Having a healthy, long-lasting relationship is something many people aspire to achieve. However, with divorce rates hovering around 50% in many developed countries, it’s clear that maintaining a lifelong partnership takes effort and commitment from both people involved. So what’s the secret ingredient to make love last through thick and thin? While there are many complex factors at play, researchers suggest one factor stands out from the rest in determining the longevity and happiness of a romantic relationship: commitment.
What is commitment in a relationship?
Relationship experts define commitment as a conscious decision to stick with your partner through good times and bad. It’s an intention to persist in the relationship despite challenges that may arise and a desire to cooperate with your partner to overcome obstacles together. Commitment provides a secure foundation from which trust, intimacy, and interdependence can grow.
Commitment goes beyond just being exclusive with your partner or devoted to them. It means:
- Choosing them again and again
- Believing the relationship is worth working on
- Feeling emotionally attached and not wanting to leave
- Investing time, effort and energy into the partnership
- Making sacrifices for the good of the relationship
- Sticking together when things get difficult
Without mutual commitment, relationships are much more vulnerable when challenges inevitably emerge. Commitment provides the determination to push through hard times as a team and emerge with a stronger bond.
Characteristics of committed couples
Researchers have identified key characteristics that distinguish highly committed couples:
- They are best friends. Committed partners genuinely enjoy each other’s company and consider their partner their closest confidant. They share interests and make having fun together a priority.
- They maintain positivity. Despite disagreements, committed couples maintain an overall positive outlook on their relationship. They focus on the good versus the bad.
- They are willing to sacrifice. Committed partners are willing to compromise their immediate self-interest to benefit the relationship. They protect their partnership.
- They have unshakable trust. Committed couples completely trust one another’s fidelity and honesty. They can be vulnerable without fear of judgement.
- They share relationship responsibility. Committed partners share relationship maintenance and take mutual responsibility for each other’s happiness.
By cultivating these attitudes and behaviors, couples reinforce their commitment and create an environment where their bond can deepen over time.
The theory of commitment
Psychologist Scott Stanley developed a formal theory of commitment to explain why some couples are able to go the distance while others crumble. Stanley argued that commitment rests on three key foundations:
- Personal dedication – The desire and intention to continue the relationship for better or worse. An “I choose you” attitude.
- Feeling attached – Having an emotional connection and bond with your partner that provides a sense of security.
- Constraint commitment – Forces that increase the costs of leaving the relationship, like shared property, social ties, or stigma of divorce.
Stanley found that couples with stronger commitment levels reported greater relationship satisfaction, less conflict, and lower likelihood of infidelity or breakup. His research highlights the role of dedication and attachment in cementing couples together.
Why is commitment so important?
Commitment is the super glue that holds relationships together through ups and downs. Here’s why it matters so much:
- Provides security – When partners know they’re fully committed, they feel more secure and less anxious about the relationship’s future.
- Encourages investment – Partners who are committed for the long-haul are more willing to invest deeply in the relationship.
- Motivates effort – Couples work harder to fix problems because they see the relationship as a high priority worth preserving.
- Buffers stress – Having a secure commitment buffers partners from feeling distressed by relationship difficulties.
- FUels forgiveness – Committed partners are quicker to forgive one another and move on after conflicts.
- Enables intimacy – The safety net of commitment allows partners to open up, be vulnerable and form deeper emotional intimacy.
In short, commitment provides the foundation for couples to build a meaningful life together and the motivation to nurture that life when storms hit.
How can you build greater commitment?
Commitment grows gradually out of positive relationship experiences, but couples can take active steps to foster deeper commitment between them:
- Spend quality time together to nurture intimacy and friendship.
- Express your dedication to each other verbally.
- Celebrate relationship milestones to highlight how far you’ve come.
- Embrace a “we’re in this together” attitude during hardships.
- Discuss commitment openly and check in on each other’s level of commitment.
- Prioritize your relationship amid other responsibilities.
- Make sacrifices or compromises with your partner’s needs in mind.
- Attend couples counseling or workshops to gain relationship skills.
Partners must invest in each other and the relationship to keep strengthening their bonds of commitment over time. It’s not something that can be taken for granted.
Can you be too committed?
While a strong sense of commitment generally predicts positive outcomes for couples, an extreme or imbalanced level of commitment can become unhealthy in some cases. Signs that commitment has become excessive include:
- Tolerating serious mistreatment like abuse or infidelity just to preserve the relationship.
- Staying with an abusive or toxic partner because you feel overly committed.
- Feeling unable to leave even if you’re deeply unhappy.
- Having your entire identity and self-worth tied to the relationship.
- Making extremely lopsided sacrifices to the detriment of your needs and goals.
If commitment reaches an unhealthy level, partners may benefit from counseling to gain perspective. Seeking help doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed – it simply allows you to reset the commitment to a healthy mutual level.
Signs your partner lacks commitment
Commitment should be mutual for relationships to thrive. Here are some potential red flags that your partner may not be truly committed:
- They avoid labeling the relationship or making it “official.”
- They flirt with others or cheat despite exclusivity.
- They feel reluctant to share information about their life with you.
- They hide you from their friends and family.
- They don’t make you a priority or invest in joint activities.
- They need frequent persuasion to stay together when things get difficult.
- They refuse to compromise or make sacrifices for the relationship.
- They express doubts about the relationship or keep their options open.
- They pull away emotionally at times.
Addressing commitment problems early is important. Couples counseling can help, but ultimately both partners need to be willing to invest in the relationship.
Research evidence clearly shows that high levels of commitment are pivotal for relationship longevity and satisfaction. Partners who fully commit to each other reap rewards such as a deeper emotional connection, a stronger friendship, more effective conflict resolution, and greater resilience in the face of hardships. While many factors contribute to relationship success, making the conscious decision to stick together and weather storms as a team provides the sturdy foundation couples need to go the distance together.