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Excuses We Tell Ourselves When We are in Unhappy Relationships

We often will come up with bad excuses to tolerate unhappy relationships with terrible people.


Most of us have been in at least one relationship that wasn't healthy for us. It could have been an emotionally abusive relationship between you and a family member, a toxic boyfriend, or a relationship with a moocher. During those relationships, you may have noticed how hard it is to justify staying around that individual. 

The Psychology Behind Why We Excuse Bad Behavior

Believe it or not, there's legitimate psychological factors that make it hard for us to leave unhappy relationships. Fear of loss, even if it's losing someone who's terrible for us, can actually prevent us from doing the right thing by us.

Moreover, we also have a tendency to dislike admitting failure, and if we view breakups as failure, we're more likely to "double down" rather than cut things off. As a result, many people may know they're in a bad relationship, but will never admit it because they're worried they'll be labeled a failure for breaking up with that person. 

Why Excuses?

In order for us to feel alright with the decision to stay in unhappy relationships, we often feel like we need to have excuses that justify that decision. And, if you take a look at these excuses, you'll probably notice that you've heard quite a few of them from people who were totally miserable. 

"I'm staying for the kids."

This excuse also often takes the form of saying that you don't have the financial wherewithal to leave. The truth is that a person who really, truly wants to leave a relationship will do so regardless of how much they have stacked against them. 

Kids are not as fragile as you think, and money can always be re-earned. No matter how much of a lifestyle dip you may witness, the fact is that you'll probably be happier once the big break is made. 

"Oh, he's just stressed. That's just the way he is."

This excuse most often comes up when a partner has done something terrible that has caused others to approach you out of concern. People who tend to use this concern are typically way more worried about how they appear than how happy they are. This isn't healthy, nor does anyone believe this tired old line.

If you catch yourself saying this, it may be time to break things off with your partner. After all, people respect the people who stand up for themselves and refuse to tolerate disrespect. 

"Things will get better if I stick it out and talk to him about it."

To be fair, this may actually be a legitimate excuse, but only if you haven't actually tried to work on things with your partner. You need two people to make a relationship work, and if he's not putting in any effort, it's not going to work out. (Sorry!)

"Every relationship has problems. It's normal."

Among domestic violence counselors, this is an excuse tactic that's known as "normalization." Believe it or not, it's not normal to have relationships that involve you being upset, hurt, or used the majority of the time.

A good rule of thumb to follow is the 80 percent rule. If you find yourself happy with the relationship 80 percent of the time, then it's a good relationship. However, if the bad times are increasingly outweighing the good, you may need to reevaluate your choice to stay.

"It's either this or I end up being alone."

If you don't have much chance of meeting someone new, you might stay in an unhappy relationship just for the sake of being able to say you have someone by your side. While it's understandable, it's not particularly healthy. Moreover, people who leave unhappy relationships typically find out that they're way happier alone than partnered with the wrong person.

"I don't want to leave him because I don't want to be the person who abandons others."

This excuse tends to be something that comes up when you are worried about being the bigger person. The problem with this excuse is that nothing every good came of setting yourself on fire to keep others warm. Besides, there's no saying that the person who you're staying for actually appreciates all the effort you put in. 

"At least they don't hit me."

Abuse counselors noted that many victims will justify staying with an abusive partner because they don't hit them or cheat on them. Emotional abuse, mental abuse, and financial abuse are all still valid forms of abuse. And, abuse is inexcusable. 

"It's probably my fault."

If you are dealing with a particularly manipulative partnership, then there's a good chance that you may actually believe that the problems in your relationship are your fault. This is typically the effect of gas lighting and blame-shifting. 

Having a partner that lashes out at you or behaves otherwise poorly is never your fault. It's on them, because if they wanted to, they could control themselves or left. 

"No, I'm sure he loves me. It's just that..."

If you actually have to justify their behavior, then you probably already realized that they aren't acting very lovingly towards you. Love is something that isn't best expressed by words. It's expressed by actions, and you need to open up your eyes and be honest with yourself. People who love one another don't treat each other poorly. 

"I've invested so much time in this relationship. I can't leave now!"

Economists and psychologists both have a name for this excuse: The Sunk Cost Fallacy. The Sunk Cost Fallacy shows that the more invested we are in a bad decision, the more likely it is that we'll continue to want to invest in it, despite all the obvious signs that it's a bad move.

With economics, this is the kind of behavior that we see when a guy buys a "lemon" car, but continues to get it fixed rather than junk it. With relationships, the Sunk Cost Fallacy comes to life when you see a guy who's having serious relationship problems with his girlfriend push for marriage. 

"What if I regret dumping them?"

It is possible that you'll feel a twinge of dumper's regret when you leave, but it's way more likely that you'll regret spending the next 20 years with someone who isn't right for you. 

"Ugh, I don't want to have conflict."

Being conflict-averse isn't easy, particularly if you're worried about a serious backlash from an angry partner. The thing is that being in an unhappy relationship is a lot like sitting on a ticking time bomb. It's not a matter of whether there will be conflict as much as it is a matter of when the conflict will happen. As bad as it is, it's better to confront things sooner rather than later. 

"But what about all the benefits I get from this relationship?"

There are good sides to many bad relationships. These perks could be great sex, having a lot of possessions, or even just getting status in a certain group. But, as good as these things are, you need to realize you can get them on your own.

Be objective when you think about your unhappy relationship. Is it really worth salvaging, or are the excuses you're using to stay really unjustifiable?

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