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Strong or Weak, How Committed are You Together?

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We’ve all seen them or been a part of one at some point in our lives. I’m talking about those couples that, from the outside looking in, you really can’t understand why they work. On paper, the relationship seems like it shouldn’t have initiated or lasted, but in reality, there’s a whole world of sparks and attractions happening behind the scenes that we’ll never fully understand.

And while the reasons two people fall in love and make relationships work or not can’t be wholly understood from a mathematical or formulaic sense, six researchers recently set out to better understand what makes for lasting commitments between two people.

The team was comprised of M. Minda Oriña of St. Olaf College; W. Andrew Collins, Jeffry A. Simpson, Jessica E. Salvatore, and John S. Kim of the University of Minnesota and Katherine C. Haydon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They used the rich mine of data in the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation (MLSRA), coupled with a lab procedure to try to understand what makes individuals committed or less committed to a relationship.

The team’s findings suggest a link between how supportive and nurturing a toddler’s mother was during his or her childhood and how supportive and nurturing adults are in their relationships as they age.

“Supportive, involved mothering in toddlerhood and an ability to work through conflict in adolescence are good predictors of becoming the 'strong link' – the person with the bigger stake – in adult relationships. If the opposite happened in earlier life, chances are the person will be the 'weak link' – the one with one foot out the door,” according to a press release by the Association for Psychological Science.

While it is important to understand the habits and commitment levels of each individual, what is more telling is the combination of the two.

“Two strong links will be benevolent and tolerant when the going gets rough. Two weak links may be lax about working things out, but their expectations are equally low—so there’s less friction. But when a weak link and a strong link pair up, the one with less investment has more influence,” according to the study.

The researchers took information from the longitudinal study where toddlers were given a difficult task and their mothers’ response (did the mom help, laugh or ignore the child?) was recorded. Second, at age 16, the children were asked to share a recent conflict with a friend. And lastly, the study participants at age 20 or 21 were asked to bring in their heterosexual partner. They were asked to discuss and attempt to resolve the one thing that brought them the most conflict. They were also asked to talk about the things they agreed most on. Their interactions were videotaped and studied by researchers later.

The researchers found that the couples with differing commitment levels were the most hostile.

Researchers are excited that the study contributes to our understanding of how we learn to love well. When you’re a baby or a teenager, “You are learning to manage your own needs and those of the people you care about,” Oriña said. “You learn: Can I come forward with a problem? What can I expect of the other person? And how can I do this in a way that everyone wins?”

So while we can’t ever fully understand the intricacies of what makes two people fall in love, perhaps we can better understand what types of people can make their commitment to one another last.

Want Lasting Love? It’s Not More Commitment, but Equal Commitment That Matters

Reviewed May 24, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton

Bailey Mosier is a freelance journalist living in Winter Park, Florida. She received a Masters of Journalism from Arizona State University, played D-I golf, has been editor of a Scottsdale-based golf magazine and currently contributes to GolfChannel.com. She aims to live an active, healthy lifestyle full of sunshine and smiles.

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Interesting study. I am always so skeptical of these types of studies. Would be curious to see if this accounts for "cross-cultural" couples as well. My boyfriend and I met and fell in love in graduate school. Him, being from one of the most conservative cultures in the world (hailing from South India), and me a free-spirit from California. I'm positive our mothers' supportive/nurturing ways took on different meanings and had less to do with us falling in love and making it work and being able to formulate lasting commitment than current circumstances and the "inexplicable" factor you mentioned above about why two people fall in love.

May 24, 2011 - 5:00pm
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