10 Reasons People Stay in Bad Relationships (but Shouldn’t)

While all couples have their fair share of ups and downs, the odds aren’t always in the favor of long-lasting love. Perhaps one person feels smothered while the other feels they’re not getting the attention they deserve. When an unhealthy situation reaches the point of no return, most would consider it unsalvageable. Unfortunately, though, not everyone knows when it’s time to cut their losses.

So, why do people refuse to leave an undesirable situation? Here are 10 possible reasons some folks stay in bad relationships.

1. Low self-esteem

sad woman grasping her head

Low self-esteem can cause some to stay in bad relationships. | iStock.com

A person who values their self-worth isn’t afraid to speak up on their own behalf. They’re confident in standing up for themselves when they don’t agree with how another person is treating them. In a relationship, this skill comes in quite handy.

On the flip side, people who have low self-esteem may not be as likely to stand up for themselves in times of discontent. They may even be more likely to stay in unhappy relationships, according to research conducted by the University of Waterloo. The study found these people tend to keep quiet when it comes to relationship woes, as they fear the resulting rejection could wind up making them even more unhappy.

2. Fear of loneliness

man sitting alone looking sad

Some people fear being alone. | iStock.com

Being alone and being lonely are two very different things. A person who doesn’t rely on another for their own happiness can be perfectly content on their own. A person who is lonely, however, is still searching for something, and likely needs to find happiness within themselves first. And this kind of fear — that of being lonely — can be paralyzing. In a Psychology Today article, Fredric Neuman, M.D., says a fear of loneliness can convince a person to stay in a bad marriage. He explains that this most likely happens when a person thinks their loneliness will never end.

3. They think their partner will eventually change

adult couple has privacy problems

Don’t expect your partner to change. | iStock.com/nicoletaionescu

A lot of people have been here before. They tell themselves things will get better. She’ll learn to manage her temper or he’ll become more ambitious — eventually. Well, people who think like this definitely shouldn’t hold their breath. While people are capable of bettering themselves over time, it’s nothing to wait around for. A person will change only when they really want to, The Huffington Post says. No one else can make that happen. A partner who sticks around in hopes of change doesn’t benefit either party.

4. Fear of being financially unstable

retirement label on jar filled with coins

Financial stability can cause some people to stay in bad relationships. | iStock.com

When a couple has been together long enough, financial matters often become a shared responsibility. Whether it’s shared rent or their child’s college fund, the lines naturally become blurred. In a U.K.-based study conducted by Slater and Gordon Lawyers, 2,000 married people were surveyed about how their financial situation related to their marriage. The research showed one-fifth said they would end their marriage right now if they were sure of financial security in the future.

Yes, money problems are real, so it’s only natural to have concerns about a life post-relationship. But being stuck in a bad relationship, on the other hand, is far worse. Don’t sacrifice your happiness for the sake of cash flow. Instead, meet with a financial planner to go over your earnings, and to set realistic goals you’ll be able to reach on your own.

5. Ashamed to admit the relationship didn’t work

family sitting around living room during the holidays

A person may stay in a bad relationship if they’re embarrassed to tell their family. | iStock.com

On some level there tends to be an element of defeat when most relationships don’t pan out. For some, a breakup is akin to getting fired from a job, an admission of failure. Unfortunately, this feeling of shame can make things last much longer than they should. In Psychology Today, Richard B. Joelson writes it’s possible a person might be too embarrassed to face the consequences of a breakup, like having to explain to close friends and family why their relationship didn’t make it.

6. They believe the relationship is good enough

older couple in an argument

Feeling hopeless about relationships in general can leave you in a bad one. | iStock.com

What forms a person’s idea of what makes for a good, or bad, relationship? Past relationships, home life as a child, or any number of environmental factors can all play a role. In the same Psychology Today story, Joelson writes, “It may be related to ideas developed early in life from observations of one’s family or difficulty knowing how to repair the inevitable bumps that occur in most (if not all) relationships.” If someone truly doesn’t believe that healthy, successful relationships exist in the first place, they’ll likely settle for anything sub-par.

7. They’re afraid to lose what they have

young couple visiting eat market

They think having someone is better than no one at all. | iStock.com/nensuria

This point refers to something psychologists call the “sunk cost effect.” Basically, it’s when you think the benefits of your current situation outweigh actually changing things up, seeing as you’ve already invested so much. NY Magazine explains, “In business, it’s when you’ve already spent some large amount of time or money on a project, so you’re hell-bent on completing it. And in love, it’s when people stay in unhappy relationships even when they should get out.”

Furthermore, research has found the sunk cost effect greatly impacts the way people make decisions. “The sunk cost effect occurs when a prior investment in one option leads to a continuous investment in that option, despite not being the best option,” reads one study. When it comes to relationships, not only does this line of reasoning fog your better judgement, it compromises your true happiness.

8. They stay only for the sake of the kids

Pregnant woman sitting

Some things trump the need to stay just for the kids. | iStock.com/shironosov

Doing everything in your power to make your relationship work for the sake of your children is admirable, but there are lots of factors that come into play when considering whether it really is best to stay for the kids. That said, there are just some deal-breakers you can’t ignore, especially when the relationship has gotten so bad, it’s become unbearable. Abuse of any kind, emotional, physical, or spiritual, for example, is reason enough to call it quits, even if that person is the mother or father of your child.

9. They believe abuse is normal

Couple fight hard

Some people aren’t able to recognize an unhealthy relationship. | iStock.com/oneinchpunch

Unfortunately, when someone grows up in an abusive environment, they may think it’s normal. Seeing their parents love-hate relationship can help form what they consider to be a successful relationship later on in life. As Psych Central notes, having grown up in such an environment only hinders a person’s ability to recognize when a relationship is in fact unhealthy.

10. They’re stuck in a rut of bad habits

couple relaxing on a sofa at home

It’s never good to settle. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Being in a relationship with someone for a long time means you learn just about everything about one another, including those things you’d rather forget. And when that happens, it can be tough to up and leave. You’re not exactly in an unsafe relationship, which can make it hard to get out. You’re comfortable, so what’s the harm in remaining somewhat unhappy? Well, a lot. According to eHarmony, “Bad relationships can be habit forming: it may not be good, but you know what to expect.” Don’t let this happen to you.