We talk a lot about what it takes to get into healthy relationships, how to find a woman, how to keep a man, etc. But a great many people also seem to have trouble with getting out of unhealthy relationships. They refuse to see the writing on the wall. They keep at it, ignoring or avoiding the problems, pretending everything will be fine, when really it isn’t. Then one day, the whole thing implodes, you’re traumatized for having spent so long in an unhealthy relationship, and you’re left wondering: Why did I spend so much time in that situation?
Well, it’s important to illuminate what sort of fear-based stories you’re telling yourself, limiting your willingness to leave unhealthy relationships and bravely move on the find new, healthier ones. Now, if you’re having trouble leaving a job or any situation that you know is not right for you, these very same limiting stories can apply to both work and personal relationships (when I refer to a “relationship,” you could replace that word with a “job,” and it will make sense).
Here are 5 big stories men and women believe when they just can’t seem to leave unhealthy relationships, and a few tips that might be helpful in changing them:
It’s too late; I’ll never find one again
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the astonishing fortune-tellers! This story is told by the psychic men and women who can somehow predict the future. WRONG. The plain fact of the matter is: You don’t know what’s going to happen. Not next year, not next month…not in the next 10 minutes. Anything could happen, and within “anything” there’s a pretty good chance you’ll meet more people in your lifetime, and among those people there’s a pretty good chance you’ll meet someone you like…and maybe even who likes you back.
Most people with this story focus on their past experience to predict the future. They use the excuses: “Well, it took a long time to meet this one” or “I’m just going off my experience.” This practice is generally normal and reasonable—we use our experiences and knowledge of what has happened to prepare for what will happen. Nonetheless, we must recognize that no matter how much we prepare or how much we think the future will look like the past, the fact remains we have NO IDEA what the future will bring. And if you walk forward into it with an open heart and open mind, chances are, it will bring a lot of beauty too.
Any time you hear yourself making predictions about the future, and sticking to present situations—especially unhealthy ones—out of fear that those predictions will come true, it’s time to look in the mirror and call “bullshit.” You’re not a psychic. You can’t tell the future. Anything could happen tomorrow. And hey, if you’re really bent on being one of our astonishing fortune tellers, why not predict that you WILL meet someone. That’s story is just as valid, and a whole lot more fun!
This is the best I can do
If you’re in a situation that you know is just plain unhealthy, and yet you don’t believe you deserve any better or that you could attain any healthier, then it’s really time to depart that relationship and embark on a self-discovery period. You need a serious dose of self-love, and possibly the best route for you is to work with a coach or therapist to help you find that. If you don’t believe you deserve great things, you’ve got bigger problems than this relationship, and unfortunately a relationship like this will only keep you stuck.
There is virtually no way to create a healthy relationship if one or more individuals is not self-confident. And if you believe you can’t do any better than this unhealthy situation…then you’re right for as long as you neglect to build your confidence. And not because you don’t deserve it, but rather because without self-esteem you simply don’t have the ability to create a healthy dynamic.
So leave for yourself. Leave so you can get the time and space you need to discover why you don’t believe you deserve the best, and how to change that story. Talk to a therapist about cultivating and embracing self-love. Find things that make you proud of YOU. Things that surprise you about you, that will change this old story into a new one that sounds like: “I am really incredible, and I deserve amazing things.” Because it’s true, and you need to learn the truth.
This, of course, is easier said than done. If this is what you’re struggling with, Christian lays out the first steps to take control of your life and boost your self worth in Becoming Your Own Ten.
Breaking up will be too painful
This one really keeps people stuck. So many men and women are just so afraid of feeling pain, sadness, fear, or other difficult emotions, that they stick to uncomfortable, unhealthy situations in order to avoid the feelings. There is some notion, perhaps unconsciously, that the pain of loss will overwhelm them, that it will be too much to handle, and/or that it will last far too long, maybe even forever. If this is the case—and it’s important to understand if this is truly the story alive in you right now—you need some self-love and self-trust.
Make sure, on a deep level, that you know you will take care of yourself, that you will allow yourself to feel sad, and that sadness won’t kill you or last forever. Loss is painful—no one expects you not to be sad; sadness is reasonable and okay. But the story that the loss will be TOO painful—that somehow it will overwhelm you—that story is not reasonable, and not true. Haven’t you been in pain before? Haven’t you felt sadness before? Is it still today as intense as it was when you first felt it? Did it kill you or put you in the hospital? If not, you have to remind yourself that you will be able to handle it. If it did put you in the hospital, and you’re afraid of it happening again, get yourself a solid support system, including a therapist, to guide you through this process gently.
All of us need to fall back on our support systems when going through a loss. Turn to family and friends who love you, whom you can spend time with during your sadness, when you need a shoulder to cry on. Your loved ones are here to help. And if they’re lacking or you don’t feel you have many people you can turn to, then find a support group or a coach or therapist. You need support to get through the tough time….but you WILL get through, you will handle it, and you will eventually find love and happiness again. Remind yourself of that!
I’m sure things will change
Improving any situation that isn’t working well is a legitimate endeavor. And things might indeed change if you—and even more likely if your partner as well—work on them. But sometimes, things can’t improve. The situation is what it is, the person is whom he or she is, and you are whom you are. If there are major roadblocks in this relational dynamic and these are embedded into the very fabric of your personalities, it’s pretty unlikely that things will change permanently and drastically enough to sustain happiness in the relationship. So when is it time to call it quits? How long will you keep ignoring or avoiding or pretending before you’re ready to finally let go?
When we get into relationships, there is always room for improvement. But if you embark on a new relationship—of any kind—with the premise that things HAVE to change in some major way for you to be happy, you’ve made a mistake. In other words, if you’re going into this situation without fully accepting who this person is and banking on the idea that eventually you’ll be happy because he or she or the relationship or situation will change, you’re heading for rough waters, my friend.
So what’s the line, between the healthy endeavor of improvement and an unhealthy dependency on change? Putting aside the notion of improvement for a moment, since all of us can always improve in some ways, ask yourself: Could you live with this person and be fulfilled AS IS? If the answer is no, I think it’s truly time to reconsider what you’re doing there. Living with an expectation of change is hurtful to someone else, disappointing to you, and damaging to the entire relationship. Instead, operate on the notion that things really may not change—that it will be this way or some version of this—for a very long time. If you can’t handle that, it’s probably time to alter your course.
I won’t know who I am without him/her
All of us build identities around the things and people in our lives. We can become “attached” to the relationships, the titles, the labels. When things change or shift, when we lose a label or a relationship, it can seem like a loss of a piece of ourselves—the very essence of what makes us, us. That’s why it’s important to have an anchor in one’s life, something that allows one to feel purpose and identity, and which does not depend on another person. It could be an activity, a job, a membership, a sense of self or purpose, or any combination of these that does not rely on someone else’s presence or decisions.
Other people’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings are in a realm outside your control, so tying you very self-concept to someone else’s role is dangerous. This often leads to too much dependency and consequently a number of other problems in the relationship, such as resentment, insecurity, and manipulation. If you’re afraid to leave the relationship, even though you know you should, because you’re not sure who you’d be without this person, I have a suggestion… GO FIND OUT! It will be the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself. Scared? No problem. Fear is okay and reasonable. You’ll be able to handle it.
If you don’t know who you are without some situation or some other person, it’s a really good idea to discover the answer. This is especially true of course when the relationship feels wrong or unhealthy. Discovery will take courage. So believe in yourself and get support from others who believe in you too. Because they do. And I have a feeling, you just might surprise yourself.
When it’s time to leave, be brave
I have heard these stories over and over, from men and women, young and old, rich and poor. They can’t help but to tell and dwell in them; they revel in the fear of leaving until one day, low and behold, they can’t take it anymore and they leave! And they can’t believe they did it. And I suggest, insist, beg them to immediately work on dropping the old story that kept them there so long and start working on a new, healthier story, so they can create new, healthier relationships going forward. Because if the next relationship they find themselves in just isn’t working, and they haven’t yet let go of that old, fear-based story, they’ll once again repeat the cycle and have immense trouble recognizing, confronting, and addressing unhealthy problems in the relationship. Changing the story brings true liberation and confidence—necessary ingredients for finding the relationship that really will be healthy.