Why we stay in unhappy relationships

Breaking off a relationship is difficult, no matter the circumstances. However, some of us might still feel hesitant to end things, even when they have become unfulfilling. If you find yourself staying in an unhappy romantic relationship, these studies might explain why.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that people who are afraid of being single are less likely to dump their partner.

“Those with stronger fears about being single are willing to settle for less in their relationships,” said Dr Stephanie Spielmann, postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Now we understand that people’s anxieties about being single seem to play a key role in these types of unhealthy relationship behaviours.”

The studies, which involved thousands of adult participants from the US and Canada, found that concerns over being single are universal.

“In our results we see men and women having similar concerns about being single, which lead to similar coping behaviours, contradicting the idea that only women struggle with a fear of being single,” said co-author Dr Geoff MacDonald.

“Loneliness is a painful experience for both men and women, so it’s not surprising that the fear of being single seems not to discriminate on the basis of gender.”

Apart from aversion to being alone, the researchers also found that people could stay in unsatisfying relationships for a more altruistic reason. The findings revealed that partners who seem dependent on or committed to a relationship might discourage people from calling it quits.

“People stay in relationships for the sake of their partners, even if they feel unappreciated by them,” said associate professor of psychology Emily Impett.

Across two studies, the researchers found that respondents who stayed after contemplating split-ups did so because “they felt that a breakup would be distressing to their partners”.

Impett said the next step research-wise would be to investigate whether the other partner would indeed be significantly affected by the potential breakup.

“Also, if you’re staying in a relationship and you’re unhappy and your partner is able to pick up on that, that’s got to have an effect on the partner,” Impett added.

Have you ever stayed in an unhappy relationship? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

This article was written in partnership with Over60.