He began to weep. Not simply moist eyes or mild tears; he openly sobbed. When I asked what I said that had hurt him so badly, he replied, “I just realized I’m not a fool.

All my family and every one of my friends scolded me for staying with her and trying to fix the marriage. They tell me I’m a fool. She cheated. With my best friend, she cheated. Lied, sneaked around, treated me like dirt.

“I wondered if I am a fool to come to this marriage intensive, but in the last few minutes I realized I’m not a fool.”

As you explained various reasons to be committed to a relationship, I realized that I have some very important reasons to make this work. Strong reasons. I’m not a fool.”

So what was it that made him realize he was not a fool to try to save his marriage?

Michael Johnson on Commitment

The commitment section of our marriage intensive that the young man reacted to is based on research by Michael P. Johnson, PhD, from Penn State. Years ago, I read one of his scholarly articles and contacted him to ask his permission to use it as I worked with marriages. Since then, I read everything I can find that he writes on commitment. Though several approaches to commitment exist in the social science world, I like Mike’s best.

Johnson describes commitment as doing whatever it takes to keep a relationship alive.

He believes that commitment falls into three major categories; personal, moral, and structural. He explains those three mean “I want to,” or “I ought to,” or “I have to” stay in this relationship. Under those, he lists ten dimensions, each of which may keep a person committed to a relationship.

I like to think of each of the ten as a lifesaving rope. My friend Jeff King owns a company that changes light bulbs on towers. When he is personally on a tower and bad weather pops up, he says that he ties himself off with every harness available to keep from being blown to his death. These commitment ropes do the same for a relationship. Sometimes storms come that may separate us from the relationship we have. When that happens, every rope is a lifeline that may keep the relationship alive.

The young man mentioned at the beginning of this article realized he had several strong ropes that could and should keep his marriage alive, and that each had tremendous value in his life.

Think about which are important to you.

Personal Commitment - "I Want to Be in This Relationship"

Personal commitment is when one wants to continue a relationship. That desire may come from one or more of these areas:

  • The person feels a positive attitude toward the relationship; he enjoys or feels good about the relationship.
  • The person feels a positive attitude about the partner; she feels love, affection, or affinity with the partner.
  • The person feels a relational identity with the partner. Relational identity is the extent to which one's involvement in a relationship is incorporated into one's self-concept. It is when a person thinks more of “we” than “I”, and feels a part of a team or closely bonded with the other.

Moral Commitment - "I Ought to Stay in This Relationship"

Moral commitment involves a sense of self-constraint. It is doing what one feels is right, which may or may not be what one wants to do at the moment. It is the internal value system of the person, not an external value system that may be placed on him by the society in which he operates.

Moral commitment is the feeling that one ought to continue a relationship. This sense of obligation may come from one or more of these areas: