The Fatal Triad: Why Do We Stay in Unhappy Relationships?


Why We Stay in Bad Relationships: The Fatal Triad

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a relationship that makes you unhappy, but you just can’t seem to leave? Maybe you keep telling yourself that things will get better, or that you’ve already invested so much time and energy into the relationship that it would be a waste to let it go.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many people stay in bad relationships for reasons like these, and psychologists have identified a pattern of thinking called the Fatal Triad that can help explain why.

The Fatal Triad consists of three factors: momentum, guilt, and confirmation bias. Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors and see how they can trap us in unhappy relationships.

Momentum: The Feeling of Being Stuck

Have you ever heard of the sunk cost fallacy? It’s the idea that we’re more likely to continue investing in something whether it’s a relationship, a project, or a business if we’ve already invested a lot of time, money, or effort into it, even if we’re not seeing any returns.

Psychologists call this the sunk cost fallacy because the costs are already sunk we can’t undo the time or money we’ve already spent but our brains often trick us into thinking that continuing to invest is the right choice. This is where momentum comes in.

Once we’ve invested a lot in a relationship, we start to feel like it would be a waste to walk away. We convince ourselves that we’ve already put so much into the relationship whether it’s months, years, or even just a few weeks that we might as well keep going and see if things improve.

This feeling of being stuck can be incredibly powerful and can override our better judgment.

Guilt: The Fear of Hurting Others

Another factor that can make us stay in bad relationships is guilt.

We might feel guilty about hurting our partner’s feelings or disrupting our social circle. We might worry that our partner won’t be able to cope without us, or that they’ll blame us for the breakup.

We might even have a savior complex, thinking that we can fix our partner or save them from themselves. These feelings of guilt can be especially strong if we’re the ones who initiated the relationship or if we’ve been together for a long time.

Breaking up can feel like a failure, and we might worry about what other people will think of us if we end things.

Confirmation Bias: The Need for Justification

Finally, there’s confirmation bias.

This is the tendency to look for evidence that confirms our existing beliefs or expectations and to ignore evidence that contradicts them. In the context of relationships, confirmation bias can make us interpret our partner’s behavior in a way that supports our decision to stay with them.

For example, if we’re convinced that our partner loves us, we might interpret their neglect or indifference as evidence that they’re just going through a rough patch, rather than admitting that they might not be as invested in the relationship as we are. Confirmation bias can also make it hard for us to see the bigger picture.

We might focus on the good times we’ve had with our partner and ignore the bad times, or we might make excuses for their behavior rather than holding them accountable.

Overcoming the Fatal Triad

So, how do we break free from the Fatal Triad and leave a bad relationship? It’s not easy, but there are a few things that can help.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that sunk costs are just that sunk. We can’t get back the time or energy we’ve already invested in a relationship, so we shouldn’t let that investment dictate our future choices.

Instead, we should focus on what we want and need in a relationship, and whether our current partner is able to meet those needs. Second, we need to let go of our guilt.

We can’t control how our partner will react to a breakup, but we can control how we treat them. By being kind, respectful, and honest, we can minimize the pain of a breakup for both ourselves and our partner.

Finally, we need to be open to new perspectives and new possibilities. By acknowledging our confirmation bias and actively seeking out evidence that contradicts our beliefs, we can gain a more accurate picture of our relationship.

We might discover that our partner is actually a better fit for us than we realized, or we might confirm our suspicions that the relationship is truly toxic. In the end, leaving a bad relationship can be scary and painful, but it can also be incredibly liberating.

By recognizing the Fatal Triad and working to overcome it, we can make the best decision for ourselves and our future happiness.

Momentum: Why It’s Hard to Let Go

Momentum is a powerful force that can make it incredibly difficult to let go of a relationship, even when we know it’s not healthy for us.

We might feel like we’ve invested too much time, energy, and emotion into the relationship to walk away. We might worry about losing the connection we’ve built with our partner or the life we’ve built together.

We might even feel like we’ve already lost so much in the relationship self-respect, dignity, autonomy that walking away would just be admitting defeat. All of these factors make it hard to let go, but it’s important to remember that walking away from a bad relationship doesn’t mean we’ve lost anything.

In fact, it often means that we’re gaining something our freedom, our independence, our sense of self-worth. By recognizing the sunk costs fallacy for what it is a cognitive bias that makes us put too much weight on past investments we can start to see the future potential of leaving a bad relationship.

Guilt: The Savior Complex

One common form of guilt that can keep us stuck in a bad relationship is the savior complex. This is the belief that we can “fix” our partner or help them overcome their problems.

We might feel like it’s our responsibility to make our partner happy, or that we’re the only one who can provide the emotional support they need. We might even feel like we’re the “good” partner in the relationship and that leaving would be abandoning our partner in their time of need.

All of these feelings are understandable, but they’re also misguided. No one person can “fix” another, and it’s not our responsibility to do so.

Our partner is ultimately responsible for their own well-being, and by staying in a relationship where we’re constantly trying to fix or save our partner, we’re just enabling their problems and avoiding our own self-care.

Breaking Free from the Savior Complex

If you’re struggling with a savior complex in your relationship, there are a few things you can do to break free. Here are some tips:

  1. Recognize that you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. If your partner isn’t willing to work on their problems, no amount of effort on your part will make a difference.
  2. Focus on your own well-being.
  3. Practice self-care, set boundaries, and prioritize your own needs. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself it’s necessary.
  4. Seek out therapy or support groups.
  5. Talking to a professional or others who have been through similar situations can help you gain a new perspective and build the tools you need to break free from the savior complex.
  6. Let go of the shame. You’re not a bad person for wanting to help your partner, but you need to recognize your own limitations.
  7. It’s okay to walk away from a relationship that isn’t healthy for you.

By taking these steps, you can start to break free from the guilt and savior complex that are keeping you stuck in a bad relationship.

Remember, you deserve to be happy and fulfilled, and you have the power to make that happen.

Confirmation Bias: The Danger of Preconceptions

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out, favor, and remember information that confirms our existing beliefs or expectations while ignoring or rejecting information that contradicts them.

In the context of relationships, confirmation bias can manifest in a variety of ways, from choosing partners who fit our preconceptions to ignoring red flags that indicate a bad fit.

Toxic Pairings and the Honeymoon Phase

One of the most dangerous aspects of confirmation bias in relationships is the tendency to overlook negative or problematic behavior during the honeymoon phase. The honeymoon phase is the initial period of a relationship when everything seems perfect, and both partners are on their best behavior.

During this phase, we’re more likely to project our idealized image of the partner onto them, rather than seeing them for who they truly are. As the relationship progresses, however, flaws and incompatibilities often become more apparent.

We might notice that our partner doesn’t share our values, isn’t as emotionally available as we thought, or has a fundamentally different vision of the future than we do. These issues can be hard to accept, especially if they contradict our initial idealized vision of our partner.

Denial and Choosing the Wrong Partner

This is where confirmation bias can come into play. Rather than acknowledging that we might have made a mistake in choosing our partner, we might instead convince ourselves that our partner is “the one,” and that any difficulties we’re experiencing are just temporary bumps in the road.

We might deny or dismiss red flags or warning signs, choosing instead to focus on the positive aspects of the relationship. Unfortunately, this denial can lead us down a dangerous path.

By ignoring or minimizing issues that should be dealbreakers, we might end up in a toxic or abusive relationship. We might sacrifice our own happiness or well-being in the belief that “love conquers all.”

Evidence-Seeking: The Importance of Objectivity

To avoid falling into this trap, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate our relationships objectively.

We should actively seek out evidence that contradicts our beliefs or expectations, rather than just searching for validation. We should practice self-reflection and ask ourselves why we’re drawn to certain types of partners or relationships, and whether these patterns are healthy or not.

If we’re honest with ourselves and willing to accept the truth, we might realize that we’ve been ignoring warning signs or red flags for far too long. We might need to make a difficult choice to end the relationship, seek counseling, or distance ourselves from a toxic partner.

But by taking this step, we’re giving ourselves the opportunity to find a relationship that’s truly fulfilling and healthy in the long term. In the end, confirmation bias is a natural tendency that we all fall prey to at times.

But in the context of relationships, it’s important to be mindful of this bias and to actively seek out objectivity and perspective. By doing so, we can make better choices for ourselves and our future happiness.

In conclusion, the Fatal Triad momentum, guilt, and confirmation bias can be a powerful force that keeps us stuck in bad relationships. We might feel like we’ve already invested too much time, energy, and emotion into the relationship to walk away, or we might feel guilty about hurting our partner’s feelings or leaving a relationship that we initiated.

Confirmation bias can make us overlook warning signs or red flags, convincing ourselves that our partner is “the one” despite evidence to the contrary. By recognizing these biases and actively seeking out objectivity in our relationships, we can break free from the patterns that are holding us back and find relationships that are truly fulfilling and healthy in the long term.

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