'I’ve invested too much time:' Reasons we stay in relationships longer than we should
A while back I asked my followers on Instagram what they would like to thank themselves for. Some of the most common responses were “leaving my relationship” or “getting a divorce.” Surprised? I certainly wasn’t.
It is incredibly difficult to be stuck in a relationship that is not right – but making the decision to leave can be even more challenging.
Many of us feel frustrated for having stayed “too long” once we are out of a relationship, but in those moments of judgment, we can lose sight of how difficult it is to end a relationship.
There are many reasons why someone may choose to stay, even if they want to leave. Here are some of the most common reasons we stay with our partners when the relationship isn't working:
Fear of the unknown. The thought of leaving a relationship is daunting and is frequently accompanied by many questions: Will I ever find someone who loves me again? Will I die alone? Where will I live (if I move out)? What will happen to our kids? Not being able to predict or control the future is scary. In our mind’s misguided attempt to keep us safe, it often jumps to the conclusion that the familiar is “safe” and any alternative to staying in the relationship is too risky.
Fear of judgment. Society has a ruthless way of making us feel like a failure if our relationship ends. As a result, we fret about what family, friends or our community might say. The threat of judgment can prevent us from doing what we actually need or want.
"I’ve invested too much time." I often hear, “I've invested so many years and made so many sacrifices for this relationship, I can't leave now.” This mindset reinforces the notion that a relationship that ends is a waste of time. But the time we have invested still holds value. We can walk away with significant memories and invaluable lessons.
Perceived benefits of staying. It’s easy for us to identify (very real) benefits of staying in a relationship. Benefits can include having someone to travel with, not going home to an empty apartment, financial security and stability or keeping a family together. However, by ruminating on the advantages, we may lose sight of the equally important disadvantages, such as our mental health and happiness.
Cocktail of guilt, shame, obligation and loyalty. Healthy relationships are not rooted in guilt, shame, detrimental obligation or blind loyalty. Many of us struggle to leave because we don’t want to let our partner down or break a promise. This anxiety might be combined with our concern about our partner’s future. Sometimes it boils down to not trusting the person's capacity to live their lives without us – and consequently the prioritization of their needs over our own.
Abusive relationships. It’s often difficult for people to see they are being manipulated or coerced into staying in a relationship. Abusive partners can make us believe they are the best person for us, and we can’t do better. In some instances, the abuse becomes normalized and we start to believe everyone is, for example, shouted at, belittled, or physically threatened. In some situations, we may be unable to leave because of financial control or safety concerns. This can pressure us to stay to protect ourselves, our children or our pets.
What’s love got to do with it?
Let’s not forget about love.
If we love someone and can’t imagine a life without them, we may stay in relationships that are not right for us. The strong attachment we have formed with our partner – and to our future with them – can encourage us to ignore red flags. Even when the relationship is not right, our connection to our partners, their family or their kids may make it more difficult to walk away.
How to get out
If you or anyone you know is struggling with leaving a relationship it’s important to be gentle and patient. This is not an easy decision.
Quick tips for making this tough decision:
- Pay attention to how the relationship makes you feel (most of the time).
- Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself: Do you want to be in this relationship? If there were no repercussions, would you stay?
- Build a support system that can offer perspective and a safe space to explore your feelings.
- Be loyal to your needs.
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.