staying in relationships too long

Why It’s Still So Hard to Leave an Unfulfilling or Unhealthy Relationship

No one dreams of staying in an unhappy relationship or feeling trapped. We all seek love that brings joy and understanding. But what if you find yourself in a place where love isn’t what you imagined?

It’s not always easy to see the way out, but understanding why can be a great first step. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons some people stay in unfulfilling or unhealthy relationships. Together, we’ll uncover insights about what makes you stay. Then we’ll talk about potential pathways to exiting an unfulfilling or unhealthy relationship. Let’s get started.

staying in a relationship out of guilt

Low Self-Esteem in Relationships

Low self-esteem is a common cause of unfulfilling relationships. It can quietly anchor you in relationships that don’t bring joy or growth. Here’s how:

The Cycle of Self-Doubt:

Imagine you’ve had a disagreement and you’re left feeling “too sensitive” or like you’re “overthinking things.”

Instead of seeing the relationship’s flaws, you blame yourself, thinking maybe if you were “better,” things would improve. This self-blame makes it challenging to even contemplate leaving, let alone take action.

Impact of Societal Expectations:

The media often paints a picture of “perfect” love stories. If yours doesn’t fit, you might feel it’s your inadequacy, not the relationship’s dynamics, that’s at fault. This perception can make the idea of leaving seem like admitting failure, further trapping you to try harder or do more.

Partners Using Insecurities to Their Advantage:

Does your partner drop subtle, negative remarks about your choices or appearance? These comments can erode your confidence over time, making you feel you won’t find someone better or that you’re lucky to have this relationship. It crafts a narrative where leaving seems both daunting and unwise.

Understanding these mechanisms helps reveal why low self-esteem not only shapes how you view a relationship but also forms barriers to leaving one that might not be in your best interest.

questions to ask before breaking up

The Invisible Scars of Emotional Abuse

Another reason it might be hard for you to leave is emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse, often less discussed than its physical counterpart, can entangle you deeply in relationships that harm your well-being. Here’s a closer look at why:

Identifying the Signs and Consequences of Emotional Manipulation 

Think of times you’ve felt constantly belittled, undermined, or invalidated, but there were no outright “red flags” like yelling or physical harm. Such covert manipulation makes you question your feelings and perceptions.

You might wonder, “Am I overreacting?” This confusion makes it hard to pinpoint the root of your dissatisfaction and even harder to muster the conviction to leave.

Intense Psychological Impacts of Emotional Abuse

Emotionally abusive relationships can lead to anxiety, depression, or a constant feeling of walking on eggshells. Over time, this can lead to emotional exhaustion where the thought of leaving feels overwhelming.

You might think, “What if I’m alone and things get worse?” or “What if this is as good as it gets?” Such emotional fatigue makes the prospect of ending the relationship and facing the unknown seem monumental.

Difficulty in Recognizing and Escaping Emotional Abuse

The insidious nature of emotional abuse often lies in its normalization.

For example, if your partner gaslights you by insisting that events didn’t occur the way you remember them, you may start doubting your memory and judgment. Such manipulation makes it difficult to trust your instincts. If you can’t trust your feelings or memories, how can you trust your judgment that it’s time to leave?

Understanding the nuanced yet profound effects of emotional abuse illuminates how it can act as a cage, making it incredibly challenging to leave a relationship that’s detrimental to your mental and emotional health.

feeling unfulfilled in relationship

Financial Dependency Makes it Hard to Leave

Financial constraints can act as powerful chains, binding you to relationships that aren’t conducive to your well-being. Let’s explore how financial dependency can complicate the decision to leave:

Economic Realities Many Women Face

You may not be the primary earner or, perhaps, you’re not earning at all. You might feel trapped, thinking, “How will I support myself if I leave?” or “Will I be able to maintain my current lifestyle?”

This tangible dependence on a partner for basic needs can instill a fear of financial instability, making the thought of leaving daunting. It’s even more uncomfortable if you already have financial trauma from your past.

Struggles of Leaving When Financially Bound

Do you and your partner share joint assets like a house, bank accounts, or debts? Untangling these can be a logistical nightmare, leading you to avoid it altogether. The thought of navigating these complexities can act as a deterrent from even considering a split.

Suppressed Sense of Independence and Agency

Financial dependence can erode your sense of autonomy over time.

For example, maybe you had to consult or get permission before any spending, no matter how trivial. This dynamic can cultivate a feeling of being ‘child-like’ or ‘powerless,’ making you doubt yourself. Such doubts can cloud the belief in your ability to thrive independently post-separation.

By shining a light on these financial barriers, it becomes evident how monetary concerns can make the thought of leaving an unfulfilling or unhealthy relationship seem like an insurmountable challenge. If any of the above points resonate with you, continue reading. Our section on leaving can give you a few pathways towards a better future.

why do i stay in a toxic relationship

Chained By The Past: Revisiting Childhood Wounds

Our past, especially our formative years, often leaves imprints that unknowingly guide our decisions in adulthood. Here’s how childhood traumas can influence and complicate the decision to leave a relationship:

Inclination to Recreate Familiar Scenes

If you grew up witnessing unhealthy relationship dynamics, perhaps with parents or guardians, those patterns can become your ‘normal’.

If arguments and discord were regular occurrences, you might find yourself inadvertently seeking out similar dynamics in adulthood, not realizing healthy relationships don’t look like this.

Childhood Experiences Influencing Adult Relationship Patterns

Consider being constantly criticized or feeling undervalued as a child. This can lead to an internal belief that you don’t deserve love or happiness. When this belief is carried into adulthood, you might tolerate a partner who reinforces this notion, thinking, “Maybe this is the best I can get.”

Subconscious Need to “Resolve” Previous Traumas

It’s not uncommon to be driven by a desire to ‘fix’ past traumas. Some women unconsciously (without knowing it) try to heal wounds from an absent parent by seeking validation from a neglectful partner. This drive can keep you anchored, hoping that “If they change, it’ll heal my past.”

These deep-rooted influences from childhood can shape how you view and engage in adult relationships. Recognizing them can be a significant step in understanding why leaving an unfulfilling or unhealthy relationship feels so complex.

why we stay

Staying in a Relationship Out of Guilt

Next, there’s guilt that can act as a relationship chain. 

Guilt is a powerful emotion, deeply rooted in our psyche. It often causes us to self-sabotage without knowing it. When it comes to relationships, guilt can manifest in several ways:

Obligation to Others

You might feel like leaving would let down not just your partner but also family, friends, or even children. For example, thinking about how parents or in-laws would react can become a significant source of stress, making it difficult to prioritize personal feelings. Don’t try to overcome guilt alone, as it’s often attached to shame. Reach out for therapy support today.

History and Investment

The thought, “We’ve been through so much together,” can weigh heavily. Remembering the time, energy, and emotions invested can make it feel like leaving equates to throwing all of that away. Believing in the “sunk cost fallacy”makes it hard to leave when a relationship is unfulfilling or unhealthy.

Partner’s Dependency

If your partner is going through challenges like health issues, unemployment, or personal crises, guilt can arise from the idea of “abandoning” them during tough times. The line between support and self-sacrifice can blur, and guilt can be overwhelming.


Sometimes, internal narratives like, “Maybe I’m the problem,” or “I need to do more to make it work,” can cause a guilt-driven inertia. This can stem from past experiences or external judgments that made you feel responsible for relationship failures. It can also stem from enmeshment challenges from your caregiver relationships.

Moral or Cultural Norms

Depending on personal beliefs or cultural backgrounds, there might be feelings of guilt associated with ending relationships, especially if it’s seen as breaking a commitment or vow. A culturally-informed therapist can help make sense of these issues.

Understanding that guilt is an emotion, not a directive, is crucial. While it’s essential to recognize and validate these feelings, they shouldn’t become the sole reason to stay in a relationship that isn’t nurturing or fulfilling.

Seeking guidance, be it through therapy or trusted confidantes, can provide clarity, allowing you to make decisions that align with your well-being and authentic self.

feeling unfulfilled in a relationship

Familiarity Can Be Hard to Leave

Next on our list is simple familiarity.

Familiarity often feels comfortable or safe, even when it’s not healthy or beneficial. The psyche typically leads us to what is familiar.

This allure of the known can exert a powerful pull, keeping you anchored in a relationship even when it’s not in your best interest. Here’s how:

Allure of the Known

A predictable routine with your partner, even if tinged with dissatisfaction, can be comforting. The thought of venturing into the unknown and starting over can be daunting, making you think, “At least I know what to expect here.” As the Gotye song “Somebody That I Used to Know” goes, “You can be addicted to a certain kind of sadness.”

Distinction Between “Familiar” and “Safe”

Just because something is familiar doesn’t mean it’s good for you. You might recognize patterns in your relationship reminiscent of past experiences, thinking, “This is just how relationships are for me.” Such acceptance can make it hard to discern when it’s time to seek something healthier.

Breaking Cycles and Seeking New Narratives

Venturing outside your comfort zone is always challenging. If you’ve always been with partners who don’t value you or understand your needs, it might feel almost ‘natural’ to stay in that dynamic. The thought of demanding more for yourself and facing potential rejection or loneliness can be intimidating, making you wonder, “What if I don’t find anything better?”

The gravitational pull of what’s familiar can be a significant obstacle when contemplating leaving a relationship. Understanding this can help frame why breaking free from an unfulfilling or unhealthy bond feels so challenging. 

So, you’ve learned about the most common reasons that can cause you to stay in an unfulfilling relationship. Now, let’s turn our eyes towards breaking free and healing any guilt that keeps us stuck in negative relationships.

when is enough enough in a relationship

Paving the Path to Liberation

Navigating the journey out of an unfulfilling or unhealthy relationship may feel daunting, but with determination and the right resources, a brighter, independent future awaits. Here’s your guide to finding your path:

1. Tuning into Your Feelings

Your emotions provide insight. It’s natural to have doubts and fears, but honoring your feelings is essential. Trust in your own experiences and emotions—they steer you towards what’s truly right for you. It’s important to seek therapy for anxiety and depression if these feelings are strong in you.

2. Seeking Guidance  

Therapy and counseling offer a safe space for you to process and strategize. Mental health professionals aim to guide and support, not judge. Many people before you have found clarity and strength through these channels, proving you’re not in this battle alone.

3. Leaning on Support Systems  

Achieving financial autonomy might seem overwhelming, but remember, it’s okay to seek assistance initially. Family, friends, and community resources can provide the needed financial support to transition out of the relationship. The paramount step is prioritizing your safety and well-being, and with time, you can work towards further independence.

4. Rebuilding Self-Worth  

You deserve nothing less than love, respect, and a fulfilling life. Embrace positive affirmations and build networks that uplift and validate your worth. Your value isn’t determined by a relationship, but by the strength and resilience you hold within.

Believe in yourself. With every step, (even if they’re baby steps), you’re moving closer to a life where you’re in the driver’s seat, making decisions that resonate with your heart’s true desires.

I feel unfulfilled in this relationship

Conclusion: Leaving Your Unfulfilling Relationship

Stepping out of an unfulfilling or unhealthy relationship is a profound act of self-awareness, self-respect and courage. Recognizing the need for change, even amidst societal pressures or internal fears, signifies the value you place on your well-being and happiness. Every woman, including you, deserves a relationship where she’s cherished and respected.

It’s essential to understand that while the journey ahead may have its challenges, with the available support systems and your inner strength, there’s hope for a brighter future. It’s not about guaranteeing a specific outcome, but about taking each day as it comes, seeking understanding, growth, and moments of joy. 

Navigating this path might be daunting, but remember: By prioritizing your happiness and mental well-being, you’re taking a significant step towards a life that feels more authentic and fulfilling. Your journey is unique, and every step you take brings you closer to a space of self-awareness, peace, and contentment.

When you’re ready for therapeutic support, contact me and I’ll do my best to support you.

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