The truth is, breakups are difficult for everyone involved. You typically don’t commit to a relationship with the intention of hurting the other person’s feelings, but unfortunately sometimes, no matter how much you wanted things to work out, they just don’t. And while breaking up is already hard to do, it can be especially heart-wrenching if your partner is more invested in the life you’ve built together than you are. You know that cutting ties would turn their entire world upside down, but should that be enough of a reason to hold you back from leaving, even when, deep down, you know that it’s over?
According to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people are more hesitant to follow through with a breakup if they think their partner needs the relationship to continue.
In order to figure out how someone goes about deciding whether they should leave their partner, University of Utah psychology professor Samantha Joel, Ph.D., and her team of researchers followed numerous relationships that were on the rocks. In the first study, 1,348 people in romantic relationships were analyzed over a 10-week period, while the second experiment tracked 500 participants contemplating a breakup over a two-month period. The results showed that if a person felt their partner was significantly dependent on the relationship, that person was way less likely to leave—even if the relationship was distinctly unfulfilling for them.
“When people perceived that the partner was highly committed to the relationship, they were less likely to initiate a breakup. This is true even for people who weren’t really committed to the relationship themselves or who were personally unsatisfied with the relationship,” Dr. Joel said in a news release. “Generally, we don’t want to hurt our partners, and we care about what they want.”
Here’s where not breaking up can backfire, though: What’s best for your partner isn’t necessarily what’s best for you. Of course, there’s always a chance that pushing through a lull or hardship will be worth it in the end and that the relationship will change for the better. However, if it doesn’t, it’s not fair to you to force feelings that just aren’t there, and it’s definitely not fair to your partner. After all, Dr. Joel notes, “Who wants a partner who doesn’t really want to be in the relationship?”
At the end of the day, whether or not your partner is still head over heels, if you yourself are no longer invested in the relationship, you have to get out. By being the one to exit, you get to decide how to approach the end. The best way to do that, therapist John Kim tells mbg, is to make the decision, follow through, and just be 100 percent honest with your partner about your emotions and why you’ve decided to call it quits.
“Ending a relationship is one of the most difficult things we can do,” Kim writes. “You’re going to hurt someone you care about. Many, including myself, would rather be on the receiving end. But for whatever reason, if you know in your heart that the relationship is not going to work out, terminating it is the responsible thing to do. The sooner the better.”
As important as it is to respect the other person’s feelings, remember to be gentle with your own as well. Joyce Meyer once said that peace is power, and it’s true. Make peace with your decisions: At the end of the day, this is your life, and you have to live it for yourself. And in the words of another great thinker, the one and only Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Accept that things didn’t work out, and know that your partner will find love again. As will you.