Why do cou­ples split up? and why do they stay to­gether?

The Miracle - - Social - By Ana San­doiu

Why - and how - do part­ners de­cide to break up? A new study in­ves­ti­gates the rea­sons be­hind this com­plex de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. The find­ings bring valu­able in­sights into re­la­tion­ship sat­is­fac­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Utah in Salt Lake City, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with sci­en­tists from the Univer­sity of Toronto in Canada, set out to ex­am­ine the rea­sons that in­form the de­ci­sion of ei­ther leav­ing or stay­ing in a re­la­tion­ship and the sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of this de­lib­er­at­ing process. The re­search con­sisted of two phases and was led by Prof. Sa­man­tha Joel, of the Univer­sity of Utah. The find­ings were pub­lished in the jour­nal So­cial Psy­cho­log­i­cal and Per­son­al­ity Sci­ence. Study­ing the pros and cons In the first phase of the re­search, a di­verse sam­ple of par­tic­i­pants was asked open-ended ques­tions about the rea­sons why they would con­tinue and the rea­sons why they would end a re­la­tion­ship. The study ex­am­ined three groups of re­spon­dents. The first group con­sisted of 135 un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents who were asked about po­ten­tial rea­sons why a per­son might de­cide to stay or leave a re­la­tion­ship. In the sec­ond group, 137 un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents who had con­tem­plated a breakup at a time prior to the study were asked to pro­vide an­swers to the open-ended ques­tions. The third group con­sisted of Amer­i­can Me­chan­i­cal Turk work­ers who were them­selves con­sid­er­ing whether or not to break up at the time of the study. The re­searchers cre­ated a cod­ing scheme for rea­sons to stay and leave based on an­swer themes that reap­peared through­out the three sam­ples, leav­ing out an “un­cod­able cat­e­gory” for par­tic­u­larly am­bigu­ous replies. This left the re­searchers with a to­tal of 27 dif­fer­ent rea­sons for stay­ing and 23 rea­sons for leav­ing. In the sec­ond phase of the study, Prof. Joe­land col­leagues used these rea­sons to draw up a ques­tion­naire, which they then ad­min­is­tered to an­other group of par­tic­i­pants. These re­spon­dents were also de­lib­er­at­ing whether or not to end the re­la­tion­ship they were in at the time of the study. Also, this last group con­sisted of peo­ple who were ei­ther dat­ing or mar­ried. Those who were in a dat­ing re­la­tion­ship had been a cou­ple for an av­er­age of 2 years, whereas the spouses had been mar­ried or to­gether for 9 years, on av­er­age. Rea­sons vary, am­biva­lence stays the same Both stud­ies con­firmed that over­all, pa rtic­i­pants had sim­i­lar pro and con rea­sons. The main rea­sons for want­ing to stay were emo­tional in­ti­macy, or feel­ing close to one’s part­ner, in­vest­ment (which was a cat­e­gory that in­cluded a sub­set of rea­sons such as lo­gis­ti­cal bar­ri­ers and ha­bit­u­a­tion), and a feel­ing a com­mit­ment or obli­ga­tion to their fam­ily. By con­trast, the main rea­sons for leav­ing in­volved the part­ner’s per­son­al­ity, breaches of trust (such as un­faith­ful­ness or de­cep­tive­ness), and the part­ner’s with­drawal (man­i­fested as the part­ner no longer be­ing sup­port­ive or af­fec­tion­ate.) The rea­sons for leav­ing were largely the same across the two groups - those dat­ing and those who were mar­ried. How­ever, there were dif­fer­ences be­tween the two groups when it came to rea­sons for stay­ing. Part­ners who dated seemed to be fo­cused on pos­i­tive, so-called ap­proach­based fac­tors such as per­son­al­ity traits that they liked in their part­ner, the emo­tional close­ness they felt they had, and the en­joy­ment they drew from the re­la­tion­ship. Mar­ried part­ners, on the other hand, seemed more fo­cused on con­straints in their de­ci­sion; they men­tioned in­vest­ment (in­clud­ing lo­gis­ti­cal bar­ri­ers), fam­ily duty and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and a fear of un­cer­tainty. Across all groups, ap­prox­i­mately 50 per­cent of the par­tic­i­pants re­ported a com­pa­ra­ble num­ber of rea­sons for both stay­ing and leav­ing, in­di­cat­ing that am­biva­lence is a very com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence. “What was most in­ter­est­ing to me was how am­biva­lent peo­ple felt about their re­la­tion­ships. They felt re­ally torn. Break­ing up can be a re­ally difficult de­ci­sion. You can look at a re­la­tion­ship from out­side and say ‘you have some re­ally un­solv­able prob­lems, you should break up’ but from the in­side that is a re­ally difficult thing to do and the longer you’ve been in a re­la­tion­ship, the harder it seems to be.” Prof. Sa­man­tha Joel Speak­ing about the sig­nif­i­cance of the re­search, Prof. Joel says, “Most of the re­search on breakups has been pre­dic­tive, try­ing to pre­dict whether a cou­ple stays to­gether or not, but we don’t know much about the de­ci­sion process - what are the spe­cific re­la­tion­ship pros and cons that peo­ple are weigh­ing out.” “Hu­mans fall in love for a rea­son,” she adds. “From an evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, for our an­ces­tors find­ing a part­ner may have been more im­por­tant than find­ing the right part­ner. It might be eas­ier to get into re­la­tion­ships than to get back out of them.”

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