We all know what it’s like to linger in a relationship that we know is toxic, and oftentimes our reasons for hanging on are selfish. We don’t want to deal with the breakup and the inevitable pain it will cause us, and we definitely don’t want to wade into the cesspool that is online dating, so it’s easier to hang on. But, according to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the reason many of us delay breakups isn’t as egocentric as it would seem. In fact, the reason is actually a far more selfless one.
First: the study. In its first experiment, 1,348 participants in romantic relationships were tracked over a 10-week period. In the second, 500 participants contemplating a breakup were followed over a 2-month period. In both cases, researchers found that how likely someone was to initiate a breakup depended largely on how much pain they perceived the decision would cause the other person.
“The more dependent people believed their partner was on the relationship, the less likely they were to initiate a breakup,” Samantha Joel, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Western University in Ontario and lead author of the study, said in a university newsletter. “When people perceived that the partner was highly committed to the relationship they were less likely to initiate a break up. 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.”
One of the problems with this line of seemingly altruistic thinking is that it makes assumptions about how the other person feels. “One thing we don’t know is how accurate people’s perceptions are,” Joel said. “It could be the person is overestimating how committed the other partner is and how painful the break up would be.”
After all, if you’re not really committed, it’s probably already causing the other person a lot of pain and unease. From that perspective, the kinder thing to do is to just let them go. “Who wants a partner who doesn’t really want to be in the relationship?” Joel added.
Remember: It might cause more pain in the short-term, but in the long-term, it saves everyone a lot of grief. And if you don’t want to take our word for it, read what these 20 People Learned After a Failed Relationship.
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