Math doesn’t lie. People, on the other hand, lie to others as well as to themselves.
Romantic relationships suffer from this game of smoke and mirrors that eventually results in both parties showing their true colors. But what happens when we hold on to that toxic partner because we’re afraid if we break up, our life will be over?
Caryl Rusbult was a doctor in Psychology who taught at the University of Kentucky and developed a mathematical equation to explain the level of commitment and satisfaction in a relationship. Her research study required several couples to answer a questionnaire divided into different stages.
The results emphasized on three major elements in a relationship:
How much is invested in the relationship: What you’re giving up and what would a break up translate into?
Benefits and other perks to staying together: What’s in it for you?
The mathematical equation that says why you’re still in that toxic relationship is:
Commitment = Satisfactions [= Rewards – Costs] – Attractive alternatives + Investment
This model attempts to explain why some people stay together when it’s clearly not working. It can also help understand why some can’t find a partner despite all the possibilities out there.
According to Rusbult, it’s all about investing. In this case, investment implies elements beyond the partner, such as children, financial dependency, psychological issues, or lack of support.
Raising the amount of rewards comes with an increase in satisfaction, while a change in relationship costs does not come with significant changes. When satisfaction goes up, attractive options goes down while investment goes up. This last combination comes with an increased commitment.
For now it’s unlikely that just with one equation we can explain the reason behind our loneliness, frustration, or happiness, even less solve the problems with our partner. Maybe in a few years, relationships will be measurable and quantifiable according to other factors. Still it’s important to know how each element can help us have a better relationship. Or at least, we should be able to know how to choose who to invest in, who will give us higher satisfaction, as well as how to explore more creative alternatives.
Satisfaction and commitment are based on what we do or don’t do for ourselves and our partner. There's not a simple and total answer to gain knowledge of what our partner needs to feel satisfied. It’s a matter of adding and subtracting elements, actions, and attitudes.
We need to remember that Math can be precise, cold and calculating, but it can’t know how we will react to particular situations.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
If what your looking for is an artistic take on the love debacle, you can get some help from Xavier Dolan.
Also science has a theory on why sometimes everything goes wrong.
Translated by María Suárez