Why do people stay in unsatisfying romantic relationships? A new study suggests it may be because they view leaving as bad for their partner.
The study explored the possibility that people deciding whether to end a relationship consider not only their own desires but also how much they think their partner wants and needs the relationship to continue.
“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 and assistant professor at the University of Utah.
“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.”
In making that choice, the unhappy partner may be hoping that the relationship will improve, Joel said.
“One thing we don’t know is how accurate people’s perceptions are,” Joel said. “It could be the person is overestimating how committed the other partner is and how painful the break up would be.”
Deciding to stay based on a partner’s perceived dependence on the relationship could be a double-edged sword, Joel said. If the relationship improves, it was a good decision. But if it doesn’t, a bad relationship has been prolonged.
There also is the question of whether staying for a partner’s sake is really a pro-social thing to do.
“Who wants a partner who doesn’t really want to be in the relationship?” Joel said.