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In the project, we used two competing commitment models to examine newlywed women’s expectations of infidelity and divorce: the Investment Model, which predicts commitment from satisfaction (satisfaction with current relationship), relationship investments (time, effort, or money invested in the relationship), and quality of alternatives (third parties that those in the relationship perceive to be an alternative to their current mate), and the Commitment Framework, which describes commitment in terms of personal (desire to be in the relationship), moral (being on a relationship due to held moral principles), and constraint (being in a relationship in order to be able to survive, due to inability to work, etc.) factors.
In this study, we seek to identify which specific components of these models best predict women’s expectations of infidelity and divorce, and newlywed women’s expectations of infidelity and divorce, particularly in the first two years of marriage when satisfaction typically declines.
One hundred and ninety seven women who had been married two years or less completed an online survey. Participants were representative of geographic regions across the U.S.
The study is limited to women because women can support themselves now, as women’s roles in marriages have changed drastically over time. In the past, women had to stay committed for structural reasons, such as inability to provide for themselves financially. Today, more women are part of the workforce, which gives them greater financial freedom and the ability to terminate an unhappy relationship.
It also gives them increased exposure to alternative partners, which puts them at greater risk of infidelity. Such reasons indicate that women may seek personal satisfaction in relationships, which is indicative of personal commitment rather than structural reasons to marry.
Finally, this study focuses on marriages without children, as research shows that children can be a protective factor on marriages. Due to the intractable influence that children impose on relationships, this study only focuses on marriages without children, as children may add a structural commitment, which may confound results.
Findings from this study indicate that women are more likely to expect infidelity if they have low personal commitment, and moral commitment. Also, exposure to alternative partners (e.g., through workforce participation) increased their expectations of infidelity. Women are also more likely to expect divorce if they have lower personal commitment and lower relationship satisfaction. The biggest predictor of infidelity and divorce expectations was personal commitment suggesting that marriage today is based on personal fulfillment or a desire to be in the relationship. When a person no longer feels that they want to be married, their expectations of divorce increase, irrespective of moral or structural obligations.
Practitioners can use this information to help couples make realistic, informed choices about marriage. Marital instability can be reduced by preventing marriages in which partners expect infidelity or divorce from the outset.
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