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Family and Consumer Sciences

College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources

LIFE - Individual Growth and Development


Commitment is the process that fulfills the promise of couples who ‘set out together.’ Journeying through life, a shared purpose maps their course stage-to-stage and week-to-week. Preparing for the worst, but expecting the best, partners can thrive wherever the road leads. Over the long run, enjoying the trip surpasses speed or show. Purpose, plans, and persistence, practiced early and often, best describes marriages that ‘go the distance.’

The journey of commitment depends on…

Sense of Purpose

  • Dedication: Knowing where—and why—you’re going improves both direction and destination
    • A clear and shared sense of purpose, refined regularly, creates a foundation for planning, persistence, and accountability
    • Deeper purpose, grounded in spiritual values and sacred promises, provides underpinnings for loyalty, sacrifice, and prioritizing personal and couple life
    • Constraint: Knowing the "white lines" of the road and results of running into the ditch may help a couple steer straight, even at times when they’re not sure where they’re going
    • Awareness of the consequences of breakup (emotional, legal, economic losses), social disapproval, or violation of one’s own hopes or values may keep some partners together, even when their own motivation lags

Positive Expectations

Realistic Expectations: Knowing the road and going with the traffic flow aids a smooth trip

  • Accurate—or somewhat optimistic—expectations about a partner, the relationship, or marriage aid adjustment; unrealistic or overly optimistic expectations tend to lead to disappointment.
  • Flexible expectations aid adjustment; rigid expectations lead to conflict.
Expectations and Investments: Partners tend to build their own road wherever they want to go
  • High aspirations precede higher rewards and greater rewards lead to greater investments

Readiness for Commitment

Balance: Having a good ride requires driving under control

  • Addiction, anger, and anxiety place relationships at risk for breakup
Maturity and Experience: Competence in short trips is preparation for a long one
  • Experience with the psychological, economic, and social demands of each stage of marriage increases prospects for satisfaction and success

Committing to the Journey

Create a map with a circle in the middle indicating where you are now, a road to the left indicating where you’ve been together and road(s) ahead indicating your options.

Pretend that your next adventure as a couple (buying a house, having a baby, or starting a new business or career) is like a vacation trip. List and discuss the practical supplies, attitude shifts, schedule habits, and relationship changes that would prepare each and both of you for that expected life change.


"…tell me you love me for a million years…if it don’t work out, then you can tell me goodbye…"

The Meaning of Commitment

Commitment describes partners’ direction and determination in life together.

The Romans joined two words meaning "to send together" to express both the thinking and acting needed for a shared journey. Commitment is the vision taking shape in actions which infuse vitality into a relationship.

Most American couples expect to choose their partner and life course. This freedom from some demands of family or society means that partners must rely primarily on each other. It is up to them to make the most of life together.

Couples in more traditional cultures face fewer choices and more external pressures. Often, they also gain greater guidance and support from family and friends interested in seeing them happy together. Even so, the couple themselves must make the most of life together.

Building Commitment

What a couple makes of their life—staying together through crises or sustaining relationship vitality stage-to-stage—is shaped by many factors, including:

Dedication, representing each partner’s values and efforts to grow together and

Boundaries, involving external pressures to stay together or negative consequences of breakup;

Shared purpose, or mutual understanding of the individual, societal, and spiritual
reasons for and goals in marriage, and Expectations about how those goals will be worked out across issues such as roles, intimacy, and finances.

Readiness for Marriage, as reflected in handling of emotions, loyalties, and Responsibilities.

Dedication and Boundaries

The promises and performance of marriage reflect the personal motivation of partners and the expectations of their families and society. Traditionally, the economic security and social status of marriage required loyalty and practical effort, often without assuming affection or romance. In today’s companionship marriage, the devotion of saying, "I do" must become the everyday reality of doing things that continue to build caring and cooperation.


Dedication, or personal desire to grow in ways that benefit both partners, motivates investments in the success and satisfaction of marriage. Partners make choices to build a life together through:

  • Planning together—joint decisions on a grocery list, weekend trip, or childcare decisions in the short run, remodeling, car purchase, or retirement for the long run reinforces shared responsibility and partners’ views of their common future;
  • Prioritizing—the process of agreeing on use of resources (time, money, energy, property) is an important discipline for financial stability, self-determination, and couple consensus;
  • Teamwork—cooperating on everyday tasks like cooking, yard work, balancing the checkbook, or putting children to bed strengthens mutual support and togetherness whether couples are side-by-side or separately exercising their unique talents;
  • Sacrifice—giving extra effort for a spouse or the good of the relationship underlines the importance of the partnership, especially when such efforts are mutual;
  • Blocking alternatives—steering clear of work overload or recreational pursuits as well as flirtations which detract from couple and family life, builds trust;
  • Valuing commitment—working to share burdens and make happy memories during good times sets the stage for patience and persistence through difficulties.
Strategies which express dedication build resiliency by:
  • Reducing vulnerability to stress, including fatigue, isolation and martyrdom, or temptations to infidelity and increasing emotional resources of both the individuals and the relationship (togetherness, hope, patience, willingness to sacrifice). Joint efforts maximize individual talents and couple efficiency.
  • Cultivating a shared history of success and growing reserve of capabilities for meeting expected and unexpected challenges.
  • Establishing disciplines of coping and rapport which enable the couple to recover from extreme stressors, within or beyond the family.


Even couples who actively choose to grow are affected by external rules and pressures which discourage the breakup of relationships. Both the influence of family and friends and the practical consequences of splitting represent barriers to breakup:

  • Prospect of losses—grieving over the end of shared hopes and history is typical even in distant or conflicted partnerships. Fears for an uncomfortable or unfamiliar future may lead some individuals to remain even when marital bonds become bondage;
  • Friend or family expectations—avoiding disapproval may shame partners back into marriage or inspire them to live up to the high hopes others affirm in them;
  • Hassles of separation and divorce—dealing with the practical difficulties or emotional pain of changing lifestyles may take as much or more energy than working to make a marriage better;
  • Undesirable options—choosing to get out of a lifeless attachment may be easier than creating a better alternative. The prospect of poverty or loneliness often leads people to hold on to what they’ve got. The realization that a new partner may have faults equal to an old partner provides a new perspective on escaping a bad marriage;
  • Anti-divorce values—believing that marriage should last can inspire effort to make it last, through flexibility and cooperation, rather than simple stubbornness to stick together.
While guilt, coercion, and advice-giving do little to strengthen relationships, fear of disapproval may cause partners to avoid a rash breakup and work toward mending fences. Anticipating the unpleasant consequences of conflict and separation, with or without reminders from others, may also constrain couples from ending their relationship.

Strategies which acknowledge constraints build resiliency by:

  • Recognizing disapproval or distressing alternatives early, as signals to rethink the relationship, using support and personal resources to heal and grow, rather than waiting past the point of recovery
  • Reducing risks of negative consequences of breakup through external controls which provide reasons to stay together when satisfaction is low, adding stability by discouraging rash reactions to stress

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