Why We Stay in Relationships Which Have Reached Their Endpoint, Are Unhealthy, or Even Toxic.
There are multitudes of relationships (I’m sure you can think of at least one or two within the circle of people you know) that, while they’ve remained together, seemingly checked off that relationship box of “our relationship has gone the distance,” in actuality, aren’t a particularly healthy or good one.
So often, we wait too long to leave relationships which have either expired, aren’t healthy (and maybe they never were), or are no longer good for us.
Why do we do this? Stay too long? Refuse to let go?
We confuse ‘need’ with love.
Plethoras of people assume that because they feel a “need” for their partner, this means they also love their partner.
These are not synonymous. In fact, need is not indicative of love. More often, it’s indicative of some semblance of a hole inside the person who feels this gnawing need and clinginess.
There is nothing wrong with a degree of dependence on another person. In fact, some dependence is healthy. Being brave enough to depend on another person is part of the facet of a healthy loving connection with another. This goes for romances, friendship, as well as healthy family connections.
However, people often confuse and do not understand the difference between “depend on” and “neediness.”
Within our depending on another, we can and should still be a fully functioning adult on our own, with healthy connections to others outside that relationship, and with some hobbies, joys, and activities apart from our partner.
If someone feels as though the meaning of their life ceases, and they wouldn’t know how to function or live without this person, that is ‘need’ in an unhealthy way, and is not the same thing as love.
We live our lives led by fear, rather than what is sometimes difficult (though healthier) truth.
When people stay in relationships that are no longer healthy or functional, those which have long since expired, this is living by the dictation of fear.
People do this all the time. And it’s usually to their detriment.
Remaining connected with toxic and harmful family members out of a sense of obligation and fear of their reaction if we finally either stand up to them, draw strong lines in the sand, or even end the connection altogether. Staying with partners who are no longer good for us, or in relationships which are no longer healthy or flourishing, those which have long since died because we are “scared” of starting all over, of being alone, of the unknown, of letting go. Sticking in friendships that we might have outgrown, though because we’ve “known them forever,” we can’t just end it, we say.
Yes, you can.
Endings, while painful, are not bad things. In fact, they are often necessary towards paving the way for our own personal growth forward. Refusing to step into growth and induce an ending where need be results in remaining steeped in connections which are not good for us. It results in a stunted life of spinning one's wheels in place, of a staying stuck instead of moving forward.
Life is not meant to be lived sucking it up and remaining resigned in relationships that are bad for us. Those which no longer fit, are unhealthy, or even harmful.
Family or not. Friends for a decade or not. Lover or not.
Allowing fear to dictate the direction and choice of our close connections will result in having the relationships surrounding us as less optimal than these relationships could be, and this will come at a cost to the quality of our life.
Learn to let go, even when it’s terrifying, and even when it hurts, of the relationships which need to come to a close. Doing this paves the way for a life of greatest joy, emotional health, and growth possible.
It can be scary, as well as deeply painful, to have to face, acknowledge, and admit that someone you love is not so good for you, and even, that maybe they never were.
This is especially hurtful and jarring when it’s someone like a longtime spouse, a parent, a sibling, or a seemingly close friend. This realization can rock your sense of trust in others, it can cause you to question your own ability to choose wisely and asses the character of others, and ultimately, is usually a confusing and heartbreaking experience all around.
However, it’s also a crucial one to be brave enough to face and see clearly.
Because when we can see clearly those who aren’t good for us, it’s then that we are able to choose carefully those who are right for us. And, to be able to erect strong, much-needed boundaries around our relationships with the others.
When we become aware of the dysfunction or toxicity in others, it is only then that we can learn to draw healthy, strong personal boundaries around ourselves, and that we become more emotionally healthy ourselves, simply by being able to identify the emotional unhealth in others.
Think about it. If you cannot see clearly the red flags in others, this indicates a lack of clarity and emotional health within the viewer (you) as well.
Emotionally healthy people can see the dysfunction, harm, and bad behavior of others. And they are strong and brave enough to protect themselves from it, when and where need be.
We forget all that exists beyond the very small, limited bubble which we know.
Image your life and all of what it involves is a small circle. Go ahead and draw this on a piece of paper. A circle, maybe the size of a quarter.
That is your life.
Everything within that circle is your life as it currently stands. Your friends, your romantic partner(s), your family, the job(s) you work, where you live, beloved pets, personal projects on which you are working, hobbies, you get the idea.
Now notice all the white space beyond that circle you’ve drawn, outside of it. All the extra space on the paper that is not within that circle. Even, beyond the piece of paper.
All of this? The potential life possibilities you haven’t even thought of, experimented with, considered, or examined as existing.
Think about it. There are boatloads of potential friends out there who are great matches for you, whom you’ve never met or crossed paths with. There are many romantic partners with whom you would enjoy a fantastic relationship, though you haven’t come into contact with them. There are numerous other cities around the world in which you would feel at home, and could build a fulfilling, awesome life. There are plenty of other ways in which you could work and fund your life, those which would alright your heart and feel meaningful, which you haven’t even thought of. Some, maybe you haven’t even heard of. There is an endless number of books you’ve never even heard about that do not make the narrow, highly curated “best seller” list which, if you did find and read them, could change your life. There are foods you’ve not tried or even heard of which, if you did, might become a most loved meal.
You get my point here.
We forget, via our limited vantage point, and within our cloaking of personal comfort, as well as fear of the unknown, how much awe-inspiring and awesome people, alternate lines of work, incredible places, and other ways of living and being, lie outside the immediate realm of what we know.
So we cling to and stick with what is easy, what is comfortable, and what feels safe, even if it isn’t all that great for us in significant ways.
Dare to live your life differently.
Emotionally mature, fully developed, brave, and emotionally healthy adults let go of things that are no longer working for them. Jobs, living situations, friendships, family connections, and romantic relationships.
This, of course, does not mean walking at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t mean within the first moment of challenge or conflict, throwing in the towel. Far from it. Try your best. Give things a fair shake. Give several potential solutions a go.
However, do not be one of the many who stays, and stays, and stays, letting your life slip away, your one precious and fleeting life through the sand of the sole hourglass you get, as you remain in scenarios and relationships that are mismatches, not functional, or even flat out bad for you.
You get one life, one shot. And it’s passing by at this very second.
Learn to let go, when and where need be. Your life will be infinitely happier, healthier, and better for it over the big picture.
For further reading…
(I highly recommend checking out two poignant reads on this topic: How to Be an Adult in Relationships by David Ricco, and Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward by Dr. Henry Cloud. Both of these are thought-changing, and thus, life-changing books).