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Why do many unhappy couples stay together?

Why do many unhappy couples stay together?

June 12, 2024

The experience of marriage and living a relationship should be something beneficial, enriching and satisfying for both members of it. However, there are many cases in which the dynamics of the couple is very different, and still resist breaking the link.

While is true that there are many reasons why people feel dissatisfied or unhappy in their relationship , there are many other reasons why they prefer to continue. However, couple psychology still struggles to clarify why some unhappy couples are able to break, while others do not.

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The Theory of Interdependence

One of the most accepted theories that tries to explain this phenomenon is the Theory of Interdependence. Spoken by psychologists Harold Kelley and John Thibault , this assumption establishes that each of the members of the couple evaluates the personal satisfaction with their marriage or bond, in relation to the costs and benefits of said relationship.

That is, if our partner demands a lot of time and resources, but compensates us because it covers our needs or, if on the contrary, it gives us little but also requires little, it is very possible that we maintain the relationship.

The key to this theory is that while the perceived costs are not greater than the benefits, there are many possibilities for the couple to stay together. Otherwise it is very likely that one of the two ends up cutting the relationship .

In this way, according to the Theory of Interdependence this balance is the basis of commitment . To be more specific, according to Kelley and Thibaut, despite the dissatisfaction in the couple, the people who make up will feel more committed for these reasons:

  • The amount of time spent in the relationship . Taking a long time in a relationship gives it a sense, people perceive that they have built something that is a great anguish to break.
  • The members of the couple they are not able to find better alternatives to their current relationship .

The current studies

Although the conclusions of the Kellet and Thibault studies on the Theory of Interdependence may well apply to the present, it is certain that these are approximately fifty years old, and that ** the couple's dynamics change to just as society changes **.

It is obvious to think that the level of satisfaction that a person possesses in their relationship depends to a large extent on what this relationship provides. That is, the benefits. However, recent research points to the role of individual standards or, in other words, the idea or conception that each person has about what a relationship should be. According to these studies, it is very possible that a couple who is in a dysfunctional relationship keep this link for the simple fact of your standards for couple relationships are low .

The cases in which people are really dissatisfied with their relationship but maintain their commitment, are difficult to explain by the Theory of Interdependence. However, studies conducted by psychologist Levi Baker, at the University of North Carolina, provide other lights that can help us understand why many unhappy couples are still together .

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The results

According to the results obtained by Baker and his collaborators, the commitment to the relationship is not based as much on the current level of satisfaction as on the level of satisfaction expected in the future of the relationship. That is, people maintain their relationship because believe that the quality of this will improve over time or that the problems will end up happening.

Therefore, when making a prediction about whether a couple who does not feel happy together will maintain their relationship or not, the expectation of future satisfaction will be a better predictor than the current satisfaction in the couple.

Although there are probably many more factors, the hypothesis that happiness expectations maintain an unsatisfactory relationship is not altogether far-fetched, since in the end it is about long-term relationships and it is logical to think that good will surpass the bad in the long term.

After analyzing the data obtained, Baker discovered that unsatisfactory partner relationships followed two trends. On the one hand, one of the couple's components left the relationship when they had expectations that the situation could not improve and, furthermore, thought that they could find better alternatives outside of it. On the contrary, people stayed in the relationship when they hoped it would improve and, in addition, they thought they could not find anything better .

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The influence of personal and social factors

Although the studies show clear trends, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are a variety of factors that influence the decision to break a relationship in which we are not happy.

Personal factors such as beliefs about the importance of marriage and personal relationships they play a fundamental role. For some people, being single is an unacceptable condition, much worse than living in a relationship where there is no longer love.

The importance that society has given to marriage or life as a couple as an ideal state exerts a powerful influence on people, some of whom desperately seek a partner with whom to share their life regardless of whether it makes them happy or not.

In other cases, the factor that keeps couples together is the existence of children . Developing couple dynamics in which each of the components maintains parallel lives but retains the same home, staying together for the supposed good of the children. Because, in their belief, the division of the home is much worse for children than the current situation.

Another different issue are those that involve religious attitudes and beliefs around divorce . Those people with a strong relationship with their religion can refuse to face a divorce either because of their own conviction or because of fear of being rejected by their religious community.


Whatever the reason for the dissatisfaction, once people are aware of the status of their partner they pass to evaluate your prospects or options for the future . If this person perceives that he has opportunities to find something better, it is very likely that he will break the relationship, looking for a new beginning.

Considering this, it is easy to understand why those couples of younger ages perceive separation or divorce as something much more plausible than those couples of more advanced ages.

In cases where they are unable to imagine a better alternative to the current condition of the couple, it is very possible that they maintain it; finding ways to calm conflicts and considering each other as life partners.

5 Reasons Why Unhappy Couples Stay Together|HFE♪ (June 2024).

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