Bad Love: Breaking Down The Behaviors That Keep Us In Unhappy Relationships

The habit of continuing to make the same mistakes and getting into unhappy relationships is a pattern that haunts far too many humans. The psychology...

What are some of the most common behaviours that keep us in unhappy relationships? According to psychologists, it’s the fear of being alone and a hunger for approval and intimacy. Two very human emotions.

These are apparently so strong in the majority of us (whether we realize it or not) that even if our partners aren’t providing us with either of them, many of us will still cling to any crumb we can. . . anything that even fractionally resembles what we crave. We think, “But I don’t want to wait! I want that closeness and intimacy right now.We want it so badly that we try to take it from anyone we find attractive, regardless of how badly they may treat us.

Obviously, this isn’t healthy. Successful, healthy relationships are clear, on both parts, of the difference between truth and abuse. They’re the ones in which you and your partner are able to call each other out on bad behaviours because you know they’re taking place, and you can trust your partner not to lose their cool — in the long run, anyway — or do something even dumber as a knee-jerk reaction. They’re relationships in which both you and your partner grow in an ultimately positive (though sometimes painful) way, because of this devotion to honesty.

Yet it’s easier said than done. Many of us, after a certain period of time faring the world of relationships, come to recognize deeper patterns at play in ourselves. Looking back over them, as we often do on late nights that find us sleepless, we can’t help but wonder at this chain of familiar mistakes. Mistakes that we seem unable to stop making, time after time, even after we’ve pinpointed exactly what the problems are. . .

Here are 4 of the worst, from my own personal perspective. Ask yourself, honestly, if you’re exhibiting any of them, and then take it from there. 

1) Self-loathing

I keep finding myself in relationships with men who weigh down heavily on my insecurities in order to make themselves feel better, or because they think they have the right to, as “wiser” people.

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” ~ Malcolm X

And of course, if they are doing this it works because I—being insecure—am having my greatest fears and negative thoughts about myself reinforced. Suddenly I’m confused, thinking that either they’re right and I am a horrible person with issues, or they’re simply self-involved with a superiority complex.

Either way, this evokes tension in the relationship and a lowering of self-worth, and, ironically enough, this is a key behavior trait that keeps many of us locked in these toxic relationships, continuously questioning our own value. Yet it is a vicious cycle, because if we’re not happy with who we are, our partners won’t be either, keeping this negative pattern playing itself out until it’s simply unbearable, and something finally gives– often long after it should have.

2) Opting To Settle

Some of us want so badly to be in a relationship that we settle–  even when the initial signs aren’t good.  While the act of ‘settling’ may indicate that we know what we want, the truth is that we don’t.

I am a list girl one hundred percent. Writing lists provides me with clarity, and there is something about seeing your needs written down on a page that makes them seem so definite and obvious. There it is! That is what I WANT. No, that is what I NEED.

A month ago I was examining—yet again—my love life and the cycles mentioned in the first point. So I made two lists: one of what I needed, and one of what I was sick of experiencing.

Some things that I needed included:

  • exclusivity with a man and a closed relationship built on admiration and respect
  • a healthy sexual dynamic
  • someone who was on my side and who I could confide in without judgment

While these may seem simple and obvious, it wasn’t until I examined them on paper that I realized I had not truly been in a relationship where all three of these were active.

Continuous negative relationship experiences included:

  • constantly being the one to help with no return
  • having secrets kept from me
  • being judged for the way I spoke or the beliefs I had

After looking at both of these lists, I realized that everything I had written down were side-effects of settling, yet getting out of a settle is no easy feat, and if you’re prone to obsessing over what could have been or clinging on to the memory of any small good thing about the relationship, sometimes a clean break is absolutely necessary.

3) Not Knowing What You Want and Need In a Relationship

Do you find yourself holding back things you want to say or do because the other person doesn’t seem to understand your passions? Do they put down key personality traits of yours that make up the core of who you are? Does your partner empathize with you? No one wants these things, but sometimes we convince ourselves it’s okay– because we’ve settled.

What was your childhood like? Did your family give you the attention and love you needed? If not, that is most likely what you are trying to fill. Be wary of partners who display traits of family members who let you down.

You should not be trying to replace someone, but rather find a partner who will encourage and support you in being the best version of yourself that you can be. They should, in fact, be a comrade as well as a lover, rather than display parental traits.

Motivational speaker Anthony Robbins says:

“Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something: they’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.”

That being said, this bit of wisdom applies to your partner as well. Even though you should not be in the ‘taking’ mind frame when entering a relationship, neither should your partner. If there is a balance of each partner giving, both will be satisfied and the relationship will grow.

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” ~ The Dalai Lama

Transparency and honestly are so incredibly important. Tell your partner what you need, be it emotional, sexual, etc. Always be up front, because bottling things up only creates dissatisfaction and distance in the end. If you’ve expressed what you need and desire, and are in turn ignored, the person you are with is not the right one and it is time to leave.

Don’t simply wish for what you need, expect to receive it. It is your right. The person who gives you what you need is the right one.

Work on your honesty and you will be less prone to staying in unhappy relationships.

4) Obsessing Over The Future

Maybe you are absolutely exhausted because you keep having to start over. There are so many things you want– that include having someone to be with –and time is passing you by quicker and quicker with each failed partner.

You tell yourself that you cannot do it again, that you cannot go through yet another breakup and healing period and jump back into the dating pool. Because every time you do that, the ‘getting-to-know-the-other-person’ process begins all over again, and with that comes the inevitable revelations of each other’s weaknesses and insecurities.

But unless you address the patterns that keep you in this unhappy loop, it will never end. If we were to explain this in psychological terms, it would be by using Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin’s “Field Theory“.

The theory focuses on patterns of interaction between a person and their environment. Lewin argued that a person’s development unavoidably affects their environment. As a person experiences changes in how they see themselves, instability may arise in their environment. This almost always leaves the person themselves feeling unstable.

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

In other words, changing the way you respond to things should change the way things respond to you. If you realize what you want and make an effort to project that, you will receive it. This will—early on—sift out potentially unhealthy partners.

Loneliness, by definition, is the person who lusts for closeness and intimacy—searches for it in every man or woman that is even slightly affected by their charms. They put their self-worth in the hands of men and women who take but don’t give.

Loneliness is the person who searches to replace an empty spot left by their youth, scavenging for a leader rather than a partner. It may be something you’ve heard time and time again—I know I have—but the biggest behavior that keeps us in unhappy relationships is simply not liking yourself.

You must take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else, and they must do the same.