when people “quiet quit” their jobs, they refrain from “giving it their all.” There’s no hustle, no staying late, no seeking out extra hours or additional projects. From one vantage point, quiet quitting can look like a lack of inspiration; from another vantage point, it’s intentional boundary setting. Why work more with little to gain? Whether reflecting pandemic burnout, hopelessness, or bad bosses, quietly quitting offers a style of social engagement that may extend beyond the workplace.
Source: Photo by Timur Weber / Pexels
Quiet quitting in love: The act of leaving without leaving
Have you ever been in a relationship and felt like you were the only one putting in the work? Or maybe you’ve stayed in a relationship just for the sake of staying? Still yet, maybe you’ve gently downgraded your involvement in your relationship so you could focus on other things?
Quiet quitting in romantic relationships is nothing new. People adopt varied styles of engagement in their romantic relationships just like they do at work. No surprise then, that romantic partners can limit their involvement with their relationship and “work to rule” just like they might for a job.
Keeping boundaries may work for work. Does it for love?
People who quietly quit their relationships as a boundary-setting tactic, compartmentalizing them from the rest of their lives, risk losing the relationship. Whereas strong boundaries in the occupational realm can be a way to protect one’s self-identity from being tied to a career and people can still be good at their work, a self-protective approach in relationships (eg, keeping one’s identity out of a relationship ) does not align with a healthy relationship. Having a romantic relationship that is central to one’s identity supports relationship health. Relationship centrality is associated with a healthy cognitive interweaving of self and other (Agnew et al., 1998). This suggests that people who keep their relationship on the periphery of their priorities experience less interdependence and less satisfaction in their relationship.
Making one’s romantic relationship “small” in one’s life could be a temporary tactic so that a person can shift priorities to school, career, or hobbies. Perhaps it is a planned, temporary strategy designed to help achieve an important goal, a necessary cost to make it through an intense job search, the busy season at work, medical school, or a family crisis. If that seems harmless, it could reflect a toxic type of disengagement that can ultimately threaten a relationship.
The signs of quiet quitting center on disengagement
John Mayer said “love is a verb,” and along those lines, quietly quitting a relationship could be described as not showing love. Its parallel in relationship science is romantic disengagement.
Romantic disengagement is a multi-pronged process (Barry et al., 2008). At the forefront is emotional indifference, or apathy, which, over time, replaces feelings of love. Romantic disengagement also involves mentally detaching and psychologically pulling back from a relationship. In addition, people try to physically distance themselves from their partners, avoiding spending time with them.
To quietly quit a relationship is not to ghost someone. Ghosting is a disappearing act: the relationship ends. People who quietly quit their romantic relationship stay around…at least for a while. It is a progressive disengagement that—if left unattended—will slowly erode the emotional ties that bind partners together. The relationship might persist if commitment remains, but romantic disengagement predicts relationship dissatisfaction (Barry et al, 2008).
Signs of quiet quitting in romantic relationships
What does quiet quitting look like when it comes to love? Signs that a partner is quietly quitting a relationship may reflect key behaviors in relationship disengagement (Barry et al., 2008), namely:
- A lack of physical affection, including affectionate touch
- A lack of attention towards their partner, even when in the same room as the partner
- Avoiding asking questions or answering questions
- Daydreaming, and mentally being in a different space when together with their partner
- Not wanting to “deal with” their partner
- Spending as little time as possible with their partner
Why not just break up?
Relationship scientists have shown that partners stay together because of commitment constraints that tie them to a relationship, or sometimes, just because they want to (Rhoades et al., 2010). Partners who quietly quit their relationship may want to leave, but they might stay because of constraints. What would they lose if they were to break off the relationship? Maybe the costs are too high. The parallel: people might not want their job, but they stay because they need it.
Alternatively, quietly quitting a relationship might be a way to test out the possibility of ending the relationship. In this sense, it could be part of their exit strategy. Indeed, emotional divorce is a key early step in the process of marital breakdown (Bohannan, 1970), and disengaging from a relationship allows for emotional separation.
How people engage with their relationships suggests its centrality in their lives. Quiet quitting a relationship may not mean the relationship will end, but, if nothing else, it suggests that the relationship is not the person’s number one priority.