She/He who cares the least wields the most power.
With busy professional lives and an increasingly unstructured dating culture, I’m finding that the common thread to the challenges that many of my single clients are facing, is not that they are not in a relationship.
It’s that they are in a relationship and there is a vast disparity between how committed they are to the relationship and how committed their partner is.
And it cuts both ways. One client wants help ‘letting them down easy,’ another wants to figure out how to ‘get them to commit.’
Sometimes, even couples that are in agreement that they are in a long term, committed, monogamous relationship are not in agreement on what that commitment means in the long run. When the difference in how they define commitment going forward is significantly different, studies show that satisfaction with the relationship goes down for both. And that even moving into or toward marriage does nothing to bridge the gap.
If you’re not looking for anything permanent and your partner is on the same page. No worries. But If lasting love is your goal, finding yourself in a longer-term relationship, where either of you is significantly less committed to the relationship than the other, is not a useful place to be and here’s’ why:
The Principle of least interest: He who cares least wields the most power.
This principle holds true in all relationships: business, family and yes, our romantic ones as well.
The one most committed to a relationship continuing has, in significant ways, less power than the one who cares less. The less they care, the more power they have. There’s even a name for it: Asymmetrical Committed Relationships (ACRs)
With a walk down the aisle no longer the bar for mutual commitment for many couples, it’s becoming more comfortable, at least in the short term, and certainly more common for people to find themselves in relationships where the commitment level is often unvoiced and unclear.
A recent study by the University of Denver focuses on the longer term implications of ambiguous levels of commitment within a relationship and studies ACRs in particular.
An ACR is defined as a relationship where there is a significant disparity between the commitment levels of the couple.
Their study, of over 300 unmarried, heterosexual couples in a committed relationship for 24 to 36 months, revealed that fully 35% of the couples had significant differences in commitment levels. Men were twice as likely as women to be the ones that were the ‘weaker-link’ in the level of commitment.
Perhaps if we moved in together…
If you think moving in together or intertwining finances will close that gap, the study shows the reverse is true. When focusing only on couples who are cohabitating or have some form of financial reliance, the percentage of couples in ACRs jumps up to 47%.
Perhaps If we got married…
The study also shows that where there is a substantial difference in commitment between the couple before marriage, the walk down the aisle does nothing to bridge the gap even several years down the road.
Unsurprisingly, the study also showed that, when compared with couples with mutual commitment levels, couples in ACRs scored lower in satisfaction and quality of relationship and higher in the frequency of conflict.
So what does this mean for you?
It is much riskier to move in together or share finances before the question of commitment is clearly settled. You risk getting stuck in relationships you might otherwise have left because financial concerns or cohabitation make it that much harder to get out.
If you are considering marrying someone, but you sense they are less committed to you than you are to them, don’t count on a trip to alter to fix the commitment gap. Even if your partner agrees and their marital status changes, their level of commitment to the relationship for the long run remains unaltered.
Breakups more likely when the woman is the one less committed.
While couples in an ACR are more likely to break up than those in a relationship where the commitment levels are the same, it is far more likely that the relationship will end when it is the woman who is the person who is less committed.
Interestingly, where it is the man who is less committed, the relationship is actually statistically less likely to end in a breakup than relationships with mutual commitment levels. This is probably because men are more likely to freely remain in a relationship with a woman they are not serious about until the woman gets fed up and breaks it off.
This means that overall, a woman’s level of commitment is far more indicative of whether or not a couple stays together than a man’s commitment level.
Trend upward likely to continue
The number of Asymmetrically Committed Relationships are expected to rise and here’s why.
1) There has been a steady decline in cultural rituals and defined steps in the development of romantic relations
2) There is a growing preference for vagueness because people fear rejection and fear that commitment is dangerous.
3) Increasingly people ‘slide’ into a relationship instead of making a conscious decision to enter into a relationship beyond casual dating.
4) The culmination of the above three points makes it much easier than before to get deeply involved in – and stuck – in ACRs
More people are finding themselves in long term, unmarried relationships, sometimes for many years, before realizing that their partners are not as vested in the relationship as they are and are sort of just along for the ride. That’s a painful place to be.
It’s also a mistake to think that because somehow you two have somehow slid into moving in together or even have children together that that means there is some magical transformation in a person’s commitment level. The study says, not so.
Indicators of a Strong Commitment Level and how to get there.
The Strongest commitment levels come about from making a specific and declared decision to be together. “Let's just see where this goes” is fine for a few months but after a few months it’s perfectly healthy to take the risk and put your cards on the table. Yes, you might find out that you're both on different pages, but it's better to find out after a few months than after a few years.
The beauty of checking in that you might also find out that you’re both on the same page and then and only then, do you start to explore if they can be trusted with your feelings.
Knowing you can trust someone with how you feel about things is a precursor to deepening your connection with them. Don’t connect yourself romantically to someone who won’t’ respect your feelings or put your needs on equal footing with their own.
If you both get past that stage, then and only then should you begin to discuss the subject of being exclusive. And if someone’s not ready to be exclusive and you are, that’s a sure sign that you about to enter into an ACR.
" Strongest commitments levels are made while both of you are at 100% liberty to choose to be with each other. " - Dr. Scott M. Stanley, Univ. of Virginia
Commit because you feel at your best and most comfortable in your own skin when you are together, not out of guilt or financial advantage.
If you are looking for life-long committed love, you’ll need a proven approach to getting there. One that is both Fear-Proof and ACR-Proof. One that creates exceptional clarity for you and for your current or future partner.
Next week, I’ll walk you step by step through setting up just such a plan of action in a fun and effective way.
If you need help sorting out your relationship, don’t hesitate drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
You are meant to love and to be loved! Lasting love is within your reach.
Study Referenced: Assymetrically Committed Relationships, Univ of Virginia, Scott M. Stanley, et al.
When your days are spent wrangling three active children into their respective car seats by day and writing about feelings by night some interesting analogies emerge.
Certified and Experienced Career and Life Coach
Your Coach For the Personal Side of A Professional Life