Research on deciding your relationship future reveals 27 reasons to stay, 23 to leave.

Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. Ph.D.
What do people consider when thinking about staying, marrying or going?Vladislav Babienko/Unsplash

Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise.” ―Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

Where do you see yourself in five years? It’s a standard job interview question, but it’s an even better question to ask yourself about your relationship.

The person you talk to, date, move in with, get engaged to, marry, break up with, or divorce – it’s all up to you. You’re in the driver’s seat regarding your relationship’s trajectory.

Most of the time, you probably cruise along on autopilot, maintaining the status quo. Every once in a while, though, something disrupts that equilibrium and you seriously ponder your relationship’s fate.

At some point, most people find themselves facing the complicated decision of whether to stick with it, transition to something more serious, or call it quits. While there’s lots to consider when you’re pondering your own situation, it can help to know how others deal with these important life decisions. Recent research in the field of relationship science, including my own, has explored how people make these choices.

What Issues Do People Consider?

It feels as if there could be millions of reasons someone would decide to maintain or end a relationship.

To learn more about what people actually consider, psychology researchers Samantha Joel, Geoff Macdonald, and Elizabeth Page-Gould asked over 400 individuals who were questioning their own relationship: “What are some reasons someone might give for wanting to stay with or leave their romantic partner?

Out of all the specific circumstances, 50 common themes emerged.

Why Stay?

People came up with 27 broad reasons for staying. These focused on key relationship components such as attraction, physical and emotional intimacy, and support. People were reluctant to lose the time and effort they had already invested and were fearful of being alone. They considered pluses, such as the desirable aspects of their partner’s personality and how much fun they had together. They also factored in practical issues, including potential family disruption and financial implications.
Deciding your relationship's fate is difficult. Here are the top factors people consider.Gary W. Lewandowski Jr.

Why Go?

Participants also suggested 23 general reasons to leave. These included many of the same themes as the reasons to stay, but focused on the negative side – things like a partner’s problematic personality, acts of deception or cheating, emotional distance, lack of support, and insufficient emotional or physical intimacy.

Making the Decision: What to Do?

Listing these themes is one thing. How do individuals factor them into real-life decisions of whether to stay or go? To find out, the researchers did a follow-up study with over 200 people who were contemplating breaking up or getting a divorce.

Roughly half of these participants reported feeling, on balance, more inclined to stay in the troubled relationship. That makes sense: Inertia is powerful. Staying often takes the least effort.

However, those same people simultaneously had an above-average inclination to leave, meaning they rated themselves as leaning toward breaking up. See the problem?: Participants were motivated to stay with their partner at the same time they were motivated to end things. This ambivalence was very common.

That relationship doubts are so common and people are often conflicted about what to do are what make this kind of research potentially helpful. It lends some order to the chaos by helping to identify what’s most important.


Joel, S., MacDonald, G., & Page-Gould, E. (2018). Wanting to stay and wanting to go: Unpacking the content and structure of relationship Stay/leave decision processes. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 9(6), 631–644.

Comments / 1

Published by

Dr. Gary W Lewandowski Jr is the author of Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship…and How to See Past Them. His TED talk and relationship articles have been enjoyed by over 6 million people.

New York, NY

More from Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. Ph.D.

Comments / 0