People are more likely to stay in unhappy relationships if they’ve already invested time, money and effort into them, according to a new study published in Current Psychology.
It’s what psychologist Sara Rego calls the “suck cost effect” – sticking to your guns on a situation, because your “prior investment” causes you to keep investing in it, even if it’s a bad decision and making you bloody miserable in the process.
(Perhaps proof that you might not need a relationship, after all.)
It sounds depressing, but also regrettably familiar out there who knows the feeling of cold shoulders in bed, stolen glances of contempt across the dinner table, or the impending sense that this year’s Christmas stocking will be filled with nothing but disappointment and heartache – yet also know you’ll carry on as normal into 2017.
The study tested over 1,000 participants, asking how they’d react to a number of hypothetical relationship situations.
The first experiment saw participants divide into four groups. Each group imagined that they were in a sexless and unhappy marriage, and had to decide whether to solider on or finish it.
The first group – the control group – was only given this information, while the other three of the groups were given slight variations on the relationship scenario.
The second group was tested on how time affected their decision, imagining they had only been married for a year, rather than a decade.
The third group was tested on money, presented with a scenario in which they had bought a house with the person they were unhappily married to.
And the fourth group was tested on effort, being asked what they would do if had “made a huge effort” to improve things by showing more attention, giving presents, and other loving gestures.
The research found that 35 per cent of participants were far more likely to stay in the unhappy marriage if they had invested money and effort, despite the lack of sex or love and affection.
However, only 25 per cent of people in the control and time groups said they’d stick it out. The research suggests that people are more likely to leave a shorter marriage than longer one, or if they haven’t invested too much money or effort.
A second experiment saw 275 participants presented with two different scenarios. One group imagined they’d been married for 10 years, while the other group was married for just one year. They were asked how many days they thought they’d stay in the unhappy marriage.
The 10-year group would remain the marriage for roughly a year and a half (583 days – just over 19 months), while the one-year group would endure the marriage for nine and a half months (289 days).
“Together, both experiments confirmed the initial hypothesis that investments in terms of time, effort and money make individuals more prone to stay and invest in a relationship in which they are unhappy,” wrote the researchers.
Not the best reasons to stay in a relationship, but the most practical and realistic, it would seem. And they say romance is dead...