Relationship Science: Study Reveals Why People Break Up — Or Stay Together

SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe The Clash were onto something: There are various factors that people consider when deciding whether to stay in or leave a deteriorating relationship, and now a new study reveals which ones tend to sway people the most.

Researchers at the University of Utah recruited various groups of people, many of whom were in the midst of a breakup, to discuss what they saw as the pros and cons for leaving their relationship.

Couple talking
A new study reveals the most common reasons people choose to break up with their partner, as well as reasons for staying together during hard times.

The survey administered to participants garnered 50 different reasons for either staying in or leaving a relationship, about evenly split between the “stay” and “go” categories. These reasons were then converted into a questionnaire that was administered to another group comprised of individuals in a long-term relationship who were considering a breakup or divorce.

The researchers found that the selected reasons for both staying together and splitting up were fairly consistent among each group, regardless of whether one was dating or married.

Some of the most common factors that encouraged one to stay in an arrangement were emotional intimacy with their partner, investment in the relationship, and a sense of obligation.

Having issues with a partner’s personality, feeling a lack of trust, and experiencing partner withdrawal were the factors that most encouraged one to leave.

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Interestingly, there was some variance in the feelings that led a partner to consider staying or leaving based on relationship status.

Married individuals were more likely to feel a sense of obligation to stay in their relationship, while individuals in a non-married relationship were more likely to want to stay due to emotional benefits, such as intimacy and enjoyment.

Around half of participants said they had both reasons to stay and go, making their decision not so clear-cut.

“What was most interesting to me was how ambivalent people felt about their relationships. They felt really torn,” says lead researcher Samantha Joel, a psychology professor at the university, in a school news release. “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. The longer you’ve been in a relationship, the harder it seems to be.”

Oftentimes, it’s more about finding any partner than it is about finding the right partner, Joel explains.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science.

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