Are you staying in a bad marriage due to a sunk cost fallacy?

On Behalf of | Mar 17, 2024 | Divorce

How do you know when it’s time to call it quits on your marriage? It’s not easy – and a lot of people continue to stay in toxic relationships because of something called a sunk cost fallacy.

A sunk cost fallacy is a cognitive bias that occurs when someone continues throwing more time, effort, energy or money into something (or someone) despite constantly diminishing returns simply because they don’t want to lose what they’ve already devoted to the cause. 

In other words, it’s all about loss aversion. When presented with two potential losses, people naturally try to avoid whichever loss seems greater. 

You have to know when to cut your losses

How can you tell if a sunk cost fallacy is keeping you unhappily wed? You will probably find yourself thinking or saying the following:

  • “We’ve spent so much time together.”
  • “Our social group would change drastically.”
  • “Splitting up might hurt the children.”
  • “It’ll be a financial nightmare to divide everything we own.”
  • “A divorce will devastate my parents.”
  • “We have so many memories together.”

Ultimately, you have to decide if it’s optimism or fear that’s keeping you in the relationship. If it’s optimism, you have real hope that the marriage is salvageable. If it’s fear, however, you probably focus more on your thoughts around all the “what ifs” that come with divorce – and the lack of certainty causes you to continue to hold onto your relationship even though it has grown toxic to you.

Sometimes, it can help to take a step back and start thinking about what the future could be like if you let go of your fears. Exploring the practical aspects of divorce can also alleviate a lot of fear surrounding your biggest practical concerns, whether that’s the financial implications or custody.

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