Why It’s So Hard to Leave a Bad Relationship

bad relationship

As a happily married dating coach for women, it’s my job to see into others’ blind spots. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some myself.

This article in the New York Times shines the light directly into one of them.

Back in 2014, I hosted a live event in San Diego called the “Revolutionary Relationships Retreat.” It was the foundation for what would later become Love U. Over three days, I took 16 women through a crash course education that would help them make healthier relationship choices forever. Little did I know that out of 16 women, four of them were in “relationships” with married men. And one woman, who wanted to attend, told me she couldn’t because she was staying in a hotel near her married boyfriend’s summer home and couldn’t bear to break away.

Why do good women stay with men who are objectively wrong for them, whether they’re married or abusive?

This was behavior that I admittedly couldn’t understand. Why do good women stay with men who are objectively wrong for them, whether they’re married or abusive?

In the above article, Daniel Shapiro cites Freud and calls this  repetition compulsion.

“This is our drive to cling to an identity with which we are familiar, even if it is dysfunctional and personally damaging. In ways big and small, we all experience this cycle in our own lives, repeating time and again the same damaging patterns of interaction with friends, loved ones and colleagues…The repetition compulsion is strikingly resistant to change. To try to escape it, we may read self-help books or enlist in a communications course, but these actions often have little long-term impact, for the compulsion lures us back to our place of comfort, to the dysfunctional relations we know so well.”

Emotions are not logical. You can know that a man is bad for you and still not be able to move on.

My heart bleeds for anyone who feels stuck in a bad relationship – especially if they’re not physically stuck, but emotionally stuck. I would say that there’s a big difference between a woman with no job and three kids trying to exit her marriage and a girlfriend of five years who won’t get a ring but won’t let go – except I’m not so sure there is. Emotions are not logical. You  can know that a man is bad for you and still not be able to move on. That’s why I  wrote Believe in Love  – to help with that healing process and give women confidence that  this man is NOT the last man on earth.

Not that it’s ever easy to move on. Says Shapiro:

“To expect that leaving a relationship or signing a peace agreement will result in a new beginning is to underestimate the power of identity. Real change entails not just intellectual understanding of our patterns but also deep emotional acknowledgment of their allure. Only then can we begin to willfully resist their draw – and open the door to a new and healthier reality.”

Have you ever overstayed your welcome in a bad relationship? Why? What was it that eventually helped you move on? Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.

Join our conversation (49 Comments).
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  1. 1

    I was in a relationship with a “separated” guy on and off for three years. Yes, he was separated and living in his own apartment while his divorce played out. But the fact remains, he was still married. I became very attached to him and looking back I now see the reasons why I did. He was always “sort of available”, he “sort of” loved me, he “sort of” had time for me. This “come here – go away” syndrome really got me hooked and I think I was addicted to the drama of it all. He was like a carrot always being dangled in front of me, but always just out of my reach. This dynamic is a formula for obsession because we humans tend to want what we can’t have.   I finally broke up with him two years ago and I told myself,   if I want a different kind of relationship, I have to want a different kind of man. After dozens of online dates, I met that man. But it wasn’t smooth sailing. His availability and desire to commit and be all in, almost turned me off in the beginning. I almost broke up with him a few times because he did not fit the pattern I was familiar with. Here was a man who complimented me every day, told me how he felt about me, and took the lead in the relationship, all things I said that I wanted,   but it all felt nice, but weird. But I hung in there, reminding myself that I was looking for change, not repetition. We even went to a counselor for some objective input, which really helped both of us.   Sometimes you have to give things a chance to evolve, and give yourself an opportunity to embrace something outside the familiar.   My current relationship feels different, it’s not fireworks and infatuation, but we do have chemistry and more importantly, there is a sense of calm and security with us, and best of all, a ton of laughter, something my separated guy didn’t inspire.   I’m not sure where my pattern of attraction to unavailable men originated, but I have finally transcended it.   If I can do it, any woman can.

    1. 1.2

      That is a great story! You broke the pattern which is VERY difficult to do. Congrats! 🙂

    2. 1.3

      That’s a great story!   You’re so spot on in describing that “carrot dangling” dynamic that keeps us hooked, in that unhealthy way.   It feels like, if we just try harder, or are more this or that, we can finally grab that carrot.

      Or who knows, perhaps on some deeper level, we weren’t really as ready for commitment as we thought.   Therefore, we picked people who weren’t completely available to us, to avoid going “all in”.   Maybe that’s why it initially felt strange when you finally met someone who is available.

      But I’m glad that’s all water under the bridge.   I hope others might learn from the stories here (and do as we say, not as we did in the past)

    3. 1.4
      Emily, s the original


      I have struggled with some of the things you wrote about myself, but here’s my question: Why does avoiding and getting over bad habits/psychological traumas and bad choices have to be so black and white? The “toxic” relationships shake you to the core while the “healthy” ones seem so … bland. Is there nothing in between?

        1. Emily, the original

          Karmic Equation,

          Yes, everything on that video makes sense. Of course, you want someone to be nice to you and you don’t want to have to dance around to get someone’s attention. But too much niceness too soon is … not appealing. Listen to the link I pasted below. He explains why much more articulately than I could. Plus, he’s real cutie!      🙂






        2. Karmic Equation

          Yes, I’ve watched a lot of his videos. Matt Hussey is definitely a cutie…and that accent. omg

          One key point in Amy’s video is that oftentimes women are uncomfortable when a good man treats her well. Because most of her life, she’s dated men who didn’t treat her well. And that is her normal. So she runs from the nice guy who’s doing everything right because she’s out of her comfort zone.

          Have  you read Attached? If not, you should. I think you might be one of those people who needs to work on rewiring your attachment system. Because you’re interpreting  an activated attachment system as a good thing, which it is not.

        3. Emily, the original

          Karmic Equation,

          My point was that “nice guys” go overboard in the beginning. They do too much. They invest too much before there is anything to invest in, before they get anything back. Most men I’ve interacted with approach/pursue one of two ways — they either come at me like a freight train or they are tentative/non-committal (as in they ask me out but do it in such a way that it sounds like a joke). If I like the guy, the first approach kills my interest almost immediately. The second approach may keep my on the hook a bit longer because I am trying to figure him out, but the whole thing gets old pretty quickly. “Make a move or go away!” I want to yell. I’m rambling. I think I’ve lost my point. Do you like Chef Ramsay? Master Chef is on hulu.com. Now that man has some balls ….   🙂

        4. ScottH

          this reminds me of my first gf after divorce.   she once texted me to tell me she was talking to a friend about me.   I asked her what she told her.   She said that I was good and reliable and responsible and nice to her in a way that freaked her out.   I never understood how being nice to her freaked her out.   and no, I wasn’t obsequious or excessive in any way.   I just wanted to be good to her and tend to her.   she just wasn’t ever treated that way.   she’s the one who told me that she was afraid of relationships and tended to sabotage them.

        5. Karmic Equation

          Hi Emily,

          I think Chef Ramsay is attractive looking. I did NOT find his on-air persona in Hell’s Kitchen attractive. I don’t think that’s who he is IRL, but if it were, I would avoid him like the plague. I haven’t watched Master Chef much though. So I can’t remember how he acts there.

          You can slow down freight trains 😉 And if they’re joking/non-committal and you’re interested, you should ask “So are you just joking or are you asking me out on a date?” You can gauge their level of self-awareness and honesty with a direct question.

          If they say, “I was just joking”, you just say, “Ok, just checking. Then change the subject.”

          If they say, “Why, would you go on a date with me?”, that’s your cue to turn up the flirtatiousness, tell him how to please you, and let him drive…all at the same time, “Well, why don’t you ask and find out?” with a big welcoming smile.

          The most important female power  is NOT just seduction, imo. It is the ability to get a man to do what we want him to do in a way that he’s happy to do it. To the MGTOW crowd, this would be labeled “manipulation”. But read the flirtatious line  I wrote above, what is manipulative about that?

          It’s all in the delivery and word choice and intent.

          A woman with strong feminine power can make any man feel masculine,  and inspire him to behave in a masculine way we find attractive, and make him glad to be a man in the process.

          The problem is that too many women try to get a man to do what she wants him to do in an emasculating way.

        6. Emily, the original

          Karmic Equation,

          You can slow down freight trains.  

          I don’t want to and don’t feel there’s much point in it. We won’t be compatible. I like someone with at least some level of self-control, discretion, and, frankly, game!

          The most important female power  is NOT just seduction, imo. It is the ability to get a man to do what we want him to do in a way that he’s happy to do it.

          Interesting point. Speak a little more on this.




    4. 1.5

      I would give anything to have that feeling of security in a relationship. I’m just sad all the time and he’s having a good time with all the   women in his life that are his co-workers or fellow students. It makes me sad that I’m not the #1 woman in his life. I have issues. 🙁

  2. 2

    Thank you very much for sharing that, Evan. Sooner or later, we’ve all been there and done that!   My guy has said that even while seeing a ton of red flags waving in his face with his ex–he still stayed with her way longer than he should have.   I think it’s because of what’s mentioned in this article, that drive towards something familiar (even when it’s toxic).   Better the “devil you know” so to speak.   He’s the type who doesn’t like change, in general–and that filters into his relationships.

    I understood because I’ve done the same thing before.   I think another part of it is that even a bad relationship isn’t necessarily bad all the time.   Even as toxic as our previous relationships were overall, they had a few good moments thrown in there too.   I think we both (stubbornly) held on through our exes’ “mean” cycles hoping to get the “sweet” ones again (sort of why people keep swinging away on those slot machines hoping for a big payout, even while losing the majority of the time).

    I’m still not sure what propelled him to finally move on from her.   But in my case, my ex’s week long silent treatment of me was one straw that broke the camel’s back.   Not to mention, I suspected that he was cheating and hated the edgy, paranoid person I was becoming.   I suspected that when he suddenly became less available for dates, and was extremely vague about why.   I still suspect (although I can’t prove) that he was wooing some other woman, during the week he ignored me.   Rather than try playing detective, I decided to just leave someone I didn’t trust.

    So now, we tell our single friends to please do themselves a favor and dump someone as soon as they know it’s the wrong fit–before they’ve expended too much time and emotional energy into them.   Once they have, it will become that much more difficult to get out.


    1. 2.1


      you were likely dating a narcissist or something along the lines of a personality disordered man. They follow a love bomb, devaluation, identity erosion pattern that is very formulaic and predictable. Likely he was seeking and seeing other women and the way he made you feel is classic narcs

      1. 2.1.1

        Melissa, I think he probably was, in hindsight–I have read a ton on narcissists and it all fits the pattern too well to be just a coincidence.   At the beginning love bomb phase, the “high” was almost out of this world, like being on a drug.   I guess I hung around as long as I did, trying to get that “high” again.

        But after a while, it was no longer worth all the lows that followed.   The relationship I have now is much more stable.

        However, whether a guy is personality disordered or just a garden variety jerk, my answer is the same–when he is not consistently making you feel safe and loved, get out.

    2. 2.2

      I love Evan’s saying that a jerk is a nice guy 80% of the time, it’s just 20% too much asshole.   I think the same of relationships- a bad relationship is good 80% of the time.   It’s just 20% bad too much.   err, something like that….

  3. 3

    I just got out of a relationship after 7 mostly miserable months. The first three months were pretty good. He knew how to do a date right! I was hooked. Except for the fights. If I disagreed in any way, even a little, a fight resulted. Not just a spat. Cursing, ignoring for days, and it was always my fault.

    I had my reasons fur putting up with it. I didn’t want to spoil my daughter’s graduation, father’s day, etc.

    Everyone around me saw it. I continually read Evan’s column. I KNEW what needed to happen.

    Monday, after I didn’t back down from a fight on Sunday, he TEXTED me to break up. Seriously?

    I’m relieved.

    And  Melissa, what you wrote about love bomb, devaluation, and identity erosion – that is exactly what he’s been doing

  4. 4

    I don’t think most relationships are uniformly good or bad.   They have good aspects and bad.   If you care about a person it takes a long time to acknowledge when the bad outweighs the good and that it isn’t going to get better.   Insecurity about trading in the bad relationship you have for the uncertainty of being single (and the hope of meeting someone better) is hard to do.   It requires bravery.   I have hung on to several committment phobes well past the relationship sell by date because those guys checked off some boxes in my wish list that I felt were rare and hard to find, because I felt a connection, because I know how hard it is to meet someone new that isn’t terrible.   Also, when you are older and still looking, people keep telling you that you’re too picky, so you settle and wonder if maybe, just maybe you are the problem.

    1. 4.1

      Definitely feel the same way!

  5. 5

    Whoa. This is deep. As someone who has dated a few abusers from as brief as 1 month to as long as 3 years, I believe I can offer a few insights into this phenomenon :

    1. We seek partners that reflect a parent or parents, because they have provided us a blueprint for what is “normal” to us. I accepted men who were like my father, because their personality characteristics were familiar. I knew I could handle a hostile, rigid, narcissistic male. Learning how to accept and interact with a nice guy was like learning a foreign language. It took loads of effort, self-reflection, and recognizing that abusers are not normal, even if I was exposed to one as a father for a large part of my life.

    2. Loneliness.Finding the right guy isn’t easy. Sometimes we women settle after a dating drought because we begin to feel that we are aiming too high, or that no one wants us. So, we turn a blind eye to the red flags. Before we know it, we are years into a broken relationship, and we all know it is more difficult to leave a 2 year relationship than a 2 month relationship. That is why I tell every woman to leave when red flags are revealed. Its always best to leave sooner than later.

    3. As difficult as it is to type this, I know that we women tend to normalize bad behavior after we have been exposed to it for a while. Because we are adative creatures, we almost adapt to certain situations as a coping mechanism. It’s like a mild form of denial. We “know” we aren’t treated right, but hate to leave. We rationalize unacceptable behaviors. After I left my abusive ex, I went on a lot of dates, even though I wasn’t ready to enter another relationship. In a way, it became a healing process. I felt so ugly and unwanted, that it was shocking to me to be told by numerous men that I am “very attractive” and “gorgeous”, and to be complimented on my compassionate nature and easygoing disposition. I realized I was like the frog in the pot–turn up the heat, and the frog jumps out, but if you slowly increase the water temperature, the frog eventually dies.

  6. 6

    I have a bone to pick with this article. I don’t believe that any sane person stays with a crappy partner because they are accustomed to or comfortable with being a victim. I think there’s another dynamic at play sometimes that hasn’t been discussed here. Being in a relationship that we know is somehow broken–be it with a person who is abusive, neglectful, married, or who blows hot and cold–it can be easier to accept the nature of the relationship if we think there’s hope of fixing it. It may not be satisfactory now, but we imagine that when he gets control of his anger issues or finally leaves that wife of his, everything will be ok. We’ll be in relationship nirvana. It’s easy to overestimate future relationship awesomeness because we’re dating potential, fantasizing about some future point when a shit show of a relationship becomes bright and balmy. I spent 2 years languishing in a crappy relationship with a “married on paper” guy, believing that when he finally cut ties with his wife, all of our problems would melt away. I stuck it out because I expected things to be awesome. I was in love with potential, and falling in love with What Might One Day Be is a fool’s errand, but an unfortunately common one. We’re miserable in the moment but women are socialized to delay gratification more than men are (a debatable premise but one that I have observed), so we’re better at holding out hope that the shit show will turn around.

    1. 6.1

      Rachel, yes, but, sadly, often to an illogical degree. Women often stay in less-than-great (even bad) relationships in hopes of what MAY BE, while overlooking that what CURRENTLY EXISTS is likely to stay!

      Thankfully, I learned that lesson quickly: no excuses. Difficult situations bring out one’s true character.

  7. 7

    It’s taken me 4 years and an (unwanted by him) pregnancy to make me leave. I was initially excited but his reaction scared me, he came up with so many excuses to not have a baby and freaked out. Even though for 4 years he kept saying how much he wanted to get married and have kids! His true colours came out. Sadly I am about to have a termination but I have not made this decision lightly especially at the age of 36. I just don’t want to have that connection with him or to bring a child up in a painful environment. I’m hoping I will still have time to meet someone who will be good for me.

    I think these types of relationship can cloud your judgement and I myself feel like he made me lose my sense of self and I was therefore unable to know when it was bad. it only took a tragic event to shock me out of it. We broke up 18 months ago and Evan even commented on my facebook comment that I’d probably made the right decision. But I got sucked back. I think a big part is low self esteem as I didn’t believe I deserved anything better and would settle for crumbs.

    I just hope I can change things and learnt to avoid this happening again. Thanks to the first lady who commented, your story gives me hope.

    1. 7.1

      I’m sorry to hear this.   At 36 I would reconsider the termination.   It sounds like you want kids and this could be your last chance.   While the situation isn’t ideal I guess it beats the risk of never meeting someone in time to have kids.

      1. 7.1.1

        I second that. I am just  a few years younger but if I got pregnant now, no way I would terminate it. This is the time. If the guy is not ok with it, his loss. I wouldn’t hold the gun to his head though  and would offer him a choice:  step up, support the child and  be a part of his/her life, or get lost completely, your name doesn’t go on the birth certificate and you will never see the kid. Nothing in between. Problem solved.

    2. 7.2

      Counterpoint to the ladies below:   I am about to turn 36 and I just had a termination.   Fortunately the termination was at 3 weeks, else I don’t know that I could have gone through with it.   Incidentally, we used two forms of birth control that both failed.

      Yes, I would like the opportunity to raise a child with my partner.   I’d be very careful to isolate the desire for a child from your circumstances.   In my case, raising a child alone or otherwise would mean quitting my 60 hour/week job.   I am an only child supporting a father with dementia and a mother in a wheelchair.   Even without the burden of my parents (who were amazing parents by the way, they just had bad medical luck), having a child alone would knock me back from my senior-ish executive status to possibly waiting tables at the Cracker Barrel.

      Child care is up to $3000 a month for a single child.   Consider the economics and your unique considerations.   Good luck, and remember that nobody should be forced into parenthood.

      1. 7.2.1

        Thank you, I feel relief reading your reply Erin. I had the termination 2 days ago and read the other messages saying I should keep it and my heart sank. We have made the right decision for us. For me I couldn’t have a child with someone who emotionally abused me and played mind games. He deceived me and told me he wanted kids and would ask when I was fertile and wouldn’t use contraception so when he freaked out and said we couldn’t have it I saw his true colouts. It would mean I’d be forever connected to him and controlled. I saw the same relationship play out with my parents, I don’t want to repeat that. It’s not fair to bring a child into a life of pain and unhappy parents.

        I still have a chance to meet someone and lots of women have kids into their 40’s. I don’t think the reason that this might have been my last chance is a good enough reason to have a child, it’s selfish. You’re not thinking about what’s best for the child or you. I know I could have had it and not had contact with him but I’d always have it preying on my mind and wouldn’t have peace. My ex is a narcissist and damaged and a child wouldn’t have fixed that, it might have even made things worse. Plus I think it would have affected my mental health. I already felt traumatised just from being a few months pregnant.

        I now feel a huge weight has been lifted. I do feel sad about the whole situation but I know I’ve done what’s best for me. Well done Erin too, it’s not an easy decision to make. We are lucky to live in an age/society where we can make our own choices.

    3. 7.3

      You are doing the right thing. Never have a baby with somebody who doesn’t want it, it’s bad karma. Good luck. If you want a child, you can always adopt.

  8. 8
    Loretta G

    I just wrot e a whole message and it disappeared.   I have been dating my ex husband for five years.

    I was married two years after losing my husband of 34 years to death within a few weeks.   I wanted so much to be married and agreed to pay this man every month half of his mortgage and other expenses.    In addition, I was very generous always.   When I had to retire, I realized that this money was too much for me to handle, especially since the house would never be mine. I asked him to change the prenup to accept less money – he refused. In addition if I did not “listen to him” he would be silent or rage at me.      Since the divorce, i have tried dating him platonically several
    times – we will go on for months, then he will say very mean things to me and we separate.

    This last few months I was found with a tumor which must be removed to save my life. He has
    planned a trip to Europe with his daughters and they will leave the day before my surgery. He told me I should have changed the date of my surgery (I did not choose the date; the surgeon gave the date to me) to accommodate his trip.   His trip is a yearly vacation he takes – it is not an emergency.   He also said other unkind things to me as usual and has turned cold.   So I broke off our relationship again.   I get so lonely in my present life as sole caretaker to my mother without being able to get away much. He had been so friendly – calling every day, going out to dinner often…as soon as they found the tumor, he started being cold and mean.

    I hope this is a lesson which teaches me never to go back – why would I want to be with a man who hurts me so much? Loneliness.   And because he too is alone and I always think he will change, because I care.   But he never does.   I have been searching for years for a support group where I might speak with others like myself and have not been able to find it.   I have had two therapists long term – both have told me NO CONTACT.   And then I call back….

    1. 8.1
      Jacqueline Weaver

      Please find your local mental health agency there should be a group for women who have been abused and they should have meetings even al anon or co dependant groups or church just for community friends.

      I just stumbled on this webpage and I’m struck by all these stories I don’t know how old these post are,but if I could reach through the screen and hug u I would💕 you are beautiful give all that love he told for granted and pour it into you! As I endeavor to do for my self too.


    2. 8.2

      How dare he to tell you to change the date of your surgery. LEAVE HIM immediately.

  9. 9

    While I no longer will tolerate a bad relationship, I have been guilty of this in the past and I see many others, men and women in horrid, unequal, relationships. The toll that a bad rship exacts is huge, affecting health, financial security, self worth. Sometimes the “cure” for such a situation is dramatic, disruptive, such as giving up ones entire life in a place, home, career, financial security, friends, family and leaving (and finding) some other place where others fit your values. This is hard, long, work and not everyone is strong enough to do this or many of us “sandwich generation” folk caretake or did caretake parents and cannot abandon them. Some related reasons:

    1. Hatred of being single. Singles, particularly women, are very much stigmatized in society.   This can be a huge source of resentment. I was married for 12 good years and am amazed at how differently I am treated as a single vs when I was married. Widely different expectations of you both socially and career-related, what you should settle for/ tolerate. You are basically the same person but seen as “less than”.

    2. Your last chance: especially an issue with women of child bearing years. Time is running out and the crappy partner is better than none. In this rural mountain region, due to socioeconomic and cultural factors, suitable, stable, available men in all age groups are rare and the only city guys you’ll pull are those with few/no options. If you break up, you are guaranteed to be alone for years.

    3. Inability to thrive on ones own: this is mainly women-only, lots of my female counterparts are   incapable of even the most basic car/home maintainence  and repair. They’re afraid or unable to be alone for any length of time. The solution: hook up with some dude who can fix stuff.

    4. Lack of a support network. Many, particularly older women such as myself, no longer have family, have distanced themselves from dysfunctional family, have values and interests widely different from their peers, both colleagues and community. Despite being involved volunteering etc, you feel very alone and isolated. Folks do best with others of similar lifestyle, activity levels and socioeconomic/educational status. As much as women are told to settle, the reality is it doesn’t work well. When one meets someone who is at least compatible on some level, one tends to stick it out despite the red flags rather than stay alone or accept someone readily available but with whom you share nothing.

    5. Fear and retaliation: If the spouse is violent, one fears for him/herself and the children. Abused folks get used to having no control over their lives. Women tend to stick around til the kids are raised. In a small town, getting away is very difficult and in this day of social media, various people finding apps, it’s not hard to track someone down. If you cannot immediately vanish, often the partners friends treat you very badly. In a small community, you will run into these folks everywhere. Case in point; a friend was literally chased down at work and shot to death by her estranged husband two weeks ago. Her whereabouts had to have been disclosed by someone in the community. He was off his pins for months and had a medical hold against him. Leaving for the big city was only a reprieve for her as restraining orders are not bulletproof. Before the abused can get truly free, there needs to be an overall shift in attitudes; when someone is abused, it’s everyone’s problem and no one has a right to a relationship with or the companionship of any other person. The only exception here is between parent and child in some cases.

    1. 9.1

      This is why I choose to stay single (20 years single) People judge me. I know, but I am happy to be completely dependent on ME not another…UNFORTUNATELY I am attractive and people notice it more…what ever…. I don’t necessarily fit in any where but I do have some friends; my daughter and I are very close (not always   great friends-some times you do have to be the parent….but she is my best friend) She says that I am her best friend too…there is nothing better than a good family connection my heart goes to those who don’t even have that….and there are people who are in that situation…that is where people need a good website for people who choose to be single can get a support group if need be…

    2. 9.2

      Good comment Noquay.
      “1. Hatred of being single. Singles, particularly women, are very much stigmatized in society.”
      Yes I agree that this is one of the last few stigmas that still lingers to the detriment of our society. I think this has faded somewhat due to sheer ubiquity of singles — in fact the majority of Americans are now single!
      So why do we still have this stigma?
      Well I guess it suits guys us to create fear in women so that they’ll “settle” for less (so that they can get away with making less effort) and I guess it suits coupled women to stigmatize single women to elevate their coupled “status”.
      Then again, older single guys can be stigmatized too for being a “perpetual player”, or commitmentphobe, closet-gay etc. Indeed, many female contributors here will freely admit that they are very wary of guys who are still un-married after 35 and would rather pick a divorcee or widower over a never-married guy.
      I look forward to a time when all the remaining stigmas have dissolved; will it ever arrive though? Hmm, I doubt it…as human nature doesn’t really change that much.
      “2. Your last chance: especially an issue with women of child bearing years.”
      Another good point, I think this is a big problem for women in relationships in the Western world; rightly or wrongly, many guys feel they have this as a card on women and use it to their own advantage in the dating game (using “time” as a tool to leverage the best deal they can).
      Technology looks like it might sort this one out in time; if fertility was flipped I reckon the dating game would be very different.
      “3. Inability to thrive on ones own:”
      This is interesting; I genuinely didn’t realize that some/many women struggle to do basic tasks on their own, to the extent that they’d rather stay in a bad relationship than be single. If anything, I thought men would struggle with this more due to poor skills in taking care of themselves (e.g. inability to prepare and cook good meals).
      However, I believe most parents today do their best to ensure that their children are able to manage all the basic skills required to live a normal, healthy adult life so this issue might also dissolve in time.
      But ultimately, there is an onus on every adult to be able to live independently; one of the reasons being, so that they don’t end up vulnerable to getting caught in situations such as bad relationships.
      “4. Lack of a support network”
      Good point. This highlights the important of maintaining different sets of relationships over time; with one’s family, friends (different groups of friends being particularly important) and colleagues/other. Losing contact with old friends due to entering a relationship/getting married/having children is a critical life mistake; you never know when you’ll need them.
      Therefore, I make a huge effort to maintain life-long friendships; with home, school and college friends. I worry for my married friends who have effectively cut contact with their support networks; it leaves them in such a vulnerable position when/if they become single, thus forcing to stay in the bad relationship.
      “5. Fear and retaliation: If the spouse is violent, one fears for him/herself and the children”
      Unfortunately, this is a real concern which can have catastrophic consequences. One just has to hope that they can be sufficiently protected by the state in these situations.
      Although I’ve never been stuck in a “bad relationship” per se, I was stuck in a “bad job” with an abusive boss for years and I’m determined that I’ll never allow it happen again, so I’ll use the lessons learned to ensure that I’m never stuck in a bad relationship either.
      Reasons I stayed in a bad job:
      5) Lack of alternative options.
      The industry I worked in suffered a catastrophic global collapse a few years ago, and absolutely haemorrhaged jobs everywhere; this put employers in a very strong position as they knew they had huge power over their remaining employees, who were all terrified to lose their job.
      Similarly in dating, it is a well recognised that gender behavior is highly contingent on the gender ratio of any particular environment; men and women adjust their behavior hugely according their perceived options.
      6) Financial obligations.
      Staff with significant financial obligations (children/mortgages/loans etc.) need certainty and regular income; any potential disruptions can cause huge problems. Employers (consciously or subconsciously) know this and can sometimes use this as leverage over their staff. Indeed, many employers actively encourage their staff to assume financial commitment, thus increasing their dependence.
      Similarly in relationships, financial obligations and responsibility to children are major factors in people staying in toxic relationships.
      7) Lack of qualifications.
      If an employee is working in an office and waiting until they’ve achieved X qualification the employer will realize that he has maximum power until the employee has gained said qualification. Once the employee gains the necessary qualification the balance of power will shift, and consequently, one can expect the employer/employee to change their behavior and expectations accordingly (I’ve witness the phenomenon first-hand).
      I suppose a dating comparison would be one party attaining some quality that increases their SMV; e.g. a guy who gains a promotion achieves higher status and thus might feel he now has more power.
      8) Confidence.
      Ah that most enigmatic of qualities. If one has been in a bad relationship for some time, likely their confidence will have suffered significantly. This can lead to self-doubt and a spiral of negativity; “if I’m being treated like this then I mustn’t be good enough and won’t be able to find anyone else; therefore my best choice is to accept my current situation”.
      Ultimately the lesson to be learned from all these points is that it is incumbent on every individual to reach a position where they’re never so dependent on another person to such an extent that they become vulnerable to being exploited. Once one attains that position, they’ll never accept a “bad relationship” again.

      1. 9.2.1

        Thanks Tom

        Yep, there are certainly men that cannot cook, launder, clean etc. These issues are a lot easier to fix due to the availability of convenience foods, laundry service, cleaning people whereas things such as car breakdowns, plumbing,electrical, structural, heating issues in a home have no easy alternative. There is no reliable, quality, labor/repair market; you pretty much have to DYI. It shocks me how many women here own homes, cars yet know zilch about how to maintain them. A lot of city men don’t have these skills either. A younger, talented, highly respected colleague hooked up with a marginally employed, ski bum pothead and supports him because he can “fix stuff”. One sad example of many. Id rather learn to use power tools.

        The support network thing can be tricky: if ones life had been disrupted by job loss, divorce, having to relocate, you loose your entire social networks all at once. Not all of us have families or they may not be a source of support. Lifelong friends rarely exist for many, especially those of us whose parents were multiply divorced and moved often. You start from square 1 and building a network takes years. If you’re in an area where the community has different goals, values, lifestyle than yours, it’s not going to happen. From my not so great experience, I tell folks to give a new place no more than six months to see if you are able to make meaningful connections. Do you feel you belong. If not, don’t invest any further and start looking for the next job. Study a potential community: as to mean home values, educational levels, natural amenities, talk to others about the dating pool if single. Get on line, see who’s from that area. Talk to them. Not every place works for every person. We women in particular make awful choices when lonely. If one cannot leave at present, choose to not date or date only outside your area rather than accepting a problem partner close to home.

        Another practice, especially in small or close knit communities, that would prevent many entering a rship with a bad partner would be to talks to one another. Not in the heat of anger or in the throes of grief, but later, after some healing and introspection. Yep, some rships crash due to a lack of shared values, no attraction etc. However, some involved abuse, cheating, psych disorders, addictions; serious hard to fix stuff. Men and women who abuse etc are able to bounce from partner to partner because no one discloses the bad behavior. Yep, folk should be aware of red flags and run, but some are very, very, good at deception for a long time. A heads up from a friend, colleague could save someone years of pain.


      2. 9.2.2

        Very good comments Tom.   That is what I’m trying to do, merge my life with my man–but without losing my own identity in the process.   I love him dearly, but nothing in life is guaranteed.

        It can be challenging to make time for my friends and family, since there are only so many hours in a day (and of course, I want to devote a substantial amount of my free time for him).   But, I still do my best to maintain those other relationships as best I can, and have my own social network independent of him.   So in the event this relationship somehow ends, I still have emotional support.

        In hindsight, it was a huge red flag when the guy I dated before gave me such a hard time about my time with my family and friends.   After a while, I made the mistake of caving and spending all my time with him (it was easier than dealing with his tantrums over that).   I think he wanted me to become dependent on him, so he could have more control over me. I will never stand for a relationship like that ever again.

  10. 10

    I want to preface this by saying that my family of origin is wonderful…two parents who adore each other and have a great relationship.   So I don’t believe that staying in bad relationships always stems from our upbringing.   I am sure that for some, it contributes.   But I certainly knew what a good relationship looked like.   I had unconditional love from them; I still do, and they helped me leave my abusive 25 year marriage.

    My reasons for staying in the marriage were my children, loyalty, religion, a belief that divorce meant failure (though my parents never put that in my head), that the marriage wasn’t that bad some of the time and in many ways I was lucky, that I had it better than a lot of women, that when I interacted with other couples and men, I could not imagine myself with someone other than my ex, I (correctly) imagined that my ex would be a horrible bully and make my life miserable during and after my divorce, that he would not shoulder his share of post divorce parenting or treat our kids well, that he’d hook up immediately with someone my kids would dislike (correct on that as well)…and   whole host of other things.   I also thought he’d turn himself around, as he had some good qualities – but that never happened.   I left when I was ready though, and I have no regrets.

    My view of the men in my world besides my father – from looking at uncles, family friends, grandfathers, brother-in-laws, husbands of friends, boys I grew up with, guys I dated before my ex…was that predominantly, they were not good people and that their partners tolerated alot of bad behavior.   A really good man was a rare find and my mother considered herself lucky.   I married the first one that treated me reasonably well that I was attracted to (I was also very shy, and didn’t think I’d come across another guy for a very long time) , but once we were married, quite a lot of abuse started.   I was able to leave at age 47 because I had a good job and my kids were mostly grown.   Life has been quite good since then.

    The first relationship I entered after my separation was bad too…but it took me a little while to catch on.   Again, I thought, wow, I’d better hang on to this one…he was everything my ex wasn’t (overcorrection)   Over time, it became clear he was a workaholic who didn’t prioritize a relationship, probably a narcissist, had some mental health issues, was negative a lot of the time, insensitive, not communicative between dates, not very caring etc.   But he was impressive, powerful, intellectual, funny and a devoted father.   It took me forever to break up with him; my friends were so impressed with him, my family too.   I’d do it, and he would apologetically wiggle his way back into my life…I think I did it 4 times, hoping things would improve.   Following the advice on this blog, I dated other people after the first breakup, and told him so.   I changed my perspective, found that quite a few men I met seemed pretty great and truly wanted loving relationships.   But I couldn’t make the jump to one of them.   I hung onto for the guy for two years but gained experience dating while I continued my relationship with him.   Another reason I kept seeing him was I had sympathy for him because of some things going on in his life, and I had a hard time timing the breakup.   But, he finally did something so insensitive I was able to do it very confidently and with finality.    He was so shocked he won’t speak to me now.

    In this process, I also discovered my own emotional unavailability.   I think this was naturally occurring due to being on the rebound from such a long marriage, and my (false) beliefs about men.   I read ‘Attached’ (the first guy was text book avoidant and I was somewhat anxious then so it was that yo yo, intermittent reinforcement kind of thing that kept it going)   I also read all the books by Stephen Carter and Julia Sokol – then I clearly saw myself, and understood finally that women’s unavailability and men’s present a bit differently and they play off of each other.   I realized unless I made a clean break from the first guy, and was truly available – I was not going to succeed.   I swore off seeing anyone for 6 months, then did another round on dating sites.   I got incredibly picky and looked mostly at what quality of relationship could I have with a particular man, how kind and caring was he, how compromising and easy was he, etc.

    I have met the love of my life who is the most wonderful partner anyone could hope for.   I think it was due to raising my standards, and being truly open to a real relationship.   I bought into the fact that going into the unknown might be painful, but it was the only way toward what I truly wanted.

    I have begun to wonder if the propensity of women to believe or hope things will change, even in the face of abuse, is rooted in evolution.   I am not sure what the purpose of such a trait would be…perhaps to keep us tied to someone?

  11. 11

    I was with a woman for about 5 years. I was 30 and she was 32 when we split. There were some things that she did that were very stressful on the relationship such as jealous phone checking, following and instigating fights over silly things. She even got physically violent a couple of times during those 6 years. For the most part, I didn’t consider those things to be worth ending the relationship over at the time.

    What really made me decide to end it was just an incredible feeling of under-appreciation. I had decided to go back to school to get my master’s degree. About 6 months or so afterwards she also decide to go back to pursue her bachelor’s. I had a fairly flexible work schedule so I was able to work and attend traditional on campus classes full-time (they didn’t have any online/distance options for my degree), but her work hours were going to interfere with he class schedule. So she wanted to quit her job and I agreed to work more to keep the bills paid for her, her son and I. Shortly before her classes had started, I bought her a laptop because mine would be unavailable to her for pretty much the majority of everyday. She seemed fine with this at the time. After her classes stared she dropped some because it was too much to handle. But she didn’t start working again.

    At some point she got on wanting to get married and have another baby again relatively soon. We’d already talked about this and had agreed to wait until we’d both finished our educational pursuits. She’d changed he mind and didn’t want to wait any more. She wanted to get married by the end of that year. She wanted her son to have a sibling fairly close in age. She was upset that I’d “wasted” money on a laptop for her, rather than purchasing an engagement ring. And she was upset that I didn’t have a lot of free time to do things with her. All of these things were just silly rants to me. They made me slightly mad, but I didn’t really take them seriously. I figured they would pass in time. But then she started calling me selfish and saying things like my going back to school provided her with no immediate benefit.

    I was pretty pissed about that. I didn’t particularly like being at work/school 15-16 hours a day, coming home and trying to study/do homework while getting bitched at by someone that has been at home all day watching the cable that I pay for. Or eating the food that I bought. Or driving around in the car I paid for. I didn’t mind doing any of those things. I certainly didn’t expect a thank you. But no one is going to call me selfish. That one statement just made me feel like I was just being taken advantage of and just amplified all of the little things that didn’t bother me as much.

  12. 12

    Why is it so hard? Three thoughts:

    The people in those relationships aren’t objective. Subjectively, they consider being treated badly a norm. If your parents were emotionally unavailable, routinely gave you the silent treatment / guilt tripped you / called you names, how would you ever guess that for other people, that doesn’t happen? And if every relationship is like that (as such a person believes) what benefit is there is changing to a new relationship, since it is bound to be more of the same?

    The people in those relationships have beliefs that support the bad behavior in some way. For example, I stayed in a bad marriage because I had beliefs of: a) women are the peacemakers, so always strive to make peace (even at the expense of your own wants, needs and boundaries); b) always give the other person the benefit of the doubt (maybe he is clueless and doesn’t realize that coming home drunk, three hours late is going to upset me — I should explain to him that this hurts me, and then he’ll stop). Interestingly, some people will see that as trying to “change a man”, but  I think it’s valid  if you stick to  providing  new information  as opposed to trying to sway an opinion.

    The people in those relationships fail to see that the other person is actively, persistently making choices that harm the relationship. For example: it’s good to give your boyfriend a mulligan if he unintentionally hurts your feelings. It’s bad to give a mulligan if you have informed him this hurts you, made a valid case for that not being insecurity on your part or being a part of the relationship that’s a dealbreaker for you, and he deliberately makes an informed choice he knows will hurt you.

    So here is the fix: 1) get objectivity from others, preferably from those who aren’t subject to your same biases; 2) question your beliefs and assumptions, especially when the behaviors are long term or have a pattern; 3) see the other person’s behavior as a choice. While it is important to respect the other person’s choice (even when it’s not your choice), if it’s not a right choice for you, the most respectful thing you can do is honor that person’s choice by not trying to impose your choices on them (ie, find someone else, who values what you value). This can be a non rigid value. For example, a Christian and atheist might share values of integrity and respect for others while having different expressions of that value.   


  13. 13

    I have one more, really odd reason – great mother-in-law.

    All through college, I dated a man who was just Mr. Wrong.   I wasn’t particularly interested in him when we first met, but he was persistent (when he wasn’t chasing someone else) and I guess that was good for my young ego.   He was generally nice to me, but the only thing he was ever interested in doing was watching movies.   Blah.   I could see, and describe to distant friends, ways in which he seem to take me entirely for granted.   My friends and family who met him hated him and counseled me to walk away from the first weeks, and yet I stayed with him for five years including a year-long engagement.   While I look back on most of my relationships and wonder how I managed to date so far out of my league, I cannot recall anything particularly great about Mr. Wrong.   But I started dating him early in college and we forged a heavily overlapping circle of friends, and I went home to meet his family that first Christmas and fell in love with his mom.   I think that was the thing – breaking up with him required breaking up with a long list of other people who were far more compelling.

    In our final months, I was actually aware that I was planning to marry him because I wanted his mom for a mother-in-law, not because I wanted him for a husband.   And when his mother unexpectedly died (which probably saved me from being with him to this day), then I couldn’t stomach the cruelty of dumping a man whose only family was now his brother and whose friends were so loyal to him that they routinely asked me why I tolerated him.   When I finally left him, he threatened to kill himself, and I emptied his clip and removed all the bullets from the apartment, but otherwise I was just so ready to be done with him that I couldn’t make it my problem anymore.

    I kinda wish I hadn’t blown my college years dating him, but I can’t regret the education he gave me.   Being clear on what you DON’T want is almost as useful as being clear about what you do.

  14. 14

    I am in one right now and everytime I try to end it I always end up right back there. I feel insane(emotionally trapped).

    1. 14.1

      J, I had the same problem. I’d break it off and then obsess about who he was with. What finally worked was being busy, visiting friends, travel. I also made a list of all his bad qualities and the damaging things he did. As an older woman, late 50s, I felt he was my only shot at a real romance. That thinking kept me tied to him, yet he clearly was incapable of being a real boyfriend. He was never available for my needs. Please kick your pseudo boyfriend to the curb. He will just waste your time.

  15. 15

    I have been divorced for 18 years, and never had a real boyfriend (just casual dates) until C.   I met C on a dating site, and he pursued me with vigor, even though I told him I don’t do serious relationships.   He said he’d treat me like a queen if allowed to be my exclusive boyfriend. What a laugh! He was painfully cheap, never bought me a single flower or gift for Christmas, Valentine’s, or my birthday. (Yet I took him out for his special days). He cheated on me with a woman weighing 300 lbs who was a senior citizen, and then lied about it (she confessed that my suspicion was correct). The most insulting thing? He refused to have me in his home, saying he has two boarders! Yes, we had to use motels. Sexually, he was very talented but mechanical. There was no genuine affection or romance. When I dated another man, he angrily asked if the lover brought me to climax—not whether I was in love with him!
    He never made time for me, yet insisted on texting me dozens of times a day, even when I asked him to stop. I don’t think he was just trying to stay on my radar as a future second choice. I believe it was a control tactic so I would be reminded of him and not move on.
    After not seeing him for over 3 months, the spell is finally broken. I’d rather be alone forever than used by a narcissist.

  16. 16

    People, especially women, find it hard to leave a dysfunctional relationship due to oxytocin’s powerful effect.   It’s just like being hooked on an addictive drug. But oxytocin’s is what bonds people together, and women are all about bonding. Kissing, hugging, looking into his eyes, the climax of sex, and many other things give you that “rush”… oxytocin is involved.   Just look it up on the internet.

  17. 17
    Diana Fair

    I just got out of a 6 year relationship (well I called it a relationship) to a non committal man and it’s my own damn fault for staying that long. Do I love him yes. Do I care deeply yes but its taken me this long to realize he said what he said in the beginning and I thought he could change his mind once he got to know me. I was # ??? throughout his lifetime. He had a pattern and that is a red flag I ignored. I ignored a lot of things just so I could be with him whenever I could. He courted me so well the first 2 years together but from day 1 he said he wasn’t going to be in a relationship with me or anyone. He said he didn’t want the expectations and obligations that go into it and that we could be friends. I gave into sex to soon. I tried like hell to make things right, show him all the good things about me etc. I was doing all the work and getting pieces of him in return. He just didn’t have the drive to move forward even after  I showed him some domestic duties in his home. We shared many good times together that wasn’t sex but  over the past 2 months he kept telling me you deserve better. You need a guy who loves and cares for you. Its just not in me. So he went back to church made up his mind he was going to do right, not use women anymore and he blocked me from all sorts of contact. He just stopped. Wow! I give him a positive for getting his life together including a shambled business and he is trying to get that going again and maybe he feels like everything is out of order. I get that but I was temptation to him which I think is a lame excuse to get me to move on but whatever. I’m just so distraught, and miserable that he just couldn’t commit to me. Just don’t understand why not and he’s 49! I’m mid 40’s. not that that means anything but he was adopted btw and also does not having a relationship with his only 1 daughter who lives in another state so another red flag. I don’t know I’m venting I guess.

  18. 18

    I was married for 30 years before I got divorced. Within 6 months, I was hounded by a colleague’s husband. We met at a party she had at their house. He insisted he drive me home, saying I had drank too much. I hadn’t, but didn’t want to make a scene. He drove me in my car and his wife followed us. The entire ride home, he told me the two of them were basically roommates and they were divorcing. This was stunning news. She was the most religious person I’d ever known. I got home, thanked them both, thinking that was that. He started showing up at my house. I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t dated much before I was married at 19. I was out of my element. To get to the point, he convinced me his marriage was over and we began a relationship. He convinced me to change jobs so we could work together.   I had no idea people like this man existed. He could lie to my face, convincingly and repeatedly. After several months, I began to wonder about his divorce, but when I questioned anything he’d get upset or angry. I’d be left feeling sorry for him and mad at myself for causing a problem. Finally, I realized he was a pathological liar when I found out he was seeing another woman that wasn’t his wife. But, even after this, he convinced me the other woman was just a bad mistake, the divorce was still moving forward, and I had been the one to push him away – I had doubted him. I don’t know what possessed me to continue with this sick “relationship”. I tried ending it more times than I can count. He’d come over, beg, cry, tell me he just can’t go through the divorce without me. This went on for 3 miserable years. The more bold I became with telling him to leave me alone, the angrier he got. He became violent. It was subtle at first, he’d scream at me. I called him a liar and he put his hands over my mouth, pushing so hard, I had bruises on my lips, cheeks and throat. Soon, this became normal. Everything eventually became normal; him dragging me through the house, throwing me on the couch, listening him scream at me for hours about my problem with not believing him. Why couldn’t I get it through my head everything he was doing was for us? For our future?!?! By this time, I knew he was lying, I knew he was never getting a divorce, and I didn’t know how to get out of the mess I was in. I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening. I have grown kids and I didn’t want them to lose respect for me. They knew this man and he seemed so good and kind. He helped everyone, offered help moving my son, offered my daughter money. He was incredibly charming. The divorce was my idea, I didn’t want to disappoint my family again by taking away a person they thought was amazing. I withdrew. I stopped spending time with them, they didn’t notice too much, they have families of their own. I quit spending time with friends. I didn’t want anyone to know I was seeing a barely married man. Looking back, this was the perfect situation for him. Finally, I caught him and his wife (caught is ridiculous considering she’s his wife) leaving church, a place he insisted he wasn’t going to anymore. They were very happily visiting with their friends. He saw me, practically ran to his car and drove away, leaving his wife on the curb, in the rain! He drove around the block and finally picked her up. I immediately blocked his number and spent the rest of that day changing the locks at my house. He’s come here a few times but I never answer the door and his  number remains blocked on my phone. We work at the same place and that’s been challenging. I have been pretty successful in avoiding him.

    This entire mess was more difficult to get out of than my 30 year marriage. I’ve never been so caught up in drama in my life. I’m trying to recover my self esteem and self confidence, but I’ll admit, I’m afraid I’ll be a magnet for other men like him. Even though I know he’s the one with a serious psychological problem and I’m glad to be free of him, it’s hard to move forward.

  19. 19


    I can relate to this because i was depressed for a really long time because i married the man i thought was the love of my life. We were married 6 years. A year and hald into the relationship he became a completely different person, he even went ahead and rub his infidelities in my face sometimes and when i try to tell my friends about it they don’t always believe me because he pretends a lot when they’re around. So i decided to get the truth out myself, i contacted BIRDEYE.HACK at GMAIL dot COM and i got real-time access to his entire phone for a reasonable fee.

    It was then i was able to prove to my friends and family how much of a bad person he is. I was able to leave the marriage peacefully and with our only daughter with me due to the dirt i got on him. All thanks to Birdeye!


  20. 20

    They dangle the carrot of future hope. I felt i had ‘invested’ 5 years for nothing so tried to wait for him to keep his ‘promises’ and honour his word of living together and committing. benefit of the doubt. I shouldnt have. It never happened, always excuses and ‘reasons’. But if you want someone you will go after them and seal the deal before someone else gets there, he didnt, i wasnt of high enough value to him. i realise that now. I was a fool, he was a lazy opportunist. It was a relationship full of drama from him, his family, exes, friends…it was constant, he was a bit of a pussy tbh , no backbone. It took me 5 years to leave and i wouldnt go back. I feel sad but i am happier, less emotional drama.

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