Whether it is a romantic partner, family member, or friend, we are hesitant to cut ties with close others who prove to be bad for our health and well-being. But why? If someone is making us miserable and we cannot resolve our differences, why is it so hard for us to ditch them?
This is, of course, a very complicated question. There are a wide range of reasons we are motivated to preserve our relationships, even the bad ones. However, I want to focus on one reason that we rarely hear about: meaning.
People may wish to maintain unhealthy relationships because our social connections are a powerful source of meaning in life. For example, studies have demonstrated that having close relationships (e.g., friends, romantic partners) increases a sense of meaning in life and reduces existential anxieties such as the fear of death. Similarly, loneliness is a strong predictor of meaning deficits: people who report feeling lonely also tend to report that their lives lack purpose.