THE BLOG

An Open Letter to Any Woman Who Thinks She Stayed In a Bad Relationship For Too Long

02/12/2015 09:26 am ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015
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Dear Akirah,

The relationship was so bad for me... and I knew it! So why did I stay with my boyfriend for so long? How in the world did it take forever for me to finally leave?

-Feeling Silly

Dear Feeling Silly,

Anytime I get asked this question, it's usually laced with shame, regret, or anger. For some folks, it's hard to think about past relationships without cringing. If that's you, I'm sorry you're experiencing those emotions. I know it's far from fun.

If it's any consolation, I can definitely relate. A year ago, I spoke with an acquaintance who told me that after she met an ex-boyfriend of mine, she couldn't believe I had dated him for so long. "What were you thinking?!" she asked.

Ouch! I quickly ended the conversation and left, feeling super embarrassed. "Did she really just relationship-shame me?" I thought.

Whatever she was trying to do, it was incredibly unhelpful. At this point, I'm fully aware of my not-so-stellar dating history and certainly don't need an almost-stranger reminding me of those past mistakes. Similar to you, I've asked myself the very same question, over and over again:

"Why did I stay?"

Whether you're regretting your past a bit or having a Homer Simpson "Doh!" moment, you need to know that so many of us have been there. You are not alone.

For instance, consider the popular hashtag, #whyistayed. Folks from all over the world are tweeting why they stayed with abusive partners and in doing so, are bringing light to the complex nature of toxic relationships. Whether you consider your past relationship abusive or not, relationships, in general, are complicated. The decision to stay or go is rarely an easy, convenient, or pleasant one to make. Unfortunately, in some cases, it can even be life-threatening.**

Other women may not be experiencing abuse, but delay ending a relationship because they can't stop hoping things will change. When faced with a tough decision, doubt has a way of clouding our judgment. Bad relationships are often a prime example of this. We doubt if we're making the right choice and we doubt if we'll ever find someone new. For some, it can take a long time before they finally muster up the courage to do what's needed to move forward--sometimes, even years.

Without having many details about your situation, Feeling Silly, I don't know where your relationship falls on this spectrum. I do know, however, that you're wondering why you stayed with your ex for so long. And while I can't say for sure, I certainly have a few guesses. Perhaps one of these reasons will resonate with you:

You loved him.

Money was tight and you didn't know how you could support yourself.

You wanted your kids' parents to stay together.

You loved him.

He always apologized and promised to changed. (And you desperately wanted to believe him.)

He threatened to make your life a living hell if you left.

You loved him.

You invested so much time and energy into the relationship and didn't want to start over.

You were scared.

You loved him.

The thought of being single again terrified you.

Every time you tried to break up with him, he talked you out of it.

You loved him.

He was the first guy to tell you he loved you.

You thought he might be the last guy who would ever tell you he loved you.

You loved him.

You didn't want to hurt him.

You didn't want to hurt you.

You loved him.

There could be a million and one reasons why you stayed, but trust me when I say not one of them is stupid. You felt how you felt and you did what you did. No one, including yourself, should make you feel silly for that.

So please, please, please forgive yourself for not knowing then what you know now.

Yes, it's good to better understand why you stayed. Gaining that awareness will help you make healthier decisions in future relationships. But shaming yourself for staying too long is a completely different story. At some point you'll have to accept the past. And reviewing all the reasons over and over and over again just isn't helpful, especially if it's making you feel badly about yourself.

So while you figure out why you stayed, ask yourself what, if anything, is stopping you from forgiving yourself. Then address the crap out of those obstacles. Sometimes starting the process of self-forgiveness requires that you seek professional help first, and there's no shame in that. Because you don't deserve to live one more day feeling silly for staying in a bad relationship that's over and done with. You deserve forgiveness and all the freedom it has to offer you.

You may have stayed because you loved him, but you eventually got out because you love yourself. It doesn't matter if it took a little longer than you wish. Better late than never, my friend.

Focus on that.

XO,

Akirah

Originally posted on akirahrobinson.com.

**Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.