Psych Corner: Commitment in the Little Things Can Strengthen Your Relationship

“He/She definitely has a commitment problem,” you hear that a lot in the dating world, implying that someone isn’t ready for a serious relationship. Yes, commitment is a necessary ingredient for a healthy and strong relationship, but it also can be scary to think about what commitment, especially in marriage (“in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part”), looks like. Commitment means that you and your spouse support each other through the good and the bad, no matter what and you can rely on them through the ups and downs of life.

So you’ve decided that you are ready for a serious relationship (or maybe you are already in one) and you want to show your significant other that you are committed to your relationship with them. How exactly do you go about showing that?

When you think of how people show commitment to one another and their relationship, grand gestures probably come to mind like giving up a promising career so that their partner can pursue their dream job or buying an expensive gift. While these are valuable and valid displays of commitment, the foundations of commitment are found not in grand gestures but in the everyday. John Gottman, the well-known relationships researcher, says that relationships are strengthened by “small moments of attachment and intimacy.” Showing commitment to your relationship (attachment) in the little things, even when dating, sets the stage for a deeper level of commitment in marriage and makes it easier to be committed in the bigger things.

You wouldn’t try to swim for the first time by jumping off the high dive into a 12-foot-deep pool, right? That would be a recipe for disaster and the lifeguard would probably have to jump to your rescue. Instead, you would probably start learning basic breathing techniques and strokes in the 3-foot-deep end of the pool. Building commitment in your relationship is similar.  Showing commitment in the big things is like jumping off the high dive. This is much more difficult if you haven’t been practicing in the shallow end first, being committed in the big things like facing a serious illness, financial problems, or job difficulties is much more difficult if you haven’t been practicing commitment in little ways in your relationship. By building a habit of commitment in little ways, it will be easier to be committed in big ways to your significant other and your relationship with them even when you don’t feel like it. 

Flickr / Bobby Giggz
Flickr / Bobby Giggz
  1. Identify Everyday Ways to Show Commitment

An easy way to start demonstrating commitment in your relationship is to identify how you can strengthen your relationship in your day-to-day life. It will mean something different for each person but it could look like turning down an invitation to go out with your friends after work to bring take-out home to your significant other. It could also mean doing the dishes, making your significant other’s favorite dinner instead of yours, or being flexible when scheduling time together. 

  1. Compromise
    UCLA research study found that compromise played an essential role in building and maintaining commitment in the participant’s relationship. Benjamin Karney, a psychology professor, observed that the participant’s who asked themselves, “What is best for our relationship?” rather than, “What’s the best decision for me?” had longer lasting and happier marriages. Collaborating with your significant other and agreeing together what to do with not only demonstrate your commitment to one another but will also strengthen your relationship.
  1. Spend Time Together

Set aside time from your busy schedules to spend interruption-free time with each other. Whether you are dating or married, dating your significant other helps to strengthen your relationship and commitment to one another. The National Marriage Project found that couples who feel a strong sense of commitment to their partner and their relationship experience higher-quality and more stable relationships. The National Marriage Project recommends scheduling a regular date night as an effective way to demonstrate and strengthen your commitment to your significant other.

  1. Put the Other First

Putting your significant other and their needs ahead of yours or someone else’s outside the relationship is also an effective way to demonstrate and strengthen your commitment to your relationship. The same UCLA research study found that couples that made sacrifices for their overall good of their relationship had longer lasting and happy marriages. Utah State University has a helpful worksheet on ways to put you significant other first. Some of their suggestions include complimenting your partner, asking them about their day, doing a random act of kindness for them, and having a conversation with your significant other before making any big decisions. When you put your partner first, you are showing to them that your relationship takes priority.
Practicing commitment in the small, everyday moments of life, will help you build a solid foundation in your relationship so that you can weather the storms of life together. You’ll navigate these storms in such a way so that you can come through stronger than ever. And that’s an amazing thing!

This article is not intended to be a substitute for or serve as professional counseling or treatment. 

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