Stay Together For the Couch?

March 21, 2012

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There are many steps in finding and developing a relationship these days.  Once you meet that special somebody who you think has potential, you take them out on a few dates.  If those pan out and go well, you might consider yourselves “dating.”  Then, once you have the talk (or maybe you just know it’s time), you are in an exclusive, committed relationship.  Commitment is really what sets apart a more serious relationship from casual dating.  But have you ever stopped to ask yourself what commitment entails, and how this could affect your relationship?

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Recent research by Rhoades et al (2010) found four different aspects of commitment: Interpersonal, Perceived Constraint, Felt Constraint, and Material Constraint, and looked at how these types of commitment affected your chances of staying together.

Interpersonal Commitment (Dedication)

This is what most of us think when we hear commitment.  It’s basically the “want-to” portion of commitment, in that you are motivated to want a long-term future with this person, have an identity as a couple, and willing to make sacrifices for your partner or the relationship.  The researchers found the less dedication in a relationship, the higher the chances of the couple breaking up (which should be obvious).

Perceived Constraint and Felt Constraint

This could be internal or external motivations that influence somebody to stay in the relationship.  For example, thinking that if you left the relationship, your quality of life would be worse, you’d lose all that invested time, fear of not being able to find another suitable suitor/suitorette, or just being afraid of the confrontation of ending it.  Felt constraint is very similar, and can be described as generally feeling trapped in the relationship.

The study found having less worries about ending the relationship would increase chances of splitting up.  Basically, there were a portion of people who were staying together because they were worried about what would happen after the break up.  They also found that someone feeling more trapped had a higher chance of breaking up.  These two findings show that someone who feels trapped or forced to stay in a relationship will want to end it, but knows there are obstacles in doing so.  The break-up then may be delayed, but if someone is feeling trapped, it is not likely the relationship will last.

Material Constraint Commitment

This type of constraint commitment may be something like you and your partner getting a pet together, buying furniture, or having plans for a future vacation.  The researchers found that the fewer material constraints, the more likely a couple was to break up.  For each shared item, there was a 10% increase in your chances of staying together, regardless of how dedicated you are to the relationship.  This was even shown after controlling for all other types of commitment, meaning some people will stay in a relationship solely because they share a cat or bought a couch together!

Although dedication is the most common and important type of commitment, it seems like there can be instances of people staying together for different reasons.  But all of these types of commitment go hand-in-hand.  If someone is highly dedicated, it is likely they wouldn’t feel trapped or worried about ending the relationship.  These other types of commitment could be reinforcements to keeping couples together during the rough patches, when couples may not be as satisfied with their relationship as they once were.  In the end, commitment is really just about seeing a future with somebody.  These types of commitments can help you keep together a relationship through good and bad times, or perhaps be a warning sign of things to come.

Have you ever stayed together with someone for other reasons then being dedicated to them?  Do you feel like sharing a pet or a lease can help you get through rocky times in a relationship?

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