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Why You Can’t Let Go of an Unhealthy Relationship


Does this sound familiar? You have a great time when the two of you are together, but you have doubts. You are aware of the things that hurt maybe it’s the lack of commitment, angry words, manipulative manners, blaming you for everything, becoming defensive, lack of responsibility or insensitive comments. Then there are the moments where it feels great.


You know its not right for you but you can't let go. Why do we stay in unhealthy relationships?


Lack of Hope

You might find this challenging to think of because you think, no I do have hope in this relationship, that is what keeps me there. Its not a lack of hope in the relationship, it is the lack of hope that you are capable of having a healthy relationship. Maybe you’ve lost hope that they exist, or you feel that you are lacking in some way and therefore you have to hold onto the person because there will not be anyone else who is interested in you.


I’m calling bull.


Healthy relationships do exist. They exist when two people are committed to each other, invest in the relationship, see each other as part of a team working through problems and towards mutual life goals. The result of this type of relationship is that each of you to feel completely secure, respected and loved. If you have not experienced this type of relationship it is hard to hold onto the hope that they exist. And creating one, starts with two healthy people, so if you want one, it is time to do your own work to become healthy which includes believing that you capable of having and maintaining a healthy relationship.


Playing Make Believe

When doubts about the relationship arise people play make believe. You create an idea in your head of the person by only thinking of their good part. Then every time you think about breaking up, you begin to miss someone who does not exist, a person who only has their good parts. And if that was who the person really was, you would not be so dissatisfied with the relationship.


The one you are missing, the one with only the wonderful qualities, does not exist in real life. It is just a make believe person. The real person, the one with all of those good qualities, is the same one who continually frustrates you with their problems and negative qualities. That is the whole person that you must agree to like or not. As you keep focusing on only the good parts you develop selective memory when you think of breaking up with them. Then you miss someone who does not exist, and you think, I can't break up with them. They are so wonderful! But the wonder is the make believe, not the true picture.


This is a well-known psychological defense that happens when people can't let go of a person or thing they are invested in. They idealize the lost or soon-to-be lost love object, instead of seeing it as a whole. They focus on the part that they like and fail to take into account the negatives that make the good parts unusable. So they are never able to let go, because they feel that all they are letting go of is something wonderful. "He/She is so wonderful," should really be stated as, "He/She is so wonderful, but he/she also has different priorities than me and is thoughtless. I can't live with all of that."


The truth is that you have already contemplated the relationship thousands of times in your head and if there was a way for you to fix it, it would be fixed by now. To get over the resistance, you have to continually keep the whole picture right in front of your eyes. Stay focused on the entirety. Yes, the person is talented and funny but if you keep that you also must keep the awful relationship or friendship.


Ask yourself, do I want both of those?


To determine this, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • As you get closer to the decision, do you find yourself focusing on the positives and already anticipating missing those aspects?

  • Do you forget or lose sight of all the negatives?

  • Do you minimize the negatives?

When you idealize the person, you keep yourself trapped in an unhealthy relationship. Yes, it is painful when a relationship ends but you can get through it. When you find the partner that fits well with you the short-term pain of a breakup is well worth it.


If you are struggling with letting go, we are here to help.


Trish Pauls, MA RP

Registered Psychotherapist

HELPPS Psychotherapy Services

519-601-HELP (4357)

www.helpps.ca

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