Why Do People Stay in Bad Relationships? August 17, 2009Posted by Onely in quirkyalone.
Tags: bad relationships, dysfunctional relationships, legal privileges for married people, low self-esteem, settling
“Dear Quirkyalone: Advice for QuirkyLiving” is a weekly guest column by Lisa and Christina that appears on Quirkyalone (and is crossposted here) every Monday. When you’re making up your own road map for (quirky)living, you need thoughtful advice. We’re here for you. We welcome your questions; send them on to onely AT onely.org.
When a woman is in a relationship with a guy who everyone else can see is treating her badly, what goes on in the woman’s mind that prevents her from seeing these very same things? How does she qualify staying with this guy and why? What’s behind the excuses she makes for him?– Bobby
This is an excellent question indeed. While I can’t claim to be able to speak for the woman in question, I can offer a few theories (which, as a side note, could be applied to either men or women, as well as lesbians and gay men):
1. She might subscribe to the faulty equation: Being coupled > being single.
Contemporary Western culture tends to ascribe more value to men and women who are coupled over those who remain single for most of their lives. This kind of valuing occurs in our informal, everyday social lives: Take, for example, the officemate who squeals with delight when she learns you have a date next weekend but doesn’t appreciate your love for gardening. And it happens more formally in our financial, legal, and religious lives: Many religions see marriage as a contract between two people and God (the Catholic church recognizes the institution as a holy sacrament). Paradoxically, single people (those who do not dedicate their lives formally to God, at least — such as priests or nuns) are usually not perceived as having an equivalent contract and could therefore be seen as less holy (read: less valuable). And even in secular life, married people generally pay less in taxes, have the right to make medical and other important decisions for spouses in times of need, and ultimately enjoy far more legal privileges than singles.
Put in this context, who wouldn’t want to be coupled?
Unfortunately, the woman you describe may understand these societal pressures to be ultimate truths. Put in terms of “truth,” the value of coupling stops being subjective and can instead be described by a simple mathematical equations: Being coupled > being single. Bummer.
2. She might suffer from low self-esteem.
When someone lacks confidence and self-esteem, it’s easier to look to others instead of oneself for approval and acceptance. Romantic relationships — healthy or not — often provide a steady source of this kind of affirmation. Cutting off this kind of support may simply prove too much of a risk for your woman-friend. In fact, romantic relationships are one of the few culturally acceptable spaces in which partners can almost demand such affirmation. Relationships become unhealthy and dysfunctional when partners a) demand too much or refuse to be emotionally satisfied, no matter how much the other person gives; b) withhold emotional satisfaction/affirmation in order to hurt the other person; c) abuse the trust of the other person by exacerbating his/her self-esteem issues.
3. She might not be comfortable with herself or know how to be alone.
Beyond the above possibilities, the woman you’ve asked about above may simply not be comfortable with herself or with being alone. Perhaps she’s a social extrovert and prefers constant company over silence – a relationship might seem to be the best way to provide this, even if it’s not what others call a “good” one. Maybe she doesn’t like to cook and would rather eat at restaurants, but feels terribly uncomfortable sitting alone at a table in public — having a relationship, even a bad one, may provide that small comfort. Or possibly, given how “normal” culture makes coupling out to be, this woman has never even considered what it would be like to be single.
In that case, you might suggest she take a solo road trip (as I once did after a breakup) or some other activity that she’d usually do with someone else — and ask her how being alone changed the experience in positive or surprising ways.
Whatever the case, it’s obvious that this woman isn’t experiencing the joys of Quirkyliving if she’s settled for a bad relationship… You even might give her a copy of the Quirkyalone book — at least to show her that there are alternatives to the way she’s currently living!
Good luck, Bobby. Thanks for the question, and I hope you’ve found this helpful!