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I’m unhappy in my relationship but I’m scared of being alone

Tags: relationship quality, breakup

Despite our best efforts, we sometimes find ourselves in relationships that aren’t working. We’ve made compromises, tried new things, and even changed other areas of our lives to accommodate the relationship, but it still doesn’t seem to fix things.

When you absolutely know that a relationship isn’t working, it might seem like the obvious solution is to end things and move on. However, if the idea of not being in a relationship feels scarier than being in a bad relationship, you may find yourself clinging onto something that isn’t good for you.

Committing to a relationship is a big decision, and one that has to be made several times over the course of the relationship. As things progress, you reassess – if it’s still making you happy, you carry on; if it’s not, you make adjustments, or you end the relationship.

Making a commitment involves a range of factors. As well as thinking about how good the relationship is, you also have to consider the rest of your life. Think about your opportunities and your obligations, such as whether you are planning to move away or if you have work or study commitments that require a lot of your time. Consider also how well supported you feel in the relationship, and how much support you have available to offer in return [1].

Remaining in a relationship isn’t always the right decision. The quality of your relationship affects every other area of your life so, while a good relationship is almost always worth fighting for, a relationship that hurts you could be doing more damage than you’re aware of.

Many people remain in unsatisfying relationships because of a fear of being alone. This is known as attachment anxiety [2]. For someone with attachment anxiety, the need to have a partner can feel more important than the quality of the relationship itself. There’s a sense of security, often misplaced, that comes from simply being in a relationship, even if that relationship causes you more pain than it’s worth [1].

People with attachment anxiety are more likely to settle for an unhappy relationship. If you’re afraid of being alone, you’re more likely to ignore the more negative aspects of a relationship and put your energy into something that’s not working [2]. This might seem like optimism but it could leave you stuck in an unhealthy situation for longer than necessary.

One sign that you might have attachment anxiety is if you tend to make more of the relationship status than the relationship quality [2]. Think about the early stages of relationships you’ve been in. After a few dates, do you find yourself anxious to start using words like ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’? This phase can be exciting but when the labels start to outweigh the quality, it might be a clue that being in a relationship at all is more important to you than being in a good relationship.

If you’ve found yourself in a relationship that you’re no longer enjoying, take a look at the other aspects of your life and see how things are going [1]. Are you doing well with your work or study? Are you seeing your friends and family as often as you’d like to? Are you keeping up with your hobbies and whatever else is important to you?

A fulfilling relationship should enhance the other areas of your life, not replace them. There are always compromises to be made, but if you know that your relationship is getting in the way of other important areas of your life, and you’ve done everything you can to try and make it work, you might want to give some serious thought as to why it’s important for you to stay in it. If it’s just because you’re afraid of being alone, it could be time to take the plunge back into single life and reconnect with yourself before you look for something new.

References

[1] Joel, S., MacDonald, G., & Shimotomai, A. (2011). Conflicting Pressures on Romantic Relationship Commitment for Anxiously Attached Individuals. (Report). Journal of Personality, 79(1), 51-74.

[2] Spielmann, S., MacDonald, G., Maxwell, J., Joel, S., Peragine, D., Muise, A., . . . King, Laura. (2013). Settling for Less Out of Fear of Being Single. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(6), 1049-1073.

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