Why Do We Stay In Unhappy Relationships?

by Liberty Stembridge, Relationships Columnist

Published in Relationships on 28th November, 2018

Everyday, mental health professionals across the world are hearing more of their clients talk about their relationship issues, and in particular, their feelings of being in an unhappy relationship. But why do so many of us stay in relationships that are clearly making us unhappy? There are a number of different reasons why we choose to remain in unhappy relationships, and if you find yourself resonating with any of these, it might be time to think over why you're staying in your relationship.

why people stay in an unhappy relationship


There is a lot of pressure from society for people to have successful, long-lasting relationships. The "shame" of divorce is seen as something to avoid at all costs, and we often find well-meaning friends and family members probing us to find out what went wrong every time a relationship ends. Truthfully, there is no failure when it comes to relationships, and it's perfectly natural for relationships to end. It's very rare that we find the one at the first try, and stay together forever. By releasing yourself from the shame of a "failed" relationship, you can free yourself to find the real right relationship for you.


Unfortunately, money is often a huge factor in why unhappy couples stay together. Even if you're not married, you may have woven your lives together so tightly that breaking them apart seems like an incredibly daunting task. Shared bank accounts, shared living costs - cutting these in two and transitioning into living solo again can come as a big shock, and not one that many people like to undergo. Sometimes it's just easier to stay in your comfort zone and deal with being in an unhappy relationship rather than deal with the financial stress.

Attachment Issues

Not many people talk about it, but attachment issues is a very common problem, and even more common for people in unhappy relationships. The fear of losing someone, of not having a relationship to fall back on, even if it's an unhappy one, can be paralysing. Recognising when you are staying with someone because you love them and when you're staying with them because you're scared not to have someone altogether is an important step for your own self-growth.

attachment issues in a relationship


Another very common reason why unhappy couples stay together - kids. If you have kids together, breaking up will undoubtedly be more complicated than if you were child-free. Negotiating who the kids will live with, visitation and more is an incredibly daunting prospect for many and so understandably, many couples with children choose to stay together "for the kids" rather than pursue their own happiness. However, this can often lead to further familial damage, especially if you are fighting or obviously annoyed with one another a lot.

Low Self-Esteem

When we don't believe that we are deserving of a good, loving relationship, we're much more likely to stay in an unhappy one. Without the confidence to say "I deserve better" it's very easy to sink into insecurity and live in your comfort zone. Low self-esteem can be a real problem in relationships, regardless of whether you're happy or not, so it's important to try and deal with it head on. No one deserves to stay in a relationship that doesn't make them happy or fulfilled, but starting to believe that can be difficult. Finding help such as a therapist can be the first step to improving your life for good.

So What Can You Do?

What do you do when you realise you're in an unhappy relationship? Well, according to psychologists, there are three main steps:


Accepting that you are not happy in your relationship is probably the most important step you can make. So many of us stick our heads in the sand and ignore our own brains telling us that this relationship isn't right for us. Coming to terms with and embracing how you feel is ultimately the first step to changing your life for the better.


Making A Decision

Once you've accepted that you aren't happy in this relationship, you need to make a decision about the appropriate course of action. This doesn't mean you need to break-up with the person you're with. Many relationships go through rough patches where one or both people aren't fully happy, but can recover from this. If you still feel as though you'd like to give it a go, talk to your partner about why you feel unhappy and see if they are on board with trying to improve the relationship. If they're not, you may have no choice but to end it.

Maybe you've decided that the relationship has run its course, and in this case it's best to end it as soon as possible, regardless of other factors. Ultimately the timing and method of breaking up with someone is totally up to you, and don't expect it to be easy - we often delude ourselves into thinking that just because the relationship isn't perfect, that it will be easy to leave it. In truth, any long-term relationship is difficult to leave, once you've grown used to having someone in your life, it's difficult to adapt to life without them straight away.

Dealing With The Fallout

Whether you decide to stay together or break up, you're going to need to deal with the fallout of the decision. If you're staying together, pursuing couples therapy or some other form of relationship advice can be invaluable. You and your partner will need to decide what's best for you ultimately.

If you do decide to breakup, the amount of "admin work" that you'll need to take care of, as well as your own mental wellbeing will depend on how serious your relationship was. Ultimately, caring for yourself is the most important thing. Connecting with friends, treating yourself well and potentially even finding professional support if you are struggling.

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