Marriage

Re-Think What Commitment Means!

Commitment is about conviction, not convention.

Posted Aug 25, 2019

Commitment was not something I thought about when I married eons ago—it came with the marriage license.  I remember the “till death do us part” bit.  It was a matter of convention.  No longer, and that’s a good thing. 

Millennials and younger generations are often described as “commitment avoidant”—a bad rap. The unmarried of these generations understand that commitment is serious.  And, they can come to understand, as I have, that commitment is negotiated and renegotiated throughout one’s marriage.

Crisis—Commitment or not?

My husband, Joe, and I were confronted with the idea of commitment to each other about 10 years into our marriage.  Because of the changing status of women during the 1960’s and l970’s, I realized I had options I did not think I had when we married.  My new horizon was grad school in Psychology, which requires doctoral level training.  This changed everything—causing upheaval in our marriage.  Joe’s commitment to my career—and a less traditional, more egalitarian relationship demonstrated his unswerving commitment to me personally, to our marriage, and to our children. He’s a good guy!

You cannot anticipate the upheavals that will occur in your marriage. Be ready to commit and re-commit.

Begin by Being Choosy?

Their Parent's Marriages Didn't Last

Sociologist Kathleen Gerson found in her study of young people that they hoped to create egalitarian relationships, within lasting marriages or marriage-like relationships.[1] These young people came of age in an era of more fluid marriages, less stable work careers, and working mothers.  They were likely to grow up in a home with one parent or a cohabiting couple, to have seen married parents break up, and/or to have watched a stay-at-home mother join the workplace. These experiences can generate fear that it may not be possible to have an enduring, egalitarian relationship in which devoted parenting and committed careers co-exist.  Hence, the title of Gerson’s book, “The Unfinished Revolution.”

While most young people still see marriage as a desired milestone, they are rightfully cautious about making a hasty decision.

Doing “Slow Love”

Helen Fisher, who is  the author of “Anatomy of Love” sees young people as doing “slow love” rather than being commitment-avoidant.[2]  She describes young people taking time to sleep around, have friends with benefits, or live with their partners for a while before choosing to marry.  This is the way they address their fear of marriage. And, Fisher isn’t worried about millennials not getting married; she argues that we have an evolutionary imperative for the deep attachment couples can find in marriage. 

In previous generations, marriage was one of the hallmarks of moving into adulthood.  Not so today.  Young people are marrying later, demonstrating their maturity through education, career development, and financial independence. It’s a good idea to demonstrate maturity before you commit, not demonstrating maturity by marrying!

What Are You Committing to?

What Kind Of Marriage Do You Want?

In their book, The New “I Do.” therapist Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson point out that young people today have more latitude in defining a marriage that suits their own life plans.[3]  They describe the different ways couples can say “I Do”—starter marriage, companionship marriage, parenting marriage, covenant marriage, etc. This is a good read.

Reasons Why People Want to Get Married

Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institute says that while there are now many forms of marriage, we can still identify three key reasons people get married that seem to define three different kinds of marriages: traditional, romantic, and parental.[4]

The traditional marriage is defined by gender roles, where the husband is the breadwinner and the wife is the homemaker. As Reeves says, “Husbands bring home the bacon. Wives cook it.” These are the marriages that the world of work has created. These marriages are often supported by religious faith, duty, and faithfulness between husband and wife, with an emphasis on the children in the family.

The romantic marriage is one based on the idea of self-actualization through the intimate relationship between husband and wife. In romantic marriages, the focus is on the adult relationship, not the parent-child relationship. As Reeves says, “Romantic marriages are passionate, stimulating, and sexy.” Parenting, by contrast, involves hard physical labor, repetitive tasks, and exhaustion.

Reeves defines the HIP (high-investment parenting) marriage as one that is liberal about adult roles and conservative about raising children. This type of marriage is designed to raise children together in a settled, nurturing environment, while striving to create and maintain a loving marital relationship. HIP wives typically have a good education and want to have a career outside the home with high earning potential.

Being Too Choosy—“The Jam Study”

Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, who is the chief scientific advisor to match.com argues that young people have the perception of an abundance of mate choice largely because of dating apps and dating websites.[5] These tools make it look like the options for a potential partner are endless.  Having lots of choices seems like a good reason not to rush into a commitment too early.  However, Fisher cautions about “choice overload.”

I bet you never heard of the “jam study,” which gave Fisher the idea of “choice overload.”  The jam study showed that when shoppers in an upscale grocery store were given six choices of jams, they were far more likely to actually buy one than when they were presented with 24 choices of jams.[6]  Having too many choices leads to decision paralysis, leading to both fewer selections and less satisfaction with the choice made.

Fisher suggests that you select nine people on a given dating app or site and then pick one that you want to get to know better.  She says that with nine, you are likely to have gotten a good range of personalities. 

Don’t let choosiness prevent you from choosing a life-partner.

Why Not Have an Ongoing Commitment to Your Marriage? 

Commitment in my marriage is an ongoing activity. As I said earlier, Joe and I made our first re-commitment to each other at about the 10-year mark.  Later, following a seriously rough time and with much effort, we again redefined our commitment to each other by learning how to look at ourselves. We learned to identify our own issues (insecurities we each brought with into the marriage) so that we don’t take these out on each other. I am accountable for my part in disruptions in the relationship.  I must identify and manage these personal issues before I am ready to negotiate disagreements, differences, plans, issues, etc.

For us, commitment turned out to evolve from our experience of marriage.  First it was the convention of getting married, the ceremonial “death do us part” bit, which occurred without much thought.  Then it was about dramatically changing how we defined out marriage—from traditional to egalitarian.  Next, it was about committing to self-reflection and self-awareness, which allowed our relationship to flourish.  Now it is the “vow” we have taken to negotiate collaboratively the issues, goals, disruptions, differences, conflicts, and disagreements we encounter. (see The Right Way to Negotiate) This is “ongoingness” of commitment in our marriage.

You too should prepare for the “ongoingness” of commitment in your marriage!

Takeaways

  • You cannot anticipate the upheavals that will occur in your marriage.  Be read to commit and re-commit.
  • Most young people still see marriage as desirable; they are rightfully cautious.
  • Demonstrate your maturity before you marry not by marrying.
  • Take the time to figure out why you want to get married and what kind of marriage you want.
  • You can be too choosy--remember  the "jam" study.
  • You should prepare for the "ongoingness" of commitment in your marriage.

References

1.  Gerson, Kathleen. The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work and Family. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011

2.  Fisher, Helen.  Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

3. Gadoua, Susan Pease and Vicki Larson. The New “I Do.” Berkeley, California: Seal Press, 2014.

4. Reeves, Richard. “How to Save Marriages in America.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/

5.  Helen Fisher.  Anatomy of Love

6. Florent.  Medium.  The Jam Experiment--How Choice Overloads Makes Consumers Buy Less.  August 17, 2017.                https://medium.com/@FlorentGeerts/the-jam-experiment-how-choice-overloads-makes-consumers-buy-less-d610f8c37b9bce-overloads-makes-consumers-buy-less-d610f8c37b9b