What makes people stay in relationships and what makes them want to leave?
People who are married or just dating give similar reasons for wanting to leave their partner.
These are (1) issues with their partner’s personality, (2) a breach of trust (often, cheating) and (3) partner becoming distant or disconnected.
People give slightly different reasons for wanting to stay together.
For people who are married, the top reasons to stay together are the investment they have already made in the relationship, family responsibilities and the barriers to leaving (e.g. financial).
(You can tell these are people who have been together for an average of 9 years — the responses are kind of negative.)
Top of the reasons to stay for those dating included liking their partner’s personality, feeling close and the positive emotions from the relationship.
(In other words, these are couples, who have been together for an average of two years, haven’t had kids yet!)
Professor Samantha Joel, who led the study, said:
“Most of the research on breakups has been predictive, trying to predict whether a couple stays together or not, but we don’t know much about the decision process — what are the specific relationship pros and cons that people are weighing out.”
Around half the people in the study had both reasons to stay and reasons to leave.
Professor Joel said:
“What was most interesting to me was how ambivalent people felt about their relationships.
They felt really torn.
Breaking up can be a really difficult decision.
You can look at a relationship from outside and say ‘you have some really unsolvable problems, you should break up’ but from the inside that is a really difficult thing to do and the longer you’ve been in a relationship, the harder it seems to be.”
Most people said they had relationship deal-breakers, but these are often forgotten when they meet someone.
Professor Joel said:
“Humans fall in love for a reason.
From an evolutionary perspective, for our ancestors finding a partner may have been more important than finding the right partner.
It might be easier to get into relationships than to get back out of them.”
The study was published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science (Joel et al., 2017).