Some people want out of destructive relationships but end up staying. On one hand they want out, on the other hand, there is a stronger pull to continue on as before. In other words, the relationship is addictive.
I knew for the last ten years of my nineteen year marriage I would be better off if I left. I knew it was an unhealthy relationship but was completely overwhelmed if I even entertained the idea of leaving. I thought I was imagining that life was miserable and that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I felt leaving the marriage was admitting I was a failure as a wife and mother. It became a tug of war between what I thought I should do and what I knew deep down I had to do.
I also wasn’t prepared emotionally or mentally to date once I left my marriage. I hadn’t taken enough time to seriously consider what I wanted in a dating partner. I was more concerned with whether or not the person I dated was interested in dating me. I thought about things like fun, excitement, attractiveness. My approach to dating was naïve and reckless. If I saw an obvious red flag there was a tendency to dismiss it opting instead to give dating partners the benefit of the doubt even when it was clear I shouldn’t.
There are signs of addiction in a relationship:
- You know the relationship is bad for you but don’t take effective steps to end it.
- You make excuses for staying in the relationship that are weak or not accurate and not enough to counteract the harmful aspects.
- You become anxious and fearful when you think about ending the relationship.
- When you take steps to end the relationship, you suffer withdrawal which includes physical discomfort only relieved by reestablishing contact.
Another reason people stay in bad relationships is because much of their identity comes from being in the partnership. Without the relationship they face the daunting task of developing a new identity. They may also feel they have failed if they leave:
For me it was a belief I was a failure if I didn’t stay. I believed I had to stay to prove I was a valuable person. My self-worth and identity hinged on being in a relationship and any relationship was better than none. I didn’t see new possibilities. Consequently, I had great fear of facing life without a partner. I didn’t believe it was possible to put together a great life for myself.
Another reason people stay is because they get stuck. Feelings of being stuck don’t happen because we get into too bad relationships as adults. Stuck feelings happen because they have been with us since childhood. Children do well when they are loved, nurtured, and encouraged to be independent. If parents are successful in doing this children will feel secure moving in and out of relationships. If these needs aren’t met children may be needy and vulnerable to dependent relationships as adults.
When you’re unhappy in your significant relationship all other parts of your life are affected. You won’t live a healthy life if you’re unhappy. Stress wears people out. Destructive relationships are exhausting and will not improve without effort from both people. If you have repeatedly attempted to leave a relationship and can’t break free, realize your circumstances won’t get better without taking action. Consider counseling. If you have a pattern of jumping from one bad relationship to another you may also need ongoing counseling to break it.
This article has been edited and excerpted from the book No Contact: Ending a Destructive Relationship with permission by Outskirt Press, Inc, copyright © 2008, Penny L. Haider. Penny L. Haider is a survivor of domestic abuse and grateful to have had the opportunity to change her life. She is a strong advocate for women, wanting to help others move forward in their lives by leaving destructive relationships behind. Penny is a licensed teacher with a Bachelor of Science in Community Service and Public Affairs from the University of Oregon. For more information visitwww.nocontactbook.com
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