Commitment, the big “C-word” in relationships, is defined as feeling connected to your partner, wanting your relationship to succeed, and thinking about your long-term future together.1 Although there are downsides to commitment (see here for an example), commitment is associated with lots of good outcomes, including:2
1. Staying Together
If you want your relationship to stay together, there’s nothing like commitment to do the trick. Commitment is associated with having longer and more stable relationships, and more committed people are less likely to break up with their partners.3 The research on this is very clear: building commitment in your relationship enhances your chances of staying with your partner for the long haul. (Read more about this research here.)
2. Avoiding Temptation and Remaining Faithful
Tempting alternative partners may be all around you, but committed people tend to downplay the attractiveness of others. When you’re single, that woman in your chemistry class or guy working at the coffee shop may be pretty attractive to you. But when you’re in a committed relationship, they don’t look quite as good.4 And if you’re less attracted to alternatives, you’re less likely to want to get it on (or get off) with them. Committed people have lower rates of infidelity than those in less committed relationships.5 (Read more about this research here.)
3. Resolving Conflict
Let’s face it…even couples in the best relationships argue from time to time. Commitment might not keep you from having the occasional disagreement, but committed couples “fight better.” Rather than acting destructively when arguing (e.g., yelling at a partner, storming out of the room, etc.), people committed to their relationships resolve conflict constructively by keeping the relationship’s overall health in mind.6 You might be annoyed that he left the toilet seat up again or that she forgot to pick you up from work today, but committed couples know that it’s not worth escalating this into an all-out relationship war that might ultimately threaten the future of the relationship. (Read more about this research here.)
4. Out of Sight, But Not Out of Mind
As much as you might want to spend every minute of your life with your partner, couples are sometimes separated for a few days (e.g., a business trip or holiday break at school) or many months (e.g., a military deployment or long-distance relationship). Partners who are committed to each other miss each other more when they are separated.7 Now, that might not sound like a good thing, but in fact, missing your partner is beneficial for your relationship. Imagine people didn’t miss their partners while they were away. What would that say about their relationships? It’s probably not good news. We also know that individuals who miss their partners have better communication with their partners during a geographic separation and are less likely to cheat on them8 (see Point #2 above). Basically, missing a partner helps motivate you to keep that relationship going, even when you are geographically separated.
5. Better Sex
If the reasons above aren’t enough, this one clinches the deal. Committed couples have better sex. For example, young adults in committed relationships report higher sexual enjoyment,9 possibly because partners who are in it for the long-haul are motivated to learn how to please each other, have lowered inhibitions because they know each other well, and have better (sexual) communication. In addition, research on hook-ups shows that women are more likely to have orgasms in long-term relationships compared to hook-ups with new partners (read more about this research here).10 So if you can’t get no satisfaction, turning up the commitment might be just what the doctor ordered.
There you have it. Don’t be afraid of a little commitment in your relationship if you’re into your partner. As you can see, the upsides are pretty good!
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1Arriaga, X. B., & Agnew, C. R. (2001). Being committed: Affective, cognitive, and conative components of relationship commitment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1190-1203.
2Rusbult, C. E., Drigotas, S. M., & Verette, J. (1994). The investment model: An interdependence analysis of commitment processes and relationship maintenance phenomena. In D. J. Canary & L. Stafford (Eds.) Communication and relational maintenance (pp. 115-139). San Diego: Academic Press.
3Le, B., Dove, N. L., Agnew, C. R., Korn, M. S., & Mutso, A. A. (2010). Predicting non-marital romantic relationship dissolution: A meta-analytic synthesis. Personal Relationships, 17, 377-390.
4Johnson, D. J., & Rusbult, C. E. (1989). Resisting temptation: Devaluation of alternative partners as a means of maintaining commitment in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 967-980.
5Drigotas, S. M., Safstrom, C. A., & Gentilia, T. (1999). An investment model prediction of dating infidelity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 509-524.
6Rusbult, C. E., Yovetich, N. A., & Verette, J. (1996). An interdependence analysis of accommodation processes. In G. J. O. Fletcher & J. Fitness (Eds.), Knowledge structures in close relationships: A social psychological approach (pp. 63-90). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
7Le, B., Loving, T. J., Lewandowski, G. W. Jr., Feinberg, E. G., Johnson, K. C., Fiorentino, R., & Ing, J. (2008). Missing a romantic partner: A prototype analysis. Personal Relationships, 15, 511-532.
8Le, B., Korn, M. S., Crockett, E. E., & Loving, T. J. (2011). Missing you maintains us: Missing a romantic partner, commitment, relationship maintenance, and physical infidelity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28, 653-667.
9Galinsky, A. M., & Sonenstein, F. L. (2013). Relationship commitment, perceived equity, and sexual enjoyment among young adults in the United States. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42(1), 93-104.
10Armstrong, E. A., England, P., & Fogarty, A. C. K. (2012). Accounting for women’s orgasm and sexual enjoyment in college hookups and relationships. American Sociological Review, 77, 435-462.
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.