Why Can’t I Leave When I Know I Should?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Know he or she isn’t good for you, but can’t break up with them? Why is this, and what next?

Why is breaking up so hard to do?

Change means we’ll have to invest time and energy in adjusting, and that we can’t control or predict exactly what will happen. So it always challenges us.

But it’s also part of life. And in most cases, we embrace change and move ahead and do the best we can. We leave the job we don’t like, move house, or leave an unfulfilling relationship.

If we can’t navigate change, particularly in relationships, it’s because bigger psychological issues are at play.

Addicted to him or her?

Love addiction means you use relationships and other people like a drug -- to avoid inner pain and problems and feel a sort of ‘high’.

Of course it’s unsustainable. After rushing into a relationship with someone you just met, you find you don’t actually know them, and aren’t sure you like them.

So how did you then up 'stuck' with them and unable to leave? What follows is a cycle of dramatic fights, used to recreate the 'high', as you then have exciting makeups. You become hooked on the drama and the push pull, all the while avoiding any real intimacy.


Not in an exciting relationship, but a dragging, draining one? But still can’t leave?

Codependency is a learned pattern of behaviour from childhood where we taken on the idea that we must earn love, and that this is what gives us value.

No wonder we can’t leave a bad relationship - we have formed our identity around it and aren’t sure who we are without it.

Is he or she really what you are trying to escape?

If you look at your relationship history, does it always seem that your relationships go through the same cycle? Do you have the same fights, the same power struggles?

You might not be trying to break up with the person you are with, or even seeing them clearly, because you are mistaking them for one of your parents.

Look to the parent you have most of your unresolved issues with, or the most friction with. What did he or she teach you about relating and love? How is that reflected in the relationship you are in? Are you trying to leave and punish your partner -- or that parent?

Do you actually want to leave in the first place?

Do you feel like a force bigger than you tends to blind you in relationships? That you are taken over by emotions, act out in ways you don’t understand, feel hell bent on ruining everything? And only regret it in hindsight? Do you then pine over your ‘lost loves’ for years afterwards?

You might have borderline personality disorder. A strong inner fear of abandonment would drive you to overreact at the slightest hint of rejection, meaning you push and pull, and convince yourself you must leave, even if you deep down don’t want to.

Trauma bonding

Was your childhood difficult, did you suffer neglect and/or trauma?

If you are honest with yourself, are you currently in a relationship with a partner who is unkind, and abusing you either mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually, or financially? Or a mix of several?

As a child, if we face trauma, we can't just walk away. We can end up having to be loyal and dependent on the very people who are abusing us, and confuse abuse and love. And we can repeat this cycle as an adult, unable to see that now we can walk away.

So do I stay or do I go?

If your partner is in any way physically, sexually, psychologically, or financially abusing you, then it’s a definite go. Find any and all support you can to gain courage to leave.

If you think you have an issue with love addiction, codependency, unresolved past issues, or borderline personality disorder? Then the question becomes, when are you going to face these problems? Another relationship will only repeat them.

If you feel your current partner might actually support you in personal change, then it might be worth staying. If you feel you need to be alone to do inner work, then that is your choice.

Time to seek the support to break unhealthy relating patterns for once and for all? Book a therapist now who understands and can help, and get talking.

Need a Therapy Session ASAP?

Here's who's next available...

See other available therapists ›
Are you a therapist?
Apply to be on the platform  ›