Soon our fear of isolation extends further than just from our partner. Reisman explains we don’t want to be separated from their friends or family or from certain places we used to go together, i.e. a gym or bar. At a certain point in a relationship, we will no longer just be breaking up with our partner. We’ll be breaking up with everything and everyone that came with them, from parents to pets, which only amplifies our fear of being alone.
2. We Avoid Change.
Breakups bring a lot of change, and not just a change in our relationship status. They can change daily routines, living circumstances, and even finances. “Oftentimes, the biggest driving force to stay in a relationship is convenience,” says Reisman. It may seem silly but think about it – finding an apartment, finding a roommate, buying furniture, changing your address, even signing up for your own Netflix account – these are all time-consuming, annoying, expensive, and often difficult things to do.
But as Reisman explains, “the convenience of staying in an unhappy relationship is often more about a fear of being alone, dealing with rejection, and being judged by others for not being able to make the relationship work.” It can appear easier – both logistically and emotionally – to maintain the status quo.
Dr. Manly agrees the conveniences extend past logistics and finances. “Some people stay in relationships to maintain a façade for the outside world,” she says. She continues that in these situations, we are putting the perception of others above our own inner health, choosing to appear happy rather than be happy.
Why do we do this? “I see people stay in relationships because they are afraid of being uncomfortable,” says Lauren Cook, MMFT and author of Name Your Story: How to Talk Openly About Mental Health and The Sunny Side Up: Celebrating Happiness.
She points out the irony that while we avoid experiencing the unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions that come with a breakup (like sadness, fear, and isolation), we are usually experiencing those emotions anyway by staying in our current relationship. “People can become very avoidant of change, so they will work hard to stay comfortable in an uncomfortable relationship,” explains Cook.
Perhaps the biggest change breakups bring is moving from the known to the unknown. “The familiarity long-term partners have is a valuable commodity,” says Andrew Aaron, LICSW. We know each other’s nuances – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Turning the life we know upside down means facing a side we’ve yet to see. Enter our fear of the unknown.
Ultimately, ending a relationship means change, and change is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. “All this makes it hard for people to admit their relationship is not making them as happy as they could be,” says Reisman.
3. We Don’t Want To Fail.
Maybe it’s because of the time we’ve already spent in the relationship, maybe it’s how it will look to the outside world, or maybe it’s simply a stubborn attitude. But for many of us, we just can’t seem to let go.
“Some people have a strong belief that they can make an unhealthy relationship work,” says Dr. Manly. This can take the form of trying to change our partner to try to change ourselves. We may go to therapy, attend workshops, read books, and try every other self-work strategy we can fit into our lives. But as Dr. Manly points out, “If one partner is indifferent, uninvested, or lethargic about the work it takes to create a healthy relationship, there is generally no hope for improvement.”
Each partner must be committed to working on the relationship or we are fighting a losing battle.
It’s extra complicated when the relationship is one the outside world doesn’t agree with. Not only do we not want to fail, but we definitely don’t want to be wrong. In these situations, our stubborn attitude can be a double-edged sword. As Aaron points out, “Many people will use great effort to avoid a situation where another says, ‘I told you so.’” We are determined to make it work, no matter the cost.