Why do people stay in unhappy relationships?

We often ask ourselves this question, specifically when we observe a relationship that is not only unhappy, but further unhealthy. It is difficult to understand why people remain in unsatisfactory relationships, however, according to a University of Utah release, the answer could come as a surprise.

The University of Utah study examined whether people who wish to end a relationship refrain from doing so because of a concern for their partner. Even if someone is aware of their own wants and needs, the wants and needs of their partner play a strong role in their decision.

“The more dependent people believed their partner was on the relationship, the less likely they were to initiate a breakup,” said Samantha Joel, lead author of the study in the release.

Former research demonstrates how time, resources and emotion that has been invested in a relationship can influence decisions involved with ending a relationship. Further, previous research suggests that someone may choose to stay in an unhappy relationship if being alone seems even more unsatisfactory to them.

“When people perceived that the partner was highly committed to the relationship they were less likely to initiate a break up,” Joel said. “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.”

Joel also referenced how the person who is unhappy could be holding out in hopes that the relationship will improve, and that if it does, refraining from ending the partnership was a good decision, though if it fails to improve, a poor relationship has been drawn out.

The full study will be published in the November 2018 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

What are your thoughts about these findings? I find it surprising that many people choose not to end a relationship out of concern for their partner, which is benevolent. But if you’re unhappy as a result, is it really such a good thing?

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