Why We Really Stay In Unsatisfying Relationships
A recent article in the Daily Mail reports on new research finding that of 2,000 adults polled, 73 percent have “made do” with their partner because their “true love” slipped through their fingers. The survey respondents are “settling” in their romantic relationship. Why is this percentage so high, and is this really true? What about the all too frequent relationship pattern of breaking up and getting back together many times?
Or the common relationship pattern where one partner “pursues,” the other “distances,” and this game goes back and forth endlessly. Some people just cannot seem to move on from an unsatisfying relationship. These are all difficult questions to answer, and have often been explored in the social sciences along with a myriad of other relationship issues. The answer to these relationship conundrums ultimately seems to lie in the psychology of “attachment.”
The theory of attachment was initially developed by Mary Ainsworth (1913 – 1999) and John Bowlby (1907 – 1990), two psychoanalysts who were attempting to comprehend the anguish often experienced by infants who had been separated from their parents. These researchers observed that infants would go to surprising lengths to prevent separation from their parents or to reestablish contact with a missing parent.
Some of these behaviors included crying, clinging or frantically looking for their caregiver. They also postulated that such actions are common to a wide variety of other animals, and consequently believed that these behaviors may serve an evolutionary function. From that data, they argued that these attachment behaviors were adaptive responses to separation with a primary attachment figure–someone who provides support, protection, and care. Because human infants, like other mammals, cannot feed, clothe or protect themselves, they are dependent upon the care and protection of adults. As a result, babies who are able to successfully and consistently get their needs met from a parent or caregiver are more likely to thrive.
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