Are Some People Better at Breaking Up? Research Says Yes

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By Gabrielle White


We recently shared an article with you that explained the way most people subconsciously (or consciously) look at relationships like investments. The research showed that the greater the investment we make in someone, the more likely we are to stay in a relationship with them, even when that’s not necessarily the most rational thing to do.

As it turns out, that's not the only reason we make irrational decisions to stay in relationships. Researchers at Northwestern University sought to clarify why some people stay committed to partners who don’t give them what they need. In their study on attachment styles, researchers wondered if individuals with a lot of attachment anxiety would have a tougher time leaving a partner, even when that partner didn’t meet their needs. Attachment anxiety can be temporarily brought on by a certain context, where you experience negative feelings based on what’s happening around you. It can also be a fixed element of someone’s personality, probably caused by underlying beliefs or characteristics in someone’s personality that makes them feel this way.

Most psychologists believe that attachment anxiety is brought on by fear of being unworthy of love. At the same time, people with a lot of attachment anxiety tend to have a need for that love and fulfillment from their significant other, more so than those with low attachment anxiety. Older studies have found that those with high attachment anxiety tend to stay in their relationships at all costs, even when the relationship is not meeting their emotional needs.

Researchers measured for attachment anxiety as a personality feature, and also as a temporary emotional state, by survey twice a week. The experiment lasted about 6 months and involved 69 participants who were in relationships. They then tracked the relationships of the participants. The findings confirmed their hypotheses; those with more attachment anxiety (regardless of whether it was a personality feature or just a temporary mood) had a harder time leaving their partners, even when their partners didn’t meet their emotional and psychological needs. This was also true in the other direction: those who didn’t show as much attachment anxiety were better able to leave their partners successfully when the partnership wasn’t working.

The bottom line: our decisions to stay with a partner aren’t always rational, and research seems to suggest that healthier attachment styles enable people to leave dead-end relationships. The next time you find yourself stuck, you might consider getting to know your attachment style a little better.

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Gabrielle White

Gabby is a Contributing Editor at Mend. Her ultimate heartbreak cure is a repeat cycle of rooibos tea, puppy snuggles, and salted dark chocolate.

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