Why Staying in That Bad Relationship Was Actually Good for You
Can bad relationships be beneficial?
Don’t get me wrong. Bad relationships are bad, and negative experiences lower the quality of our lives and our overall level of happiness and satisfaction. And I am sure you had your reasons why you stayed in a bad relationship. After all, everyone who has remained one day more than the minute they realized “this is a bad relationship,” they had valid reasons to remain. I have noticed that when you write to me about a bad relationship you had in the past, it’s usually with regret, sadness, and guilt that you stayed for such a long time. Sometimes you even ask, “why did I waste so many good years?” or beat up yourself in many different ways. I totally get how one can stay in an unsatisfactory relationship and fully empathize with you. But this line of thinking is not helping you exercise your resilience muscle; in fact, all it does is make you feel an array of negative emotions and stuck.
Remember, all bad relationships started off as good and promising! Maybe you had some signs in the beginning, a premonition, your intuition was nagging you to listen, maybe a friend mentioned something, but you were not ready to listen or see the signs. That’s OK! It just happens. You can’t continue beating yourself up for something that looked like a good choice. You gave the relationship a chance. You gave yourself a chance. Then you realized it wasn’t going to work out. So now you are out of this relationship, and this is what truly counts.
Stay with the fact that you are out of it now. It doesn’t matter how long it took because this is how much time you needed. If you had ended it sooner, then you could be plagued by the question “what if I had stayed? Would things have turned out for the best?”
Lessons Learned Through a Bad Relationship
There’s always something good even in the most difficult experiences. Even bad relationships have their good moments, those precious times that make you feel hopeful that something could change, and things would get a turn for the better. You are not supposed to stay because you expect to feed emotionally on these crumbs when you can have a full healthy meal. But you can always remember that the way you look at things and interpret them is what matters most. So if you can see the good in a past relationship, that was hurtful and unsatisfactory, it may be easier to be more lenient with yourself. And it may help you see the good in your present situation.
A bad relationship helps you see clearly what your emotional needs are. Often people get into relationships without knowing ahead of time what it is they are looking for, or what their deepest needs are. It’s easy to stay on the surface, the first few times of dating, the lust, the intensity of it all. But are you satisfied with this relationship? In the long run, do you feel valued and respected? Do you have fun or just chores and shared responsibilities? Having a relationship is not a synonym for being in a relationship. Being in a relationship means that you are psychologically alive, you have energy, your needs are met, and that’s the fuel that keeps you going.
A bad relationship shows your inner strength. You stayed in that relationship, for your own valid reasons. You had to face adversity. You had to endure unexpected difficulties. It was tough, but you made it. You are here today to tell us, to remember the experience. Don’t just focus on the negative stuff. You had no control over it. Rather, focus on your strength, your ability to see that you pulled it through, that it didn’t kill the best in you. Somehow, coming out of this experience you are a survivor of emotional disaster, and your inner light continued burning, showing you the true way.
You gain resilience. Being resilient doesn’t mean that you are immune to pain or adversity. Life has up-hills when we least expect them. A resilient person doesn’t feel defeated the moment they see difficulty, because they can interpret the situation as something they can respond to. The resilient person is aware and conscious of a situation. This clarity of mind allows them to deal with it a lot more effectively, which is exactly what you will do in your next relationship.
You Learned that you don’t belong to the other person and the other person doesn’t belong to you. A primal human need is that for closeness and emotional connection. This is hardwired into our brains, as without this ability we wouldn’t survive as a species- babies depend on their caregivers for survival, and that’s successful through attachment and emotional connection. We even have produced in our bodies a special hormone that promotes love and a sense of connection to another, oxytocin. In adult life, we choose the connections that promote closeness and belonging by investing to people who can reciprocate and feel good in their presence. Knowing that people don’t belong to us, we can free ourselves from toxic relationships and move on.
You learned that you really do not want in a partner. Unless you have the experience, the thought of it is just a product of your brain activity. By this, I mean that in theory, you may have a list of characteristics that you desire in your partner. This person may actually be the perfect candidate, as they fulfill all your requirements. But you can usually learn the hard way what’s that one characteristic, the one behavior (if not more!) that you absolutely cannot tolerate in a partner. And that leads to another, related and very important life lesson you had the opportunity to learn because of your bad relationship.
You learned that you could not change anyone who doesn’t want to change. Entering a relationship with the hope that the other person will change for the best over time, or, even worse, hoping that we can change them, is one of the biggest fallacies leading to disappointment and heartache. This life lesson is learned the hard way, being in a difficult or unsatisfactory relationship, where you test out your hopes and your dreams, only to realize they are just that: hopes and dreams and the other person doesn’t intend to join in. The only person you can change is yourself, and it’s worth the investment.
You saw firsthand the dark side of life, and now you can appreciate it more fully. I am not exaggerating- if you are in a bad romantic relationship, that can ruin your whole life satisfaction, your happiness, and even your other relationships. After this type of experience, the take away is that life is to be enjoyed and appreciated. Having stepped out of the bad relationship affords you exactly that: the opportunity to take in the small pleasures of life and value them for what they are.
One thing I hope you will learn from your bad relationship after reading this article is that the important thing is this:
Forgive but don’t forget and don’t regret. Which may be tricky, as people are afraid that by forgiving they will forget their experience, and that’s like getting their ex run away with murder. Their own psychological murder, while they were in this bad relationship with this person. Forgiving is a two-pronged situation: you forgive yourself for being in such a relationship, you forgive yourself for not seeing what you need to discern earlier, you forgive yourself it took you such a long time to get out of it. You also forgive your ex-partner, not because their performance didn’t matter, but because this is their problem, not yours. You just happened to be there, endure the relationship, while the other person had their issues and difficulties that were projected onto you or involved you. They were not because of you. How do I know? From clinical experience and working with people who have been on either side in a bad relationship. The act of forgiveness releases you from being a prisoner of dark memories, negative feelings, self-accusations, even plans of revenge. Forgiveness allows you to come to peace with yourself. It doesn’t mean you forget the whole thing; you just take it at the backburner, deciding consciously to give it less attention. Last, but don’t least, I hope the bad relationships has taught you not to regret. The reason I say this is simple- if you go through life regretting every wrong move, every wrong decision, every bad relationship, then you live your life backward, stuck in your past. And you want to live life now, in the here and now, consciously, mindfully, so that you can enjoy the present, the gift that you have in your hands.
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