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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Science of Relationship Commitment

Whether you are in the honeymoon phase of a new relationship or negotiating a challenging period in a long-term partnership, it's natural to wonder whether your partner is really committed to staying together.  Commitment is an important facet of a relationship because it allows you to share goals and dreams and to feel emotionally safer. It also helps you to stick it out when external stresses impact your relationship and things get rocky.  But what factors determine commitment?  Read below for the science of staying together.

The Investment Model of Commitment

The Investment Model (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978) of relationship commitment proposes that we stay committed to romantic relationships to the extent that

  • they meet and do not frustrate our needs (e.g., for intimacy, fun. security, excitement etc.), 
  • they are more appealing than other potential relationships or ways of spending our time
  • the breakup of the relationship would lead us to lose valuable resources (like time, money, housing, fun activities, or being part of a family or social group). 
Sometimes we stay in relationships that are not so satisfying because we would lose too much by leaving or because we don’t have any better alternatives. Or we leave relatively satisfying relationships because a more attractive (or resource-rich) alternative partner appears.

The Forecast Model of Commitment

A very recent article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Professor Edward Lemay of the University of Maryland suggests an alternative theory, called the forecast model of relationship commitment. 

This model suggests that our expectations of how happy we will be with our partner in the future determine how committed we are to our relationships, over and above the three previously mentioned factors. 

In other words, if we are going through a challenging stage in the relationship  (e.g., having a new baby or a difficult teenager, financial stress, fighting, or one partner needing to work all the time), we are more likely to stay if we think the relationship will improve and bring us happiness in the future. We are more willing to invest effort and make sacrifices if we see the potential for future gain.  But if we think things won’t improve or we don’t see long-term happiness with our partner, we are less likely to invest or to behave in ways that help the relationship. We may think about whether our partner wants the same things in life that we do, what type of parent they would make, whether we would continue to have fun together, and so on. 

The Research

Research studies found strong support for the three factors specified by the investment model and the additional factor of predicted future satisfaction suggested by the forecasting model.  Those who saw a happier future with their partner reported more commitment on a daily basis, and one year later. The studies also showed that when people anticipate more future satisfaction in the relationship, they are less likely to behave destructively.  For example they do less blaming, criticizing, and rejecting. They are also more likely to respond constructively to negative behavior by the partner.  These positive relationship behaviors are likely to enhance the stability of the relationship. The researchers concluded that.

 “People pursue relationships that are expected to bring pleasure and disengage from relationships that are expected to bring pain, and this can be seen in the effects of these expectations for the future on relationship commitment.”  p. 49

So, if you want your relationship to last, try talking to your partner about your dreams and hopes for the future of the relationship and paint a picture of the happy times you see ahead. 


Lemay Jr, E. P. (2016). The Forecast Model of Relationship Commitment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(1), 34-52.

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