Sunk Cost Fallacy — Why We Stick to Unhealthy Relationships

Sunk Cost Fallacy — Why We Stick to Unhealthy Relationships sunk cost fallacy — why we stick to unhealthy relationships
Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

Sunk cost fallacy is a term pulled from economics and it refers to the tendency of wanting to continue investing in something that you’ve already invested a significant amount of time in or money in. The greater the duration and effort you’ve made in an investment, the higher the probability of sticking with it, even if it’s performing poorly.

You just can’t salvage your losses and look for another opportunity. You’re basing your decisions on the what you’ve spent in the business instead of making a rational decision based on the current return of investment. It’s something referred to as “throwing good money after the bad.” An example is staying in a movie theater to watch a film you’re not enjoying because you paid for the ticket.

The most common place outside economics where sunk cost fallacy plays a huge role is sticking to unhealthy relationships. When you start getting unhappy or you realize that your relationship is toxic, you find it hard to leave because you remember the investment you’ve made in the relationship.

Those investments are pushing you to give them countless chances and accept their fake apologies because the investment you’ve made in the relationship is just too much. You will be biased towards making the relationships work even when there’s a 0% chance of it working.

It will be filled with hope and giving them another year, then another year till you sadly realize you’ve been sticking to that unhealthy relationship for 20 years or more. You may try praying for them, couple’s therapy, meeting the parents, tarot readings or even some other bizarre approaches aimed at preserving the relationship.

Some of the investments we make in a relationship are:

Time: One of the major factors that make couples to try to salvage their relationship is the duration of time they have invested in it. You may realize that you’ve spent a substantial amount of time with your partner and it’s something you can never get back. You feel that the only way to recoup the ‘lost’ time is to stick to the relationship. The other thing is you might be nearing the ‘marriage age’ or your ‘biological clock’ is ticking or you’re growing old. This makes you feel that your time is running out and it’s just better to stick to the current investment.

Children: Another investment is having kids together and being able to raise those kids as a couple. You’ve raised those kids in a traditional family unit and you want to stick to that. You’ve invested resources, effort, emotions and time raising those kids as a couple. The idea of raising them separately is just so overwhelming and may even seem impractical. You can’t imagine losing that ‘comfortable’ home with father, mother and children eating and playing together.

Friends: Another investment is common friends. You’ve invested in building relationships with some of your partner’s family members or friends. You may even have common interests and deep connections with them but the only thing standing in the way is your unhappy relationship. You may choose to stick to it because you want to keep those amazing friends. Those common friends may also pressure you to make it work because, they don’t want to lose the bonds you share. You may not want to miss out those couple’s retreats, church meetings, going out, or those fancy couple’s events. You may also feel that you’re letting your family and friends down if you drop that investment.

Assets: This is a very simple one especially since most couples have joint property. You’ve invested in building that family home together or buying those assets together. The idea of selling and dividing that family home or land is not the easiest thing to think about. In case of a family unit having one sole breadwinner, you may lose the benefits of using that family car, family finances or living in that lavish home. If you leave, you might end up getting a studio apartment which you’re not used to. You might also be a having a joint business which you’ve invested most of your energy building it. The idea of losing those assets you’ve accumulated together is just too much to bear.

Memories & Common Interests: You also don’t want to lose those memories you’ve shared with your partner. Regardless of what’s happening now in the relationship, you’ve had your moments of laughter, happiness, intimacy and other beautiful things. You have a shared history of experiences, interests, hobbies, challenges, milestones, anniversaries and holidays. You will also be holding onto the hope that you may recreate those pleasurable moments in future and you don’t want to lose that. You will be reluctant to leave because you don’t want to lose the person you’ve created those memories with and the possibility of missing out on the memories you might have in the future. You may also share some hobbies like hiking, playing chess, art or just something that brings you to a common competitive ground.

When you get attached to all these kinds of investments, you will not look outside the relationship for solutions. You will cling onto the idea of making it work to the point where you may develop this notion that you’d rather die than leave that unhealthy relationship. It’s not easy to convince someone to leave a relationship where they feel so emotionally, spiritually and physically invested in it.

However, it’s good to recognize that staying in an unhealthy relationship will never bear any good fruits. It will just ruin your mental health and reduce you to a shell of what you used to be. It’s painful to lose those investments but it’s also more painful to keep investing in a sinking ship and eventually lose yourself.

If you really feel that you can’t dare lose those investments, you can do the math of the investments you will lose if you keep investing in that relationship for the next say 20, 30, 40 years or even more. The more you invest, the more it becomes harder to leave because your investment is growing and your inner strength is decaying. So, it’s always good to disembark from that sinking ship when it’s still closer to the shore.

The thing is you should be your main investment in life then other things will follow. The whole idea of a relationship being an investment is quite ugly, especially, if it’s not taking into consideration the well-being and inner peace of you the investor. So, regardless of how long the relationship has been standing, always prioritize investing in yourself and do no lose yourself trying to salvage a sinking ship. You deserve a life of presence and freedom- not a life chained to ‘investments.’

Note from the Author

If you’re ready and you’d like my help with healing, finding peace in life and breaking free from these toxic patterns, then you can book a FREE BREAKTHROUGH CALL with me HERE. Happy healing 💙💙. Feel free to share and comment! Use this information with caution, it comes from my own thoughts & bias, experiences and research😊.

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Edwin Bii
Edwin Bii

I'm Edwin Bii, a trained advanced conversational hypnotherapist (ACH) and Mind Shifting Coach from Kenya offering mental health support, and life coaching to help you crush your goalsand overcome your problems. Together, we'll navigate challenges, build self-awareness, and create a happier, healthier you. Let's unlock your potential.

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