Why We Stay In Bad Relationships

One of my absolutely FAVORITE blogs is shrink4men.wordpress.com. Dr. T is a female psychologist who combines wit and reason to tackle tough topics men (and women) face today in  relationships and the workplace. While written mostly for men, I find myself nodding my head while reading so many of her posts. Between my ex-husband and my husband’s ex-wife, we’ve encountered so much of what she describes.

Today I’m going to focus on my first marriage. I was reading a post called, “Why We Stay In Bad Relationships.” I was thinking about my previous marriage and realizing that the four points she listed absolutely applied to me. Heck, they are all why I got married in the first place. Sure, I “loved” him and I cared about him and appreciated aspects of who he was, but if I were completely and 100% honest with myself, staying in the relationship had more to do with ME, than it did actually being in love.

Let me start out with the fact that I believe in marriage. I believe in the union of two souls. I believe in a soulmate. I believe that love really can conquer all when it is a true and deep love that is mutually shared. My parents have been married 43 years. I had a very healthy, functional, and LOVING marriage example growing up. I saw beautiful examples of sacrifice and honoring by both of my parents towards each other. Each gave more than than they took and today they will say they are more IN LOVE than ever before. Wow. Yes, that is what I had growing up. And yet, I’ve been divorced. I have to ask myself the proverbial “WHY?” question as a result. How could I, growing up with the example I did, end up divorced?

The short answer is I convinced myself to stay in a bad relationship.

The first point listed is,  “Familiarity–the comfort of dysfunction vs. the discomfort of the unknown.” For me, I was absolutely comfortable. Its not that our relationship and then marriage was that great, but it was comfortable. I knew what to expect. Though I couldn’t stand much of his family, even that was familiar. I dated this guy since I was allowed to date at 16. One of my absolute best and worst qualities is that I see people’s possibilities if they continue to be their best selves. I saw my ex’s potential. I saw who he could be if he wanted to be. Even though, he never came close to my idealized version of him, I held on to the belief that someday he would be that person like a toddler to a security blanket. I was comfortable with my fantasy and therefore, at the time, comfortable with him.

Her second point is “The investment of time and energy.” What’s funny is that I even SAID this to someone before I got married. I had invested a lot of time, energy, emotions, etc… into my relationship. By the time we said “I do” we had spent 5 1/2 years together. That’s not a short amount of time. I was absolutely resolved to make things fit and work and live happily ever after, dammit. Ignoring almost every red flag a relationship can have in the book, I went through with it. And then after we were married, every year was another investment of time and energy. We were together nearly a decade when all was said and done before I wasted any more of my time and energy on a relationship that was going nowhere except further in the “sh*tter” as my ex so eloquently put it one evening. On the flipside, I decided to stop wasting his time as well. I was holding him back from someone who might stand a chance at truly loving and cherishing him. We both deserved better.

Dr. T’s third point, “The trap of working harder” really home to me. I had always been taught that marriage is work and you resolved to work through all of your differences and hardships. As is pointed out, relationships ARE work, but most of your days should not be a struggle. You should be encouraged to be your best self with your partner/spouse. It should be a relationship of mutual comfort, love, affection, support, growth, and most importantly, GOALS. Being on the same page can get you through a lot. If you find that you don’t even have the same goals anymore… whew, you may as well pack it in.

Perhaps Dr. T’s best advice in this point is, “Don’t confuse “working harder at the relationship” with entrenching yourself in the problem. It’s better to get out than dig your heels in deeper.”

The last point, “Shame and failure” is another one that really nails the core. Before I got married, I knew I needed to break it off. I remember less than a month before the wedding, my dad told me that he would never say a word in judgment if I backed out. This was said after misunderstanding and explosion #581 with my fiance’s family. My dad, wise and patient, knew something that I didn’t. He saw the dysfunction in the relationship that I refused to give into. I think deep down, he knew it wasn’t going to last. But I went ahead and got married anyway. Once married, even when I was told that I was engaging in behaviors that could result in me DYING, I still had a hard time letting go. I felt like an absolute failure. I was an achiever! I had honors to my name! I didn’t quit! I made anything work! My perfectionist side reared its ugly head and pressed on. I. Would. Not. Quit.

About the time my ex-husband decided to try and buy his way back into our relationship did I realize how the whole thing was just rotten at its core. He went out and bought me diamond earrings, but couldn’t perform the most basic of functions and that was simply being present and being there for me. It wasn’t until after I left and I received email after email of “I would do this…” or “I would have done that…” and making meaningless promise after promise that I knew would never last long-term was I able to truly let go. Why couldn’t those promises have just been done a long time ago? Anything promised after a person decides to end things is just WORTHLESS. All it says is that you weren’t important enough and the relationship was completely being taken for granted that you were not worth acting before you got uncomfortable.

B.S. is what that is.

I don’t really have a good way to close this post. I’m just ruminating. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact I’m having to contact the ex to resolve a matter that should have been taken care of a long time ago. Ironically, one of the reasons we don’t let go of bad relationships is because of time invested. But if the relationship ends, then you just get more annoyed at how much time you DID invest and how less should have been invested.

Oh well. Live and learn.

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