Why Does Commitment Matter in Marriage?
This is Part 1 of a 3-part blog post.
Marriage is the most stable social institution, with approximately 90 percent of adults choosing to marry. Despite high rates of divorce, people expect to marry since they want a deep, lasting, and loving relationship. A number of studies have shown the appeal and benefits of a healthy marriage. Compared to those who are in unhealthy marriages, those who are in healthy marriages are physically, emotionally, financially, and sexually healthier. Married couples, on average, create more economic assets and save and invest more for the future than do otherwise single or cohabitating couples. A healthy marriage not only provides greater life satisfaction and a sense of meaning but also reduces negative emotions such as loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Despite these benefits of marriage, marital cynicism abounds. Young married couples in their first marriage have about a 40 to 50 percent divorce rate. The divorce rate of those who marry more than once rises. These statistics revealed that the level of confidence in marriage has declined.
Why is a commitment in marriage important?
Relationship researchers have investigated protective factors and risk factors that affect marital outcomes, including marital satisfaction and marital stability. Among the factors that increase the likelihood of positive marital outcomes, marital commitment has been given a great deal of research attention. While the definition of commitment varies in the literature, the general consensus is that marital commitment requires partners’ intention to preserve their marriage regardless of their situations and feelings or evaluations of their marriage. Such intention stems from partners’ sense of loyalty, devotion, dedication, and sacrifice. Committed partners to each other make intentional efforts for their marriage even in times of conflict and stress.
Numerous studies revealed that lack of commitment was one of the most important contributors that affected divorce. On the other hand, partners’ high levels of marital commitment have been found to be associated with positive marital outcomes. Highly committed partners are more likely to express their affection, feel close to and interdependent with their partner, have the willingness to accommodate and sacrifice for their partner, and may be more forgiving in response to their partner’s betrayal and transgressions. Furthermore, partners in a highly committed marriage tend to have a strong sense of unity as a couple, share a long-term view of their marriage, prioritize their spouse and marriage over self-interest and are more willing to sacrifice self-interest to preserve their marriage.
Marital commitment is also an important contributor that increases marital stability, and partners’ lack of commitment is known to be a risk factor for marital dissolution. Highly committed partners expected their union to be life-long, so divorce was not considered even during difficult times. They tend to perceive their marital issues as “solvable” and demonstrate a willingness to work on those issues. Marital commitment is also important for the stability and longevity of remarriages. What makes remarriages likely to end in divorce may be a lack of commitment rather than marital conflict itself. Commitment appears to be a vitally important variable in influencing marriage stability.
What does the Bible say about commitment?
The term “commitment “ is little mentioned in the Scriptures, but the characteristics of commitment are similar to those of covenant that is evidenced throughout the Scriptures. The Hebrew transliteration for the word “covenant” is berit, which refers to agreements or pledges between men or a covenant between God and men. The term covenant generally implies “the idea of a solemn commitment, guaranteeing promises or obligations undertaken by one or both covenanting parties.” Grudem (2000) defined covenant as “an unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship.” The essential element at the heart of the covenant is the unchangeable promise.
Genesis 2:18-25 provides important teaching about marriage in all of the Bible. The passage about Adam and Eve portrays marital commitment in these words: “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). “They shall become one flesh” refers to the sexual act as the consequence of their bonding, which unites husband and wife in one new person. The Hebrew transliteration for “be joined” used in this verse is dabaq, which means “to adhere,” “to cling,” or “to stick.” The Hebrew word dabaq is commonly used to describe covenant relationships in the Bible. One of the examples of a covenant relationship in the Bible is Ruth’s commitment to Naomi. When Naomi allowed Ruth to return to the place where she was staying, she clung (dabaq) to her. Ruth’s statement revealed the nature and depth of commitment. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Marriage continues to be considered an important social institution in which individuals secure a loving, committed relationship with their partner. Americans have become less likely to marry, while unmarried cohabitation has rapidly increased. The divorce rate of those who marry more than once rises. Lack of commitment was one of the most important contributors that affected divorce. As this research shows, commitment appears to be a vitally important variable in influencing marriage stability. Commitment is as a critical aspect in enabling married individuals to persevere in marriage. The Bible also shows that commitment is a primary motive for God’s covenant love for people and a long-term marriage relationship.
Adams, J. M., & Jones, W. H. (1997). The conceptualization of marital commitment: An Integrative Analysis. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 72, 1177-1196.
Cate, R. M., Levin, L. A., & Richmond, L. S. (2002). Premarital relationship stability: A review of recent research. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 19, 261-284.
Grudem, W. A. (2000). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
U.S. Census Bureau, (2014). America’s families and living arrangements. Retrieved from: https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2014/demo/families/cps-2014.html
Whitton, S. W., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., & Johnson, C. A. (2013). Attitudes toward divorce, commitment, and divorce proneness in first marriages and remarriages. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 75, 276-287.