Breakups are no fun. It’s entirely understandable why many people, so afraid of breaking up, will do whatever they can to stay in a relationship. But new research has found that being afraid of being dumped can actually increase the chances that it will happen to you.
The study, which was published in Motivation and Emotion, had 104 people in romantic relationships answer basic questions about themselves and their relationships. Scientists then led participants to think that their relationships could end by pointing out statistics about how many relationships fail and giving false feedback that indicated they thought their relationship might not work out. Afterward, the researchers asked them how committed they were to their relationship and how they felt about their partner.
The researchers discovered that the participants felt more committed to their partner and had more intense feelings about them when they weren’t reminded that the relationship could end. But those feelings were less strong when they were told there was a chance they could break up. On the flip side, people who were told there was only a moderate chance they would be dumped felt more committed to their relationship.
As a result, the researchers concluded that perception is important for a relationship’s stability. If someone thinks that their relationship is at a high risk for ending, they’re more likely to pull back — and that can increase the odds that things won’t work out.
“This underscores the power of mindset and perspective,” relationship psychologist Karin Anderson Abrell, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s pretty astounding.”
Worrying that your relationship is headed for a breakup can sometimes be a symptom that things are already unstable, says David Klow, a licensed marriage and family therapist, founder of Chicago’s Skylight Counseling Center, and author of the upcoming book You Are Not Crazy: Love Letters From Your Therapist. But being regularly concerned about the stability of your relationship can also be a sign that you have anxiety about being vulnerable with someone — and that can ultimately drive a wedge between you that can lead to a breakup, Gail Saltz, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different: The Difference Between Disorder and Genius, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Whatever is behind your fear, addressing the situation is important.
If you find that this is a pattern in your relationships, it might help to speak with a psychologist to try to figure out where this fear is coming from, Saltz says. Maybe it’s because you got badly burned in a past relationship, or maybe it’s because your partner is actually doing something that makes you feel uneasy. “Working to understand what your worry is about, where it’s coming from, and addressing problems rather than ducking them can all help,” Saltz says.
It also can be helpful to think about what would happen if you actually did break up and how you would cope, Abrell says. “Imagine it and recognize that you’ll be OK in the end,” she says. “This can help lower some anxiety.”
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to talk to your partner about your concerns and where they’re coming from, Klow says. Then you can work together to create a relationship that feels more secure and stable for both of you.
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