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Why do Women Hang on to Bad Men?

Updated on July 11, 2013

Despite popular mythology, men of course, aren't the only one's capable of being 'bad'. Plenty of women make less than ideal partners - they may be physically or mentally abusive, have drug or alcohol problems, gamble, have affairs or any of the things men get a bad rap for.

However, I'm writing this particular article from a female perspective, partly because I am one but also because most of the more serious relationship complaints I've been privy to over the years have come from women. Whether that's because men don't complain as much about intimate relationships or I don't have enough close male friends, I don't know. In any case, I'll leave that perspective for someone else to write about.

Reasons a Woman Might stay in a Bad Relationship

  • They believe they are in love
  • Fear of failure
  • Loyalty
  • Strong physical attraction
  • They have an unrealistic view of their partner
  • Fear of Loneliness
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of financial independence
  • An attraction to danger and drama
  • A belief that with a little love and care, they will be able to *change* their partner
  • They don't want their children to be without their father, no matter how imperfect he is

Why Stay in an Abusive Relationship?

A women friend of mine, whom I have know for a very long time, has been in a long-term relationship with what can only be described as a very *difficult* man. Over the years I've tried to analyse this relationship, largely because I simply couldn't understand why a financially well-off, intelligent, self-sufficient modern woman would put up with such a selfish, self-centred, often lazy, and at times physically and mentally abusive, man.

It's a myth that abused women remain with their partners only because they are financially desperate, have nowhere else to to or are too demoralised and brow beaten to attempt a separation. This does happen of course but it can also happen to strong, well-educated, independent women who are financially secure and have no ostensible reason to stay. So why do they?

Perhaps they don't know themselves. Certainly my friend's partner had his charming side, though for me it did not outweigh the serious negatives. Nevertheless, few people are all bad and there is usually some redeeming feature to cling on to. It's possible too that some women, who believe they have experienced the *romance of the century* mistake the drama and histrionics of controlling behaviour, abuse and possessiveness for passion. It may even be that something inside them feeds off the excitement and drama.

Have you ever stayed in a relationship with a "bad" man ?

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If the answer was yes, what was the primary reason that made you stay?

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The Mystery of Other People's Relationships

No-one on the outside can really understand the complex dynamics of an intimate relationship, nor the mystery of an individual's psyche and what attracts and bonds one person to another.

In my friend's case, despite her friends and family consistently advising her to leave her abusive partner, she chose to remain with him, firmly believing that with love, care and a fierce loyalty she could change his *damaged* personality. She made many compromises and concessions to his frailties and controlling behaviours in a way that only a very strong person could, not out of fear but out of a belief it would build him up and make him feel secure.

At some point in their relationship, the penny did drop that he wouldn't, couldn't change his essential character and the romantic, idealised notions she had always, despite all the trouble, clung onto about him and their relationship, evaporated. At that point she came the closest she had ever been to leaving him but somehow, she couldn't make that final break.

I can't help suspecting that she remained because she had invested so many years, tears and emotions in the relationship she felt she couldn't let it go. To do so would mean she had wasted a very large part of her life. Things did improve somewhat in their relationship - alcohol had been a complicating factor and when he more or less gave that up [after an ultimatum] his personality became more stable and less frightening. They have now reached a kind of accepting stability but it took 20 years and many draining physical and emotional battles to get there and things are still far from perfect. Was it worth it? From the outside, I say no. Nevertheless, it was her choice and no-one else's.

Why Stay with a Philanderer?

Philanderer's, that is, men who seem to have a compulsion to experience intimacy with other women, often indulging in short affairs, do not necessarily treat their partners badly in the abusive sense but they are deemed *bad* because they often cause very deep hurt and anxiety through deceitfulness, insensitivity and, of course, an inability to remain faithful to their partners.

Unless you have an exceptionally liberated, open marriage [something that sounds okay in theory but is very hard to achieve in practice] living with a philanderer can be extremely difficult to put up with.Yet some women do it. Again, I'm going to draw on personal experience to try and nut this one out.

My Auntie Doris, came from a well-to-do family, was well-educated, had a keen mind and an interesting, intelligent face but was no beauty, as she herself would be the first to admit. As a young woman she fell hard in love with Arthur, a country boy who was exceptionally good-looking but a little rough around the edges and in many ways, an opposite to her; he was also a chronic philanderer.

In spite of their differences, Doris adored Arthur all her life, even though he caused her enormous pain for most of their marriage. They had three sons and stayed together for nearly two decades. She never had to make the decision to leave him as he eventually left her, for life in the countryside with another woman.

Yet even though Arthur was gone. Doris still hung on to him - painfully, destructively, hopelessly. Arthur was not an awful person but it seemed that when it came to women, he just couldn't help himself. As my mother was fond of saying, he wasn't a "family man".

Aware of the devastating effect his departure had on his wife, Arthur used to visit Doris in the city occasionally for weekends, even after his sons grew up. Better really, that he had not. Doris used to look forward to these visits with a poignant optimism, yet when he finally arrived she would be in misery the whole time and when he left, she would be back to square one - devasted all over again.It was an eternal pattern of hopeless yearning and masochistic emotional pain.

Tragically, Doris died young from stomach cancer and while I won't say the anxieties and agonies she suffered over Arthur contributed to her death, it didn't help. If only she'd been able to let go, she may have been able to make a happier life for herself. As I see it there may be two chief reasons a woman might stay with a philandering man - they love him too much or they don't love him enough.

"The Bitter Tonic" by Adriaen Brouwer
"The Bitter Tonic" by Adriaen Brouwer | Source

Why Stay with an Addict?

Anyone who has shared a life with a serious addict -be it alcohol, heroin or gambling, will know the kind of hell that particular form of *badness* can create. Such men seemed programmed to self-destruct and not only are they in danger of destroying their own lives but those around them as well.

Addicts tend to 'take hostages', especially when it comes to their partners; the closest ones to them. By that I mean, they hold others captive to the effects of their addictions, drawing them into their dramas and difficulties and often using their partners as a focus for their inevitable frustrations and hostilities.

On the face of it, there may seem to be few, if any, good reasons to stay with a serious, long-term addict - yet there are women who choose to do so . Some recognise addiction as an illness and don't want to leave their partners when they feel they are most needed, despite the hardships they may have to endure. I know of one woman who says she made a conscious choice to remain with her alcoholic husband because of God - she made a marriage vow and from her perspective, to abandon her husband would be to abandon her allegiance to the Almighty. Perhaps to leave, in both cases, would create an enormous sense of failure that they would prefer not to face. Such women tend to be very strong in their own way; they have to be, to keep going.

Whichever way you slice it, to spend years of your life with an addict seems to me an enormous sacrifice to your own well-being. Having watched my own mother live most of her later married life in a kind of half-life martyrdom to an alcoholic husband, I believe the cost to be too high. However people make their own decisions about these things and if women do decide to stay with *bad men* they probably need support more than judgement.

Worst of all, why stay with an abusive, philandering addict?

Why indeed. Get out now while there's still time.


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