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Why People Choose to Stay in Unhappy Relationships

Sabrina loves to write about love, life, and everything in-between in a candid yet humorous approach.


I think it's a fairly simple concept: when something makes us unhappy, we do our best to change it or eliminate it completely from our lives. This goes for jobs, haircuts, clothes, food, movies, music, and pretty much anything else, except relationships. So many relationships are obviously way past their prime, yet both partners choose to stay for some unclear reasons. What are these reasons and can anything really be more important than our time and happiness?


1. Fear of Being Alone

The top reason why people choose to stay in unhappy relationships is their fear of being alone. Seriously. People are so afraid to be alone that they'd rather be unhappy with someone else just to avoid it. I guess it's that whole "misery loves company" concept.

I personally won't settle for that now, but there was a time when I did. I stayed in my first "real" relationship way longer than I felt comfortable just because I was so inexperienced in the dating world that I thought I was actually in a loving partnership. But I was 18 then and 29 now, so times have definitely changed. When you're 18, you think you have all the time in the world to make mistakes, but when you're 29, time becomes more precious and you fear wasting it more than you fear being alone. If it comes down to that choice, I will always choose to be happy alone over miserable with anyone else. Life's simply too short! Don't waste a minute of it with the wrong person.

2. Fear of Starting Over

People also fear starting over, which I can understand to a point. If you've been in a relationship for five or more years, and now you're suddenly alone and on the verge of dating again, it may seem downright terrifying. Everyone's doing the whole online dating thing now, and that can be plain weird because you never really know what you're getting. And let's face it, first dates are awkward as hell. Unless it's a really good one with instant chemistry, it's just not fun. But don't let the fear of getting out in the dating world again keep you in an unhappy relationship. You deserve better than that. You might go on a few not so good dates, but at least you're trying and getting closer every day to finding that right person. If you stay in a bad relationship for too long, you're not only making yourself and your partner miserable, you're also prolonging the moment when you can meet someone who's right for you. You have to let go of the old before you can embrace the new and the clock is ticking.


3. They Confuse Being in Love With Just Loving Someone

Another reason why people choose to stay in relationships that they have mentally checked out of ages ago is because they confuse being in love with someone to just loving someone. Look, I care and love a lot of people, but I'm not in love with them. There's a big difference. After years of being with someone, you may find that initial spark has gone and there is no chemistry, yet you might still love and care about that person. Sure, you can try and reignite that spark with adventurous new dates and possibly new things in the bedroom, but sometimes regardless of your best efforts, your relationship has simply just run its course. It doesn't mean any of you is a bad person or anyone did anything wrong.

You may still love and care about the other person very much, you're just not romantically in love and that magic is simply gone. Is it really worth staying after you have come to terms with this fact? Isn't it just a form of killing time? Yes, it's sad to see something end that you have put so much time and effort into, but isn't it sadder to never feel that passion and chemistry ever again?

I think one of the best things in life is when you feel that spark with someone and you're just getting to know each other and suddenly you see the world through rose-colored glasses. It's like a high where you feel you can do anything and go anywhere, only we know it as the effects of falling in love. I think everyone deserves to feel that at least once in their lives, or maybe just once more.

4. Children Are Involved

Children are probably one of the bigger reasons people stay together who no longer love or care about each other. They don't want their children to come from a broken home or wonder all their lives whether they somehow contributed to their parent's divorce. That's certainly one way of looking at it. The other side of that is two miserable parents who fight all the time and create a hostile living environment for their children. It may make little children happy to see their parents together, but it's only because they're young and they may not understand that you're simply putting on a show for them. Once they're a little older, they will see how unhappy you are, and it will reflect on them in some way.

In the end, kids only want to see their parents happy, in whichever form that comes in. They would rather have divorced parents and two happy homes, then one miserable house that they never want to come home to. If you're just staying together for the kids, realize that it's not in their best interests to grow up seeing their parents so unhappy, not only will it bring them down in the short term, in the long term, they will grow up with some very messed up ideas of what love and marriage is supposed to be like. If you want your kids to be happy, you have to make yourself happy as well. After all, we teach by example, don't we?


If you're having second thoughts and find yourself reevaluating your relationship, then it may be time to figure out what you really want from your love life. A person who is so happy and in love doesn't have time to think about whether they are happy and in love because life is magical at that moment, and it's obviously not if you find yourself with these thoughts. I get being afraid to let go of your current relationship for a chance that there's more out there. Yes, there's plenty of fish in the sea but maybe you're comfortable with the one you have. Maybe you're not really miserable, but you're not happy either, just somewhere in between. Maybe you're hoping it'll get better in the future. After you buy that bigger house. Or take that island vacation.

But here's a scarier thought...what if it doesn't get better and you look back five years from now and realize you wasted so much time being knowingly unhappy and yet you did nothing about it? Overall, you have to figure out your definition of happiness and whether you can live with that or not. If being comfortable and caring about someone, but not exactly being in love is your thing, go for it.

It's your life and your prerogative to live it as you see fit. But maybe you're one of those people who know something's missing in your life and know yourself enough to know that you can't live that way. Maybe you're one of those who'd rather risk it all for the chance to be truly happy, then risk nothing and get nothing in return. Life's just a big game, but it's up to you to roll the dice or fold.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 GreenEyes1607

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Dr Billy Kidd from Sydney, Australia on April 11, 2018:

Greeneyes--great post!

Dashingscorpio--thanks for the bottom line on this subject!

dashingscorpio from Chicago on April 10, 2018:

Excellent points.

"I think it's a fairly simple concept, when something makes us unhappy, we do our best to change it or eliminate it completely from our lives"

Generally that's true. Although oftentimes in relationships people stay because {they hope their mate will change} or things will go back to the way they were during the "infatuation phase" of their relationship.

They can't seem to let go of those first 3-6 months when they first met and how perfect everything was. The truth is during the "infatuation phase" both people bend over backwards to impress one another and be agreeable as to avoid "blowing it" with someone they're attracted to.

However once there is an emotional investment or an established relationship they feel "safe" enough to reveal their authentic selves without fear of their mate leaving or no longer care if she/he does. Arguments/disagreements reveal the real person.

The inexperienced dater believes they've met their "soulmate" when they go through the "infatuation phase". Once you're "all in" it can be difficult to walk away even when things change on you.

Romance novels and Hollywood movies have also created the fairytale that the best love stories are those filled with "drama", breakups, and makeups which eventually lead a couple to "happily ever after". In reality they lead to wasting time and heartache. Life is too short to be trying to change water into wine.

We're told over and over again: "Relationships are (hard work)."

The reality is if it's that "hard" you're probably with the (wrong person)! There's no amount of "work" or "communication" that can overcome being with someone who simply does not want what you want.

The goal is to find someone who shares your same values, wants the same things for the relationship that you do, naturally agrees with you on how to obtain those things and last but not least have a mutual depth of love and desire for one another.

Compatibility trumps compromise.

Like attracts like and opposites attract divorce attorneys!

Generally speaking people don't "change" unless (they) are unhappy. There are only two ways to experience joy and peace of mind in relationships. We either get what we want or we learn to be happy with what we have. Accept them (as is) or move on. Suffering is optional.

"Never love anyone who treats you like you're ordinary."

- Oscar Wilde

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