I have clients wonder all the time why they find themselves in relationships that are toxic, unhealthy, or with poor boundaries. They understand the relationship is not positive or conducive to their wellbeing, but they just can’t seem to get away. There are really a handful of reasons to consider, which are outlined below for your personal exploration. If you are someone struggling with this issue, it can be a combination of the explanations below, and it may benefit you to explore so you can identify the driving parts of you that contribute to this issue.
Sometimes something that is familiar may feel safer than something new or unknown, even if the familiar thing is not good for us. If you grew up around someone that treated you a certain way or important figures in your life had certain beliefs and behaviors, you may seek out individuals with similar behaviors because it is known to you. Even if the person may hit you or be very jealous, at least you know what to expect and that they will still support you financially or in other ways.
There are many things that one can be afraid of when considering leaving a toxic relationship. One that is common is being alone. This may be because the person feels they will not be able to take care of themselves or may have medical issues that worry them when they do not have a partner around for support. Some may believe they will not be able to find another partner or the next one may be worse. There is also financial fear, as many may be in a relationship where their partner is the main “bread winner”. It is difficult for someone to get away if they do not have family or finances for support.
Another common reason we may stay in toxic relationships is because we were exposed to poor models of behavior and beliefs. We may believe that being hit or abused in some way is how it is for everyone. We can only know what we have experienced and have been taught, therefore if we grow up in a home where yelling, abuse, or infidelity is common and/or tolerated, we come to understand relationships or love include these inappropriate behaviors.
This can often be a result of the issue discussed above, as one’s self-worth is highly influenced by those they look up to; parents, family, and friends. One may remain in a toxic relationship because they believe it is what they deserve or the best they will get for what they have to offer. Self-worth or self-esteem is also impacted by many other factors: trauma, failures, abusive relationships, substance use, etc.
Sometimes an individual may remain in a toxic or abusive relationship because they would feel guilty leaving, they may feel indebted to the individual. Perhaps their partner has paid off loans or helped resolve other financial issues, or perhaps the individual has taken care of other issues the person struggled with in the past. The person may feel responsible if their partner developed bad habits or began to struggle with substance use after they introduced it to their partner. Or perhaps their partner is ill and struggles to care for themselves, so they feel obligated not to abandon them.
This is often developed starting at a young age and signs of co-dependency include poor personal boundaries, fear of being alone, unhealthy emotional connection, jealousy, paranoia, etc. Sometimes we stay with someone because we believe or feel as though we need them to be okay. We will make sacrifices at our expense to keep the person around.
This is often a symptom of poor self-esteem or co-dependency. Having poor boundaries means the person does not respect their rights as much as they should or compared to others. Having poor boundaries means changing beliefs, plans, or behaviors just because it is too much work or discomfort to maintain them due to pressure or perceived pressure from someone else.
This is a big one that many people are often not aware of. Sometimes we will seek out or stay with a partner to redeem other past relationships. For example, if dad was unavailable and maybe struggled with drugs and an individual states “I will never date someone like that” but then ends up with someone similar, this is an opportunity to try again. As a child we are egocentric, so if something is wrong with mom or dad we feel responsible, we begin to believe “I should have saved them” or “I’m not good enough.” If we can make this new toxic relationship work, then it is redemption for not having saved dad or another significant relationship/person.