I’d argue that one of the worst things to be in a relationship is comfortable. I’m not talking about the comfort of looking like a damn mess or saying whatever comes to your mind, I’m talking about the well this relationship is easy or I don’t feel like dealing feeling that comes when a relationship has reached its peak and is on the downslide. I’ve talked myself out of breaking up with someone numerous times for just this reason. I was secure. I liked them (enough) and didn’t feel like dealing with the conversation or the aftermath, so I stayed. That was, no doubt, the wrong move (because hindsight is 20/20 right?). If I knew these things then, I probably wouldn’t have wasted my — and their — time.
It’s normal to be scared.
“Fear is a huge reason why people talk themselves out of a breakup or settle for a relationship that is less than ideal,” says Rachel Dack, MS, LCPC, NCC, licensed psychotherapist and dating and relationship coach. Fear of being alone is an emotion I’m sure we’ve all felt at some point or another. You may think you won’t find something else and will thus be indefinitely single, so you convince yourself you should be happy with what you have, even if it’s not really what you want.
You may also be scared of the unknown. “Even though the relationship may not be great, it feels safer and more comfortable than facing something unfamiliar or the uncertainty of the future,” says Dack. Confrontation, too, is frightening, especially if there’s already tension or conflict in your situation. The fear of figuring out logistics can be at play as well. “Financial concerns, splitting up possessions or pets, or handling a move may be so overwhelming that it feels safer or easier to stay,” Dack says. “But these stressors commonly associated with breakups are temporary.”
We might be feeding ourselves these thoughts and pressuring ourselves to make it work, because we don’t believe we deserve to be happy or because the thought of getting back into dating and starting over is petrifying. “Remember that if you gain closure, put yourself out there, get back into dating, gain insight into your own patterns, and don’t give up, there is a really good chance you will meet someone great,” says Dack.
Listen to yourself.
During this time, it’s important to tap into your inner dialogue. If it sounds anything like the following, you’re probably talking yourself out of ending your relationship, says Dack:
“I should be happy with what I have. He/she isn’t so bad. I could have done worse. I should be able to make this work. I’m not that special, so maybe I deserve to be treated poorly. No relationship is perfect, and I’d rather have this one than none. I’m scared to be alone, so I might as well try to make this work. I really don’t want to have to start over. Dating sounds awful, and I’m terrible at it. What if I can’t find another partner? What if I end up alone? What if I regret ending the relationship? I’m getting old and all the good ones are taken, so it’s better to just accept that this is the best it’s going to be. I know many people who have stayed together even though they weren’t happy, so I should be able to do this too.”
A lot of this dialogue is based on fear, anxiety, and insecurities that create irrational thoughts and doomed scenarios for the future that are not rooted in reality, says Dack. “It’s important to reality check any thoughts that are keeping you stuck in a less-than-ideal relationship and have hope that you can create the future you desire,” she says.
Change your thought process.
Once you’re aware of a pattern of overstaying and avoiding direct conversations with your partner, you have to get to the bottom of your fears and gain insight to what’s holding you back. Practice speaking up on a small scale so you can get comfortable with handling your anxiety around communication. Tell your partner you have some concerns, like that they don’t take your schedule into account when making plans. Open up to your friends about your thoughts of breaking up. “Working on your confidence and taking care of yourself, regardless of your relationship status, will also aid you in attracting your ideal relationship and not settling for anything less,” says Dack.
Acknowledge that you’re not the only one in the relationship.
For that reason, staying just to stay isn’t only doing you a disservice, it’s doing your partner one as well. “If you are not invested in your relationship or feeling love or attachment toward your partner and you stay anyway, it may create relationship damage over time,” says Dack. “While you may still technically have a relationship, it’s bound to be pretty miserable.” Breakups suck regardless of how you handle them, but thinking about your reasoning can help you at least avoid doing the maximum amount of harm.
“The adjustment from being in a relationship to being alone may have some bumps, but staying in an unhappy relationship simply to avoid these challenges isn’t going to bring you long-term fulfillment. Face your anxiety head on, get support from your support system, and remind yourself that you don’t need a partner or relationship (especially an unhappy one) to feel good about yourself and your life.”