Commitment Bias May Be Keeping You In An Unhealthy Relationship

Have you ever been in a situation where you chose to pursue biology in college and told all your friends about it? You were excited going into it at first, but after about a year into your degree, you realized you didn't enjoy this subject of study. In fact, you'd figured out that history might be a better fit for you. But somehow, it feels like you've committed. Besides, everyone who follows you on social media knows you are on your way to graduating with a biology degree. How bad is it going to look if you quit? Also, you've invested so much time on this now. Why not see it through? Maybe you'll learn to like it at some point. 

According to author, researcher, and professor Barry M. Staw, this is called a "commitment bias," also known as "escalation of commitment." It's when individuals stay the course in situations that have brought them negative results, all in the name of being consistent. 

Unsurprisingly, this is something we see in romantic relationships too. How many couples stay in unhealthy situations because they've invested years into trying to make it work? Perhaps they're afraid to let go because they're worried about what society would think. Maybe they're hoping, against all odds, that things will take a turn for the better. As toxic as this relationship habit sounds, it's a reality for many people. Here's what commitment bias might be doing to you.  

Commitment bias clouds your judgment

If you're in an unhealthy relationship — one where there's no mutual respect, shared values, or even common decency — and you have been trying to make it work for years, the chances are, some, if not all, of your friends and family members may have hinted that this wasn't good for you. But you decide to stay anyway because you can't forget the past and the many years you've dedicated to this person you call your partner. Commitment bias has a way of clouding your judgment. 

The word "commitment" gets thrown around a lot in a relationship setting, mostly as something positive. And while it is a positive thing to do with someone you love (and they love you back), it isn't necessarily the same in a relationship that's bad for you. It's one thing to stick by someone through good times and bad, and it's a completely different thing to allow a relationship to emotionally, physically, and mentally deplete you, all in the name of commitment. 

If you're in a similar situation, perhaps one of your concerns is about losing face with loved ones and society by admitting that you made a mistake. In the time of social media, when posting about your "perfect" life with your significant other on Instagram seems to take precedence, it can be daunting to admit that you want to break up. Here's how to navigate commitment bias if you're in an unhealthy situation. 

Look at your relationship objectively

Logical and rational thinking sometimes elude us when we're so focused on being committed to a situation that isn't serving us anymore. It helps to take a step back and look at your relationship objectively when this happens. Enlist the help of people you trust in your life. If needed, seek out a therapist. While some relationships have the potential to become better with time and effort (if both parties are committed to it), others simply don't. Figuring out where you are might be the difference between happiness and constant emotional pain. 

Make a list of the costs of your current relationship, if it helps, and weigh them against the benefits. How is the picture looking? Similar to how in economics, someone may tell you that continuing to invest in a bad financial decision because of commitment bias may mean you have an unhealthy relationship with money. The same can apply to your love life. Give yourself time to weigh it all. It might not become clear overnight, especially because you've already dedicated years to this relationship.

Know that admitting you made a mistake isn't going to be as bad as you think. In fact, some might even find that inspiring. And even if they don't, realize that you're not living to please others. Long-term commitment is beautiful, but it is best done with a person who's right (and good) for you.