay for us.  Although we may manage to do this most of the time, we will have our moments of reality and they may be short lived.  We might find it hard to acknowledge what we really don’t like and suppress this, however we are also likely to be aware of how miserable we are at some point.

Hope of Change

Hope can be very powerful.  When we are aware of the difficulties and the dissatisfaction we experience, we may endlessly live in hope that the other person will change.  We may keep putting off our issues especially if we have low self esteem, and painstakingly await for the other person to become the person we want them to be.  The slightest indication of change might keep us holding on, and then any changes may be short lived, so again we await in hope that things an be different.


Change is a scary prospect, especially when we are used to our comfort zone.   Some people would rather stay with what they know than what they don’t. Likewise this means staying with the pain of an unhappy relationship which is familiar  rather than being with the unfamiliar discomfort of being single. Whilst this helps us avoid the unknown fear, we end up staying with what’s not right.  We are also loosing the opportunity of finding someone more suited, that feels right for us and we feel happier being with.   The pain of staying is likely to go on indefinitely if the other person does not want to address issues within the relationship.  Being single can have more opportunities for positive change, as we are not awaiting on the actions of another, we can take responsibility for our self and address how we can feel better about our self and our life.


When we stay in a negative relationship for a long time, this can have a profoundly negative affect on us.  We can lose the ability to look after ourselves in the same way we were able to at the start of a relationship.  If we are continually spoken to in a way which is not supportive, or is criticising and abusive, then we can start to believe what we hear, we can start to question what is right, and we can start to get confused about what we think and feel. We develop a vulnerability which makes it very hard to do something about a difficult situation we are in.

Past Experiences

When we were young we had no control over how adults behaved around us, we were powerless and others were in control.  We may have had our needs ignored, or we learnt about looking after others before ourselves.  If we have had difficult and unsatisfactory family relationships, we may find ourselves back in challenging relationships.

When we find ourselves back in something unsatisfactory, which may or may not feel familiar, there is sometimes an unconscious need have this situation to work out right in the way that our previous childhood relationships didn’t work out for us.  It is similar to the hope process, and sometimes is not realistic depending on the issues you are dealing with.  We have to decide if what we are hoping for is a reasonable possibility, and worth our time and emotional and psychological investment.

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