Life

Why do people stay in unhappy relationships?

Posted by
Moya Crockett
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Research has shown that altruism is a large factor when deciding whether or not to break up in a relationship.

There are many reasons why someone might stay in a relationship they suspect has run its course. Maybe they’re still clinging onto hope that things will improve. Possibly they feel they’ve invested too much time, effort and money into the partnership to simply call it quits. Perhaps they want to buy a house, and know they won’t be able to do it on their own.

According to research, there is also another major factor that influences people’s decisions not to leave unsatisfying romantic relationships. The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that people don’t just think about their own wants and needs when deciding whether to stay with their partner.

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Instead, they also consider how much they think their partner desires and relies upon the relationship.

Samantha Joel, formerly an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah and the lead author on the study, says that people found it harder to leave relationships when they perceived their partner as being reliant on them.

“The more dependent people believed their partner was on a relationship, the less likely they were to initiate a breakup,” says Joel, who is now an assistant professor of psychology at Western University in Canada.

People stay in bad relationships if they think their partner doesn’t want to break up 

While this might sound obvious, it adds a different perspective to previous research which suggested that people decide whether to end a romantic commitment based on the amount of emotional and practical resources they have given to the relationship.

This study confirms that most people don’t just think about themselves when figuring out whether to leave a partner.

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

“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.”

If a relationship is making you miserable, it’s time to go it alone 

However, as Joel observes, your assessment of how devastated your partner will be if you end the relationship may not be entirely correct.

“One thing we don’t know is how accurate people’s perceptions are,” she said. “It could be the person is overestimating how committed the other partner is and how painful the breakup would be.”

Worrying that someone will be sad if you leave is a sign that you’re a decent, empathetic person, but that doesn’t mean that the course of your life should be dictated by those fears.

Ultimately, staying in a miserable relationship just to spare your partner’s feelings isn’t kind to you or them. As Joel notes: “Who wants a partner who doesn’t really want to be in the relationship?”

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Contributing Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk and Deputy Editor of Stylist Loves, Stylist's daily email newsletter.

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