8 signs you’re clinging on to a failing relationship, according to psychology

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There’s this thing that happens when you’re knee-deep in a relationship that’s going nowhere fast.

It’s like you’re standing at the edge of a cliff, knowing you need to jump to save yourself, but your feet just won’t move.

You’ve done the talking, the crying, the begging and pleading, but nothing seems to shift the scales.

Oftentimes, it’s not even earth-shattering revelations. It’s more subtle than that.

It’s a quiet voice in the back of your mind whispering that you’re stuck in something that’s not working, even if every fiber of your being resists admitting it.

But how can you really be sure you need to let go?

Here’s how psychology can help pinpoint those telltale signs that you’re holding on to a relationship that’s slowly sinking.

1) You’re in denial about the state of your relationship

Denial is a powerful psychological mechanism that we often employ when the truth becomes too hard to swallow.

Many times, we use it as a safety net, protecting ourselves from the harsh realities we are not ready to confront.

In the context of a failing relationship, denial manifests itself when you consistently overlook or downplay the obvious signs of trouble.

You make excuses for your partner’s behavior, you ignore or rationalize the constant arguments, and you convince yourself that things will get better, even when everything around you screams otherwise.

In essence, you’re not really in a relationship with your partner, but with a fictional version of them that exists only in your mind.

And while this coping mechanism might seem to work short term, in the long run, it only leads to more pain and disappointment.

After all, you can’t fix a problem if you refuse to acknowledge its existence.

2) You’re afraid of being alone

If I’m really honest with myself, there’s a part of me that’s terrified of being alone.

It’s not just missing the companionship or the comfort of having someone around. It’s this deep-seated fear that I won’t be able to cope on my own, that I’m not enough by myself.

I realized this when I started to think about why I was holding on to a relationship that clearly wasn’t working.

It wasn’t because I was happy or fulfilled. It was because I was afraid—afraid of the unknown, afraid of starting over, and most importantly, afraid of being alone.

This fear of solitude can often make us cling to relationships that have long since stopped serving us. We trick ourselves into thinking it’s better to be in a bad relationship than to be single.

But in reality, this fear only traps us in a cycle of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

3) You’re holding on to the past

I remember when we first started dating.

It was all so exciting and new. There were butterflies in my stomach every time I saw her, every conversation felt like an adventure, and every look was filled with promises of a bright future.

But somewhere along the line, things changed.

The butterflies disappeared, the conversations became mundane, and the looks lost their shine.

However, instead of accepting the change, I found myself clinging on to the memories of our past. I would look at her and not see the person she had become but the person she used to be.

Fixation on past happiness is a common sign of clinging on to a failing relationship.

It’s a form of self-deception where we convince ourselves that things can go back to how they used to be, if only we try hard enough.

But here’s the hard truth I had to learn:

You can’t build a future on the foundation of past memories. You have to see your partner for who they are now, not who they were when you first fell in love.

And if the present doesn’t hold the same charm as the past, maybe it’s time to accept that and move on.

4) You’re stuck in a cycle of breaking up and making up

According to psychology, couples who keep breaking up and getting back together are more likely to report lower relationship satisfaction, less love, and more uncertainty about their future together.

Once, I was living this reality.

Our relationship had turned into a never-ending cycle of highs and lows.

One moment we were on top of the world, promising that things would be different this time, and the next, we were back to square one, repeating the same old arguments and falling into the same old patterns.

This constant instability was not only draining but also indicative of deeper issues that we were failing to address. It wasn’t love or commitment anymore; it was fear and insecurity.

5) You’re losing yourself in the relationship

One day, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person staring back at me.

I had changed, and not for the better. I had given up my hobbies, let go of my dreams, and distanced myself from my friends. All in an attempt to make the relationship work.

I was no longer living my life, but living for the relationship. Every decision revolved around it, every thought was consumed by it. It felt like I was slowly disappearing, losing myself piece by piece.

This loss of self is a glaring sign of a failing relationship.

Healthy relationships encourage growth and individuality, not stifle it. They allow you to be yourself, not force you to become someone you’re not.

Ask yourself: is this relationship worth the loss of who you are? Because in the end, a relationship should add to your life, not take away from it.

6) You’re constantly defending your relationship

I found myself doing it all the time. Whenever friends or family voiced their concerns about my relationship, I would jump to its defense.

I’d tell them they just didn’t understand, that they were being judgmental, that they didn’t see all the good parts.

But deep down, I knew they were right. The relationship was flawed, and I was just too afraid to admit it. I was defending the indefensible, justifying the unjustifiable.

This compulsive need to defend your relationship is a sign that you’re clinging on to something that’s not working. It’s a subconscious attempt to convince not just others, but also yourself, that everything is okay.

But relationships shouldn’t need constant defense, because a good relationship speaks for itself, and it certainly doesn’t require you to be its lawyer.

7) You’re hoping they will change

I remember telling myself, “If only she would change, things would be perfect.”

I held on to this hope for a long time, believing that if she could just fix certain things about herself, our relationship would thrive.

But here’s what I learned the hard way: you can’t change people. They have to want to change themselves.

And even then, change is a difficult and slow process.

Hoping for your partner to change is a sign that you’re clinging on to a failing relationship. It implies that you’re not satisfied with your partner as they are now and that you’re waiting for them to become someone else.

But waiting for someone to change is like waiting for a train at an airport. It’s simply not going to happen.

And the more time you spend waiting, the more time you waste not being truly happy.

8) You’re unhappy more than you’re happy

This is it. The most revealing sign of all.

If you’re unhappy more often than you’re happy, it’s a flashing neon sign that you’re clinging on to a failing relationship.

I recall periods when the bad days outnumbered the good, and yet I still held on. I convinced myself that it was just a phase and that things would get better.

But here’s what psychology taught me: Relationships are supposed to bring joy, love, and contentment.

Of course, they come with their fair share of challenges and disagreements, but the overall balance should lean towards happiness, not despair.

If you find yourself constantly stressed, anxious, or upset because of your relationship, then it’s high time to reconsider. Reflect on why you’re holding on to something that causes more pain than happiness.

You deserve a relationship that is healthy and fulfilling. 

Final thoughts

Relating to these signs doesn’t mean you’re doomed to remain stuck in a failing relationship forever.

It might be painful, but acknowledging these signs is the first step towards healing and, ultimately, towards finding a relationship that truly serves you.

It’s understanding that you deserve more than just clinging to something that’s not working. It’s realizing that it’s okay to let go, even if it feels terrifying at the moment.

And most importantly, it’s accepting that sometimes, endings are not failures, but opportunities for new beginnings.

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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