If becoming stuck in unhealthy relationships seems to be a repetitive cycle in your life, it can be a useful exercise to examine your past relationships and pay attention to the kinds of beliefs and behaviours they have re-enforced. What can often be the case is that certain ways of behaving become extremely normalised within our lives, either because of what we saw growing up or because of unhealthy formative romantic relationships.
It’s important to acknowledge that in cases of abuse or domestic violence, the victim is never, ever to blame for the manipulative actions and behaviour of the abuser. That much is simple. But when it comes to two-way unhealthy relationships, where communication is poor, intimacy issues arise, lying is commonplace and you struggle to trust each other, there’s lots of volatile emotions, and it doesn’t bring out the best side of either partner, then there may well be space for introspection, self-awareness and personal healing.
What Makes An Unhealthy Relationship?
It might be helpful to think of relationships as falling on a spectrum, ranging from “healthy” on one end of the spectrum to “abusive” on the other end, with “unhealthy” occupying the murky space in the middle. Healthy relationships are mutual ones in which communication is open and welcome, trust is a fundamental pillar, respect is free-flowing, boundaries are respected and both individuals are regarded and treated as equals.
On the other hand, unhealthy relationships may involve:
- Expectations and ways of communicating that don’t align
- One or both partners becoming easily annoyed or angered
- Verbal altercations, name-calling, accusations
- Volatile, up-and-down emotions rationalised as “passion” or “drama”
- Lying, dishonesty and distrust – covering up your behaviour or feeling compelled to snoop on your partner
- Feeling as though you’re walking on eggshells around your partner
You may find yourself drawn to a particular type of person that you know isn’t good for you, but it’s what you’re familiar with. You may realise that you seek out these kinds of people or relationships. It’s predictable, it’s uncomfortably comfortable.
Disclaimer again: I’m not talking about willingly entering or choosing manipulative, abusive relationships, I’m referring to much more overt behaviour and volatility – disregarding “red flags” despite your own internal alarm bells going off and perhaps warnings from others.
Why Do We Get Stuck In Unhealthy Relationships?
So why might somebody repeatedly end up in unhealthy relationships despite seeing ‘red flags’? Here are 5 possible reasons that the these cycles might persist…
1. You didn’t have a good model of a healthy relationship growing up
Perhaps your parents had a volatile or toxic relationship, and as a result you never saw what healthy communication or authentic intimacy looks like. When this is your only framework, seeking out these familiar traits and behaviours may become an unconscious drive.
2. You had a relationship early on in life that left you with some unhealed wounds
Whether it was a familial/caring relationship or a romantic/sexual one, perhaps your boundaries were crossed, the other person had difficulty expressing their emotions healthily, or you were left feeling abandoned. Fear of abandonment can manifest in lots of different ways and cause us to act out, or say things we don’t mean in an attempt to protect ourselves. Not expressing how we feel can leave us feeling very alone or angry, which spills out in other negative ways. You may have experienced trauma within a relationship, in which you case you should allow time to explore and heal these experiences outside of a new relationship.
3. Due to your upbringing or past experiences, you might be unaware that the things you’re experiencing in a relationship are unacceptable
Relationships of this nature may be part of your paradigm. If you have been surrounded by unhealthy relationships for most of your life, you’re unlikely to know that the behaviours are not healthy, normal, or acceptable. You may believe certain behaviours are a product of love and care, rather than an inability to communicate, maintain boundaries or process emotions.
4. You might have internalised the narrative that you’re “unlucky in love” or you “attract bad people”
Our internal stories do have an impact on our behaviour, maybe more than we realise. They can keep us stuck in a fixed, deterministic mindset rather than looking for opportunities to change, grow and have new experiences. When it comes to relationships, you might have a core subconscious belief about yourself that prevents you from feeling truly worthy or deserving of love, or a healthy relationship, even if you consciously think you do. This can be explored further in a safe, therapeutic setting with a qualified practitioner.
5. You might not really know what you want from a partner, what you truly need out of a relationship
This also links back to not having a good, healthy model of a relationship. Your personal needs as an individual may have been overlooked and so you struggle to identify and voice what it is you actually want for yourself and need from a partner. You might not realise you are allowed to ask and to want good things for yourself.
The great news is that the past does not have to define you, and old patterns of behaviour that do not serve you can be left behind or changed in favour of more positive ones.
Understanding and acknowledging how your experiences have shaped you and your core beliefs is a very powerful tool, as this self-awareness can help you to become more discerning, more assertive, more intuitive and bring about deeper levels of self care in terms of relationship boundaries.
If this is a journey you’re ready to embark upon yourself, you are invited to book in a free 15 minute Discovery call with me here so that we can talk a little bit about your situation and how I can help. If you’re happy to continue with me, we can start working together. I hope you found this post helpful, and no matter what you decide I’m sending you all the well wishes on your healing journey.