Do you ever wonder why unhappy couples stay together? Maybe you’ve been in a relationship where you stayed more than you should. Or maybe you are currently in a relationship staying with your partner even though you are unhappy.
New research examined people’s attachment styles revealing why people stay together for too long when they are unhappy in a relationship.
What Should We Do When We are Unhappy in Marriage or Relationship?
According to the American Psychology Association (APA), 90% of people marry by age 50 and 50% of marriages end up with divorce. Still, many stay married or many stayed married for too long before they finally divorce.
People easily get into relationships where they are not happy. They often rationalize reasons why they are staying in a relationship without a real reason. This is not the case for divorce but understanding why we are not only staying in a relationship when we are unhappy but why are we not doing anything to fix it.
Staying Together for Kids
Too often couples stay together to see kids through college and break up shortly after the nest is empty. Also, people often struggle whether staying together serves their kids or hurts them. Is staying together truly the best choice for kids? When parents are unhappy in a marriage, kids often serve as couples’ therapists for their parents.
If you are unmarried or without kids, it’s easier to leave but once kids come into the picture, it’s much more difficult. Evolution has a role when it comes to why people stay together because of their kids. It doesn’t care much if you are happy or unhappy with your marriage. Evolution only cares about having adult kids and them having their kids.
Maintaining the Status Quo
Couples often are running away from the issues while remaining in the status quo. Investment theory explains that people stay in a relationship to protect their resources. They would only leave a relationship for a better partner, infidelity, or if other serious issues occur that can’t be looked over. According to investment theory, people would stay with a trustworthy partner over an attractive one, however, they would leave a trustworthy partner over a wealthier partner.
Also, if our culture, friends, family members or society sends us a message that we should stay, we are more likely to remain in a relationship.
Attachment Styles and Relationships
People who have an anxious attachment style tend to become preoccupied with relationships and deeply influenced by fear. On the other side, those with dismissive attachment styles are more likely to leave relationships too easily.
Research from 2020 examined why people with anxious attachment styles stay in relationships even when they are unhappy. Researchers found that fear of change plays a major role in why people stay in relationships. People with anxious attachment styles are committed even when their needs are not met. Furthermore, researchers found that those with lower fear of change had lower relationship commitment which is applicable for those who avoid relationships in the first place.
Interestingly, often people with anxious attachment styles are more dissatisfied with their relationships but they stay, which leads to confusion and dissatisfaction to grow over time. This can be even more complicated if both partners have an anxious attachment style. In this case, marriages can drag on for years without any resolution of both partners who can be equally unhappy in marriage.
The Consequences of Unhappy Marriage
It can be extremely distressing when we stay in unhappy relationships for a longer period. It can create cognitive dissonance with desires left unresolved for years. Accepting fear of change also means that we accept to work on a relationship so it can get better, more satisfying. Accepting fear and facing it, doesn’t always mean leaving right away.
For some being alone is the right choice especially after a difficult relationship. This is the time that we can use for personal growth to have satisfying relationships once we are ready. When we are single this can lead to great satisfaction after being unhappy in a bad marriage for years or even decades.
If you have an issue with change, make sure you feel empowered by decisions you make not unhappy and unsatisfied with your relationships. Being alone or working on a relationship can be a transformative experience.