This is why people choose to get back together after breaking up

Why do people choose to stay in unhappy relationships?

Even though they are unhappy, many people refuse to break up with their partners. For some, it could be denial, fear, or the faith that things will get better. For others, it could be the idea that if they were to break up, they would have to come to terms with the fact that they have ‘wasted’ the time and effort which they invested. Therefore, although they are aware of their unhappiness and the fact that their relationship is toxic, many choose to stay.

Why do people choose to get back together once they have broken up

Morgan A. Cope and Brent A. Mattingly conducted two studies and explained their findings in their paperPutting me back together by getting back together: Post-dissolution self-concept confusion predicts rekindling desire among anxiously attached individuals’. Through their research, they found that people may feel as though they have lost their identity when they lose their partner; as a result, many choose to get back together to feel like they have regained their sense of self.

Cope and Mattingly explain what happens to one’s identity when they are in a relationship. 

They note that when we form a relationship, we begin to adopt some of the views and characteristics of our partner. Furthermore, we begin to engage in novel activities and begin to enjoy the things they do. Thus, when we are in a relationship, we grow as a person. With time, we also develop a “state of cognitive interdependence in which partners’ identities are cognitively connected”. When this happens, partners begin to grow closer and can improve their relationship as a result of the similarities in their identities. What is more, this alters one’s clarity about oneself and changes their identity. However, once the relationship dissolves, people lose this self-clarity and the loss can lead to feelings of sadness, confusion, and even depression. Cope and Mattingly believe that to combat this and regain their self-clarity, partners get back together. Alternatively, they begin to look for a new partner and a new relationship which will allow them to form a new identity.

Through two studies, they looked at how attachment style and self-concept clarity influence getting back together.

Cope and Mattingly note that self-clarity could be linked to one’s attachment style. That is, if one has an anxious-attachment style, they tend to avoid separation and are also more likely to merge their identity with their partner’s. On the other hand, those with a dismissive attachment style are less likely to do so. Cope and Mattingly conducted two studies to analyze the relationship between one’s desire to get back together, their attachment style, and their self-concept clarity. Via an online survey pool, 181 participants answered questions about their past relationships whereas 180 participants answered questions regarding their current ones.

The results of both surveys proved to be similar. 

Those with anxious attachment proved to have a greater desire to get back together with their ex-partners. Moreover, they also reported that they experienced a ‘greater loss of self-clarity upon breaking up’. Most importantly, low self-concept clarity predicted a strong desire to rekindle a relationship. Grant Hilary Brenner MD, FAPA writes that the studies were different only in that for the 181 participants looking at previous relationships, “attachment anxiety was a weaker predictor of wanting to get back together, whereas for the current relationship group, only low self-concept clarity was significant. Low self-concept clarity also moderated attachment anxiety, increasing its impact”.

Ensure that you are aware of how much your sense of self depends on your partner. 

To make sure that you do not end up feeling lost, confused, and depressed if your relationship dissolves, you must recognize how much your sense of self depends on your partner. While interdependence can deepen and enrich a healthy and satisfying relationship, it can be destructive for those who have toxic, abusive, and unhealthy partners. Either way, you and your partner must be independent and self-sufficient; otherwise, a break up can be extremely difficult and can even lead to a state of clinical depression.
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