“How can I leave after everything? I was with him when he had nothing. We built this together!” No cookies for correctly guessing the speaker of this statement. It is clear that’s what people (commonly a woman) in old and unhappy relationships would say.
This is the kind of response you’d get sometimes when you ask that friend of yours who’s married to a terrible person to exit the marriage and go find love somewhere else.
Why can’t they leave?
They hardly ever leave. Why? Because they have fallen victim to what psychologists call the ‘sunk cost effect’. The sunk cost effect is a phenomenon where previous investments in a relationship force a person to continue to invest in it even if common sense suggests that it has become a futile endeavor.
For such a person, the concession of failure (after so much investment) is far worse than starting all over again.
Their investments — which could be time or effort — make the relationship appear valuable and they just unhappily hang around instead of salvaging what’s left of themselves with the hope that their persistence will pay off and they will reap some profit someday.
This is backed by a recent study published in the journal, Current Psychology. The study recorded the reactions of the 1000 participants to some hypothetical marriage situations. The researchers found that a significant number of people (35%) were willing to continue in an unhappy relationship where they had put in a lot of effort.
The result also revealed that people who had spent only a short time in their relationship were more likely to quit if they felt unhappy in it.
Do unhappy relationships ever get better?
I wouldn’t advise my friend to stay in an unhappy relationship but a study conducted in 2002 revealed something very interesting. The study showed that two-third of couples who stayed together in the unhappy periods of their relationship became happy five years later, and that those who divorced were not happier than those who stayed, on average.
Hard to believe, right? What would you do if your relationship turns sour after ten years and two or three kids? Would you seek for a divorce or would you just stick around?