What Types of Relationships Lead to Marriage?
Research reveals the type of commitment that paves a path to the altar.
Posted Mar 20, 2019
When it comes to romance, some relationships flow easier than others. Many couples are kindred spirits, connecting with each other easily, merging effortlessly into each other's lives. Other relationships sizzle, then fizzle. True, many couples face relational roadblocks, from job stressors to family conflict to geographical incompatibility. Yet some couples handle relational roadblocks in stride, while for others, even minor conflict can derail a relationship to the extent that it is difficult to get back on track. What makes the difference? Research provides some answers.
Avenues to the Altar
Brian Ogolsky et al. (2016) investigated how different pathways of commitment do or do not lead to the altar.[i] Their data was part of a longitudinal study examining the development of commitment and involved live interviews of a random sample of heterosexual couples over a nine-month period.
They classified couples into commitment pathways based on changes in their commitment to get married, as well as the reasons for the changes. They identified four distinct process of commitment: (a) dramatic, (b) conflict ridden, (c) socially involved, and (d) partner focused. As the titles imply, couples involved in relationships classified as dramatic and conflict-ridden presented poor prognostic profiles with respect to pathways to the altar. But couples who were socially involved or partner-focused had the possibility of a much rosier future.
The Satisfaction of Social Involvement
Individuals in socially involved commitments seem to be on the road to success. Ogolsky et al. note that couples classified in socially involved commitments report higher levels of satisfaction than couples in dramatic and conflict-ridden commitments. They were found to be able to progress to deeper levels of commitment more easily than couples in other commitment groups, reportedly due to their positive interactions within social networks.
In addition, they not only have plenty of friends, they are friends. The authors note that these couples reported the highest level of friendship-based love. They also expressed a lack of hesitation about involvement, low levels of relational ambivalence, and less breakups. The authors note that socially involved commitments are apparently successful long-term commitments based on their high levels of friendship-based love.
Ogolsky et al. adopt a research-based definition of friendship-based love as “a companionate form of love that emerges from trust and mutual respect and is more strongly associated with relationship satisfaction than is passionate love.” They note that the level of companionship enjoyed by these couples stems from the merging of individual networks, which can both form and strengthen a couple's identity.
The Reverse Selfie: Focus on Your Partner for Relational Success
It stands to reason that healthy relationships involve the willingness of both parties to put their partners first. Probably easier said than done, but well worth the effort when we consider the benefits of relational benevolence.
Ogolsky et al. describe partner-focused commitments as unique in their positive views of their partners and their relationship. Not surprisingly, such relationships have a low incidence of relational commitment downturns. Regarding relational satisfaction, participants in partner-focused commitments reported “a high proportion of positive dyadic attributions and references to interaction with partners.”
But there is more. These couples are also compatible, reporting the highest levels of conscientiousness, which the authors note is a trait representing “an ability to make careful and deliberate assessments and decisions.” They note that couples in partner-focused commitments engaged in more leisure activities together compared to all other groups.
And while couples in socially involved commitments reported the highest levels of friendship-based love, individuals in partner-focused commitments reported the highest degree of relationship satisfaction.
How do partner-focused couples make their relationship work? The authors note that in contrast to individuals in socially involved commitments, partner-focused couples apparently enrich their unions through spending quality time together rather than with others in a social setting. The elevated levels of satisfaction reported by this group predicted the highest likelihood of relational advancement, and the lowest likelihood of a breakup.
A Well-Traveled Path to the Altar
Couples headed to the alter surrounded by a healthy, supportive, social group are likely to arrive at their destination sooner rather than later. They will probably plan a large wedding to accommodate their significant number of fans, friends, and followers who have been a part of their journey.
Partners focused on each other are headed in the same direction, sometimes moving even faster, but definitely headed toward the same destination. Other-focused selflessness is attractive and beneficial to any relationship — particularly one focused on the long term.
This research seems to suggest that an examination of the pathways of relational commitment may be an effective way to proactively avoid relationships involving behavior that raises alarm bells — and free up more time to pursue healthy relationships headed toward the sound of wedding bells.
[i] Brian G. Ogolsky, Catherine A. Surra, and J. Kale Monk. “Pathways of Commitment to Wed: The Development and Dissolution of Romantic Relationships.” Journal of Marriage and Family 78, no. 2 (April 2016): 293–310. doi:10.1111/jomf.12260.