Status Quo Bias: Why Breaking Up Can Be So Hard to Do

The reason you may be stalling ending your relationship is because you are comfortable with the way things are.

the new american couple
(Image credit: Andrew McLeod)

At a party the other night, I ran into one of my favorite people, who told me she knew she needed to break up with her boyfriend — and he seemed to kind of know it needed to happen, too — but they were both having trouble just going through with it.

I've written before about how we can become sort of chemically dependent on the person we're dating, which is one thing that certainly makes breaking up harder to do. But as the authors of Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes, one of the books I'm reading, point out, calling it quits can also be tough because of something called "status quo bias." That's a phrase to describe the way that so many of us tend to prefer what's known and familiar over what's unfamiliar — even if what's known is a relationship that's making us unhappy in some way, and what's unknown is a future full of possibilities, but also singleness.

So all right, fine, maybe you are suffering from "status quo bias." What should you do about it?

Think about how you'll benefit if you go through with breaking up. Maybe you'll have more time to get through Infinite Jest or to quilt or to memorize all three seasons of Arrested Development or whatever it is you like doing in your private time. Think about all the new experiences you might have. And think about the things you won't have to deal with any more, whether it's the way his friends drive you crazy, or the way you feel like he never gives you the kind of emotional support you crave, or the way you haven't been able to save a dime since you started dating him because you guys are always going out, or going on vacation, or buying each other expensive clothes. Tell yourself that you've got to risk the possibility of being even less happy (for a little while) if there's any chance you'll ever feel more fulfilled.

How's that?