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The Biggest Reasons Men Stay in Bad Relationships

by Jeannie Assimos - September 24, 2013

It is the uncomfortable question that your close friends and family usually will have no problem answering: “Why does he stay with her when it’s obvious they aren’t happy?”

That’s because they know you better than you know yourself — and your psyche is a master of disguise and camouflage, deflecting the kind of self-scrutiny you need to break free of the gravitational pull of a dead-end relationship. To help you uncover your own excuses and blind spots, here are six common reasons men stay stuck when they want to (and need to) move on:

1. Inertia. When stripped of its scientific veneer, this fancy word simply means: laziness. Or apathy, if you prefer. Technically, inertia is the state of motion — or lack thereof — that Newton described in his first law: all other influences being equal, an object (man) is either at rest (on the couch after a long day) or moves with a constant velocity (goes through the motions) unless acted on by an external force.

The problem is, the force required to start over isn’t external at all — it comes from within. This involves deciding what you can and can’t live with, setting boundaries and defending them. It means breaking habits that have kept you frozen in place too long. All of that adds up to work, compared to the relative ease of just making do. If you’ve been settling for second best, accept that it will cost you some effort to change that fact.

2. Fear of conflict. Few things in life are more conflict-filled — and painful and tumultuous — than breaking up with someone you’ve been dating for a while. Usually, the longer you’ve been with someone, the more conflicted the process is. It is a sad reality that many men (and women) stay in unfulfilling relationships month after month, year after year, because they fear the pain involved in breaking up and moving on. There are lots of reasons to stay in a relationship, but fear of conflict is not one of them.

3. Fear of change. No one enjoys throwing their lives into chaos and uncertainty. But the truth is, nothing ever stands still — not galaxies or mountains or seasons. The “status quo” as a tenable way of life is a fiction that always sets us at odds with the way the world really works. And it is a lousy foundation for a romantic relationship. Don’t let the anxiety that comes with change keep you from moving on when you know it is time.

4. Fear of dating. For most men, dating is stressful, especially if they have been off the market for a while. Sure, it can be exciting to meet new people, but dating also means putting yourself at the mercy of a stranger’s expectations — and running the risk that she won’t meet yours either. Playing out the possible scenarios in your head is often frightening enough to convince you to stay put rather than step out.

True, when dating, anything can happen — but that includes the possibility of finding the relationship that is right for you. You’ll never know unless you find the courage to try.

5. Fear of being alone. If you decide to leave a less-than-fulfilling relationship, then having a less-than-thrilling new dating experience is not the only possible outcome. For a period of time at least, you may simply be on your own. For some men that may sound like a welcome respite — but many are frightened at the prospect of going back to evenings alone in front of the TV.  Spending time with the wrong person can seem preferable to having no one to spend time with at all.

There may be a season of solitude ahead when you choose to make a romantic change. Do it anyway, and believe that’s not the end of the road.

6. Secret payoffs. Sadly, some men will stay in an unhealthy relationship because they derive hidden emotional or psychological benefit by doing so. Perhaps you enjoy playing a caretaker role with her or being a martyr. Maybe you don’t believe you deserve better. If you want to move on but can never seem to take the necessary steps, examine what you secretly stand to lose.

Only you can know for sure when it is time to change romantic course and start over. If you’ve arrived there, don’t let inertia or fear keep you from moving on to better prospects.