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Unhappy In Your Relationship? 11 Things That Make You Stay Put

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Have you been unhappy in your relationship for some time, but feel like you can’t leave?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone. It’s far more common than you might think.

Here, we discuss 11 reasons why you may feel unable to leave your unhappy relationship, as well as solutions for each:

1. Low self-esteem.

If you have low self-esteem, you may have convinced yourself that you can’t leave your unhappy relationship.

You may feel that this partner is the best you’ll be able to get, so you’d better stick around or risk being alone forever.

Alternatively, you might think you aren’t smart or capable enough to take care of yourself and need to stay with your partner to survive.

Depending on the type of relationship you have, your partner might have contributed to your low self-esteem. Perhaps they’ve implied that you aren’t very smart, or that you’re so unattractive you’re lucky to be with them.

This isn’t the truth at all.

You’re a glorious embodiment of the universe exactly as you are, and have countless traits and abilities that should be celebrated.

Write lists of all the things you know you do well, the hobbies you love, and what you appreciate about yourself. Ask your friends to let you know what they admire and love about you too.

Once you realize you’re far more awesome than you’ve been led to believe, you’ll have more confidence in your ability to move on.

2. Trauma bonding.

If your partner has repeatedly hurt you—emotionally, psychologically, or physically—but has also exhibited affection and kindness at times, you may be dealing with a trauma bond.

This type of relationship is one in which you are constantly abused and damaged by your partner, making you deeply unhappy and eager to end the relationship.

Then, however, your partner does something extremely sweet, loving, or generous. This makes you feel like real change is going to happen, or that your partner is truly loving and kind deep down.

When the cycle repeats itself, you tolerate the mistreatment because the rarer acts of loving kindness are somehow ‘worth’ the abuse.

It’s like a situation in which someone kicks their dog 29 days out of 30 but then gives the dog cuddles and treats on that 30th day.

The dog will remember the affection and tasty snack and will accept the daily beatings in the hope that they’ll be given that sliver of kindness eventually.

Many people who experienced familial abuse as children end up in trauma-bonded relationships as adults because they have no examples of healthy partnerships to draw upon: abuse is familiar and ‘normal’ to them.

Relationships with narcissists are often trauma bonds as well. The narc will ‘love-bomb’ their partners in between abuse and manipulation to keep them hooked.

As you might imagine, it can be incredibly difficult to break free from a trauma bond without help.

So if this feels familiar and you want to leave before things get worse, please seek professional help.

A therapist can help you determine what your next steps should be, and can even act as a bridge between you and law enforcement if a restraining order needs to be put into place for your protection.

3. Fear of being alone.

People who moved from their parents’ place into their partner or spouse’s home and never lived alone may be terrified of the prospect of solo living.

It’s especially frightening for highly social extroverts who need company all the time. Or for those who get nervous when they’re alone, or who are more comfortable being passive and allowing others to make plans for them.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to stand on your own two feet as an independent adult, you may be seriously afraid of doing so.

There’s a lot of individual responsibility involved in going solo into the great wide world, and this can feel overwhelming to a lot of people.

If this sounds familiar, one great option here is to move into a shared living space with another person—whether that’s a close friend or a few housemates.

It’s a middle ground in which you’re still responsible for many aspects of your own life, but chores like cooking and cleaning are shared, and you won’t be living all by yourself.

Furthermore, if you feel nervous about dealing with unfamiliar situations, you can talk to those around you and get their advice and support. You don’t have to face anything alone!

4. You would feel guilty for leaving.

This often happens in situations where a person’s partner has either sacrificed a great deal to be with them or has suffered an illness or injury that makes the other feel obligated to stay with them.

You may have heard about people who have left their partner who had been diagnosed with cancer or a degenerative disease. It’s likely you thought horribly of them.

But the reality is that they’d probably been planning (hoping, even) to leave for years, and their departure simply coincided hideously with their partner’s diagnosis.

If you’re in a situation like this, you may feel like you’d never forgive yourself for leaving. Alternatively, you may be afraid of being shamed by your social and family circles for being so cruel.

The fear of being shamed is a huge motivator for many people, and they often choose to remain in miserable circumstances to avoid feeling bad or being ostracized by their social support system.

Unfortunately, the longer you stay in this situation, the more resentful you’ll get and the more toxic your relationship will become.

Be honest with your partner as well as your social circles about what’s going on, and be firm about your need for support rather than shame.

If you don’t get the support you deserve, you may need to go ‘low contact’ with those who look down on your choices.

However difficult it is, guilt should never be a reason to stay in a toxic or unhappy situation.

5. You believe you’re responsible for your partner’s well-being.

Your spouse or partner may not be physically ill, but they may have differences in executive function or similar that make it difficult for them to take care of themselves properly.

As such, you may worry that if you aren’t around to supervise and care for them, they’ll end up in a bad situation.

For example, if your partner is autistic or has ADHD (or both), they may struggle with some day-to-day responsibilities without reminders or assistance, through no fault of their own.

Similarly, they may get distracted easily which could put them at risk of potential personal harm.

If your partner has set the kitchen ablaze on more than one occasion because they walked away from something cooking on the stovetop, that’s cause for concern. As such, you may feel that if you leave them and they get hurt (or worse), it would be your fault.

Here’s the thing: you are not your partner’s keeper.

You may have made a mutual agreement to help them with things they find difficult whilst you’re together, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay and continue doing it long after the love has gone.

Having to parent one’s partner is a major contributing factor to relationship burnout and eventual collapse.

It also does your partner a serious disservice to assume they won’t be able to come up with strategies or seek alternative support to manage without you.

Furthermore, there may be some cases where a partner is more capable than they admit, but they use weaponized incompetence to ensure someone else takes the responsibilities off their shoulders.

By leaving the relationship, you’re not only saving yourself from depletion and potential nervous breakdowns—you’re allowing them to be proactive with techniques that will help them be more independent and self-sufficient.

6. You still love your partner.

This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s very common to be unhappy in a relationship with someone you still love.

People aren’t robots, we can’t just switch off our feelings. So it’s natural to hold on to positive emotions even when a relationship is causing you pain.

It may feel like a significant part of you would be missing if you ended this partnership.

But you need to ask yourself whether this relationship can be fixed by love, or whether it’s broken beyond repair.

If you’re dealing with a situation like this, know that just because the status of a relationship changes, it doesn’t mean it has to end altogether. After all, your partner may be feeling the same thing.

There is no ‘right’ way to have a relationship, and a life-long platonic friendship can be far stronger and healthier than a romantic partnership in which both parties are sad and unfulfilled.

We can love others deeply without having to be in an intimate relationship with them.

Many people find they’re much happier as friends, continuing to have strong, life-long relationships together that are far healthier than their partnership ever could have been.

Some famous examples of this are Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin, or Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.

7. A misguided sense of loyalty.

Many people feel that since they committed to someone, they’re obligated to stay with them “‘til death do us part”, even if they’re incredibly unhappy.

For some, it’s a question of personal integrity: they made a promise, and they must hold to it, or they’ll never be able to respect themselves again.

With others, they may not want to let their family down by ending their marriage, especially if they married this person to make their parents happy or proud rather than sincerely wanting to be with them.

If you’re in this situation, you may feel a lot of guilt and shame about wanting to leave, even if you’re desperately unhappy.

This may be exacerbated by family members or your community, especially if you’re part of a culture that frowns upon divorce.

If you’ve been raised with religious beliefs that have a negative stigma about divorce, you may be more terrified of the shame and judgment associated with it than you are of moving on alone.

Things get even more difficult if the reason for wanting to leave is that you’re same-sex attracted, trans, nonbinary, or even asexual/aromantic, but your culture or religion demonizes anything other than heteronormative partnerships.

As scary as it may seem, choosing to live a life that’s true to you is vital for the sake of your long-term happiness and fulfillment.

Those who truly love and respect you will stand by your choices and those who don’t are rarely worth keeping in your life.

Seek out support from those who have experienced similar circumstances. And have contingency plans in place in case your social support network decides to abandon you because of their own biases and programming.

8. The ‘sunk cost’ fallacy.

You’ve probably seen people fall prey to this numerous times, and thus recognize it in yourself.

For example, you may know someone who has spent thousands of dollars studying for a career they now have no interest in, so they plod onwards, miserably, because they don’t want to feel like they ’wasted’ their investment.

Similarly, someone may have put a ton of money into a business that isn’t going to go anywhere. They won’t accept that loss, so they keep at it because of what they’ve put into it so far.

If you’ve spent several years in your current relationship, you may feel as though leaving it at this point would be detrimental solely because of your emotional and financial investment so far.

This may be especially true if you’re older or feel as though your prospects are limited, i.e. you may not be able to attract another partner or have much to offer if you split up with your spouse, etc.

As a result, you feel ‘committed’ for life with no escape.

No matter how much time, energy, effort, or money you have put into this relationship, all of that is in the past. What matters from here on are the benefits and joys you’ll undoubtedly experience by wiping the slate clean and starting anew.

You’re not happy where you are and your partner likely isn’t happy feeling you’re only there out of obligation, so why keep going?

Think of it this way: let’s say you spent 25 years renovating a house, only to see it destroyed by a volcanic eruption. After all that you invested, the project you loved is now a heap of ash and solidified magma.

Are you going to insist upon living in that pile of rubble because of all you put into it before? Or will you cut your losses and move forward?

If your relationship has reached the rubble phase, it’s time to move on. There’s nothing left for you there.

9. Your partner manipulates you into staying.

Although this behavior often happens with narcissists and other known manipulators, it can happen in just about any relationship scenario.

A lot of people will do or say just about anything to get their way, and that includes begging, pleading, love-bombing, lying, or even blackmailing their partner to prevent them from leaving.

They might even injure themselves or make themselves seriously ill to guilt trip and manipulate their partner into sticking around.

Then, once their partner resigns themselves to staying, they’ll go back to maintaining the status quo until the next time they try to end the partnership. And so on.

If this is a situation you’re dealing with, it’s important to figure out why this manipulation has worked on you so far.

Do you have low self-esteem? Are you a people-pleaser who can’t stand to hurt anyone or let them down?

You’ll need to make yourself bulletproof to your partner’s manipulation tactics to leave this situation, and the only way to do that is to find your weak points so you can armor them.

You may need professional help to learn techniques to do this, especially if you’ve tried to leave several times only to repeat this unhealthy cycle.

As an aside, if the type of manipulation being used involves blackmail or other potential harm, please speak to a lawyer and/or law enforcement.

For example, if your partner is threatening to share nude photos of you if you dare to leave them, that’s blackmail and it’s a criminal offense in many places.

Find out what the laws are like in your area and then take the actions needed to protect yourself.

10. You don’t believe another relationship would be any different.

If you’re in an unhappy relationship that looks similar to the one your parents had, or that your friends have, you may truly believe this is what all partnerships are like.

As such, you may have chosen to stay in your unhappy relationship because at least the ‘devil you know’ is familiar and more comfortable than the great unknown—especially when it comes to other partners.

Alternatively, you may have checked out the singles currently swimming around in the dating pool and are horrified by the options on offer.

If you’re the type of person who thrives on being in a relationship, remaining in an unhappy ‘sure thing’ may be preferable to risking another partnership that ends up being exactly the same.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

If you’re aware of your repeated behavioral patterns and the types of people you’re usually drawn to, you can make a conscious effort to veer in a completely different direction.

Therapy can help with identifying these patterns and strategies to avoid them too.

Furthermore, there are plenty of other ways to meet amazing new people than the few apps you’ve heard horror stories about!

11. You doubt your judgment.

You may be feeling a general sense of unhappiness about everything in your life, and feel that ending your current relationship might improve that feeling, but you aren’t sure.

Basically, you know that you’re miserable but can’t pinpoint exactly why.

Alternatively, you may feel you can’t trust your judgment about your partnership because your feelings about it vary so much from one day to another.

If you’re feeling conflicted and you don’t know what to do about your relationship, it’s a good idea to book some time with a therapist. Consider them trained guides who can help lead you out from the dark, subterranean cave network you’re currently lost within.

They’ll ask you numerous questions about your partnership to help you determine whether a breakup is the right choice for you, or if other aspects of your life are making you unhappy but are being projected onto your partnership.

You may find you’d be happy with your partner if certain changes were made, or new boundaries established. Or you could discover that you truly aren’t happy or fulfilled and need to move on from here.

People are always available to help you find your way out of the darkness.

You’re not alone in this, and there’s no shame in leaning on social or professional support when it comes to sorting out how you feel about your partnership.


Life is too short to spend it in a constant state of misery.

If you’ve been in an unhappy relationship for some time and want to experience light and joy instead, you now have some firm ideas about the steps you can take to make this positive change happen.

What are you waiting for?

About The Author

Catherine Winter is an herbalist, INTJ empath, narcissistic abuse survivor, and PTSD warrior currently based in Quebec's Laurentian mountains. In an informal role as confidant and guide, Catherine has helped countless people work through difficult times in their lives and relationships, including divorce, ageing and death journeys, grief, abuse, and trauma recovery, as they navigate their individual paths towards healing and personal peace.