Why do we stay in unhealthy relationships?

broken heart

We have all been in relationships we knew we should have gotten out of years ago. But somehow, we manage to keep finding the same kinds of people; it’s just what we are attracted to. The question is why do we stay? We know we deserve better, we know it’s not worth the heartache, the constant disappointment, the betrayals… but we just can’t leave.

There are a couple of reasons why people stay in damaging relationships. The first is the appeal and trap of addictive relationships. Another is codependency and the subconscious needs we try to meet through others, and finally the reason could be object relations.

There is a popular song by Rihanna, Stay, which clearly identifies all of these different topics.

“All along it was a fever, a cold sweat, hot headed believer…”- this identifies the beginning of the addictive relationship which is also linked to the cycle of abuse. In this state called the honeymoon phase, there is a type of high where things are euphoric.

“Round and around and around and around we go…” This is the continuation of the cycle. As a client of mine shared, “They go through the same circle of emotions — happiness, bliss, arguments, tears, broken promises, disappointments, then right back to happiness. It’s overbearing now. She’s saying this destructive circle of the relationship is not working & she’s tired of the uncertainties and heartbreak of it all. She just wants to know if he’s sure he’s ready for this commitment, and if not: tell her now. So she can stop the cycle, end things & to move on. However, she does not completely want to go, and is conflicted.”

“Not really sure how to feel about it, something in the way you move. Makes me feel like I can’t live without you, it takes me all the way. I want you to stay…” This is objects relations at its raw form. Basically in object relations, your brain is constantly scanning people around you that have some form of similarity to a person from your past that you need to heal from; whether it was early caregivers, siblings, cousins, or friends. Someone who did not meet the essential needs and now you make these other relationships to heal those unresolved relational issues from the past. It can be triggered, by a smell or a touch or any of the five senses. The sound of their voice, the smell of their cologne, the way the color of their eyes show when the sun shines a certain way… could be anything.

Oh the reason I hold on, oh cause I need this hole gone…”  I read a passage in The Wounded Healer that states: Many marriages are ruined because neither partner was able to fulfill the often hidden hope that the other would take his or her loneliness away. This made me angry because it was very true. There are holes within us, that we are relying and even depending on our partner to fix or take away. The truths is, until we fix ourselves and are complete within our selves, no one will ever be able to fulfill everything we need from the relationship. My client shared in response, “They’re both holding on to each other so they can fill this hole in each other’s heart. The hole was most likely created from bad experiences in their childhood, or adulthood before they encountered each other.”

“Funny you’re the broken one, but I’m the only one who needed saving. Cause when you never see the lights, it’s hard to know which one of us is caving…” This is where codependency comes into play. Generally in childhood, the environment was chaotic and tumultuous. We learned that we needed to be the good girl or good boy to keep the peace. We would take on the role of the provider, nurturer, or perfect child to keep the parents from losing their cool.

Imagine that your father is about to come home and the house is not clean nor is dinner made. Therefore, the child rushes around trying to get things done so that the father would not become angry and take it out on their mother. Or, it could have been something with the mother not getting enough affection, so the child then takes the initiative to emotionally care for the mother so she is not broken down by the needs not met by the father. A third possibility could be that there are other siblings in the house that never follow the rules and creates an angry environment when the parents are constantly angered by the siblings, therefore the child learns to always be the “good one” who comes home 10 minutes before curfew or always completes their chores or even those of their siblings to keep the peace.

As you learn to always keep the peace, it becomes a habit that eventually is accepted as a personality trait. In the process of meeting others needs, we do not get our essential needs met in childhood. This combination of caring for others while having our own needs creates the damaging relationship patterns. You see, with this background, we go through life being attracted to people who need us (“funny you’re the broken one”). There is no possible way for these people to ever meet our needs since they are not whole themselves (“But I’m the only one who needed saving”). As my client shared, “This dysfunctional relationship exists because neither of them or only one of them will listen to the other’s problems. They assume that they are going through a harder time than the other, creating tension and an all around poor situation. In a good relationship, both sides are there for each other.”

These are just a few reasons why we stay in unhealthy or damaging relationships. To really understand why we do what we do, we have to dissect our lives to be able to finally see the patterns for what they really are; subconscious influences that keep us going round and around through the same patterns. Only by understanding our patterns, can we break them.