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Close Your Marriage's Emotional Bank Account Today

A new study of commitment in the first 11 years of marriage confirms something I have long believed.

"The psychologists recommend against 'bank-account relationships,' in which you keep score of how often you get your way and how often you compromise."

They looked at the results of two types of commitment at the start of these 172 marriages:


  • "I really like this relationship and want it to continue."

  • "I'm committed to doing what it takes to make this relationship work."

From the UCLA press release:

"The second kind of commitment predicted lower divorce rates and slower rates of deterioration in the relationship."

The study was conducted at UCLA by Dominik Schoebi, Benjamin Karney, and Thomas Bradbury and reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

What they discovered really should not come as a big surprise. The second sort of commitment is a form of "if then" planning, which dramatically increases our success at any endeavor. In one of Peter Gollwitzer's earliest experiments, just forming a plan about when and where to start a difficult task like writing a paper for school increased completion success rates from 25% to 67%. Deciding in advance that if this relationship is in trouble, I will work to improve it, makes a big difference in whether it lasts.

If you keep an emotional bank account, and your spouse overdraws his or her account, what's your "then"? This might keep things fair, but will it get you what you really want?

Let me suggest some different if-thens for a happy marriage. If my husband's words upset me, I will Assume Love and try to explain how a loving intent could have led to those words or actions. If I am upset because my expectations are not met, I will check whether I really need the expectation or could simply Expect Love. If we disagree, I will offer to Find Third Alternatives.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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