Why do we stay in bad relationships?

 In All, Relationships

If Beyoncé’s album Lemonade is anything to go by, then we can assume that even Queen B has experienced betrayal and hurt at the hands of the man she loves. Not that I ever thought they were invincible but it just goes to show that no one, however powerful and fabulous, is immune to being fucked over in relationships.

Relationships are hard. Committed, long-term relationships are the hardest. There is definitely some beauty in the story of overcoming hardships together and finding the way back to love but I wonder how much B taking Jay back after he cheated supports the notion that committed relationships involve suffering. In this narrative we are taught to endure difficulties in relationships, that “sticking it out” and “fighting through the pain” are inevitables when it comes to love. But what happens when this narrative drives us to accept the bullshit that no one should accept. My concern is that we over-commit to the wrong people too soon in relationships.

What do you think?

For example, how many people do you know who set their sights on someone and despite all the signs being there, remain interested long after their crush has shown anything from disinterest to disrespect. How many of you have excused him/her for

  • Not calling
  • Not paying his/her way
  • Not touching you affectionately
  • Late night booty calls but then silence
  • Silence
  • Silence
  • Silence
  • Friendzoning
  • Being used
  • Seeing other people
  • Not being ready to commit
  • Not being honest
  • ???

The list goes on. Sure, accepting these forms of mistreatment are to a large degree determined by one’s own sense of low self-esteem/desperation/neediness/worthlessness. We accept the love we think we deserve. But let’s face it, all of us have at some point been vulnerable to someone who gives us less than we deserve. It is incredible to me how so many people put up with mistreatment in relationships. But why?

  1. We think he/she will change
  2. We think we just need to show him/her love and acceptance and it will all magically be resolved
  3. We are prepared to take the scraps
  4. We are afraid of being alone
  5. We like the chase
  6. We just don’t know any different

So what should we be looking for and how can we learn to distinguish whether someone’s shitty behaviour is worth accepting or not?

I don’t think there are hard or fast answers for any of these things but I know this for sure. If he/she likes you, you will know about it. When he/she is ready and willing for a committed relationship, it won’t take a rocket scientist to discover this fact. If you’re questioning and doubtful over his/her interest then he/she probably isn’t that into you. Come on, guys, there is a whole book written on this very topic!

Some clues he/she is into you:

  • He/she always texts back, sometimes straight away
  • He/she says yes to your invitations or sends you invitations
  • He/she refers to going out/dating/going steady/being girl- or boyfriends
  • He/she talks about the relationship as an entity after you’ve been seeing each other for some time e.g. “I feel like we’re doing well as a couple”
  • He/she respects your boundaries
  • He/she respects the contracts of the relationship

Whether you’re in the early stages or deep into a long-term relationship, there will be times when that significant other does something to hurt you or piss you off. Ask yourself:

  • Is this a deal-breaker?
  • Do I have to sacrifice too much of myself in order to accept this?
  • Does this go against my set of values?
  • Does this infringe on our personal agreement?
  • Does this disrespect me as a person, my rights?

If it’s a yes to any of the above then you probably need to reassess what’s going on. As a couple’s counsellor I can tell you that couples can come back from just about anything. There are many betrayals and wounds that can be healed with therapy if both parties are prepared to do the work. It takes a lot of energy but it isn’t impossible. There are ways, like Lemonade shows us, to find our way through betrayal and back to love. I believe that some couples actually have their bond strengthened by going through hardships. But before you begin to romanticise the brokenness, remember that the fundamentals have to be in place. Above all else, choose someone who shows you respect, love, and commitment.


“how far have you walked for men who’ve never held your feet in their laps?

how often have you bartered with bone, only to sell yourself short?

why do you find the unavailable so alluring?

where did it begin? what went wrong? and who made you feel so worthless?

if they wanted you, wouldn’t they have chosen you?

all this time, you were begging for love silently, thinking they couldn’t hear you, but they smelt it on you, you must have known that they could taste the desperate on your skin?”

Warsan Shire

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