I feel privileged to have been asked to write for Tuesday with Teresa. As I have worked in the area of Marriage and Relationship Education for 20 years, I am keen to focus my article on one of the topics we cover with couples when preparing for or enriching marriage.

Our pre-marriage Before We Say I Do Program, our Focus/Prepare/Enrich Inventory workshops and our Enhance Program for married couples, each consider the true meaning and purpose of commitment. With this in mind, I would like to share the research on commitment in relationships and marriage. It is a body of research work by Dr Scott Stanley and you can search out this topic further in Dr Stanley’s publications “12 Hours to a Great Marriage” or in the “Power of Commitment”.

Commitment is crucial and essential ingredient in the recipe for marital success, relationship satisfaction, as well as trust in longevity. Commitment is pledging yourselves to each other by word, action and giving up or making choices. However, couples often struggle with commitment due to being disenchanted, resentful, experiencing conflict or having ‘grass is greener’ visions.

When couples stop acting on commitment their relationship can get off track (something we never dream of when we first get together). The success of a relationship is a strong sound friendship with our partner, we need to stay deeply committed to each other and the partnership so that we can continually build a strong emotional bank account. 

Dr Scott Stanley speaks of two faces of commitment:

  1. Personal dedication; and
  2. Constraint commitment

Personal dedication refers to the promise and actions to fulfil your promise to maintain and improve a relationship for the mutual benefit and satisfaction for both parties. It goes well beyond simply being there in the relationship but actively:

  • Doing what it takes to increase its quality;
  • Investing in & sacrificing for it
  • Linking it to personal goals and
  • Seeking to improve your own welfare and that of your partner.

Contraint Commitment is the type of commitment refers to one enforced by circumstances, a real life example follows:

Personal Dedication

Mary is sure she is dedicated and committed to the organisation she works for, she enjoys the people, believes in the company values and is treated well and respected. Mary puts in energy and enthusiasm by turning up early and giving it her all, often going beyond what is required by her. She really enjoys her work.

Constraint Commitment

Jane is committed to her organisation as her skills only match this particular organisation, she needs the money as she has huge responsibilities outside her work world and family rely on her income. She is not personally fulfilled by her role and is often unappreciated for the work she does. 

How Commitment Erodes

Lack of enjoyment or appreciation of the other can erode commitment. One of the biggest causes of dissatisfaction is conflict or unfilled expectations. When conflict isn’t handled well, marital satisfaction declines and with it goes personal dedication. When couples feel little commitment and that they don’t have a partner who understands them and supports them, they stop helping each other and stop doing things to make each other happy. So over time the relationship can find itself in trouble, with only constraint commitment holding it together. In this situation, partners can journey their relationship on auto pilot - just being not doing. The person with the least commitment has the most power.

Commitment can also erode when both partners actually continue to show dedication but neither one notices the other’s efforts, or life becomes so busy or distracted that they take the other for granted. When couples experience this they can take the ‘grass is greener’ view and the relationship is open to emotional or physical affairs. Unfortunately, the partner with the least commitment has the most power.

What Grows Commitment?

Commitment in partnership is a dynamic force and it will grow when partners:

  • Enjoy being together
  • When they each feel appreciated, loved and valued
  • When they witness personal dedication and commit to their relationship
  • When they see their partner investing in their relationship and when they too show investment.

In most relationships commitment can be looked at as symbols of security; when you share a deep sense of security you will feel safer and more willing to show and strengthen your own personal dedication.

So what are the keys to staying personally committed?

Making the right choices for the relationship and your partner;

  • Make choices to make your partner and relationship a priority everyday - get your priorities right! This may mean you have to say no to some people and other responsibilities.
  • Choose to show personal dedication - make “we” choices and see the positives in your partner more often than scanning for the negatives.

Strengthen and preserve your identity as a couple, make time for each other, have rituals, be friends, talk, walk, listen.

  • Think about yourselves as ”WE”, support each other’s hopes and dreams.
  • Talk about long term goals, make decision together, develop a shared vision for your future.

Make Sacrifices

  • Sacrifice for your partner.
  • Look for the joy that comes from choosing to do something that will make your partner happy.
  • Don’t tally and count what you do and what they don’t.

Wanting and expecting your relationship to stand the test of time

  • Believe in a long term future together, even in conflict or the hard times.
  • Don’t make threats or ‘outplans’ when it’s not going well.
  • Have a support system that agrees that marriage is for life and that you can achieve this.

I feel very honoured to have worked in this field for this Diocese for 20 years and to work with hundreds of couples who want to learn how to live out their vows daily because they genuinely value sound relationships. The workshops we facilitate allow couples to explore the research on commitment and principles on how to stay relationship satisfied and importantly, how to keep filling each other’s emotional bank accounts.

I believe we can expect great things in our marriage when commitment, love and skill work together. Sure, there are times in our lives when we have to concentrate on some of these areas specifically or seek support to help us overcome challenges, but with support and understanding we can all enjoy the blessings of a strong and committed partnership 

I hope these tools prove useful and help you enrich your relationship. If you would like further reading on commitment contact me directly on 4979 1370 or robyn.donnelly@mn.catholic.org.au.

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Robyn Donnelly Image
Robyn Donnelly

Robyn Donnelly is Co-ordinator, Marriage & Relationship Education.