Why Do People Go Back to Bad Relationships?

Individuals return to abusive relationships for many reasons.
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The highest rate of abuse (physical, sexual or psychological) by a partner occurs with females, ages 16-24, according to the statistics reported on the Love is Respect website. But abuse happens at all ages with both males and females as survivors. Despite experiencing abuse, some individuals remain in these harmful relationships while others may leave but eventually return. It is difficult to understand the reason why anyone would return to an abusive relationship, especially if you haven’t been in such a situation. But the reasons for returning to a bad relationship are complicated.

1 Childhood Experiences

Many individuals grow up believing that being treated in a way that is disrespectful or otherwise abusive is normal based on an unhealthy relationship with the parent or between the parental figures. An individual’s first model of love is the relationship she develops with the primary parent. If it is an unhealthy one the child will likely grow up believing that it is normal to be treated in this way by people who love them. So if they leave a bad relationship, they may return if the partner can convince the individual that they love them despite any unacceptable behavior.

2 Fear of Being Alone

Some individuals remain in bad relationships because they have issues with abandonment or are afraid of being alone. They may also be afraid of change. These individuals who establish a pattern of getting into and staying in bad relationships are likely “relationships addicts,” as relationship expert Susan Peabody discusses in her book “Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships.” Their fear of being alone will motivate them to return to the lover who with whom they had a bad relationship or repeat the pattern by choosing someone else with whom they can play out the same relationship dynamics.

3 Intimacy Issues

Many individuals who are in long term relationships have a fear of true intimacy. Trusting someone enough to let them see “the real you” requires a great deal of vulnerability. This is scary for many people. So being in a bad relationship allows them to still be with a partner, though in a superficial way while avoiding true intimacy. Susan Peabody refers individuals who have a history of these types of relationship “ambivalent love addicts.” Ambivalent love addicts crave love but are afraid of intimacy. They spend a lot of time obsessed with romantic fantasies about their emotionally unavailable partners.

4 Increased Risk of Danger

Individuals who are emotionally or physically abusive relationships may be fearful of leaving because of the partner’s implied or real threat of physical harm to the individual or their family members, according to the Love is Respect website. The risk of danger increases when an abused partner leaves the relationship. So an individual may return to an abusive relationship in an attempt to avoid further harm to self and/or other loved ones.

Sonya Lott, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, who offers online and in office counseling to individuals struggling with grief, loss or a life transition. She also facilitates mental health workshops for educational, professional, and community groups and maintains a blog on her website www.drsonyalott.com.