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.
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.