Science has a theory about why people stay in unhappy relationships

A new study has thrown light on why people stay in unhappy relationships? [Photo: Getty]
A new study has thrown light on why people stay in unhappy relationships? [Photo: Getty]

From being too broke to break up to staying together for the children, there are plenty of reasons people might stay in an unhappy relationship.

But according to new research, there’s another huge factor that keeps people plugging away at a coupling that’s really not working.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that thinking about the other person in the relationship and how much breaking up might impact them has a major influence on deciding whether or not to leave.

For the research, scientists explored the possibility that people deciding whether to end a relationship consider not only their own views but also how much they think their partner is keen for the partnership to continue.

According to Samantha Joel, formerly an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah and the lead author on the study, people found it harder to split up when they believed their partner to be reliant on them.

“The more dependent people believed their partner was on the relationship, the less likely they were to initiate a breakup,” she said.

“This is true even for people who weren’t really committed to the relationship themselves or who were personally unsatisfied with the relationship.

Why do people stay in unhappy relationships? [Photo: Getty]
Why do people stay in unhappy relationships? [Photo: Getty]

Previous studies have suggested that other elements that factor in the decision to end a relationship include the amount of time spent being a couple, and the resources and emotion invested, but this new research suggests the other person’s feelings could have a considerable influence.

Other research has indicated that people may also stay in an unhappy relationship if the alternative options ie being on their own, or a lack of available alternative partners, seem less appealing.

But this latest study suggests people don’t just think about their own wants and needs when they’re deciding whether to quit a relationship, but those of their soon-to-be ex.

“Generally, we don’t want to hurt our partners and we care about what they want,” Joel continues.

The problem is that we can’t always accurately predict exactly how the other person will feel if the relationship does end.

You might think a breakup will cause complete devastation on their part, but in fact they could well be signing up to Tinder instead of sobbing into the Ben & Jerrys.

“One thing we don’t know is how accurate people’s perceptions are,” Joel explains.

“It could be the person is overestimating how committed the other partner is and how painful the breakup would be.”

Of course, considering how your partner might feel should you break up indicates you’re a kind and caring person, but it shouldn’t stop you leaving a relationship you’re ultimately not happy in.

Because staying in a relationship that doesn’t feel right isn’t good for anyone.

As Joel notes: “Who wants a partner who doesn’t really want to be in the relationship?”

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