By: Roxy Zarrabi Psy.D. | March 9, 2022
"Have you ever looked back at a previous relationship and wondered, “What was I thinking?” It may feel surprising to look back and realize how unhealthy a relationship was and wonder how you endured it for as long as you did. That’s why hindsight is 20/20.Perhaps you haven’t been in an unhealthy relationship yourself, but you’ve wondered why a friend or family member stays in a relationship that is clearly making them unhappy. Similar to a smudged windshield, it can be tough to see what’s right in front of you until the gunk is wiped away.
Often, it’s not a lack of awareness that keeps people stuck in unhealthy relationships; deep down inside there is a voice calling for their attention urging them to face the truth but it’s being buried due to underlying fears. If you’re having difficulty letting go of an unhealthy relationship, consider whether any of the following reasons are playing a role:
1. You fear being alone and assume being with anyone is better than being alone.
For many, the fear of being alone, and low self-worth, are powerful motivators for remaining in relationships past their expiration date. However, when you’re in a relationship with someone with whom you’re not compatible, you will often feel alone because you’re not being loved and cared for in a way that is aligned with your needs.
2. The relationship is activating an attachment wound, so letting go feels like a significant threat to you and feels impossible (even though it isn’t).
Adults raised by an inconsistent caregiver or whose emotional needs were not met during a crucial stage of development are more likely to be drawn to a partner with similar qualities simply because it feels so familiar — as if they’ve known the person “forever.”
If you learned early on to associate love with high conflict, volatility, or inconsistency, there may be a part of you subconsciously holding onto hope that maybe this time, things will be different. As a result, letting go of this type of relationship can feel like a threat to your attachment system because it’s forcing you to let go of this fantasy which can bring up a lot of resistance and anxiety. People who have an anxious attachment style may be more susceptible to having a difficult time letting go of an unhealthy relationship.
3. You’ve already invested a significant amount of time and energy in this relationship and fear starting over.
The sunk-cost fallacy refers to the phenomenon in which someone is hesitant to quit something they’ve started because they’ve already spent a significant amount of time and energy on it, despite it being in their best interest to change course.
The sunk-cost fallacy may be playing a role in your difficulty letting go of an unhealthy relationship if you’ve already spent a significant amount of time and energy on it and a part of you is pushing to see it through due to the fear of starting all over again."
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