Dedication, Constraint and Staying Married

I recently ran across the idea of commitment theory being applied to romantic relationships. Commitment theory has long been applied to groups, and especially to employment situations, but it works very well for marriage too.

Dedication, Constrain and Staying Married

Commitment theory breaks down why people stay married between dedication and constraint. Dedication is the things that cause one to want to stay married. Constraint is things that cause someone to stay because the cost of ending the marriage is too high.

Dedication comes from things like love, companionship, pleasure, security, and one’s partner being a good parent. Constraint comes from things like fear of being alone, possible financial problems, cultural standards, and morality. 

If there are enough dedication factors for both spouses, the marriage is solid. If one spouse feels too few or no dedication factors then constraint comes into play. If the combination of dedication and constraint are not sufficient, divorce starts to look like a good idea.

While it might seem dedication and constraint are the same in this “equation” I don’t think they are. At a certain level of frustration (or pain, or fear) many of the constraints fall apart. I’ve heard wives who thought “divorce is never right,” say, “I don’t care what anyone thinks” when it got so bad they felt they had to get out. 

I’ve also seen men and women change social groups from one that frowns on divorce to one more accepting of it. In some cases, I think this change was intentional so they can feel freer to divorce. In other cases, the change was not done to make divorce possible, but the person was barely staying in their marriage and the decrease in social constraint was enough to result in divorce becoming an option. I would say constraint is less reliable than dedication because things outside the marriage can cause it to change.

More tomorrow…

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7 Comments on “Dedication, Constraint and Staying Married

  1. I think commitment is separate from both of those factors. You can he committed when both dedication and restraint fall apart, because commitment is completely internal. It is a component of a value structure that is both constant, and constantly changing and evolving. It is still such a fundamental part of someone that I don’t think it varies much.

    I saw it often in the Military. There are people who attempt a particular course of training, confident against all odds, that they will beat the adversity and attrition, and finish the course, and there are those who show up to “see if they have what it takes”. Those who are uncertain when they arrive almost never finish. The thing is, the motivating factor for those who finish is as varied as the individuals who show up. The source of the commitment is less important than the commitment.

    I think there is some good in looking at it from the angle you describe, but at the same time I see a stumbling block. If the commitment is based on circumstances, either good or bad, then it really isn’t a commitment.

    We should all look for ways to increase the “dedication” aspects of our marriages, but commitment is not that. Commitment is character.

    • @Man without a map – Was not thrilled with the labels they used, but I still think the theory is strong.

      I agree commitment is character, but humans are imperfect and very few have the character to keep going endlessly without any positive return. Make something impossible and everyone will eventually give up or fall out.

      • I don’t disagree with you, but the way I am reading things, a lot of the positive motivators (dedication) are 100 percent beyond your control. You can be intentional about giving your spouse a great deal in the dedication column, but get nothing in return. The way the tally looks to you is largely influenced by your spouses actions, and vice versa.

        The sad truth is you can do everything right, and still have nothing except restraint and character to fall back on.,

        • I think what he’s saying is restraint / commitment only goes so far. For example, my husband is an alcoholic. When I realized the extent of his drinking (he hid it for a looooong time), I had to evaluate what the conditions I had for staying were. I do not believe in divorce, or at least divorcing lightly, but I also realized that alcoholism isn’t static, and I couldn’t just accept absolutely everything. So I made my boundaries:

          1. Absolutely anything physical — cussing me out, breaking anything, hitting me, hitting one of our dogs, whatever — was an absolute no. I would be gone. (This has never even sort of been an issue, but I had to establish that boundary, at least to myself. I had to tell myself that I won’t accept just any kind of treatment.)

          2. If he got someone else pregnant, I was gone.

          3. I honestly am on the fence on how to handle infidelity more generally. I can’t sacrifice my stepson because of my own pain, but I think it will change the structure of the relationship I have with my husband. I just won’t leave. (This has come up.)

          #1 and #2 aren’t a lack of commitment on my part. It’s not a character failing if I don’t allow my husband to beat me.

        • @Man without a map – Long term reliance on restraint and character sounds like a marriage in deep trouble to me.

          I have known a few men and women who would not respond to having their real wants and needs met, but it’s very rare. If we figure out what they really want, as opposed to what we think they should want, change usually occurs.

  2. This is very interesting, because I would say that in the worst of my marriage, constraint played a big role in keeping me there. But while that can help you hang in there longer, you really can’t stay there for too long. The relationship has to move to dedication, or you just turn bitter or isolated to stay in the marriage (which isn’t even a marriage then really). Thank goodness we intentionally pursued that and the worst is truly behind us. Our marriage is all about dedication now.

    • @J. Parker – You said what I was getting at much more clearly! Constraint can work short term, but not long term. Anyone counting on constraint to keep their marriage going is in trouble.

      Perhaps this is a big part of the marriages that seem to end suddenly. One person is in it only because of constraint, and when that stops working there is absolutely nothing left.

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