7 Reasons Why It’s So Difficult To Leave An Unhealthy Relationship

Parting ways with someone you once cared about is never easy. But when it comes to leaving an unhealthy relationship, it can feel even more difficult. That’s because, apart from the typical sadness associated with breaking up, there tends to be other things going on, including issues with self-esteem, baggage from the past, and so on.

It can all add up to create a super confusing situation. “It is very common to struggle with deciding to leave any relationship, especially an unhealthy one,” therapist Jordan Madison, LGMFT, tells Bustle. “There [are] so many factors to consider when leaving a relationship that it can become very overwhelming.” And when you add in toxic factors, it can start to feel impossible.

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It isn’t, however, necessary to remain stuck forever. Therapy can be a big help, as it can help you recognize an unhealthy situation, and learn ways to move on. Speaking with loved ones can also be another way out. But building your self-esteem up, all on your own, can make a difference, too.

“The trick to breaking the loop is identifying the self-beliefs that hold you back and taking steps to challenge those core beliefs,” therapist Matt Smith, tells Bustle. “Developing daily habits of self-love — even something small like going the gym or making time for a hobby that brings you joy — can slowly begin to shift your limiting self-beliefs and empower you to pursue the healthy relationships you deserve.”

With that in mind, here are a few reasons why leaving an unhealthy relationship can be so difficult, according to experts.

1Your Self-Esteem Has Been Damaged

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Leaving an unhealthy relationship can require a healthy dose of self-esteem. And yet, if you’ve been belittled or worn down by a toxic partner, it can be difficult to come by.

“Having low self-esteem can play a role in staying in an unhealthy relationship because it can cause the person to believe no one else would want them, so they might as well stay with their current partner,” Madison says. “Or that they are the reason the relationship is unhealthy, and it is all their fault. They may see themselves as unworthy of a healthy, loving relationship.”

And yet, as you’ll start to see in therapy — or by building up your confidence — that’s definitely not the case.

2You’re Trying To Be Understanding

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“One reason why people stay in unhealthy relationships is because they want to be understanding and accept the other person for who they are,” dating coach Lydia Kociub, tells Bustle. While all relationships require both partners to be understanding, when you’re dating a toxic person, it can become a part-time job.

“We all want someone to love us unconditionally, so (sometimes) we force ourselves to do that for another person even when it’s not the best thing for us,” Kociub says. It’s important to recognize when a relationship is no longer worth it, and give yourself compassion and permission to leave.

3You’d Really Like To Fix Things

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Unhealthy relationships require a ton of work just to keep them afloat. And it can be tough to let go of that role, as well as the hope that your partner will be able change.

“You really believe that if you love your partner and if you give [them] enough chances that [they] will stop doing the toxic things that are destroying your relationship,” author and relationship coach Cindi Sansone-Braff, tells Bustle.

But does it honestly look like things will improve? It’s OK to say “enough is enough,” Sansone-Braff says, and decide it’s officially time to part ways. Once you do, you’ll be able to see there are other things in life that can provide meaning, apart from trying to fix a relationship.

4You’re Waiting For It To Be Good Again

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Since many toxic relationships start off on a good foot — often feeling like the perfect “whirlwind” romance — it can make it all the more shocking when things go south.

“You keep telling yourself, ‘things will get better,’ and you hold onto hope that things can be good again,” Sansone-Braff says.

But, as it often goes with toxic partners, it’s highly likely they are who they are. If they haven’t changed after having discussions and heart-to-hearts, things are unlikely to improve. And your best bet is to move on.

5You Grew Up With Toxic Parents

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6You Invested A Lot Of Energy

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If it feels like you invested a ton of energy into your relationship — as it often the case with toxic situations — it’ll be all the more difficult to let go.

“One may think, we’ve already been together so long, I might as well stay. Or I’ve put so much into this relationship, I can’t let it fail,” Madison says. “It is harder to give up on something when you feel like you’ve put your all into it.”

That’s not necessarily a good reason to stay, however. If it seems like this is the only reason you’re sticking around, it may be worth it to think about what you truly want, possibly with the help of a therapist.

7You Can’t Imagine Being Alone

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Because of the way it can impact your self-esteem, as well as the energy required to keep it going, an unhealthy relationship can feel like your everything — making it super difficult to leave.

“For some, they see having an unhealthy relationship as better than not having a relationship at all,” Madison says. “They’d rather be unhappy, and with a partner, than alone.” This worry can start to fade, however, as you work on improving your self-esteem.

While it may not be easy to leave an unhealthy relationship, working on yourself — and spotting the unhealthy beliefs that are holding you back — can make it all so much easier.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.


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