Should I stay or should I go?
Learn about the reasons why people stay and leave their relationships. 

July 2023 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

At some point in our lives, most of us will have a relationship end. Research shows that approximately 50% of people will experience a breakup of a long-term relationship in their twenties, and 70% of those relationships will end within the first year. Women (76%) report ending at least one relationship 20% more times than men (62%). It’s almost unavoidable. Most of us will go through the agonizing decision of whether or not to break up. 

There are dozens and dozens of reasons for breaking up. However, only a few studies have tried to document the reasons that people give when trying to stay or leave. Findings from one of the few studies investigating the reasons for which people stay and leave relationships are reproduced in the two figures below. The first has to do with the reasons people give for leaving. The second is about the reasons that people stay.

Although the reason that most (47%) people give for ending a relationship is because of broken trust, interestingly, it is not the top reason given by more than 50% of people in the study. Indeed, the reasons that people give for leaving are very diverse — everything from the disapproval of friends (28%) to the relationship being too demanding and exhausting (13%) — which is one in every seven people.  

Whether the reason is extremely common or relatively uncommon, it is important to keep in mind that they are all reasons that people give for ending a relationship. If you are not sure what your top reasons for leaving might be, take the quiz


Just as there are many, many different reasons for leaving a relationship, there are just as many reasons for staying.  The figure below lists a variety of reasons that people have reported from most frequent to least frequent. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most frequent reasons people give for staying in a relationship are about basic psychological needs, including feeling emotionally attached (66%), feeling safe and supported (49%), and not wanting to be alone (37%). Still, these are not the only reasons. One in four (25%) of people listed feeling a duty or obligation to stay. Almost one in five (18%) listed a fear of being alone as a reason to stay. One in about six (15%) listed not wanting to hurt their partner as a reason to stay.  

Again, whether the reason is extremely common or relatively uncommon, it is important to keep in mind that they are all reasons that people give for staying in a relationship. If you are not sure what your top reasons for staying might be, take the quiz


What are your reasons for staying and leaving?

The Reasons for Staying and Leaving Questionnaire was designed to assess the strength of your reasons for leaving a relationship, as well as the strength of various reasons for staying.  In addition to tallying the strength of your reasons for staying or leaving a relationship, a detailed report will be emailed to you listing your individual scores for all of the 52 reasons for leaving and staying. 

Your discrepancy score:

After completing the questionnaire, you can compute your Discrepancy score by subtracting your Leaving score from your Staying score.

Discrepancy Score = Staying Score – Leaving Score

Your Discrepancy Score represents the strength of your Reasons for Staying over the strength of your Reasons for Leaving. If your Discrepancy Score is positive, this means that your reasons for staying are stronger than your reasons for leaving. But, if your Discrepancy Score is negative, this means that your reasons for leaving are stronger than your reasons for staying. 

Despite your overall discrepancy score, some reasons (e.g., deception) may be enough of a reason for some individuals to leave, whereas other reasons (e.g., a fear of being alone) may be enough of a reason to stay. It is important to keep in mind that whatever reason you may have for staying or leaving, it is your choice, which you are entitled to make no matter what the reasons are or what other people think. The goal of this questionnaire is to help you understand what your reasons for staying and leaving are. Not to make the choice for you.

You may decide that the reasons for staying or leaving are sufficient, or you may decide that the reasons for staying or leaving need to be re-thought or revised, which you may decide and be able to do on your own, or for which you may benefit from or require the help of a counsellor, psychotherapist or psychologist.

Are these good reasons?

Reading through the reasons that people give for leaving or staying, you may find yourself agreeing with some of the reasons, as well as disagreeing with other reasons.  That is an important observation — we all have different reasons for staying and for leaving. Whether they are good reasons or not is a personal decision that you get to make and no one else.  

Still, it is important to think about, reflect on and even question whether or not your reasons are good reasons for you. Very often, the reasons we tell ourselves say as much about ourselves as they do about others. 

What’s your main hurdle to leaving?
Very often, people get stuck trying to decide what to do. They can find a number of really good reasons to stay and an equally good number of reasons to go. Sometimes, people would like to leave relationships but face a number of hurdles that keep them from doing what they would like to do.

Here are seven things to ask yourself when deciding whether to stay or go.

#1. Is it the relationship or the person that you will miss more? Being in a relationship with anyone provides you with companionship–someone to talk to and someone to do things with. Ask yourself, if you could have everything that you have in this relationship with a different person, would you still break up? If the answer is yes, chances are you’re in this more for the relationship and than for the person you are with.

#2. Are fear and uncertainty your biggest hurdle to leaving?
Ending a relationship and starting over is an enormous undertaking. Very often, people worry they will never find someone else to be with and will be alone. Meeting people is difficult, but it is a challenge that can be overcome. If you’re worried that you won’t meet anybody, you are worrying about something that has not happened yet.

#3. Is loneliness and being alone your biggest hurdle to leaving? The loneliness that comes with leaving a relationship is always painful. It is a loss that is going to hurt. Some people feel the pain of loneliness more than others, but as painful as loneliness is, it is part of life, something that you will face repeatedly and, with the help of others, overcome. If loneliness is the biggest hurdle that’s keeping you from leaving, you can take steps now to deal with that hurdle. Let your friends know you will be spending more time with them. Schedule more activities throughout your week, especially during those times (e.g., early evenings and weekends) that will be the most difficult for you. Join a new group and start a new activity.

#4. Is meeting new people your biggest hurdle to leaving? Meeting new people is always hard, and some of us are not as comfortable or as skilled in meeting people as others. If meeting people is your biggest hurdle to leaving, there are things you can do and skills that you can learn to make it easier. Keep in mind that most romantic partners start out as friends [1]. Check out our article on how to make friends.

#5. Is losing your lifestyle your biggest hurdle to leaving? Most relationships come with a number of shared benefits that would be lost were your relationship to end. This includes everything from the friends that you share, the fine apartment or house you live in, as well as the dog that you are both attached to and even the comfy chair that’s been with you through ups and downs. When a relationship comes to an end, every one of these things takes a hit. Friends that you share may end up taking sides, and you may lose a few, maybe even all of them. The dog that isn’t yours will be missed. This is part of what makes ending a relationship so painful keeps you postponing the decision to leave.

However, for most people (but certainly not all), staying with someone because of a lifestyle isn’t enough. And if it’s not enough for you, then the only decision that is left is when to go and not if you should go. If losing your lifestyle is the biggest hurdle to leaving, then you will need a lot of help replacing all of those things, that you lose. It’s a huge undertaking but not instrumental, especially with the help of friends and family. With every loss and every transition, there are new opportunities, which can be hard to see, but which are always there.

#6. Is worrying about your partner your biggest hurdle to leaving? Ending a relationship will be painful for most people. Sometimes, we worry that the pain of leaving will be too much for a partner. Sometimes we’re told by partners there’s no point going on with living if the relationship ends. There is a difference between worrying about someone and taking responsibility for someone. Being concerned about someone else’s well-being makes you a good person. But no one can or should be held responsible for someone’s well-being. That’s a responsibility that is shared by many, which you may have a small part in, but it is just a small part. If you are transparent and polite when breaking up, then you have done what you can and should do. You still get to decide who to be with and when to leave a relationship. That is everyone’s right, no matter the hurt leaving may cause.

#7. Is your guilt about wanting to end the relationship your biggest hurdle to leaving? Sometimes people feel guilty like they’ve done something wrong when deciding to end the relationship. When deciding to leave, you may even be told that what you’re doing is wrong and that you have no reason to do that. If you are someone, who tends to experience a lot of guilt around making decisions, then you’re likely to experience feelings of guilt when leaving a relationship. But it is important to distinguish feeling guilt from feeling bad. Feeling guilty is about doing something wrong. That’s different from making a decision that has negative consequences. And it is different from situations that make you feel bad. Ending a relationship will have negative consequences for everyone, and it is a situation that’s going to make everyone feel bad. But it is not wrong. Everyone gets a choice, which could be when to leave. And as a choice, which everyone has, you don’t actually need a reason. That’s what makes it a choice. You get to choose how to live your life and who you live with. Those choices will have consequences that you will have to deal with and manage.

But it’s still your choice.

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Help spread the word. Please share this content with others:


YouGov survey of 1000 adults, (2015)
Joel, S., Macdonald, G., & Page-Gould, E. (2017). Wanting to Stay and Wanting to Go: Unpacking the Content and Structure of Relationship Stay/Leave Decision Processes. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 9.
Rosenfeld, M. J. (2014). Couple Longevity in the Era of Same-Sex Marriage in the United States. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(5), 905–918.



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