Is The Sunken Cost Effect The Reason You Are Staying in a Bad Relationship?


Have you ever waited in line for twenty minutes, but you decide to not switch lanes because you've already invested so much time in one? Have you ever stayed at a slot machine where you've lost hundreds of dollars, thinking if you kept playing you'd maybe win back your cash? Or have you ever been dating someone you find incredibly boring, but you won't leave because that'd mean an end of an era, even a lame one?

In any of these cases, you're suffering from the Sunken Cost Effect. This is a term found in the business world that describes people stupidly sticking with something doomed to fail because they've already invested time, money, or energy.

“The sunk cost effect is the general tendency for people to continue an endeavor, or continue consuming or pursuing an option, if they’ve invested time or money or some resource in it,” said Christopher Olivola, an assistant professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “That effect becomes a fallacy if it’s pushing you to do things that are making you unhappy or worse off.”

In the examples above, we can see how foolish it is for the people to stay, but when we ourselves are in similar situations, it's hard to realize we're afraid to let go.

For people in relationships, the longer they date or are married the harder it is to separate, even if the relationship makes the partners miserable. Lovers stuck in the Sunken Cost Effect sometimes don't want to admit their own failures or they are afraid that others will judge them, so they fight for a relationship that could already be over.

In the end, it is wiser for both parties to end their bad relationship, no matter how difficult that action actually is. The longterm future gain will surpass any resources lost, and that future gain is, you guessed it, your happiness. 

And there's no price on that.