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Is a sunk cost fallacy keeping you in an unhappy marriage?

On Behalf of | Feb 14, 2024 | Divorce |

All marriages go through rough patches from time to time, so how do you know when you should keep working on your relationship and when you should call it quits?

It’s not easy. A lot of people find themselves held hostage by a bad marriage due to the inherent susceptibility that human beings have to get trapped by a “sunk cost” fallacy. If you’ve been struggling in an unhappy marriage, it’s important to question if this is why you are staying.

What’s the sunk cost fallacy?

The sunk cost fallacy is a cognitive bias that influences individuals to continue investing in a decision or project because they’re already so deeply invested, even when the future prospects are bleak and it makes more sense to give up and cut their losses. In the context of an unhappy marriage, that can lead to staying in a bad relationship simply because you’ve already spent so many years together and have built a life – even if it is one you no longer want.

So, how do you spot it when you’re stuck in this pattern? Here are some signs that you should keep an eye out for:

  • You keep reminding yourself how many years you’ve been together. When the thought “we’ve been together so long” becomes the most compelling reason to stay married, that’s probably the sunk cost fallacy kicking in.
  • You’re really afraid to start over. When the idea of starting anew – romantically, financially or with life goals – without your spouse is terrifying, you need to consider whether it’s fear (not love) holding you in your marriage. The fear of the unknown is one reason people get stuck in a sunk cost fallacy.
  • Your prior efforts at improving the marriage have failed. Optimism bias is a big part of the sunk cost fallacy. People value optimism and may simply fear that “giving up” will make them look like they are a terrible person or a “quitter.”

If you’re trying to make a difficult decision about your marriage and you feel like you’ve been stuck in a holding pattern for too long, it may be time to seek more information about the divorce process. That sort of proactive step can be just what you need to break free or to make a truly informed decision about staying.