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Why Can’t You Leave an Unhealthy Relationship?

Here are several reasons you can’t leave your relationship, even though you know it’s unhealthy and even abusive.

“I’m a prisoner in this relationship, I don’t know how to get away from him, I know he loves me, but I’m so tired of being controlled,” says Amy on How to Break Up With a Married Man and Heal Your Heart. “Recently I realized that this really is an unhealthy relationship because he won’t leave his wife. He loves her and his kids. And yet I can’t leave him because I love him. He keeps saying all the right things to keep me in this relationship, and even he says it’s unhealthy for both of us. I don’t feel like I’m ever going to be free if his hold on me. What is wrong with me?”

There are many reasons women can’t just walk away from a man — even when it’s the unhealthiest of relationships. To truly be free, you need to figure out why you’re staying. What is your motivation? What are you getting from this relationship that you don’t believe you’ll get from anyone or anywhere else? I can’t tell you what your reasons for staying are, but I can share some research I found on why women stay in unhealthy relationships…

One of the most interesting research studies shows that fear of being alone is one reason women stay in unhealthy relationships. Women who are worried about single for the rest of their lives will settle for less, and even tolerate abuse from a man.

Loneliness is a painful experience, especially if you aren’t comfortable or happy being alone. The best way to combat this is to learn how to be single after a relationship ends.

Why You Can’t Leave an Unhealthy Relationship

The following three reasons for not leaving unhealthy relationships are the most common ones. However, just because they’re common doesn’t mean they relate to you!

The only person who can truly know why you can’t leave an unhealthy relationship is you. You need to dig into your own psyche and find your inner truth. You won’t find your own answers anywhere but inside you.

But, these reasons many women can’t leave unhealthy relationships may help you uncover your own truths…

You blame yourself for the relationship problems

In her comment on my article about dating an unhealthy, unavailable man, Amy said something is wrong with her. If she believes that, then she’s more likely to stay in an unhealthy relationship because it reinforces her belief. It’s a never-ending cycle!

There’s nothing wrong with you. You are caught in a powerful dynamic of love and hope, abuse and disappointment. Your boyfriend or husband knows how to control and manipulate you, and he knows how to keep blaming you so you stay in this relationship.

This doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. It means you’re hopeful that he’ll keep his promise and change his behavior. You love him and want a future with him. You feel like you can’t leave this relationship – no matter how unhealthy it is – because you’re caught in a cycle that is actually normal for abusers and their partners.

Your boyfriend or husband blames you

Sometimes men blame women for causing problems and creating unhealthy relationships. They say the woman is stupid, bad, or worthless. Women believe their partners, and so they stay.

What does your partner say about you, your relationship, your life together? What do you believe? Take time to write down what you know is true, what you believe in your heart and soul. Write down what your boyfriend or husband says to you…and write down your own truth. Are they the same? Where are your beliefs coming from?

Take time to sort through what he says versus what you know is true in your life and relationship. This is how you will get healthy and strong – emotionally, spiritually, and even physically.

You can’t see past the hurdles

Here’s what clinical psychologist Craig Malkin wrote about why women stay in unhealthy relationships:

Why Can’t You Leave an Unhealthy Relationship?

Why Women Stay in Unhealthy Relationships

“There are other, well-documented hurdles to women leaving their abusive partner. For one, the abused are often cut off from friends and financial supports. For another, they’re often afraid to leave, and with good reason (more than 70% of domestic violence injuries and murders happen after the victim has left). One can’t escape a dangerous situation if it feels safer to stay. But perhaps one of the most formidable and dangerous obstacles abuse victims face is their own searing guilt and shame; they’re incredibly adept at blaming themselves for the abuse.”

This is from his article, Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships?  Dr Malkin also says that many women cling to the positive traits of their partners, such as his love, dependability, and seemingly sincere apologies.

Tell me: why can’t you leave your unhealthy relationship?

It’s your turn: list five reasons you’re staying in this unhealthy relationship with your partner. Learn why women stay in unhealthy relationships, and start figuring out what your motivations are. You don’t have to make plans to leave…just start forgiving yourself and stop blaming yourself. Be gentle with yourself.

And, keep talking about your relationship. Tell your family and friends – people you trust. Don’t let your partner isolate you. You will find strength if you reach outwards for help and support. Remember that you are stronger than you know. Your strength may be hidden or deeply buried, but it’s there. You have the power to change your life, and you deserve to be surrounded by beauty, love, and respect.

If you can’t leave, read How to Be Happy Even in an Unhealthy Relationship.

Your comments are welcome below. I’d love to hear from you! I can’t give relationship advice, but you will find it helpful to write your story. Writing can help you sort through your emotions and figure out what you truly believe about yourself, your relationship, and your partner.

Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.

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6 thoughts on “Why Can’t You Leave an Unhealthy Relationship?”

  1. I can relate why women stay in a unhealthy relationship. My ex husband is verbally abusive towards me n my 2 boys. He can’t hold on a job for more than 3 months. N went to jail B4 for molesting sb. Being a Christian , I always believe that we must be a supportive wif, N we must forgive.
    Later in our marriage, he committed adultery. But I still held on because God says in the bible he hates divorce, N that the children need a father figure at home.
    13 years into our marriage n I m so unhappy. I cant stand the sight of him N even hate being with him physically. The last straw came when he hit my son over a trivial matter n he accused me of sleeping with the mechanic who came over to repair sth at my house!
    I tell myself’ if God loves me so much, will he want to see suffer ?” I called the lawyer n started the divorce process.
    Ladies who r going through similar situation,
    Don’t be afraid to leave if u r suffering. Take one step at a time. Ps don’t lie 2 yourself n say “maybe he will change” . If he wants to change, he would have done it long time ago.
    It has been 3+ years after our divorce. I never regret my decision . Pray n do something today. U deserve happiness. ?

  2. Dear Melanie,

    You inspired me to write an article to help women leave unhealthy relationships! I’m sorry you’re struggling, but I hope this post helps you move forward in your life…You really are better off without him, and you CAN be happy and free again!


    Take good care of yourself, for you are worth taking good care of.

    – Laurie

  3. I knew my relationship was bad from the start but I kept hoping he’d change. He was nice a lot of the time, but mostly just indifferent. I could tell he didn’t really care about me. I loved him anyway, and I hoped my love would make a difference. But, it didn’t, and I’m better off out of this relationship. He broke up with me to be with another woman. I know I’m better off….so why can’t I stop loving him???

  4. It sounds like you don’t have the energy to make it through the day, much less leave your marriage. That’s one thing I haven’t written about: the need to leave an unhealthy relationship, but the lack of energy because of chronic stress.

    You’re right that chronic stress takes a toll on your body! And your mind, spirit, and soul.

    One thing that struck me about your comment is that you can’t be responsible for what your husband does after you leave (if you find the strength to leave!). How he deals with it is up to him, because he’s an adult. That’s not something you need to pick up; you have enough to deal with as it is!

    How can you start replenishing your energy and strength, so you can take care of yourself?

  5. I too am in a bad marriage that I want to and need to leave. We have been married for 13 years of increasing hell with each passing year. While we dated I broke it off and started seeing a guy that was married but separated..( ah, low self esteem and image) Found out I was pregnant, told both men the truth and that I expected nothing from them. The separated on went back to his wife, the one I ended up marrying said he would raise the baby as his own. So I married the ass knowing it was the wrong thing to do. I will be honest, He is an alcoholic..I figured I would be widowed by now. He is not physically violent but verbal and emotional abusive to both my son and I. The baby ended up being the married guys which he knows but has told no one and has helped or assisted me in no way over the past 13 yrs. We have continued a relationship during most of this time. I have just recently broken it off with him. and am hurting from being let down by another person..I understand the root issue is that the relationship didn’t meet my expectations. I am hurt because I don’t think my expectations are asking to much at all. anyway my current situation is this…I am frozen in this awful marriage, my child is suffering greatly ( that alone should motivate me to get out) and I feel as though with each passing day I am slowly dieing. I know I am very depressed and probably should be on meds but I don’t like the way they make me feel. I am so worried about how my spouse will react to me leaving…I would not put it past him to become violent and I worry about him committing suicide. Even though I know If he chose to end his life that that is his choice and has nothing to do with me, there is still that large part of me that would still feel responsible..I was the straw that broke the camels back…yes it is his fault that we are where we are right now. I have blame too but If he would of straightened up and been the husband and father he should be then we would not be in the position we are..I am very bitter at him for how he has treated us over the years. He sickens me and my son hates him. The GUILT>>>that’s whats holding me back. I also struggle with the energy to leave..I have been living with what I believe would be considered “Chronic Stress” for 13 yrs now..that takes a total on a body. I feel so depleted…and when I do finally leave, I am going to need either strength or anger to propel me forward AND keep me going the right direction…AWAY from HIM!! Right now I can’t even make it thru most days without having a breakdown. Of course we are financially bound so that makes things more difficult too.

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