The things you do for me honey, make me more committed



Relationships have for time immemorial either been a source of joy or a pain point for people. Managing relationships is by far one of the greatest and painstaking items on our ‘list of managing things’, sadly so! I often read chain mails and jokes about spouses in particular, the types that people keep forwarding mindlessly through various medium. Most of them are about how the poor husband has to toil so hard to make his wife happy and is always upto some tricks to either avoid her or to please her. Reading such insensitive stuff makes me really unhappy. And in fact, the reality of the situation could be the reverse as well. It is a known fact that in so many cases men have really been harassed by their spouses; and the law unfortunately takes congnizance of the fairer sex, leaving the male brigade to suffer at the hands of the other brigade. Sometimes it makes me wonder whether people have stopped realizing the importance of the other person’s investment in a relationship!

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Think of a situation where your partner (irrespective of the gender) has uprooted his or her life to join you in your home city, leaving behind friends, career and family to start completely over – with you and for you. However, after a few months, you begin to feel unhappy with your partner and the relationship, and you suddenly feel that things are not working out like you envisaged they would. Would you end the relationship because of your unhappiness, or would your partner’s great sacrifice motivate you try to find a way to work things out? In one instance, a really close friend of mine suffered a tough divorce and hasn’t recovered since. His wife announced one day that she could not relate with him anymore and had stumbled upon her real ‘soul-mate.’  And in a jiffy all those years of investment in that relationship were washed away thanks to the discovery of someone who magically fit into that one word – ‘soul-mate.’ Now that is one term that brings out the weirdest reactions in me, one of the strong ones being anger. But we will leave that discussion for some other time.

We humans tend to invest a great deal – such as time, energy, emotions, material possessions, and sacrifices like the one I spoke about above, especially in our romantic relationships. It’s part of human nature. When we tend to love our pets so much, we become committed to them such that they become part of the family. Investment in someone you love is a very natural thing to do. But does that investment inspire commitment in your spouse/ partner? I was reading some research by Le & Agnew. It has focused entirely on the consequences of investments for the self: how do my investments affect my feelings toward the relationship? Such research has converged on the idea that a more invested partner is a more committed partner.  However, I wondered if anyone ever examined the consequences of a partner’s investments for your own commitment. In short, beyond making your partner feel more committed, will your partner’s investments also make you feel more committed to the relationship?

I read another piece of research by Joel, Gordon, Impett, MacDonald, & Keltner, 2013 that predicted that they would. The research hypothesized that people would feel more appreciative of romantic partners who are willing to put more resources into the relationship. In other words, a highly invested partner is a partner worth committing to. Overall, when people perceive that their partners have put a great deal into the relationship, those investments would lead them to feel more grateful for their partners (i.e., to value their partners more), thus motivating them to continue the relationship, and not break it with a jolt at a whim!

The study further showed that when one partner invests time, energy, emotions, and other resources into the relationship, the other partner is likely to appreciate that person more and subsequently be more willing to stay in that relationship. More importantly, both gratitude and commitment are associated with positive relationship outcomes. So, one implication of the research is that ‘material investments’ can be very helpful for relationships as they elicit positive relationship feelings that are known to have downstream benefits. Joint investments in particular – such as merging finances, moving in together, or getting married, may produce powerful breakthroughs in the well being of a relationship by making both members of the couple feel more grateful about everything, and committed to one another.

But there are times when joint investment also produces the exact opposite effects. In other words, even people who are unhappy with their relationships tend to feel more committed to those relationships if they feel that their partners are more invested. Many a times decisions related to investment in a relationship becomes a double-edged sword; wherein although they promote gratitude and commitment, they may also motivate people to persevere even with chronically unfulfilling and terrible relationships. And that is definitely not a good thing. So, sometimes as per conventional wisdom, upping the relationship ante may not really be the best move in some relationships; as they carry the risk of motivating people to stay in bad relationships not only because of their own investments, but because of their partners’ investments as well.

Too many people commit to a relationship for many wrong reasons – the fear of being alone, the compulsion of being in a relationship just because all their friends are in one or many a times even financial reasons. But from the place where I see it, a relationship is all about constant hard work, commitment and investment. To make a relationship work it also takes an ability to compromise, and the acceptance of the fact that we are not always right. Out of all these investing yourself is the most important element, for no amount of material investment can ever compare that of a real human being. But, what do you think? Do the things done for you by your partner make you a more committed partner in the relationship?

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