The Main Reason Couples Stay Together During Rough Patches, According To Experts

young sad couple sitting in table

It might seem strange that a couple would stay together, even if their relationship is difficult. When they're bickering, or going through constant ups and downs, you might think they should do each other a favor and break up already. But when you take into account all the time and energy that goes into a relationship, it makes sense why some folks choose to stay anyway.

"When we enter into a relationship, most individuals enter with the intention of having a long lasting, fulfilling, committed relationship," Eliana Goldstein, a certified professional relationship coach, tells Bustle. "We put time, effort, and work into the relationship almost like an investment." And we expect it to give back in some way, or to go somewhere meaningful.

"To leave that relationship without the 'return' makes us feel like we failed," Goldstein says. "Like we 'wasted' our time on this person and this relationship and, often, we're not yet ready to acknowledge that." Instead of moving on, we stick around and wait to see if things will improve. Or we find ways to ignore the problems, so that a difficult decision doesn't have to be made.


If the couple has invested years in each other, it can make it even more tempting to stay. In fact, this situation has a name, and it's The Investment Model, registered psychologist Shae Vian, tells Bustle. According to research, "people sometimes remain in relationships because of the heavy investment they have," Vian says. "This may be a house, kids, financial responsibilities, shared friends, or even time and emotional investment." At a certain point, it makes more sense to hang onto these things than it does to leave.

These couples may also be doing constant mental math, as they weigh the pros and cons of leaving versus staying. "So even if a relationship is on the rocks, people may choose to remain ... because the perceived benefits of remaining outweigh the potential losses of ending it," Vian says. Even if they aren't seeing things clearly, if it seems like a better idea to stay, they'll be more likely to stay.

As you might have guessed, though, the reasons why couples stick together can get even more complex. Branching off of that, familiarity can also be a factor, Kathy McCoy, Ph.D., LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice, tells Bustle. This is the whole "devil you know" mentality. It's easy to get used to one person's shortcomings, McCoy says, and choose to cope with those, instead of taking on a whole new batch with somebody else.

Some people, and particularly those in toxic relationships, may also over-emphasize the good times in an effort to justify staying. "Things are good at times, so there is a belief they can be again," Lesli Doares, couples consultant and coach, tells Bustle. "The problem is that these times are a small percentage and the unpleasant times are more frequent." And yet, when you're in the thick of a relationship like that, it can be really tough to see it.


Of course, it's not wrong to stick it out through everyday difficulties, especially since all couples go through rocky periods. As long as a relationship is safe, loving, and respectful, it can make sense. "There are couples who have continuing conflict that, while uncomfortable and often frustrating, is still workable," Mike Ensley, MA, LPCC, a counselor and owner of Ensley Counseling, tells Bustle. By communicating more, and even going to couples therapy, they might be able to figure out a way to better manage their differences.

In the case of toxic relationships, knowing how or when to leave can be a bit trickier. A therapist can help people in this situation recognize the toxicity and see the relationship for what it is really is. And eventually, they can discuss the best ways to let it go. Some relationships, even though they are difficult, are worth working on. But others times, it really is best to leave them behind.