“One of the hardest decisions you will ever have to make is choosing whether to walk away or try harder.” ~ Unknown
To those on the outside looking in, it can seem a complete mystery how some couples manage to stay together or why one person—particularly if they are being abused in some way—would choose to stay in an unhealthy relationship.
No one ever really knows someone’s full reasons for staying in a relationship that is unhealthy, and often, the person staying in it doesn’t fully understand it themselves either.
This is usually because there is not just one simple explanation. There is usually a huge mixture of complicated reasons that causes people to remain in relationships that are dysfunctional and unhealthy.
Often, it isn’t until someone reflects on a relationship—many months after they have left it—that they start to see clearly and realize why they didn’t walk away sooner.
Despite many theories saying that people stay in harmful relationships because they are codependent, I believe that one of the main reasons people stay is because they are compassionate and empathetic—and they forgive and let go easily.
For some who are Buddhist (or simply align strongly with Buddhist philosophy), knowing whether to try harder or leave a relationship can become confusing.
The reasons for this is that Buddhism explains the benefits of non-attachment and explains how we must detach from the idea of a “perfect person” if we wish to maintain a happy, peaceful relationship. The notion of accepting people exactly as they are—and loving unconditionally, without expectations—can be something that many struggle to understand when that person’s behavior is abusive, emotionally, mentally, or physically, and when their actions continuously cause us harm.
An intimate relationship with another person can be difficult enough to sustain over many years, as our inner neuroses rise to the surface when our deepest emotions are triggered and evoked—let alone if we are involved with someone who is intentionally (or unintentionally) causing us harm.
Unfortunately, Buddhism does not focus intently on romantic relationships, as the Buddha lived a monastic life; therefore, there was not a great deal written about close, intimate relationships. However, it is possible to transfer many of the Buddha’s thoughts and beliefs over to relationships and gain insight and understanding about how best to deal with dynamics that are toxic.
The Buddhist view is that relationships are opportunities to practice loving-kindness, compassion, and to offer mutual support. So, what do we do if one half of our relationship has no interest in any of these things, but has a lot of interest in manipulation, anger, resentment, jealousy, control, and deceit?
How do we still practice loving-kindness toward someone who seems determined to make our lives miserable by mistreating, intimidating, threatening, disrespecting, and belittling us consistently and relentlessly, and they have no desire to change?
Do we dig deeper and try harder to be compassionate and forgiving? Do we question ourselves, or our Buddhist beliefs, and come to the conclusion that we are the ones with the problem, as we cannot find peace or happiness in the midst of turbulence, or remain in toxicity that causes ourselves, or others close to us harm?
Despite how loving, compassionate, and forgiving we are to others—we also have to be loving, compassionate, and forgiving to ourselves. This is the part that many of us struggle with.
We become so used to putting other people first and considering their needs and requirements that all our attention is focused outwardly onto other people, and there is little energy left to focus on ourselves.
How can we be truly loving and compassionate to anyone else when we are not radiating these things from the inside out?
We sacrifice our own needs and requirements, believing that we just need to love harder, forgive more effortlessly, and accept things exactly as they are—and that we are eternally trapped in the circumstances we have created.
Many of us find it difficult to put boundaries in place, when at the center of Buddhism is connectedness, oneness, compassion, and openhearted, vulnerable love. Therefore, boundaries can seem to go against this, as it can feel as though we are putting barriers between ourselves and the people we care for and love.
However, when people violate us and behave in abusive ways, it is imperative that we protect ourselves and that we realize that we can still love and care deeply for people and accept them exactly as they are—but that does not mean we have to physically remain in a relationship with them if they are chronically abusive.
We can choose to love, but we can also choose to let go, and this includes releasing our attachment to people who we know are not healthy for us.
However, before we make decisions to release certain relationships, it is important to consider whether we have placed unrealistically high expectations on people, and whether it is simply our judgment of other people (or our experiences) that is causing us to perceive them in a negative light.
At the same time, it is essential that we are aware of the signs of abuse—and that in the same way that physical abuse is unacceptable, so too is emotional or mental abuse.
Practicing mindfulness can support us in gaining a clearer perspective of our relationships, as when we remain in the present moment, we have a far greater chance of seeing the reality of our circumstances, rather than viewing through an idealistic or fearful lens related to our past or future.
When we are mindful and grounded within our physical body, we are centered in the current moment and aware of all our senses, and this allows us to become aware when something that occurs outside of us rubs against our natural state of love and peacefulness. This also allows us to calmly respond to our surroundings, rather than emotionally reacting whenever we feel that something is wrong.
When we soften into love, we can see that not everyone is meant to journey with us; however, they can still be loved and accepted from a distance. Sometimes, letting people go not only releases us from a dynamic that is unfulfilling, limiting, and stifling, but it also releases the other person.
Although the Buddhist view is that there is no suffering when there is no attachment, this does not mean that we will be able to stay with someone who we are highly incompatible with as long as we remain detached.
One of the core beliefs of Buddhism is that we detach from whatever is causing us suffering—and sometimes, that means walking away, with compassion, from someone we are in an unhealthy relationship with.
There is a lot of discussion within Buddhism about existing with love and compassion in our hearts. However, when we are in a relationship with someone who does not value those things—and instead is filled with anger and resentment—we should not judge ourselves for choosing to redirect our lives so that we can achieve enlightenment, happiness, harmony, and, most of all, peace.
One of the main teachings of Buddhism is impermanence, which basically means that nothing, including relationships, remains the same forever.
Author: Alex Myles
Image: Unsplash/Felix Russell-Saw
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy editor: Travis May
Social editor: Travis May