When a relationship starts going sour, it’s not quite as simple as stamping your feet and calling it quits.
Staying in an unhappy relationship might sound futile and foolish, but it’s not uncommon, and now there’s a scientific reason as to why this may be.
Researchers at the University of Utah claim that people persist in fractured romantic partnerships because they feel the other person is too dependent on them, leaving them feeling unable to simply walk away out of altruism.
Previous research has linked persisting with unhappy relationships to self-interested needs, such as not wanting to be alone or fearing they won’t find another partner.
However, the new findings reveal that people are actually more empathetic when it comes to considering breakups.
Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study reveals that the more dependent a person believes their partner to be, the less likely they are to initiate a breakup, ultimately suggesting that people stay in unfulfilling relationships for the sake of their partner’s needs rather than their own.
The research was conducted in two separate studies; the first one tracked 1,348 people in romantic relationships over a 10-week period and a second examined 500 participants, who were contemplating a breakup, for two months.
“When people perceived that the partner was highly committed to the relationship, they were less likely to initiate a break up,” said lead author Samantha Joel, assistant psychology professor at the University of Utah.
“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.”
Although, Joel pointed out that occasionally a person’s perception of their partner’s needs could be misguided, which may undermine the validity of her findings.
“It could be the person is overestimating how committed the other partner is and how painful the break up would be,” she said.
Despite what the study claims, dating psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree, who deals first-hand with couples on the brink of a breakdown, argues that the fear of being alone is the most common reason for sticking it out in a bad relationship.
“Others may simply be in denial about the true colours of their partner or nature of the relationship,” she tells The Independent.
“Another reason may be that they believe they are a failure if they leave the relationship and think they will lose face by doing so.”