A group of UCLA psychologists went about determining what it means to be committed to your marriage. They found there are two kinds of commitment spouses tend to have, and only one of them predicts lower divorce rates and slower rates of deterioration in the relationship. Which type do you have?
This long-term study assessed 172 couples during the first 11 years of their marriages. After 11 years, 78.5 percent remained married, and 21.5 percent divorced. How they defined commitment early in their relationship helped predict whether the marriage lasted.
Study co-author Benjamin Karney, co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA, reports two definitions of relationship commitment. The first level of commitment means to the partners, “I really like this relationship and want it to continue.” It’s easier to be committed when things are going well, and this is the first kind of commitment.
However, the psychologists said there was a deeper level of commitment that predicted fewer marital problems and lower divorce rates. The deeper level of commitment relates to when the relationship is not going as well or is experiencing problems. It is defined more like, “I’m committed to this relationship, but it’s not going very well—I need to have some resolve, make some sacrifices and take the steps I need to take to keep this relationship moving forward.” In other words, the partner is willing to take active steps to maintain the relationship, even if sacrifices are needed. He or she says, “I’m committed to making this relationship work.”
Study co-author Thomas Bradbury says this second level means that when you are struggling, you are willing to do what is difficult, even when you don’t want to. These more sacrificial spouses are more effective in solving problems, have lower divorce rates, and slower rates of relationship deterioration, say the psychologists.
This is consistent with the results of interviews I have done with happily married couples, many of whom have experience very difficult periods. In fact, one of the 12 key lessons shared in my book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss, by couples who have overcome adversity, is that love is sacrificial. I address how to create a cycle of giving in which both partners look out for the other’s needs, and both are rewarded.
When both partners were willing to make sacrifices for the marriage, they were significantly more likely to have lasting and happy marriages, say the researchers, who studied the couples as newlyweds then followed up with them every six months for four years, then later in their marriages.
Bradbury says relationships are vulnerable when under a great deal of stress or when there’s a “high-stakes decision” about which you disagree. “Those are the defining moments in a relationship,” he says. “What our data indicate is that committing to the relationship rather than committing to your own agenda and your own immediate needs is a far better strategy. We’re not saying it’s easy.” He adds that successful couples are able to shift the focus away from who is “winning” to how to keep the relationship preserved. Read more about the study in this article, “Here is What Real Commitment to Your Marriage Means.”
Another strategy the psychologists recommend against is “bank-account relationships” in which each person keeps score of how often they compromise or get their way. This is not effective in lasting, happy relationships, they say. If you’re keeping score, your focus is still on winning, not on strengthening the relationship.
So, how would you define your level of commitment to your marriage on the day you married? And how would you define it today? Are you willing to communicate effectively, to sacrifice for the good of the relationship when necessary, and to not keep score when things are tough?
If you missed the previous post, read other findings in the study about the hidden forces in your marriage–genes that may affect how you interact with your spouse.
Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. The book tells the true stories that demonstrate that marriage can thrive even in the most difficult circumstances. Learn from 12 inspiring couples who experienced child loss, infidelity, drug addiction, cancer, financial crises, brain injury, stranger rape, military service, infertility, opposing religions, unsupportive families, interracial relationships, raising special-needs children, and much more. These couples found the pressures of life didn’t destroy them; instead, they crystallized their commitment to each other.
Photo by salvatore vuony courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.