- Many relationships suffer from lack of communication, conflicting values, differences in personality or behavior, and unmet needs.
- Even if you try to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, not all relationships are healthy or worth saving.
- Looking at your hindering thoughts may help free you to take action to move on.
Twenty-seven-year-old Cara sat in front of me in a recent counseling session with tears streaming down her face. Looking down sheepishly at the floor, she asked, "Dr. Jeff, why do I suck so much at breaking up?"
Before we address why breaking up is so hard for many couples, let's take a quick look at what often underlies relationship strife and how to manage it. Then we will look at 10 thinking traps that leave you feeling stuck and unable to break up, even though that may be the healthiest decision for you.
Why Relationships Are So Stressful
If you are experiencing relationship angst, whether you stay or leave, it's important to identify the root causes. There are many potential reasons for relationship struggles, including a lack of communication or trust, conflicting values or goals, differences in personality or behavior, and unmet emotional or physical needs.
Even if your partner feels impossible to get along with, relationships often suffer from negative thoughts that have lost their basis in reality and have gotten out of control. Sadly, way too many relationship partners dig in trying to prove they are right versus taking inventory of their underlying toxic thoughts that may be sabotaging the relationship.
In my relationship book, Why Can't You Read My Mind? I identified nine proven toxic thought patterns. Here are three brief examples:
- Jumping to conclusions: "You weren't honest about your boss being on your case; how do I know you're not hiding something else, like cheating on me!"
- Label-slinging one another: "You're lazy." "Oh yeah, well, you're a narcissist."
- The blame game: "If you didn't lose your job, we'd have been able to buy a house instead of being stuck in this crappy apartment."
In healthy relationships, partners learn to keep their toxic thoughts and words in check by reframing their partners. This means seeing their positive qualities and giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Since you are reading this post, you have likely realized that not all relationships are healthy and worth saving. If you want to end your relationship and have been feeling stuck because you've been struggling to do so, read on to see what may be getting in your way.
Realizing It Is Time to Throw in the Relationship Towel
If your relationship is causing significant emotional or physical harm, I encourage you to consider ending it to prioritize your well-being. Even so, people often find themselves struggling to follow through with breaking up. Consider the famous, classic song by Neil Sedaka entitled, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do."
Let's now look at some reasons why ending things is so hard for couples, even those who are hurting badly.
10 Reasons Why Partners Struggle to Break Up
Breaking up with someone can be a difficult decision, and it's not uncommon for people to struggle with it. Here are some common reasons why people may struggle to break up:
- Fear of being alone: Some people may worry about being single and not having anyone to share their life with, so they stay in a relationship even if it's not working.
- Attachment: People can become emotionally attached to their partners and feel a strong connection that can be hard to let go of.
- Guilt: People may feel guilty about hurting their partner's feelings and may worry about the impact a breakup may have on their partner.
- Dependency: People who are dependent on their partner, either financially or emotionally, may struggle to end the relationship due to fears of losing that support.
- Uncertainty about the future: Some people may feel unsure about what their life will look like after a breakup and may worry about the unknown.
- Lack of self-esteem: Individuals who struggle with low self-esteem may feel like they won't find anyone else or feel undeserving of a healthy relationship.
- Hope for the future: Some people may hold onto a false hope that things will get better and may be reluctant to end the relationship before giving it more time.
- The pull of unhealthy love: Some people may still have strong feelings of love for their partner, even if the relationship isn't working, and may find it difficult to end things.
- Financial dependence: If a person is financially dependent on their partner, breaking up may mean a loss of financial stability and independence, which can be a significant challenge.
- Social pressure: Sometimes, people feel like they can't break up because they fear the judgment of their friends and family or the pressure to maintain a certain image or status.
Every relationship is unique, and ending a relationship is best done with thoughtful consideration. I hope that seeing the above reasons for resistance to moving on will help you be less hard on yourself if you are struggling to break up. If your heart is truly not into being in the relationship anymore, then you may find clarity by reflecting on the reasons described above that may be hindering you from moving on to a healthier partner. The more you challenge those 10 thinking traps, the less challenging it will be to let go and move on.
Alberta SJ Van der Watt, Annerine Roos, Stefan Du Plessis, Eric Bui, Elmien Lesch & Soraya Seedat (2022) An Attachment Theory Approach to Reframing Romantic Relationship Breakups in University Students: A Narrative Review of Attachment, Neural Circuitry, and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 21:2, 129–150, DOI: 10.1080/15332691.2021.1908197
Bernstein, J. (2003) Why Can't You Read My Mind?, Overcoming the 9 Toxic Thought Patterns that Get in the Way of a Loving Relationship, DeCapo Books, New York, NY.
Munusamy, Shalini, Sobana Jeyagobi, Isa Naina Mohamed, Jaya Kumar Murthy, Sheau Tsuey Chong, Hilwa Abdullah, and Mohamamad Rahim Kamaluddin. 2022. "Underlying Familial Factors for Aggressive Behavior in Romantic Relationships: A Systematic Review" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 19, no. 8: 4485. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19084485