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The Two Paths to Oneness

Discusses the report of Catherine Surra on the commitment styles of married couples during their courtship which lead to marriage. Description of the two commitment styles; Implications of commitment styles.

Life may be a journey, as those car ads claim, but so is courtship. And inmost relationships the road to commitment follows one of two basic paths, reports Catherine Surra, Ph.D., professor of family studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University. Surra and Debra Hughes, Ph.D., quizzed 54 couples about their attitudes, interests, and relationship history. Then the participants provided monthly updates on how likely they were to marry--and noted why they were more (or less) sure than they had been previously that their partner was "the one."

In a third of the couples, the path to commitment resembled a leisurely drive up a hillside, with the likelihood of marriage slowly climbing each month--what Surra calls a "relationship-driven" commitment style. For 40 percent of the couples, however, the path to marriage looked more like a car chase through the streets of San Francisco, with commitment soaring one month and plum-meting the next. In these "event-driven" couples, commitment depended largely on recent experiences like spats or soul-baring talks.

Although both groups scored the same on measures of love, relationship-driven couples reported less conflict, negativity, and ambivalence in their relationships, report Surra and Hughes. But if you're pining for a relationship style that you don't have, you may be out of luck. Ultimately, commitment style may be less a matter of choice than a reflection of one's personality and upbringing.