Why would a person stay in a marriage that leaves them unhappy and unfulfilled?

If your unhappy and unfulfilled in your marriage? Should you stay in a marriage and be miserable or divorce?  According to a recent article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology[1], the answer to the question: Why a person would stay in a marriage that leaves them unhappy and unfulfilled? is two fold:

  • The first reason people stay in a marriage can be explained as selfish. A person feels they have already invested a great deal into the relationship such as emotions, time, and other resources, all of which they would lose if the relationship were to end.
  • The second reason people stay in a marriage can be explained as selfless. A person feels that the alternatives to the relationship such as other potential dating partners or being single are less appealing than their current relationship.


In the journal article, the authors explore the idea that the decision to stay in a marriage or leave are not based solely on one’s own dependence on the relationship (selfish), but also on the partner’s perceived dependence on the relationship (selfless). Simply put, people genuinely care about the welfare of their romantic partner, and thus feel motivated to act in ways that benefit the partner even to their own detriment. The authors explore a selfish reason for staying in a relationship for the sake of others. Simply put, they are staying in the relationship for the sake of themselves.

While the present research shows that people take their partner’s feelings into consideration when making the decision to stay in a marriage or divorce. Even when people are not particularly satisfied with their relationship, concern for their partner’s feelings can discourage them from ending the relationship.

Although not addressed in the journal article, the decision to stay in a marriage “for the sake of the children” is often expressed as a reason to stay in an unhappy marriage. However, there is another side to that coin as well. Is it healthier for a child to be raised in a family were his/her parents are unhappy, contempt is prevalent and love is forced or to live in a divorced family were the parents are happy, devoid of contempt and love is natural?  The answer is not always simple, however, I tend to believe that a child will do better with divorced and happy parents than married and miserable.

[1] American Psychological Association Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2018, Vol. 115 No. 5, 805-824 by Samantha Joel, University of Utah; Emily A. Impett, University of Toranto, Mississauga, Stephanie S. Speilman, Wayne State University; and Geoff MacDonald, University of Toronto.

Knowledge is power. If your struggling with the decision to remain married or divorce, we can provide insight about what life after divorce may look like. We can help.

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I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades.  The attorneys at Findling Law all share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles.  We are compassionatecreative and always prepared. We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.That is why we provide more free information on divorce and family law than any other Michigan law firm. We want to help you manage your situation. Allow our exceptional legal team to help you navigate the change in your life, without compromising principles.

By:  Daniel Findling


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