Why do good women stay with bad men?

badmanAnd why do good men stay with bad women? And for my gay readers: why do good women stay with bad women and good men with bad men?

In other words, why do otherwise smart, funny, successful, wholesome people stay in relationships that seem—to outside observers anyway—anything but fulfilling?

I wonder this a lot when I get questions from blog readers because most people do a really good job of making their spouses seem absolutely despicable when they write to me. Rather than offer advice, I’m often tempted to ask, “And you want to continue this relationship because?”

Do you know anyone in this type of relationship? Maybe a good friend. You continually think, “Why is she WITH him? Why?!?”

One of my girlfriends swears the answer this conundrum is the “magic schlong.” If a guy has no job, no social graces, no good looks, no wit, and no personality and a woman stays with him anyway? He must be good in bed. Based on this theory, if a woman is having all sorts of orgasms, she’s a lot more likely to overlook all of the other details. She’s so sexually satisfied that nothing gets on her nerves. So what if the guy is a racist, a drunk or a womanizer? He’s still keeping her happy in bed.

I have to say, The Magic Schlong theory certainly does describe one of my most dysfunctional relationships, so my friend might very well be onto something.

But I think something more might be at play. Now, this is going to sound all deep and whatnot, but I think that every relationship teaches us something. We are attracted to people who are bad for us because they have something to teach us, perhaps about self-respect or assertiveness or any number of other things. So, in the end, they are actually good for us, assuming we actually absorb the lesson that they have to teach us.

Or I might just be on crack.

I really wanted to offer some helpful marital advice today, but I just wasn’t inspired. So I decided to start a Reader Participation Day instead. Today is your chance to be the expert. Let me know your thoughts. Why do you think so many people stay mired in bad relationships? Once such people realize that they are miserable, what should they do to finally get out and move on? And how do they stop the cycle?

Should I offer more reader participation days?

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19 comments… add one

  • Mike Wilton July 10, 2009, 12:40 pm

    I think a lot people stay in these relationships out of comfort and fear. When you’ve been with someone long enough it’s hard to think about starting over. Starting over often means splitting stuff you own together, moving out and living on your own again, and a number of other daunting tasks. Often I think people would rather just put up with it than have to start over.

    There is also the fear factor. Leaving someone regardless of how bad they are for you means you will be alone. I think a lot of people are afraid of this. Afraid they’ll be alone and are afraid they won’t find someone who is truly “right” for them.

    Reply
  • Kate July 10, 2009, 12:45 pm

    I think one of the factors is loyalty. Even if the “bum” partner has no job, no prospects of a job, no schooling, no seeming redeeming qualities… if they’re there for you, no matter what, through thick and thin… why leave? Why risk something, when you have stability right now?

    Reply
  • Nidal July 10, 2009, 12:46 pm

    it’s simple really: people choose their partner based on what they believe they deserve: the insecure will find someone who reassures them why they should be afraid, those suffering from low self esteem will stay with a partner who reinforces the idea (usually through actions) that they aren’t worth much. and so on…

    we seek what we are, a reflection you might say, even if we’re aware of the fact that it’s detrimental to our development…and we will continue to do so for a number of reasons (because it’s what we know, it fits the pattern, it’s surprisingly comfortable and of course extremely risk averse). only those unafraid of change or willing to experiment with another version of “self” will find someone who treats them differently than they treat themselves.

    sure, great sex is also important…but even the strongest of chemistry will eventually wear off.

    Reply
  • alison July 10, 2009, 2:00 pm

    I think that people stay with crappy partners, is because once the rose coloured glasses are off, it’s too late. They believe this is the best they’ll ever get.

    Reply
  • Chris July 10, 2009, 2:31 pm

    It can also be the effects of others that were important in the formation of the personality. People have been known to “marry their father” or “marry their mother.” For example, if you grow up in a house in which people scream at each other, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up married to a screamer. To put it plainly, as dysfunctional as your original relationship models were, they can feel “right” in an adult relationship until you figure out what’s actually going on.

    Reply
  • mndt July 12, 2009, 2:10 am

    People resist change. once they have been with someone they rather stay that way.

    But I think the question you are trying to answer is “Why do they get together in the first place.”

    The answer is: the differences promise a new experiment. which may seem fun. and will add to our skills. It’s kinda a honey pot. you get in to taste. you can’t get out.

    Reply
  • Tony Lawrence July 12, 2009, 7:00 am

    Someone close to me says she stays with her jerk husband because divorce is expensive, she doesn’t want him to get half the house that she bought herself and because she’ll get his $1,500.00 a month pension when he dies (and as he’s an obese slob who doesn’t exercise and knows nothing about nutrition, she might not have to wait too long).

    She also says that once in a while he can be charming and that if he’s “in the mood” he can fix anything that needs fixing.

    I can understand that at 68 she doesn’t want to disrupt her life. She works long hours so she doesn’t spend much time with him anyway.

    I wouldn’t say she feels “stuck”. She’s just looked the situation up and down and decided that she’s better off cursing him than divorcing.

    Reply
  • real truth July 12, 2009, 9:10 am

    because vonurable people want to know thier wicked mates how bad and miserble are…. ,then they feel less fear in inside themself. but i guess there should be always one seduce the otherone in a relationship,,,!!!! and i cant find the scientific reason.

    but whats important for me the most is: not no be in relationship or friendship with people who are closeminded and blind religios and those who think men are superior than women………….(and im sure u know which nation im talkin about!)

    Reply
  • sahand July 12, 2009, 9:31 am

    I think it is simply due to addiction !. Yes, we addict to people like drugs. Psychologists believe this kind of addiction is serious and very difficult to get ride of it. I am personally live in unhappy marriage. I have tried for several years to move but I could not. Also for me another reason is children. Although some believe it is just a pretext.
    Yours

    Reply
  • Margaret July 18, 2009, 8:03 pm

    Some people stay because of low esteem, and MONEY. They don’t want to give up their lifestyle. I know someone who is 68 and has been in an unhappy marriage most of her 43 years’ marriage. He has a serious gambling addiciton and has lost well over a half million dollars. He is verbally abusive and makes her feel like she is worthless. Yet they continue to live like that. Maybe they have a martyr complex, also……

    Reply
  • supanee July 25, 2009, 12:16 pm

    Excellent site,Thanks for this great post – I will be sure to check out your blog more often.Just subscriped to your RSS feed….

    Reply
  • Michellee August 3, 2009, 12:43 pm

    I have a friend who stays with bad men until another one comes along. She loves the sex. I think she doesn’t want to be alone and she is quick to get involved. She says she values herself and thinks she is worth something but the men she picks, well that says something else to me and others. See at first when she dates them she let’s them know what gods they are and how lucky she is to have them. They are so shocked to find such a women they promise her the world (they have nothing to give her in the end) Most are married or are divorcing and she lends her ear to them. Slowly she stars to complain and want more and they wonder “Who is this needy women?” She will never break it off until the next guy comes along. And because she flirts with any guy and sleeps with them first date, she never really has looked or found a good man for her and her kids. Oh righ the kids….they are always dealing with new boyfriends who tell them what to do. It’s sad really. Sometimes I even feel bad for the bad boyfriend because he thinks she really loves him for who he is. LOL. It’s like watching a bad movie sometimes.

    Reply
  • EmpowerYourself August 3, 2009, 4:13 pm

    I agree with pretty much everyone else’s comments, but I noticed that no one mentioned staying with in a destructive relationship because of pressure to succeed in that relationship.

    For me, I stayed because I thought it was expected of me to do so. I didnt want to disappoint the people in my life, particularly family members, who I loved so much and who had always been so supportive of me and my family. I thought they’d see it as giving up.

    I know now, that I cant do something merely because I think its expected of me.

    Reply
  • Dianne September 26, 2010, 11:46 pm

    I believe that people stay in bad relationships because they haven’t asked the right question of themselves. When someone asks me whether they should leave or stay, I simply ask them to ask themselves one, simple question. And how they answer that question will determine their answer. One, simple, three word question: “Does love hurt”? If you are in a dysfunctional relationship, the answer will be yes. And people always know the answer beforehand, whether or not they want to hear themselves saying it. It’s easier to lie to yourself than to tell the truth. Now, it doesn’t mean to say that the relationship can’t improve or become healthy in time. But if your answer is already “yes”, then it’s time to take a break and re-evaluate. People can’t live lies. If you are willing to be honest with yourself, then ask the question and be strong enough for the answer. And then do something about it. If nothing changes, nothing changes. Been there, done that. It doesn’t work.

    Reply
  • Denise December 28, 2010, 2:39 pm

    The comments from your readers were all very good…comfort, fear, affirmations for low-esteem.

    This is the first I’ve seen this site and will bookmark it for future readings and participation. I typed in the search engine “how to stay away from a bad relationship.” I’m one of those people and am determined to identify and eliminate the dynamics that put me into the type of relationship that is unhealthy. I have no intention to point fingers for the blame game. I want to examine my role and take the actions to boost my confidence and re-develop myself. No more focus on the other person…the focus, not blame will be how to manage my own life.

    Thank you all for your feedback. Believe me…reading the thoughts of others brings better objectivity to the situation.

    Reply
  • Trish December 12, 2011, 9:57 pm

    I have a 2 beautiful daughters. One is well adjusted in a happy relationship. The other daughter has a young son and is off and on again with a ding bat, dead beat child-man who cares about his car, his looks and his muscles more than he cares about her or her son. She knows this but she keeps thinking that he will change. He has another young son with another woman. He never bothers to see his other son. My daughter takes him back at the drop of his hat and he leaves every time they have a confrontation which is constantly. She was a straight A student, has a degree and works full time, at a dead end job. She was not abused by my husband nor by me. We are a normal, middle class family and I cannot figure out why she has no self esteem and will not stand up to him. He will not put his son in a car seat he wants to look cool in his fancy car. Car seats are not cool. He uses a booster seat although his son is too little to use one. She takes him back because she is desperately lonely.

    Reply
    • Michael R July 31, 2012, 12:14 am

      Why do you think so many people stay mired in bad relationships? Once such people realize that they are miserable, what should they do to finally get out and move on? And how do they stop the cycle?
      – Well first thing is that it differs for both parties:
      -Good Men = Stay in a relationship with a woman that is horrible to them because of self esteem issues that was built on by the past women that he has dated. These women of the past have “YES” given him a chance to a “DATE” them. But, have had motives behind it. Such as; giving her anything she wants or deserves ( which in fact: the female woman does not want anything easily given, she feels as if she has to work overly hard for it ) because you care.
      -She will TEMPORARILY date you/ keep you around for you to simply bring her confidence and self esteem level back up to par ( which was previously in the gutter), then simply DISAPPEAR never to be heard of again.
      – Women= Stay in bad relationships for a number of reasons:
      1. Insecurities: Feels that this MAN is the only one that will want her SORRY ASS. And the TRUTH is no. You are viewed technically as pitiful and easy to CONTROL.

      2. Simply Not Knowing Any Better: Women to me KNOW IT; SEE IT; HEAR IT all the time; the discriptions of ABUSIVE men. These men YES may seem like a good catch, but the facts are that women sell their souls to the DEVIL everyday when they use bad judgements: THE SEX IS GOOD/ THE LIFESTYLE IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT EVEN THOUGH IT COST A HEAVY PORTION OF YOUR LIFE/ HE’S EXACTLY WHAT THE WORLD CLAIMS IS BEST FOR YOU RATHER THAN RELY ON THE DISCRIPTION OF REAL GODLY MAN.

      3. The Devil You Know: Bad relationships can be habit forming: it may not be good, but you know what to expect. For some these familiar patterns bring a kind of comfort, and induce an almost irrevocable inertia. Coupled with a fear of change, this can be decidedly lethal, and potentially lead to many years of unhappiness. In this scenario, it’s important to understand that ‘familiar’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’. Try and look beyond what you have to what could be, and find the strength to make a change. Imagine the relationship you want, and don’t stand still until you’ve got it.

      2. The Practicalities
      For many, the everyday practicalities of day-to-day living get in the way of making the right kind of life-changing decisions. Perhaps it’s a financial situation – how on earth can you rent or buy a place on just your income? What will you do for health insurance? Who’s going to do all those jobs around the house? Maybe you’re simply too embarrassed to tell your friends? Here it’s important to know that for every problem, there is some kind of solution. Sometimes it means taking baby steps to get to a new place that will ultimately be better for everyone. Just because your new life is more than a stretch away, it doesn’t mean you can’t get there.

      3. For The Children
      Clearly this is one of the most complex and serious reasons why people in bad relationships stay together. It’s also perhaps the most pressing reason to make every effort to work as hard on it as possible before giving up. Having said that, if your relationship is abusive or horribly dysfunctional, it could still be better for all concerned to leave it while you still can. It’s neither good for you or your children to be exposed to the worst type of human behavior.

      4. Who Else Would Want Me?
      Low self-esteem is a huge hurdle to overcome when it comes to getting out of a bad relationship. Often, it’s actually being in the relationship that’s caused you to feel bad about yourself in the first place. Or if not, that’s how you got yourself there – ‘they’re not right, but who else would want to go out with me?’ There are no quick fixes to improving your self-image, and in many cases it can require one-on-one therapy to help turn how you feel around. But remember that what may seem like the worst alternative – being on your own – may not be such a horrible one. Which brings us, finally, to…

      5. Fear of Being Alone
      Sometimes we have a completely irrational fear of being on our own, which in turn can keep us in a relationship well beyond its sell-by. But when you really stop to think about it, what’s so horrible about spending some quality time with the one person we know we can at least agree with? In fact, some extended alone time can be really good for you. It’s an opportunity to catch up on those things we’ve been not-so-secretly dying to do: maybe it’s a night class, maybe some redecoration… it could simply be giving yourself the time to see those movies you missed. Best of all, though, it’s a chance to really get to know and understand yourself, and give you the chance to discover what it is you need and want from a relationship next time around.

      In the end, the best thing for both Parties to do is END the relationship as soon as possible. You have to be strong and let them know that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and that you are done. You have to let them know their true self and then leave. And if there is resistance ( women), get Law Enforcement involve. Seek a little counseling afterwards ( according to how devastating the relationship was on you).

      And to stop the cycle is to always use your BAD RELATIONSHIP PAST experience to help you make better judgement when dating someone in the future. Also, bare in mind that PATIENCE, TAKING TIME TO KNOW THAT PERSON FULLY EVEN BY THERE FRIENDS OR FAMILY, BECOMING FRIENDS FIRST IS THE BEST THING TO A FUTURE RELATIONSHIP AS WELL, EXAMINING HOW YOU CAN WORK AS A TEAM TOGETHER AND BE 50/50 ON THINGS.
      Also be reasonable, And always be willing to learn something new from your partner that you do not know and do it together BECAUSE YOU WANT TO and NOT JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT TO MAKE HIM/ HER HAPPY. PUT YOUR SELFISH SIDE AWAY.

      Reply
    • Charley July 31, 2012, 12:16 am

      Why do you think so many people stay mired in bad relationships? Once such people realize that they are miserable, what should they do to finally get out and move on? And how do they stop the cycle?
      – Well first thing is that it differs for both parties:
      -Good Men = Stay in a relationship with a woman that is horrible to them because of self esteem issues that was built on by the past women that he has dated. These women of the past have “YES” given him a chance to a “DATE” them. But, have had motives behind it. Such as; giving her anything she wants or deserves ( which in fact: the female woman does not want anything easily given, she feels as if she has to work overly hard for it ) because you care.
      -She will TEMPORARILY date you/ keep you around for you to simply bring her confidence and self esteem level back up to par ( which was previously in the gutter), then simply DISAPPEAR never to be heard of again.
      – Women= Stay in bad relationships for a number of reasons:
      1. Insecurities: Feels that this MAN is the only one that will want her SORRY ASS. And the TRUTH is no. You are viewed technically as pitiful and easy to CONTROL.

      2. Simply Not Knowing Any Better: Women to me KNOW IT; SEE IT; HEAR IT all the time; the discriptions of ABUSIVE men. These men YES may seem like a good catch, but the facts are that women sell their souls to the DEVIL everyday when they use bad judgements: THE SEX IS GOOD/ THE LIFESTYLE IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT EVEN THOUGH IT COST A HEAVY PORTION OF YOUR LIFE/ HE’S EXACTLY WHAT THE WORLD CLAIMS IS BEST FOR YOU RATHER THAN RELY ON THE DISCRIPTION OF REAL GODLY MAN.

      3. The Devil You Know: Bad relationships can be habit forming: it may not be good, but you know what to expect. For some these familiar patterns bring a kind of comfort, and induce an almost irrevocable inertia. Coupled with a fear of change, this can be decidedly lethal, and potentially lead to many years of unhappiness. In this scenario, it’s important to understand that ‘familiar’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’. Try and look beyond what you have to what could be, and find the strength to make a change. Imagine the relationship you want, and don’t stand still until you’ve got it.

      2. The Practicalities
      For many, the everyday practicalities of day-to-day living get in the way of making the right kind of life-changing decisions. Perhaps it’s a financial situation – how on earth can you rent or buy a place on just your income? What will you do for health insurance? Who’s going to do all those jobs around the house? Maybe you’re simply too embarrassed to tell your friends? Here it’s important to know that for every problem, there is some kind of solution. Sometimes it means taking baby steps to get to a new place that will ultimately be better for everyone. Just because your new life is more than a stretch away, it doesn’t mean you can’t get there.

      3. For The Children
      Clearly this is one of the most complex and serious reasons why people in bad relationships stay together. It’s also perhaps the most pressing reason to make every effort to work as hard on it as possible before giving up. Having said that, if your relationship is abusive or horribly dysfunctional, it could still be better for all concerned to leave it while you still can. It’s neither good for you or your children to be exposed to the worst type of human behavior.

      4. Who Else Would Want Me?
      Low self-esteem is a huge hurdle to overcome when it comes to getting out of a bad relationship. Often, it’s actually being in the relationship that’s caused you to feel bad about yourself in the first place. Or if not, that’s how you got yourself there – ‘they’re not right, but who else would want to go out with me?’ There are no quick fixes to improving your self-image, and in many cases it can require one-on-one therapy to help turn how you feel around. But remember that what may seem like the worst alternative – being on your own – may not be such a horrible one. Which brings us, finally, to…

      5. Fear of Being Alone
      Sometimes we have a completely irrational fear of being on our own, which in turn can keep us in a relationship well beyond its sell-by. But when you really stop to think about it, what’s so horrible about spending some quality time with the one person we know we can at least agree with? In fact, some extended alone time can be really good for you. It’s an opportunity to catch up on those things we’ve been not-so-secretly dying to do: maybe it’s a night class, maybe some redecoration… it could simply be giving yourself the time to see those movies you missed. Best of all, though, it’s a chance to really get to know and understand yourself, and give you the chance to discover what it is you need and want from a relationship next time around.

      In the end, the best thing for both Parties to do is END the relationship as soon as possible. You have to be strong and let them know that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and that you are done. You have to let them know their true self and then leave. And if there is resistance ( women), get Law Enforcement involve. Seek a little counseling afterwards ( according to how devastating the relationship was on you).

      And to stop the cycle is to always use your BAD RELATIONSHIP PAST experience to help you make better judgement when dating someone in the future. Also, bare in mind that PATIENCE, TAKING TIME TO KNOW THAT PERSON FULLY EVEN BY THERE FRIENDS OR FAMILY, BECOMING FRIENDS FIRST IS THE BEST THING TO A FUTURE RELATIONSHIP AS WELL, EXAMINING HOW YOU CAN WORK AS A TEAM TOGETHER AND BE 50/50 ON THINGS.
      Also be reasonable, And always be willing to learn something new from your partner that you do not know and do it together BECAUSE YOU WANT TO and NOT JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT TO MAKE HIM/ HER HAPPY. PUT YOUR SELFISH SIDE AWAY.

      Reply
  • melissa April 27, 2013, 5:53 am

    I was married and then my husband died 17 yrs later to Heart Failure I became lonely and started dating and just wanted to feel someone holding me till I felt better so I took the bad with the good, and took the man that was a cheater a lier and was a capita Jerk thought that he would change and realize it was my time to change.

    Reply

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