Sunk cost fallacy relationships

Sunk cost fallacy relationships

Many people will feel an overwhelming loss at the end of a relationship, responding not only to the loss of the relationship, but also to the loss of all of the time, energy, and memories that are a part of that relationship.  When this happens in a relationship, it can be the place where sunk cost fallacy invades the relationship.  If this is the case, the couple may end up staying together because of the time and the memories that they have together, even if it is not the healthiest option for them.  Learning when a relationship may be in the phase and how to remove yourself from that relationship in a healthy way can be difficult, but it will often be the healthiest option.  Investing in the future can help make the past fade away, but it is often easier said than done.  This article will examine the fallacy and the impact that it has on relationships, as well as provide some tips to help remove yourself from that situation.  

Sunk Cost Fallacy Explained: 

The sunk cost fallacy is an economics concept revolving around the tendency for humans to continue to invest in something that they have already invested a significant amount of time or money in.  The longer that a person has been working on the investment and the more time and energy they have put into it, the more likely it will be that they will continue the investment, no matter how poorly the investment is performing.  Some people describe it as a bias toward an endeavor that is the result of time passing.  It is related to the idea of loss aversion, which is the idea that humans prefer to avoid what is perceived as the greatest loss.  Sunk cost fallacy results when the largest loss perceived is the loss of the investment already made in the endeavor. This can happen in investments, negotiations, and even relationships, and it can end up costing the person relying on the fallacy a significant amount of time and money if they continue to throw good money or energy after bad.  Learning when and how to untangle yourself from a situation that is the result of sunk cost fallacy is an important skill and one that needs to be identified and encouraged.  

Impacts on Relationships: 

As mentioned above, sunk cost fallacy can find its way into a relationship, particularly a long-term relationship that has run its course.  When the couple needs or wants to break up, the idea of leaving behind the time, money, and energy they have spent on the relationship can cause them to second guess their decision and can often push a couple to continue trying to make the relationship work, even when the relationship is unhealthy.  Some common reasons that sunk cost fallacy might find its way into a relationship include: 

  • Time: One of the biggest reasons that many couples will try and make the relationship work is the time that they have spent in the relationship.  Many couples realize that they have spent a significant amount of time with this person that they cannot get back to spend with someone else or themselves.  This can be intimidating to consider leaving a relationship, and many couples will try and make it work to save time.  
  • Kids: Another reason that many couples may fall into the sunk cost fallacy is that the couple has children together.  Children are a decision that the couple chose to make together, and the idea of having to raise them separately can often feel overwhelming.  Investing in the children’s lives can be difficult separately as well, so it can often encourage couples to stay together for the sake of their children, even if it is an unhealthy situation.  
  • Friends: It can be common that couples in a long-term relationship will have the same group of friends.  This can make breaking up hard because it can also involve losing friends that you have worked so hard to connect with.  This doubles the sunk cost fallacy that takes effect in this case.  
  • Assets: Especially if the couple is married, there will often be a large number of assets that they will have to sell and divide.  For many couples, they will not get the return on the investments that they made on some of the assets, and it can be difficult to imagine attempting to separate these assets and the investments contained in them.  Because of this, many couples will choose to stay together instead.  
  • Memories: Ending a relationship can be difficult because of the number of memories that the couple shares together.  It can be difficult to think of all the experiences that you have with a person becoming something that you did with someone who is no longer in your life.  Thinking about separating the memories and not experiencing them for ourselves can feel like a lost cause.  

Considering the way that sunk cost fallacy can impact a relationship and push couples to attempt to continue moving forward together rather than separating healthily demonstrates the difficulty that the couples can find when they attempt to separate their lives.  

Leaving the Relationship: 

Attempting to leave a relationship where the past and the investments that have been made in the relationship make it difficult is not an easy task.  There are some considerations and steps that the couple can take to break up healthily and move forward apart.  This includes: 

  • Acknowledgment: The first thing that a person will need to do is acknowledge that they are caught in this cycle.  They need to admit that they would like to end the relationship and move forward, but the sunk cost fallacy is stopping them from doing so.  Acknowledging this will help them be able to move forward.  
  • Confidants: Telling a few trusted people can make the process of moving on easier.  They can help encourage steps forward toward leaving while also being a space to process the feelings with.  They can help you focus on the future and why leaving is better and potentially help ignore or talk through the feelings of the past.  
  • Ritual: Often, it is the repetitive reliving of the good memories at the end of a relationship that will push the couple into a sunk cost fallacy tailspin.  To avoid this, it can be helpful to create a ritual where you enjoy the memory once, but then put it to rest through a closure ritual.  Doing so will put a hard stop on the repetitiveness of the memory and encourage the person to remember the good while also acknowledging that leaving is going to be the healthiest.  
  • Plan: Having some exciting plans for the future can help make the past look less appealing.  Booking a vacation, signing up for a new class, or finding a new place to live can help give you something to look forward to and help move past the past.  

Leaving a relationship is never an easy task, and leaving a long-term relationship where many memories and things have been invested can be even more difficult.  Learning how to move forward can be a healthy step and ensure that needs are met.  Finding a healthy way to leave can ensure that the future is bright.  

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