Relationships will never not be difficult to figure out. Unlike a box of milk, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when things went sour—especially when you factor in the compromises and rationalizations you make to ensure it doesn’t fall apart.
After a while, you begin to wonder: Am I still here because I love her or because I’m afraid of what happens after I lose her? In an episode of BoJack Horseman, the character Wanda Pierce utters a line that every broken heart has tweeted or reblogged on Tumblr: “When you look at the world through rose-colored glasses, all of the red flags just look like flags.”
Below, three people share their stories, and psychology puts the pieces into harsh but necessary perspective.
“She was going to save me from a financially unstable future.”
Chris*, 22, comes from a lower-middle-class family whose parents had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. When he met his college girlfriend, who was three years his senior and lived in an affluent village in Alabang, there was a part of him that felt relieved. “I had true feelings for this girl even before I found out about how rich she was. But I really can’t deny that that was a factor in my enduring our last and worst year as a couple,” Chris shares. “By the time I hit the four-year mark with her, her parents had immense trust in me and even wanted me to help her run the family business someday. Even when I realized she and I were complete opposites, I hung on for fear of losing that sense of stability.”
It’s obviously unhealthy to view a partner as a cash cow, more so when the relationship no longer satisfies you emotionally. “Perceiving poor alternatives to the relationship enhances the likelihood of staying with an undesirable partner, and that [people] with low self-esteem perceive fewer desirable alternatives to their current relationships,” reports the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. It’s time to acknowledge that financial and professional success can only be truly earned by hard work, not convenient access to someone else’s bank account.
“She was physically abusive and no one would believe me.”
We always hear stories about physically abusive men, but women are very much capable of being abusive, too. Nash*, 23, was in a two-and-a-half-year relationship with a girlfriend who would cycle from clingy and caring to manipulative and unreasonable.
“She would get jealous of all my female friends, even the ones who were in my life before her,” Nash shares. “When I didn’t want to turn down nights out with friends or stop talking to other girls, she manipulated me into thinking I was the bad guy. She’d bang her fists on my chest and scratch up my face and arms. I found it so difficult to leave her because no one else would take me seriously when I told them about it.”
The line between par-for-the-course bickering and full-on emotional abuse is blurry, but as licensed professional counselor Andrea Matthews puts it: “Once the victim of abuse figures out what’s going on and starts thinking about leaving or seriously calls the abuser on their actions, the abuser will suddenly become apologetic and romantic and begin to woo them back into the fold. But as soon as the victim comes back around and begins to trust that they will no longer [be emotionally abused], the abuser starts back up with the same old patterns. Now, it is harder for the victim to leave, because they have begun [to believe again].”
The truth is, hoping for a miracle in a vicious cycle is futile. The best thing you can do for yourself is to find the strength to leave, especially if the relationship is bringing out the worst in both you and your partner.
“I didn’t want to be lonely again.”
Reb was in the best shape of his life when he met his girlfriend, but as their relationship went on, he had put on over 30 pounds.
“I was so afraid that if we would break up, nobody else would want me,” he says. She didn’t mind the weight gain, but their constant fighting was putting a damper on both his and his girlfriend’s mental health. “It got to a point where I would space out in the middle of a fight because I forgot what we were even fighting about. But I felt unattractive. I felt inadequate. I didn’t want to go back to the lonely single life.”
Low self-esteem, particularly with regard to physical attractiveness, can prove damaging. “Because it’s difficult for people with low self-esteem to believe they’re unconditionally loved and accepted by their partners, they tend to hold back from fully committing in relationships or making themselves vulnerable, or engage in [behaviors] that are unhelpful for relationships (e.g. testing their partners’ love),” says Alice Boyes, PhD, author of The Anxiety Toolkit.
But body love is an issue that can’t be magically fixed by external validation; rather, it’s something only you can work through. Whether it’s working out and eating right to rid yourself of physical weight, or breaking things off for good to rid yourself of emotional weight, the key is to let go of the things that are holding you back.
*Not their real names