You know he’s not Mr. Right. He’s not even Mr. Right Now. You’re a smart woman, and your dreams and goals never included dating a loser. So why can’t you ditch the guy? Read on to find out.
I was in college when an older man asked me out. We went to a concert (nice), then back to his place (predictable). By morning, I knew the relationship was a non-starter.
But his attention was flattering and I was between boyfriends. Before I knew it, my one-night stand turned into a year-long relationship. He even talked of marriage.
Right then, I should have cut and run. But I’d grown used to his loud, obnoxious behavior. And at least I had a date on Saturday nights.
I didn’t get my complacent butt out of there until he raised his hand to smack me during a disagreement. Though his hand never connected, that near-slap was just the push I needed.
Any sign of abuse (physical or emotional) is an obvious relationship deal-breaker. And the same goes for addictions of any stripe (drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling). But even without such problems, we often find ourselves spinning our wheels in dead-end relationships.
According to relationship experts, here are the 6 most common reasons we stay with men who are all wrong for us:
1. My family made me do it.
Blaming your issues on Mom, Dad, your siblings or the dog can get a little tired. But persistently picking Mr. Wrong does have a lot to do with your upbringing, therapists say.
“What happens in the family shapes how we see ourselves in the world, our core beliefs and our behaviors,” says life/relationship coach Lauren Mackler, author of Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness and Transform Your Life (Hay House). “Then we take those behavior patterns into adulthood.”
So a girl who grew up thinking I don’t deserve love is subconsciously attracted to men who can’t meet her emotional needs.
“It doesn’t make her happy, but it’s comfortable because it’s familiar,” Mackler says.
It’s the emotional equivalent of the hamster wheel: You never get the guy, no matter how hard you work. But the thought that you might if you just hang on a little longer keeps you in the game.
“Women are willing to deal with long stretches of crap for that momentary approval or affection,” explains clinical psychologist Dennis P. Sugrue, Ph.D., co-author of Sex Matters for Women (Guilford Press). “When it comes – and it’s not often – the attention is almost like oxygen. It means everything.”
2. I won’t find anyone better.
So he’s boorish and overly critical. Breaks dates. Doesn’t call. Plays head games. Forgets your birthday. But he’s all yours. Would it be any different with anyone else?
Hello?! Someone’s self-esteem needs a transfusion.
Blame this one, too, on a dysfunctional family dynamic.
When a woman is in a relationship with a clear loser, there’s a symbolic agenda playing out. It’s “usually not getting the love and affection of a parent,” Sugrue says. “So when things don’t go well, it becomes easier for her to rationalize it and take the blame for it.”
This pattern is one of the most destructive ways women sabotage themselves in work and relationships, says clinical psychotherapist Pat Pearson, author of Stop Self-Sabotage: Get Out of Your Own Way to Earn More Money, Improve Your Relationships and Find the Success You Deserve (McGraw Hill). We think, Well, it’s better than nothing.
“If we don’t believe we deserve to have a good relationship, we settle for less than what we could have or truly want,” she says. “We compromise our own integrity.”
3. I don’t want to be alone.
Then there’s the fear that you’ll end up a lonely spinster, so you hang on longer than you should out of a misguided sense of self-preservation.
Chalk this one up to family issues again, especially if the message you internalized growing up was, “You need a man to take care of you.”
“Fear of being alone is a huge factor that keeps people in bad relationships,” says Mackler, the life/relationship coach. “The underlying message is that you’re not able to take care of yourself.”
So you get into relationships with Mr. Wrong.
4. He’ll change.
Uh-huh. Tell it to the Tooth Fairy. Women have been deluding themselves with this particular fairy tale since cave gals sat around the fire pit, grousing that their men were such Neanderthals.
Don’t bet the farm on him changing in any substantial way. Improving hair and wardrobe is about the best you can do. (Though you might make some headway with the toilet-seat-down thing.)
But serious character flaws? Figure on living with ’em… or leaving him.
“What you see is what you’re going to get,” Sugrue says. “If there is change, consider that to be a gift from heaven. But don’t count on it.”
5. He needs me.
If ever there was a big enough ball to keep you chained to a loser, it’s this one. We love being needed. We eat that up like a chocolate chip hot fudge sundae with a cherry on top.
“Women tend to over-give to people who don’t give as much back,” says Pearson, the clinical psychologist. “We’ve all been taught that we shouldn’t be selfish and to keep on giving even if we don’t get it back.”
We tell ourselves we’re indispensable. Or maybe you do have legitimate worries that if you split, he’d gamble, drink, slide into depression or kill himself.
But what you call “love,” therapists label as “co-dependency,” “enabling” or “emotional extortion.”
We’re then sucked into unhealthy relationships because serving in their lives makes us feel good about ourselves, explains Michele Sugg, a certified sex therapist in Branford, Conn. “It can be tough to move past the guilt and believe that he’ll make it, that you’re not his only lifeline.”
6. The sex is phenomenal.
That hormonal surge of oxytocin that courses through your brain when you have mind-blowing sex is designed to bond you to your partner. It’s emotional super-glue. But this neurochemistry can backfire when we bond with the wrong guy.
“Just because it was the best sex you ever had doesn’t mean that this is the best partner for you,” says certified sex therapist and psychologist Stephanie Buehler, Psy.D, of the Buehler Institute for sex therapy in Irvine, Calif.
And if you feel embarrassment or shame about becoming sexual too quickly, you might be tempted “to make a relationship out of the encounter,” Buehler says.
Should You Stay or Go?
These steps can get you thinking – honestly – about the state of your union.
1. Search your soul. Ask yourself these questions, Sugrue says:
* Do I really care about this person or has the relationship become habit?
* Is it easier to stay than make the effort to leave?
* Do I feel like he really cares for me? Or am I doing all the heavy lifting?
* Would I be tempted to leave If someone else I’m attracted to was suddenly available and I could get out of my current relationship with no negative consequences, embarrassment, shame or explanations? If you’re thinking maybe, “that should tell you something,” Sugrue says.
2. Make a list. Works with Christmas gifts and relationships.
Figure out what works (and doesn’t) in your relationship, Sugg says. “That can help you determine what needs to change for the relationship to feel healthier for you.”
So make like Santa and check your list twice. And talk it over with your guy. Maybe he didn’t realize that openly flirting with other women gets on your nerves. It’s unlikely, but at least you’ve done due diligence before you walk out.
3. Get online. If you just don’t think you can do any better, click through some online dating sites. You don’t even need to post a profile. Just punch in your zip code and take a look at who’s around. Nice guys! Near you!
It’s the relationship equivalent of window-shopping. Not all these dudes will pony up to ride into the sunset with you. But even if you’re convinced the sea is empty, you’ll see there are plenty of fish out there.
4. Take a break. Absence can make the heart grow fonder… or show you that you’re doing just fine without him. Either way, you get some perspective, Buehler says.
5. Hold off on hooking up. No judgment here. Casual, no-strings-attached sex definitely has its place. However, “it’s important to look at what you’re trying to get when you’re hooking up,” Sugg says.
If you want to meet your dream man and live happily ever after, hooking up is “not the way you’re going to form lasting relationships,” Sugg says.
6. Do a reality check. If you worry that ditching an unsatisfying relationship will leave you alone forever or possibly even destitute, take a deep breath and step back from the ledge.
Therapists call this “awfulizing” or “catastrophizing.” Mackler says you’re playing the Gloom and Doom Movie by imagining the absolute worst-case scenario, and it’s spinning in your mind as reality. So take stock.
“Look at the core beliefs you have about yourself that’s driving this fear,” she says.
Do you really believe you’ll die without someone to take care of you? What about those friends and family who love you? And don’t you have your own money to pay those bills?
Looks like an apartment with only cats for company isn’t your destiny after all. And you’re doing pretty well fending for yourself. Soon you’ll get your brain around the idea that you can jump ship if you want to – and land on your feet.
Then you can start thinking about what your new movie will look like, Mackler says. Perhaps the screen will show that you can be happy without a relationship. Or that the next guy you date will appreciate and respect you.
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