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Why Some Stay in a Bad Relationship

  • Les & Leslie Parrott
  • 2005 30 Sep
Why Some Stay in a Bad Relationship

The experience of unrequited love-not just a minor crush, but an intense passionate yearning-is virtually universal at some point in everyone's love life. 

A study involving more than 150 men and women found that only two percent had never loved someone who spurned them, or found themselves the object of romantic passion they did not reciprocate.  No wonder so many people stay in a dating relationship even when they know it's not the best thing for them.


The investment of time, energy, and even money can lead some people to hang onto an unhappy relationship, believing the payoff is coming soon.  They don't want to have wasted their efforts.  They don't want to have "failed."  Some may stay in an unhealthy relationship because of social pressure. 

We recently spoke to a seemingly mature woman who had legitimate reasons for breaking up with her boyfriend, but because her friends wanted her to attend a big year-end party with them as a "couple," she was putting off the breakup for a couple months. 

Another reason some stay in an unsatisfactory relationship is because they don't have an alternative.  The ol' plenty-of-fish-in-the-sea maxim rings hollow for them, so they stay stuck.


There are a variety of reasons a person might stay in an unhappy dating relationship, but by far, the most common is this: Even a bad relationship can bring a feeling of security.  No matter how false it actually is, the feeling of being "involved" brings assurance. 


People in these kinds of relationships usually won't admit it, but like a familiar pair of worn out shoes, their relationship provides a sense of comfort they can't seem give up-no matter how bad the relationship really is. 


Dan, a 24 year old, recently admitted to us that he has been in a dating relationship for nearly two years that is "going nowhere."  He told us that hardly a weekend goes by where they don't end up fighting.  Their interests are at polar extremes; he likes racecars, she's into novels.  They don't even pretend to like what the other is into. 


More troubling than their divergent interests, however, is their lack of shared values.  Dan is committed to his faith while she wants nothing to do with church.  "I don't know why we're still together," he told us.  "I guess it's just nice to know there is someone there for you." 


Really?  It didn't sound like they were there for each other. Was Dan serious? Indeed, he was.  Like every other lonelyheart in a no-good dating relationship, Dan's only love was security. 


The human compulsion for security is stronger than a magnet.  It can play serious tricks on our faculties. And since we often don't like the anxiety that comes from making waves, we don't rock the boat.  We sit quietly in our relationship, going nowhere, drifting aimlessly when we should be making some tough decisions.


"I think when you first start dating" says comedian Jerry Seinfeld, "they ought to give you three 'Get Out of Relationship Free' cards."  If only it were that easy.


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