The Wrong Way—and the Right Way—to Think about Long-Term Commitment and Marriage

Is marriage worth less if it doesn't last forever?

Posted Jan 11, 2012

Ideally, the joy of long-term commitment is having someone beside you, with you, to share the joys and the burdens of life. A long-term commitment complements the rest of your life as it becomes an integral part of it. It seems that too many people now see it as a substitute, something you do instead of something else, and that as a result it must be scheduled in among other life goals, such as education and career. But if your commitment to your partner "competes" with other parts of your life, then it's not a good relationship. And if, in general, you think of long-term commitment this way, then you are missing the point of it altogether.

Perhaps part of what lies behind this way of thinking about long-term commitment is the idea that it impedes your autonomy: that in a committed relationship, you're responsible to your partner to some extent and not always free to do what you want when you want. (I wrote about this previously here.) But (hopefully) you're not committing to some random person: your partner is someone who shares, or at least supports, your most important goals in life. He or she won't stand in the way of these goals, but rather will help you achieve them—especially if you set some of them together. If you find yourself fighting with your partner over essential goals and dreams, then he or she is likely the wrong partner to whom to make a long-term commitment (or maintain one). But once you find someone with whom you can make a life together, commitment will only enhance that life, both by making it easier to achieve your goals and dreams, as well as giving you someone to achieve them with.

It's interesting that at the same time that many people are questioning the value of marriage or long-term commitment, others are holding it to an unrealistic ideal. But the truth is found, as it often is, in between: a relationship may not last forever, but it can be great while it does. And isn't that good enough?


For a categorized list of some of my previous Psychology Today posts, see here.

You can follow me on Twitter and also at the following blogs: Economics and Ethics, The Comics Professor, and my homepage/blog.