The surprising reason why many people stay in unhappy relationships
A new study from the University of Utah has investigated why people stay in romantic relationships when they are not satisfied. The researchers found that many individuals consider their partner’s desires as much as their own when deciding if they should end an unhappy relationship.
“The more dependent people believed their partner was on the relationship, the less likely they were to initiate a breakup,” explained study lead author Professor Samantha Joel.
Previous studies have found that some of the factors involved in the decision to end a relationship include the amount of time, resources, and emotion invested. Research has also shown that individuals may remain in unfulfilling relationships if the alternatives, such as being alone or the availability of prospective partners, seem less appealing.
Professor Joel explained that, in these cases, deciding to stay or go is based on self-interest. The new study, however, provides the first evidence that this decision is often based on how difficult the split would be for the other person.
“When people perceived that the partner was highly committed to the relationship they were less likely to initiate a break up,” said Professor Joel. “This is true even for people who weren’t really committed to the relationship themselves or who were personally unsatisfied with the relationship. Generally, we don’t want to hurt our partners and we care about what they want.”
According to Professor Joel, the partner who is making the choice to stay for the other person may be hoping that the relationship will improve.
“One thing we don’t know is how accurate people’s perceptions are. It could be the person is overestimating how committed the other partner is and how painful the break up would be.”
Professor Joel said that deciding to stay based on a partner’s perceived dependence on the relationship could be a double-edge sword. It could be a good decision if the relationship improves. Otherwise, a bad relationship has been prolonged.
Furthermore, it is questionable if sticking it out for a partner’s sake is really the respectful thing to do. Professor Joel added, “Who wants a partner who doesn’t really want to be in the relationship?”
The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.