WHY PEOPLE CONTINUE STAYING IN UNHEALTHY ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS


A healthy relationship is said to be one that has high relationship quality. Relationship quality is the overall subjective evaluation of individuals about their relationship. A relationship that gives the experience of acceptance, warmth, and a sense of security; involves a feeling of trust, understanding, support, and resolution of conflicts is said to have a high relationship quality.
Being in a healthy romantic relationship has been found to be associated with a number of benefits. It has a positive influence on self-concept development, it enhances self-esteem and self-confidence, and leads to better mental and physical health. In contrast, an unhealthy or toxic romantic relationship has been associated with high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, leading to an overall negative affect on emotional and psychological wellbeing.
The more healthy the relationship the more the individuals are motivated to be involved in it and the more they are able to derive satisfaction from it. This makes individuals put in more effort to sustain the relationship and make it long-lasting. In unhealthy relationships, however, the more a person stays in it the more problematic it becomes. Research suggests that it is better to be alone than to be in a toxic relationship. Despite this, often, it has been found that individuals continue to stay in an unhealthy relationship instead of leaving that person and moving on.
One of the reasons that people may stay in an unhealthy romantic relationship is that they may not even be aware that is an unhealthy one. People often have positive bias or positive illusions about their relationship. There is a tendency of individuals to evaluate their relationship in a more positive manner than it actually may be. They evaluate their relationship to better as compared to the relationship of others.
Every individual has an idealized view of their relationship and partner. Individuals have been found to evaluate their relationship and partner to be similar to their idealized view.
Additionally, people also have ideals about the interaction pattern, sexual activity, attachment, feelings, commitment, etc. Individuals tend to evaluate these aspects of their relationship similar to their ideals; they tend to exaggerate the positive aspects of their relationship. Further, they also tend to be overly optimistic about the future of the relationship in the sense that they believe that there will be an improvement in many of the features of their relationship or that their partner will change for the better in the days to come.
These positive illusions help individuals deal with the uncertainties, anxieties, and stresses associated with their relationship. This makes them sustain the relationship and gives them a feeling that everything is fine with their relationship, making it last long. In the long-term, however, this does not really work. In the end what they have are illusions, which means that they have an inaccurate evaluation of their relationship.
Having positive illusions may help them sustain their relationship for a longer period of time, but in actuality it is making them overlook, undermine, or simply ignore many of the negative aspects of a relationship such as incompatibility, issues of conflict, lack of care, mistrust, jealousy, or even being at the receiving end of disrespect and mental and physical abuse.
While positive illusions may make the person continue in the relationship, the negativities of the relationship continue to creep in and eat the person from the inside. Before the person even realizes, the toxicities takes its toll on him/her, all this while believing that nothing is wrong in their relationship.
Positive illusions make people unaware that their relationship is unhealthy and thus, they continue staying in the relationship. But, there are instances when individuals realize that their relationship is unhealthy and they still continue staying in that relationship. A number of times it has been found that after a while an individual may not feel satisfied with his/her relationship, they feel a lot of dissatisfaction and distress, and getting into that relationship seems like a mistake.
In such instances, the person may have the feeling to end the relationship. Despite this, the individual does not end the relationship and continues staying in it, no matter how disturbing and troublesome the relationship may turn out to be. Often, it has been found that, even when the relationship is abusive, the individual still continues to stay in the relationship.
This phenomenon of being committed to a bad decision, even when it is associated with continuous trouble and increasing loss, is known as escalation to commitment. According to this phenomenon, individuals self-justify their decisions because they feel that their initial decision was a rational one. Further, they stick to their decision due to external forces.
Specifically talking about relationships, when a person begins to realize that he/she is in a dissatisfying or troublesome relationship, the person, initially, might feel that he/she needs to look into the matter from multiple perspectives and that he/she may be wrong in their judgment. The person might make an effort to change his/her perspective, which prolongs the stay in that troublesome relationship.
Further, there is the persistent pressure from family, peers, and society. Breaking up from a relationship brings in a lot of possibilities of being judged and stigmatized by others. If the person is married, then a legal separation or divorce, not only becomes highly stressful, but the label in itself is seen as big stigma in society.
Breaking up from a relationship also means that the person has to go back to the state of singlehood. The term singlehood, although, is used for people who are unmarried (even if they have a romantic partner), it is often used to describe people who do not have a romantic partner. Singlehood, especially in the later phase of one’s life, in itself is seen as a stigma in the society. People have a lot of prejudices associated with singlehood, which is referred to as singlism.
Singlism leads people to discriminate against individuals who are single, both in social gatherings and the workplace. Individuals who are single are treated in a specific manner, they have a lot of stereotypes associated with them such as being carefree, non-serious, irresponsible, reckless, having a shallow character, etc. All of these aspects associated with singlehood, within the society, make the individual reluctant to end their relationship. They feel it is better to be in a toxic, troublesome relationship than being single.
Apart from the prejudice called singlism, many people often have a fear of being alone. They feel that even if they are in a troublesome relationship, at least they have someone to interact with. Especially, if the relationship has been a long-term one, in which they have put in a lot of time and effort, they may have the fear that all of a sudden they will end up being alone. In such instances a lack of alternatives also becomes important. The possibility of being involved with someone else after breaking up, may help the person to not have the fear of aloneness.
Being in an unhealthy romantic relationship, as mentioned above, has a lot of negative consequences on an individual’s mental health. No one wants to really continue to stay in an unhealthy romantic relationship and experience the distress that comes along with it. A number of factors like having positive illusions, self-justifying ones decision, conforming to societal pressures, the fear of being alone, and a lack of possible alternatives, often make people stay in an unhealthy romantic relationship, even if the individual does not want to.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (Intimate Relationships). I'm a writer, an independent researcher, and conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. I have had experience in teaching Psychology to undergraduate students of University of Delhi as well as constructing Psychological tests. Apart from my interests in interpersonal relationships, educational issues, personality, communication, and mental health, I have a wide range of interests that are beyond Psychology, which keep me active, driven, and make my life fun and joyful.


Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at Vivekananda College, University of Delhi, India.

1 comment:

Deepika Gupta said...

I agree with you.
I personally know many people, majority of them are females who continue to be in unhealthy relationships because of the fear of being alone. Which many times also leads to having an affair outside the marriage or committed relationship.
With men it's different, they like to have affair outside which leads to unhealthy married relationships.
It's very complicated scenario, now a days.
We live in a strangely fearful society where majority is doing the same things and blaming society as a whole. And we are not going anywhere. Sigh.

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