I recently published an article called “Why Do Some People Say They Want to Break Up With Someone For a Long Time & Then Never Do It?”
In that essay, I talked about some reasons I’d heard from others or seen in action that could be potential answers to that question:
- A fear of change
- A fear of being single and/or having to date again (i.e., “dating sucks”)
- Procrastination that results because you’re dreading having to hurt someone
- Difficulty explaining why you’re breaking up with the person or coming up with a good reason
- Concern about the future awkwardness of any shared connections
- Simply changing your mind a bunch of times after you’ve announced it to people
- Linguistic issues or differences in the way we view breakups (people thinking it’s not a big deal to talk about a breakup if you have no intention to do it)
At the conclusion of the piece, I admitted that I was still trying to hash out reasons for myself and that the article was complete speculation. I invited readers to weigh in on anything I missed.
And you really did.
I received a ton of comments and private messages via various social media platforms offering these missing pieces, an additional 12 reasons to add to the 7 I identified in the first article.
Here’s what you said.
1. There Are Significant Financial Barriers to Leaving
Sometimes you live with them and can’t afford to move out. You are stuck. No matter how done with them you are, you don’t have a way to be financially separate from them, so you stay in a relationship that makes you miserable.
Or alternatively, as some of you offered, maybe your partner can’t support themselves, and the last thing you want to do is render them homeless or unable to live on their own. So even though you’re done with them, you allow them to stay with you and you support them financially.
2. You Still Love the Person
Some of you proposed love as a reason, saying that love, dislike, pain, and hardship can all co-exist in a single relationship. You also said that, “But I still love them,” can be a factor especially if you have a long history with someone, and you’re holding out hope that things can swing back the other way with time, persistence, and patience.
3. Sunk Cost Fallacy
As I mentioned in an earlier article, it’s harder to walk away from something that isn’t working when you already have a lot of invested in it. This is also known as the sunk cost fallacy.
The trouble with sunk cost fallacy is that it’s logical in one sense — it is aggravating to throw away hard work and investment, no matter how doomed the current prognosis is. But it really does us no favors as the current loss can be much greater if we don’t walk away.
However, it is extremely common and definitely could be a factor in situations where someone spends years on the verge of a breakup that never happens.
4. Not Trusting Your Own Judgment of the Situation
I also heard from readers who said that part of the issue can be when someone doesn’t trust their own judgement of the situation. This can be for a number of reasons — ranging from garden variety lack of self-confidence up to things like psychological diagnoses or a history of prior trauma.
5. Concerns About the Mental Health Impact of a Breakup on Your Partner
I heard from a few folks who indicated that either they or someone they knew had been in a situation where they worried that the person they were seeing would take their life if they broke up with them. So part of their process was waiting until things stabilized for their partner mental health-wise before ending the relationship.
6. When the Relationship Is a Marriage, Hesitancy to Act Can Be Wrapped Up In Beliefs About Marriage
Marriage holds a special place in the cultural imagination for many people. For some folks, it can be particularly difficult to end a marriage. Because they vowed to be in it “til death do us part.”
Even if their own feelings on marriage aren’t that way, they still might be surrounded by people who are, whose opinions they value. Because of this, divorcing could lead to a feeling of being a “failure at marriage” to others or even in their own private thoughts.
7. Because You’re Getting Something Valuable Out of the Arrangement, Something Worth Suffering For
There was a general theme in many of your insights that people will stay in situations that are unpleasant because they’re also getting something out of it that’s worth whatever they have to put up with to get it.
Or, as the analogy goes, the juice is worth the squeeze.
8. Because the Sex Is Good
While most of the proverbial “juice” wasn’t mentioned by name, I also heard from readers who were quite a bit more specific about something they could be staying for in a difficult relationship. They admitted that they will stay in bad relationships for good sex.
9. Fear of Confrontation and Safety Concerns
Unfortunately, there are situations where a person doesn’t feel safe leaving their partner due to concerns surrounding emotional or physical safety. And it’s understandable. Studies conducted of people in abusive relationships have found that the number one most dangerous time for an abuse victim is when they leave their abuser and shortly afterward.
Even though there are a number of resources set up to help abuse victims remain safe, many of them are underutilized — victims either don’t know they exist or don’t trust the resources’ ability to protect them.
Here’s a link to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (US-based). Their number is 1-800-799-7233 (1-800-799-SAFE). On their website, in addition to providing their own resource for abuse victims and lists of other resources, they have many good articles about important safety topics for people in abusive relationships.
10. You’re Just Venting and Really Have No Desire to Leave
Readers weighed in to say that it’s very similar to when people complain about other annoying things and then never take any steps to correct the problem or improve their situation. One reader likened it (quite aptly, I think) to folks who complain about their awful jobs and then not only never leave them but never even look for another one.
In these cases, the complaining doesn’t foretell any corrective action; instead, it takes the place of that corrective action as a form of psychological coping with no steps to change taken.
11. Not Wanting to Deal with the Logistics of Splitting Up
If you’re very enmeshed, and you share finances and/or a household, there’s a lot to sort through during a breakup. And none of it is fun. Joint property, rental agreements, child custody, shared pets, vacations you’re planning on going on, business ventures, etc., all need to be deal with post breakup.
It’s easy to put that off indefinitely.
12. Not Wanting to Be “the Bad Guy”
As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a common view about breakups that says the following:
- Breakups are bad in and of themselves.
- We should avoid them at all costs.
- In every breakup, there’s a good person and a bad person.
- There must be a winner and loser in the court of public opinion.
I personally have come to a point in my life where I feel like this is overly simplistic and isn’t helpful for me or others to believe that. However, I live in the same world as anyone else, and I can’t force other people to stop looking at it that way.
And I can see how concerns about being the “bad guy” — or at least being viewed that way by others watching the breakup — could cause paralysis and procrastination.
In the past, I’ve seen this turn into the unhappy half of a relationship doing whatever they can to try to subtly manipulate the other person into breaking up with them so that their ex is now the bad guy.
Like I said, this cultural script around breakups doesn’t do us any favors. But it’s one many people believe and one that has some challenging consequences.
Thanks again, folks! You had a lot to say, and I appreciate it. As anticipated, I missed a lot in my first article, and I’m so glad to have more of the picture.
It would seem that there are a wide variety of reasons that a person could indefinitely postpone breaking up with someone while simultaneously saying that they want to.
Exploring some of them was an interesting exercise — and one that shone a light into the various reasons that people not only continue relationships past the point where they’re happy but why they even have them in the first place.