Toxic relationship

The real reason we stay in relationships that are bad for us

We all know toxic relationships are bad, so why are so many of us afraid to call it quits?

Have you ever been in a relationship and consciously known that it isn’t good for you? More importantly, have you then chosen to remain in said relationship, carefully ignoring those red flags that just keep a’coming because… well, because you’re not really sure?

Whether it’s happened to you personally, or you’ve watched the scene play out through a friend, it’s not uncommon for women to ignore the warning signs in an unhealthy relationship.

So why do we do it?

Well, researchers at the University of Utah have published a study showing evidence that decisions about an unsatisfying romantic relationship may involve an altruistic component.

“The more dependent people believed their partner was on the relationship, the less likely they were to initiate a breakup,” says Samantha Joel, lead author of the research. 

“When people perceived that the partner was highly committed to the relationship they were less likely to initiate a break up. This is true even for people who weren’t really committed to the relationship themselves or who were personally unsatisfied with the relationship. Generally, we don’t want to hurt our partners and we care about what they want.”

Toxic relationships
Toxic relationships: Manipulation tactics are a form of coercive control

“One thing we don’t know is how accurate people’s perceptions are,” Joel adds. “It could be the person is overestimating how committed the other partner is and how painful the break up would be.”

Toxic relationships: the stats

The University of Utah research, and reasons behind it, might not sound groundbreaking but a Yougov survey in 2015 found that a whopping 6 in 10 people have stayed in relationships they didn’t find fulfilling. 

And the 2031 people surveyed in that poll stated the most common reason for hanging around in an unfulfilling relationship was because they’re used to compromising. 

What do the professionals make of all this? Speaking to VICE magazine, psychotherapist Kimberly Hershenson explains that, for many of us, we’re afraid to call it quits. Not only do we doubt we’ll find someone new, we’re also scared of starting from the beginning again.

And, when we enter into a toxic relationship, our partner can use this fear against us.

Recounting a recurring worry of some of her clients, “’My boyfriend says I’m never going to find anybody else, is that true?”, Hershenson points out that if someone tells you this, and you even so much as half-believe them, then something is clearly wrong.

Manipulation tactics such as these are a form of coercive control, Hersheson adds, although many of us will avoid acknowledging the situation – however toxic.

“Subconsciously, people think they can change other people and fix them,” she explains. “The thought of having to date again, have the first kiss again, and have sex again for the first time” can be really intimidating.

“If we love and care greatly for someone and they show us affection, we believe that they love and care for us back.”

It’s clear from these findings that the fear of being alone is a large contributing factor to why we stay in relationships that we deep down know aren’t right for us. But there’s a very good reason why we should embrace the single lifestyle – and it all has to do with our health.

Psychologist, TED talker and all round badass Bella DePaulo has been single her entire life and describes being living alone as being her “happily ever after”.  So much so that she has sat down and reviewed over 800 different academic studies, all of which analysed the effects of marriage and singledom.

The evidence was overwhelming: people riding the single-train tend to be more physically fit, have better friendship groups, feel more confident, and experience more personal growth than married people.

“The beliefs that single people are miserable, lonely, and loveless, and want nothing more than to become un-single are just myths,” said DePaulo.

Her work makes a case for those worrying about re-dipping their toe in the single pool, encouraging us to fully submerge in the unknown. Which, just like swimming, might seem a lot of effort but is essentially the healthy option – and will probably leave you feeling proud of yourself, too.

Images: Getty