Why You Stay In Relationships and Jobs That No Longer Bring You Joy | What Is The Sunk Cost Fallacy?

Short psychological answer. No fluff.

We sometimes keep pursuing relationships, options, or objectives that no longer serve us. Here is one of the main reasons why.
  • We consider our previous engagement in the context that no longer brings us joy — be it a relationship, a job, the perspective of participating in a social event, etc — an investment.
  • Time, emotions, or money are the main types of resources that we pour into different aspects of our lives.
  • We hate losing our initial investment.
  • So, in an attempt to avoid loss, we engage in irrational thinking.
  • Enter the Sunk Cost Fallacy — a flawed thinking pattern that makes us pursue an inferior alternative or option when we consider the initial investment to be of significant proportions and also, nonrecoverable.
  • This leads to bad decision-making and its effects can be seen in all aspects of life.

Effects of Sunk Cost Fallacy

  • In general, the Sunk Cost Fallacy makes us stay in bad contexts, even though leaving would be more likely to generate better results for us and others.
  • It leads to various levels of avoidable unhappiness.


  • People may stay in unhappy marriages because they’ve already invested too much time and feelings.
  • Staying in bad jobs may be a result of not wanting to lose all those years of training and the efforts of moving up the ladder.
  • You go on a trip even though you no longer feel like it because you won’t get a refund on your tickets.

Additional fact

  • We don’t only attempt to protect our own investments.
  • We try to do the same for the investments of others, a study found.
  • For example, a person may still attend a cultural event even when they don’t want to if their friend gifted them the tickets.

Avoiding the Effects

  • The first step is to identify the fallacy.
  • When you are no longer happy in a context, analyze the reasons why you’re staying.
  • If your “why” is linked to past investments, then you are likely dealing with the sunk cost fallacy.
  • Compare your state of unhappiness to the possible better options.
  • Can anything be done in the present situation to turn the unhappiness into one of those better options?
  • If reasonable alternatives have been depleted, acknowledge that staying in that context will only increase your costs or losses.
  • Cut your losses there and move toward a better investment.

The end.

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