4 Surprising reasons we stay in unhappy relationships

“No man ever threw away life while it was worth keeping.” said philosopher David Hume. And although he was writing about suicide, he could just as easily have been referring to romantic relationships. Home working throughout the pandemic has proven to be a real relationship wrecker. Research from law firm Stewarts, showed a 122% increase in enquiries regarding divorce in 2020, compared to the year before.

And these are just the couples who’ve made the leap and decided to leave. It’s fair to assume there are many other couples out there, staying in an unhappy relationship and struggling on, long after the love has gone.

But, why do we find ourselves unable to leave? There are the obvious things, such as the children’s happiness, money matters and being scared to start over. But then there are more surprising, and often sub conscious reasons why we stay. Perhaps one of these may ring a bell with you…

1. The power of the perfect family myth makes separation hard

Even though it’s 2021, and the divorce rate is 42%, we’re still bombarded by pictures of the perfect family in the media. Anything less than a mum, a dad and at least one child, will seemingly just not do.

And if you’re a reader of women’s magazines you’ll know that lone mothers don’t feature much within the pages. Magazines tell us how to get a man and keep a man. After this feat has been achieved, they’ll tutor us on impressing in bed, balancing our career, bringing up our children and beautifully decorating our house. The narrative is all about spinning plates so our lifestyle looks glossy, glamorous, desirable.

But they rarely feature lone working mothers, same sex couples, mums on a budget or one parent families in modest homes. Without bi fold doors. Or a marble kitchen.

Some of these ideas will take seed subconsciously and enhance the feeling that divorce or separation is failure. Not just of our romantic relationships, but at life. If we don’t see single parent families represented in magazines, then we assume it’s because it’s not a desirable lifestyle. And so we can end up staying in an unhappy relationship.

Journalist, Rosie Green used to write a column for Red magazine about her life in the country with her handsome husband and gorgeous girls. And then one day he left her for another woman.

So now Rosie writes authentically about healing from heartbreak and her life as a single working woman, and mother of two. The column is no less interesting, in fact it’s more. And Rosie is no less desirable, talented or relevant as a single woman.

2. You’ve missed the passing of time

Deep breath. Do you know it’s not 2020 anymore? In fact, in just three short months 2022 will begin. We all know there’s been a pandemic, but if time is passing you by and you’re still not content in your coupledom, than this may be an area to explore.

Difficult relationships often go day to day with only a low level sadness alerting us to discontent. And sometimes it’s the big seasonal events, like Christmas, where we realise we felt sad this time last year too. Also the year before that. And we haven’t had sex for six months. If these feeling of low key misery resonate with you, then speaking to a counsellor can help you figure out why you’re staying in an unhappy relationship. A good therapist will move at your pace. They won’t pressure you to make a decision about staying or leaving. But they will work through the feelings you’re experiencing, and explore what might be behind them. Whether you’re interested in attending therapy alone or as a couple, Relate are specialists in the area and have counsellors throughout the UK.

3. Your sense of self may suffer through separation

My sister met her boyfriend at a bus stop in Norfolk when she was sweet 16. She is now sweet 43, and they have two children together. As far as I know they’re still very happy. But splitting up with someone who you’ve been with for most of your life can really do a number on your self concept.

Alongside all the heartbreak and hassle, the additional thought of: Who am I without him? Can be seriously destabilising.

What we do know is that after divorce, identity is usually formed through the doing. So, for example, the act of living alone, going on holiday with girlfriends and developing your own interests may slowly inch your self image to independent woman. And away from one half of an unhappily married couple. It’s also worth acknowledging how overwhelming a separation can be. The world can feel very scary when the person who was always by your side, no longer is.

Again seeking professional mental health services during this time, can really make a massive difference to your wellbeing and resilience. It also gives you some time and space to process the break up and adjust to your new identity.

4. You hate to give up

Once upon a time people believed that if you got married, you stayed married. At all costs. It didn’t matter much if the relationship was abusive, if you were making each other miserable or infidelity was a factor. Together you were staying, in an unhappy relationship, because you once promised you would.

This attitude is thankfully less prevalent now, but it’s still around. And communicated both implicitly and explicitly. If you came from a family where sayings such as, “You made your bed so lie on it”. Or the more modern, but equally brash “Get up, show up and never give up” were heard, then this may play a part in why you’re finding it so hard to relinquish a struggling relationship. Even if it’s your mental health and wellbeing at risk.

When I look back at difficult situations in my own life, I wish that instead of trying harder I’d trusted my intuition and walked away sooner. In at least two of my previous jobs, i was really bad and had to be told, “Please leave” before I would. And one relationship hadn’t just gone off the boil, but was stone cold by the time I belatedly, left.

Admitting you can no longer go on with a relationship is never easy, but it certainly shouldn’t be shameful. So if you’re suffering, please don’t do so in silence. There’s loads of great help out there. And there is a valid life to be had as a single lady.