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.
What really matters is that she will love you, that she will respect you, that she will honor you, that she will be absolutely true to you, that she will ever allow you the freedom of expression and flight in the development of your own talents (and you can reciprocate each of the above for her).
Like you, she is not going to be perfect, but if she is kind and thoughtful, if she knows how to work and contribute to the overall success of your union, if she is honest and full of integrity, and you are matched in all of these attributes, the chances are that you will not go wrong, and that you will be immensely happy.
Inspired by: Gordon Bitner Hinkley, Leader and Author
When I first met my husband-to-be, we connected. We laughed and talked, we ‘clicked’ had a lot in common and seemed to enjoy each other’s differences. Then we got engaged, and everything changed.
I changed everything.
I began to focus on what I thought I should bring to a marriage and what a fiance/husband’s responsibilities should be and then I began the mental list of all the ways both of us were deficient in these things and I began to imagine my entire future as if it was all happening in a moment. In short, I got scared and when we are in a state of fear, our instincts kick in and we either ‘fight or take flight’ and I did plenty of both throughout the course of our engagement. We were still connecting but not in a way that either of us was really thrilled about.
At the time, I couldn’t see that my fear was simply an affirmation that I was stepping out of my comfort zone and entering new territory, that I was expanding my experience of humanity and all that mumbo-jumbo. All I could feel was fear. I knew how to ‘do’ dating and I really liked that part. But marriage?!? I had no frame of reference I didn’t see it as a glorious adventure. My parents were divorced, my best friend, recently married, was struggling and was not the mentor I had anticipated. I was terrified.
I’ll spare you the temper tantrums and the stewing, they are such faded memories now, but I will say it took a while for us to reconnect in a way that we were both thrilled about again and getting to that point took work in the form of some very specific steps on my part.
The most important shift for me was to see how innocent he was in this whole thing. He was just being a guy in love who wanted to get married and I was turning it into a redemption song for every failed relationship I had ever experienced, read about or watched in a movie. He was bringing flowers and I wanted guarantees that if I married him my life wouldn’t play out like “The War of the Roses” or the worst-case sequence from “My Fair Lady”.. (I can see her now, “Mrs. Freddy Einsford-Hill,” in a wretched little flat above a store).
I had to learn to share my point of view about what I was looking for in a marriage and be open to his having a different point of view, and then from those two points of views we put together a plan that worked for both of us and didn’t worry about what it looked like to the rest of the world. . I knew this logically but my fear had me believing that If I asked about his point of view I might get an answer I didn’t want to hear and then I’d have to call off the wedding or be married to someone who didn’t want what I wanted, completely forgetting that the reason that we liked each other so much in the first place was that on the important stuff, we clicked. Fear can make you lose all sense of reason. It was a revelation to me to find that not only was his list of expectations for himself as a husband very different from my list of expectations of him as a husband but that I also kind of liked his list better. We don’t think the same but we have learned to put aside our fears so we can think together.
We’ll be married 25 years in May and even with all that goes on in our life, we stay connected, and the more connected we stay the more it feels like we’re still dating and I really like that part.
TAKE THE CHALLENGE
Today I challenge you, to see innocence. How do you do that? Fortunately, we start by seeing our own innocence. When I became willing to admit that on any given day I was just doing the best I could with the skills I had, I then realized that if that was true for me, then wasn’t it probably true for everyone else as well -including my husband. He was simply doing the best he knew to do with the skills he had. Realizing that was huge for me. It allowed me,, as Rhonda Britten says, to ‘give myself a break, without letting myself off the hook’. It enables me to be okay with where I was at the moment and open to learning the skills I needed to move my life and my love forward. As I gave myself a break and saw my own innocence. I began to have more compassion for others and see their innocence as well. As I became more compassionate, I became a ‘safer’ person for others to share with me (read: my husband began to see that he could talk to me and I wouldn’t take his head off.). As more people were able to share with me, I felt more connected to my world, to my family, to my husband. I felt more peaceful. I felt joy.
I challenge you to see your own innocence.
Situation & Question
Out of fear, I hid that my divorce wasn’t final from my boyfriend. When he found out he said he could never trust me again. We've been together for three years. When we have an argument, and I want to share my feelings, he says he doesn’t want a lecture or can't believe me anyway, and just wants to smooth the whole thing over and forget about it.
But I feel as if, he’s using my initial omission early in our relationship as a way out of ever hearing about my feelings on any topic. Even though, I’ve apologized, for and been honest with him about everything since that time, and he says he forgives me, he continues to bring it up.
So after our last argument, when he, again, wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say I left him. He wants to reconcile and he's been nice and wants to smooth things over again. Maybe give us another chance even though he's still not willing to hear what I have to say regarding our last argument. What do you think?
Deborah Says: When people use your past to control you, they are manipulating you.
He could have chosen to truly forgive you, see that you’ve changed your ways, and appreciated that quality in you and never brought it up again, or he could have said “lying to me is a deal breaker, I’m out.” But he did neither and now continues to use your initial deception as leverage whenever he doesn't want to listen.
If he is still unwilling to experience you as an equal partner in the relationship by listening to you, regardless of what excuse he wants to use to get out of it, if you don't feel you have a voice in the relationship, especially when things get heated, then Its not a healthy relationship.
Beyond that, you’ve learned that lying about anything is never the answer. If it took this situation for you to learn that lesson, then so be it.
When it comes to being honest, you also need to be honest with yourself. As you go forward, ask yourself if you feel, on some level, you need or depend on drama in a relationship to feel connected to the man you are with. If this is true, this can spell trouble for you and another potential companion.
If you are truly ready to go forward, and avoid this unhealthy cycle of arguing, not being listened to, forgiving and reconciling only to have it happen over and over again, then I invite you to use the next six months to prove it to yourself:
If you can do these things for at least six months, you will prove you are ready to walk away from drama and prepare yourself to be part of an emotionally healthy, long-term relationship.
Keep in touch!
Fearless and Warm Regards,
Certified and Experienced Career and Life Coach
Your Coach For the Personal Side of A Professional Life