Why Do We Stay In Relationships We Don’t Think Are Going Anywhere? A New Study Has The Answer

People who 'stick it out' in relationships they know won't last tend to do so because they worry what breaking up will do to their partners, study says.

A woman holds her head in apparent frustration as her boyfriend sits in the background.
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People who 'stick it out' in relationships they know won't last tend to do so because they worry what breaking up will do to their partners, study says.

Most of us have seen someone else we care for — a friend or a family member — involve themselves in a relationship that they shouldn’t remain in. Or maybe we ourselves have been in such a relationship.

Nevertheless, even though they (or we) know better, the relationship persists. Why do people do that? Why do some people decide to stick it out in a relationship with another person, even though they don’t feel particularly strong feelings for that other person in the first place?

A new study from Western University in Ontario, Canada, sought to explain that phenomenon, according to reporting from Elite Daily. And as that study pointed out, the reason people stay in those types of relationships may be because people, in general, are sympathetic to their partners’ lives.

After following the relationships and patterns of various couples, the study found that people were more likely to stay in relationships that they didn’t necessarily want to remain within if they thought that breaking up with their partner might hurt them down the line. In other words, people stay in those kinds of relationships because they don’t want to hurt their present partner.

How highly a person thought that their partner might “need” them to stay together also seemed to have a positive correlation to their reluctance to part from them.

“The more dependent people believed their partner was on the relationship, the less likely they were to initiate a breakup,” lead author and Assistant Professor at Western University Samantha Joel said.

People who reluctantly remained in a relationship they didn’t want to stay in simply didn’t want to hurt their partner, even if they didn’t view themselves as committed or were “personally unsatisfied with the relationship,” Joel explained. “Generally, we don’t want to hurt our partners and we care about what they want.”

But it was also possible, Joel pointed out, that we’re overthinking the entire thing: Our partners that we want to leave might be fine without us after all, despite our worries over what might happen to them.

“It could be the person is overestimating how committed the other partner is and how painful the breakup would be,” Joel added.

There are, of course, situations that warrant immediate consideration to leaving a relationship. A person who holds unnecessary or prolonged grudges, or who assigns blame to their partner almost all of the time, is exhibiting signs of an unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship, according to Psychology Today. Those could be precursors to more problems down the road, and getting out before they get worse may be the best option for someone to take.