Why INFPs May Stay in Bad Relationships (and How to Get Out)

dead flowers represent an INFP in a bad relationship

As an INFP in my mid-twenties, I’ve had my fair share of relationships and modern dating. It’s tough. It’s fun. It can be beautiful — but it can also hurt very deeply, especially for people who feel as much as INFPs do.

In life, heartbreak is inevitable, at least at some point. What is preventable, though, is staying in a relationship that doesn’t resonate with you and doesn’t make you truly happy.

As an INFP who has stayed in a few toxic relationships for too long, here are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way.

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We See the Best in People (Sometimes an Imaginary Best)

I once read a quote that said: “Never fall in love with someone’s potential, because you could be falling in love with someone they’ll never be.” For INFPs and others like us, this is a huge danger zone.

INFPs are idealists. We see future possibilities rather than present realities. When we meet someone — and we feel a connection — it can be immensely difficult for us to take them at face value. We think about them in great detail, potentially filling in gaps of character knowledge with what we would like them to be, and daydreaming about what we could do together in the near (and even distant) future.

We can become so immersed in who we think this person is, and who we want them to be, that we may ignore incongruities in this person’s character. I think this stems from the fact that we believe all people are inherently good — I still believe this, even after two toxic relationships. However, some people’s intentions are not so honest.

I have an unfortunate, perhaps cliched habit of going for bad boys. Maybe it’s part of being the “healer” personality, but I am your typical “fixer.” It’s sweet in theory, but it’s detrimental to my own wellbeing.

I have been guilty of staying in relationships that are not right for me because I saw the imaginary best in a person — clinging to our best moments and ignoring huge, waving red flags. For example: lying, poor communication, drug abuse, narcissism, even infidelity.

We May Accept Others to the Point That We Neglect Our Own Needs (Then Blow Up)

This leads swimmingly to my next lesson. Many INFPs believe in the concept of “live and let live.” This can make us great, understanding partners, but what happens when the person we’re with doesn’t treat us how we want and need to be treated?

We hate conflict, so that’s usually a painful no-go. Then there’s swallowing our emotions and trudging along while not feeling truly happy. I’m sure we’ve all done this at some point, regardless of our Myers-Briggs personality type. My best friend — an ESFJ — used to say that I was “a passive acceptor of torment” about my relationship with my ex-boyfriend. He did things that — when I look back — simply made me sad: messaging other women, lying, poor communication.

These things made me feel hurt and uncomfortable. But, rather than own the fact that they made me uneasy, I instead tried to push my feelings to the side, thinking I was overreacting or being needy.

I was so accepting of who he was as a person that I excused behavior that didn’t sit right with me, and stayed in a relationship that made me sad for far too long. I overanalyzed and ruminated, trying to understand his side, and let his behavior be okay with me.

But then, every little incident would feel like a tiny increase on the thermometer, until suddenly I reached my boiling point and blew up. Of course, he thought I was acting “crazy,” completely unaware of all the slights along the way that had led to this point.

If You’re in a Relationship That Makes You Uneasy, Don’t Ignore That Feeling

Both traits tie together in a way: We see what we want to see, and we accept and try to empathize with what hurts us. This is why I’ve stayed in bad relationships, despite anxiety and unhappiness.

What I have started doing is listening more to my gut. INFPs have very strong belief systems that we use to navigate the world. However, when love comes into play, our internal compasses may go askew, and we might even stop listening to our instincts.

In past bad relationships, I felt completely, totally anxious. There were highs of immense fun, but my baseline was unsettled. I felt drained, I overthought a lot, and I wasn’t happy. But I ignored those feelings and continued to hope for the best.

Some things I used to say to myself:

  • “It’s just the way they are. I need to relax.” (I never felt relaxed.)
  • “It’s just me — I’m sensitive and asking for too much.” (Why did I put my needs in the backseat?)
  • “I should not have said that, now they are mad at me.” (But they weren’t making me happy in the first place!)

The things I said to myself simply caused more pain. They stopped me from saying how I felt to my significant other — a person who wasn’t a good match for me regardless — and kept me in the bad relationship when I should have ended it. 

Moving Forward: Create the Life You Want to Live

At the end of the day, INFPs are dreamers. We have colorful visions and idealistic dreams of the life we want to live. We’re at our happiest when our imagination is powering us forward and enriching our real lives.

When I finally left my ex, it’s because I had been working on using my dreams and imagination to supercharge my life. I started focusing on myself and boosting my self-confidence. As I did this, the idealistic halo I had unintentionally placed on my ex’s head fell off, and I realized the way he was treating me and his opposing values weren’t what I wanted.

If you’re an INFP who thinks you might be in a bad relationship, it’s time to take action. First, I would recommend trying to view your partner without the rose-tinted spectacles we INFPs so readily wear. This can be tricky, I know, but it’s important to take stock of the realities of your situation (and not pen your hopes of what could be). Some things to consider: 

  • Does my partner make me feel safe and comfortable to be myself?
  • Do I trust them? 
  • Do my partner’s actions truly match their words? 

If you answered no to one or more of the above questions, then you might be in a situation where your idealism (which you must remember is a wonderful gift, but one that must be channeled and nurtured) is blocking your view of reality. Look into yourself and ask, “Am I really in love with this person — as they are, right now? Am I happy with how they treat me, or am I holding onto the idea of what could be?” 

I can’t tell you to leave a relationship — it isn’t my place. But I do want you to be aware of your idealism, and make sure it doesn’t pull the wool over your eyes. Self-esteem and confidence also play a huge role. Listen to your inner dreams and pursue them in actuality. This can go a long way to keep INFPs grounded in reality. 

Once you can see your partner without an idealistic halo, you’ll know within yourself what the best next step should be — be it a conversation, some inner work on self-esteem, or perhaps even ending the relationship for good. 

Remember, relationships should feel like blessings, not curses. The bottom line is, in a healthy relationship, your baseline feeling shouldn’t be stress. Of course, no relationship is perfect, but stress should not be the predominant emotion.

Why be with a partner who brings out the worst in you? Who makes you feel like your intuition is off kilter? Who makes you feel like you are asking for too much, when all you want is to give and receive love?

INFP, you deserve the love you so freely give to others.

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