Lots of couples over the years have asked me really great questions about how to have a great relationship:
“What’s the foundation to a great marriage?”
“What important piece of information do we need to know to survive as a couple?”
“What’s the secret ingredient to making it together?”
“How do I know whether or not we’re going to last?”
For people to have a great relationship, I think there are lots of things to learn and practice. However, for longevity, there’s one very important foundation block that must be in place. Are you ready for it? (I can hear the drumroll…) Commitment.
It may sound old-fashioned or out of style, but it’s true. You simply can’t survive as a couple without commitment.
A recent UCLA research team conducted a longitudinal study following 172 couples over their first 11 years of marriage to determine how commitment impacts relationship success. The team surveyed the couples every six months for the first four years, asking questions such as “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following question: “I want my marriage to stay strong, no matter what rough times we may encounter.’” Of the 172 couples, almost 80% are still married. Interestingly, over the years of studying the couples, commitment began to take shape in specific actions.
Unpacking the Research on Commitment
We all usually say that we’re very committed to our relationship and we believe it. However, commitment looks like something specific. It’s not just a heartfelt statement declaring your forever to someone. According to the research, there are certain behaviors and attitudes that demonstrate an active commitment to the relationship. Let’s face it: Over 20% of the couples in the study who agreed commitment was important didn’t end up staying together.
What the research suggests is that commitment is not tying a knot at the end of the rope and hanging on. Commitment emerged in the study as more than just passively hanging on in the relationship no matter what, even if it means being unhappy.
Deeper, more genuine levels of commitment that allowed almost 80% of the couples in the study to be successful looked like this: “I am committed to do what it takes to make the relationship successful.”
See the difference? It’s not just hanging on for dear life, but rather deciding to do the work in the relationship that ensures its survival.
What does that mean? It means that being willing to give of yourself, compromising, working at communication and conflict resolution, going to counseling, protecting the relationship, and being willing to do the work are key factors of relationship commitment.
Difficult times aren’t a sign that the relationship has expired like out of date milk shoved in the back of the refrigerator.
Commitment is easy when things are going smoothly in your relationship. However, deeper levels of commitment are needed when difficulty, struggle, demands of life, work stress, a new baby, family, finances, finding time for sex, or conflict emerge in the marriage. I’m not being a Debbie Downer here, let’s be truthful: All marriages go through less-than-perfect times as couples go through life together. Difficult times aren’t a sign that the relationship has expired like out of date milk shoved in the back of the refrigerator. They mean that your relationship is alive and that it’s giving you signals that it’s time for more growth, personal transformation, new relational skills, and/or time working on it together. On the other side of the struggle is a deeper love and appreciation for the one you’re with.
The bottom line: If you make your relationship a priority, refuse to quit, and are committed to do the work, good things will happen for your marriage.