Why do women stay in hurtful relationships?

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This is a question many ask about their loved ones – either out loud or silently to themselves. Sometimes those on the outside of hurtful relationships clearly see the reason to leave. “You’re not happy; just leave!” is what those in hurtful relationships hear. However, it is not always that simple.  When emotions are involved, many allow their emotions to take the front seat of their decisions, which can often lead to heartache if the relationship is unhealthy. So, why does this happen? Why do women stay in hurtful relationships? Here are a few reasons.

Your parents modeled unhealthy relationship patterns. 
When a person grows up in a household where unhealthy or toxic relationships were modeled (i.e., mom dated many men or mom stayed in an abusive relationship), this sets the foundation for what we think a relationship consists of. For example, a relationship in which a parent remained in an abusive relationship teaches the child that no matter how a person treats you, you stay. Another example would be growing up watching a parent consistently cheat on their spouse and the spouse never leaves the relationship. The underlying message here is that cheating is a normal part of a relationship; therefore, it becomes something you condone. 

These underlying messages are taught when unhealthy relationships are displayed in the home. Those unhealthy relationships become your norm. Most likely no one verbatim told you these things. In fact, your parent may have actually told you the opposite in an effort to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes as them. Either way, what we see modeled has a significant influence on what we allow and do not allow in relationships, despite the part of you which knows it may be unhealthy.

You try to change a person. 
When the goal of your relationship becomes trying to change an individual, you are set up for failure from the start. We have no control over another human being. In an effort to change another person, you often end up changing yourself and later realize you do not like the person you have become. The premise of the relationship becomes “If I _____________ (am understanding enough, clean enough, cook enough, have sex enough, love him/her enough, etc.) then they will change.”  This alludes to the fact that you are not enough in the relationship. You spend all your energy trying to prove to the person that you are enough so they will change. Not going to happen!

People change when they are aware a change is needed and the change is an internal decision they actively work towards because they no longer what to continue the same behaviors. You may be thinking, “Well, his mother wasn’t around so he/she doesn’t know how to love” or “all his family left him and he/she has no one.” These things may be true; however, you can have empathy or sympathy for someone and still value yourself. It does not mean you have to endure a toxic relationship to prove your love. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you have to be with them. Staying in a hurtful relationship will result in you losing yourself as the relationship will slowly chip away at your self-esteem. I am not insinuating that relationships do not require understanding and working through challenges. I am simply stating that if more effort is being put into proving your worth so that he/she will “get it” and “change” or “understand that you are the one” then it becomes a race that will negatively impact your view of self. In healthy relationships, you do not have to prove anything.

Fear of being alone. 
This can be a silent killer of self-worth. Because the longer you stay, the more your self-worth diminishes and it becomes harder to leave. When you don’t feel worthy of better or feel you won’t find anyone else, you allow your fear of being alone to steer all the decisions of what you allow in your relationship. Many women’s discomfort with themselves causes them to stay in hurtful relationships. However, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. It is possible to be single and happy. When you are happy and in an emotionally healthy place you attract positive things (hence a positive partner). As long as you are too afraid to deal with yourself and be alone, you will consistently accept anyone who fills this void and the relationship itself becomes you avoiding having to deal with yourself. Only you know what you are running from. However, until you are completely comfortable with yourself and love yourself for who you are, that void will only bring temporary or surface level satisfaction. It is a quick fix to a deeper issue, so you will never feel 100 percent satisfied.

Other reasons women cannot leave a relationship easily include finances, children, etc. Sometimes certain dynamics require planning to leave a relationship versus abruptly leaving the relationship. I cannot address all aspects of unhealthy relationships in one article, but the goal is to provide some insight into a few of the reasons you yourself may be staying in an unhealthy relationship or someone you know may be. Ask yourself if are you a victim by circumstance or a victim by what you allow. You must know the difference.

Look out for part two on how to break toxic relationship patterns!

Miyume McKinley, LCSW is the founder of Epiphany Counseling, Consulting and Treatment Services, PC located in San Pedro, Calif. In addition, she hosts the “Epiphany” show on Accelerated Radio in which she promotes the importance of mental health and discusses various topics to aid individuals and families searching for healing, hope and peace of mind. For more information on Epiphany Counseling, Consulting and Treatment Services, visit www.eccts.com. To listen to past shows aired on the Accelerated Radio Network visit www.epiphanyradioblog.com. For questions, Miyume McKinley can be reached via email at epiphanytalkradio@gmail.com.

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