I Quit!–Because it’s Healthy (Part 2)

As you can see from the title, this is the second half of a two part post.  I realized, when the original post was pushing 1500 words, that people might appreciate a shorter read, so I split it up.  I’ve never done a split post before, and I wanted to save new readers the hassle of clicking back and forth between the posts.  So, I kept the first few paragraphs, explaining how this post came to be.  If you’ve already read the first half, you can skim the intro!

Earlier this year, I was listening to a fascinating radio story, from the Freakonomics program, about the value of quitting (I totally recommend taking the 27 minutes to listen to it–they explore some interesting ideas).  I filed that away, and made myself a note that the ideas in the Freakonomics story would adapt well to a blog post.  And since I just talked about healthy boundaries for the holidays last week, I decided that now was the time to bring it out!

Now the Freakonomics program–as you might guess, focused largely on the economic benefits of quitting.  What struck me though, was how applicable these financial principles are to emotional issues.  If you don’t have the half hour to listen to the program, here’s a very brief summary.  Ultimately, the researchers interviewed suggest that people who are able to identify that a given dream, career path, or investment is not working out–and then change course–do better financially than those who pursue their dreams to the bitter end.

Before I dive in, here’s some economic and cognitive psychology vocabulary that was used in the Freakonomics program that I want to borrow for this post:

  • Sunk Cost–time, money, energy, or emotion we’ve already invested in a project.
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy–coming to believe that our investment means that we should continue to pursue that goal, despite evidence to the contrary.
  • Cognitive Dissonance–a cognitive phenomenon where we convince ourselves that if we are suffering for something, we must truly love it.

In the first half of this post, I explored quitting jobs or volunteer commitments where you might stay because you have put in your time, even though you may feel unheard, undervalued, or unchallenged.  In this half of the post, I’m exploring relationships. How many of us have stayed in relationships, friendships, or even family situations long after we received the warning sights that the relationships were unhealthy or harmful?

Quitting Relationships

While there are practical considerations that may make it hard for you to quit a job, quitting a relationship (whether with family, friends, or significant others) means dealing with some difficult emotional sunk costs.  Your relationships are where you place your trust.  So when someone has betrayed that trust by being abusive, or neglectful, or unresponsive to your needs, there are several layers to cope with.  First there is have the sunk cost of your trust and hope in the relationship.  It can be hard to recognize that the person you love is not willing or able to change in ways that will make the relationship healthy.  Second, you have the sunk cost of the time that you have invested in the relationship.  It’s easy to feel worried that, if you let this relationship go, nothing will be take its place.

Relationships are where I see the sunk cost fallacy and its pal cognitive dissonance become most active for my clients.  Think about this.  Have you ever been in a relationship that was painful and unhealthy?  If so, did you have moments when you told yourself that you must truly love the other person because of the amount of suffering you were facing?  Yes–that’s cognitive dissonance right there.  Or, did you ever find yourself thinking that, when you have already invested so much time and energy, that the relationship must be truly special, even if you were miserable?  That’s the sunk cost fallacy at work.

If you have been feeling anxious, isolated, shamed, or unheard in a significant relationship, I hope you’ll take the time to try to step back and see if you are dealing with the issues of sunk costs and cognitive dissonance.  If so, I hope that you are able to spend some time challenging those thought patterns and make steps to create space for healthy relationships.  That might mean reaching out for support, from friends, a faith community, or a therapist.  You deserve healthy relationships.

This week’s challenge is a parallel to last week’s.  I encourage you to take some time and map out the relationships in your life.  Are there any that might be invoking the sunk cost fallacy?  If so, what steps can you take to move toward quitting them?  As always, please feel free to share strategies and successes in the comments.


Photo Credit: Image by hunterseakerhk via Flickr

2 thoughts on “I Quit!–Because it’s Healthy (Part 2)

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post on relationships. You’re empathy come through as you encourage us all to take stock and take care of ourselves in a difficult way. I find that the hardest part is imagining life without the long term relationship. Alone.

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