Academic journal article Family Relations

Dedication and Sliding in Emerging Adult Cyclical and Non-Cyclical Romantic Relationships

Academic journal article Family Relations

Dedication and Sliding in Emerging Adult Cyclical and Non-Cyclical Romantic Relationships

Article excerpt

About 30% to 50% of emerging adults (roughly ages 18-29; Arnett, 2000) have experienced at least one breakup and reconciliation with their current dating partner (a process termed relationship cycling, relationship churning, or on-off relationships) and, compared to non-cyclical partners, partners who have experienced a breakup and renewal report lower commitment and satisfaction, poorer communication, greater uncertainty, and higher levels of verbal abuse and physical violence (Dailey, Middleton, & Green, 2012; Dailey, Pfiester, Jin, Beck,&Clark,2009;Dailey,Rosetto,Pfiester,& Surra, 2009; Halpern-Meekin, Manning, Giordano, & Longmore, 2013). Unfortunately, the risks associated with relationship cycling during emerging adulthood appear to be enduring, affecting relationship stability and quality during later cohabitation and marriage (e.g., Vennum & Johnson, 2014). The lower dedication and greater uncertainty experienced by cyclical dating partners (e.g., Dailey, Pfiester, et al., 2009) may be due in part to less explicit decision making in their relationships. Stanley, Rhoades, and Markman (2006) referred to the lack of thoughtful and clear relationship decision making in relationships as "sliding versus deciding." A better understanding of how decision making and dedication coevolve over time can inform interventions aimed at helping emerging adults stabilize their relationships going forward. Using autoregressive cross-lagged and bivariate latent growth curve models, we examined how decision making and dedication codevelop in romantic relationships over the course of a semester for emerging adults enrolled in a family studies course and how a history of cycling influenced those developmental trajectories.

High- and Low-Risk Relationship Development

Building on the ideas introduced by interdependence theory (e.g., Kelly & Thibaut, 1978) and the investment model (e.g., Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998), Stanley and Markman (1992) proposed two meta-constructs, dedication and constraint, as the key components of commitment development. Stanley and Markman referred to the long-term orientation and desire of an individual to invest in, and improve, the relationship for the benefit of both partners as dedication. Encompassing the ideas of investments, barriers to leaving the relationship, and alternatives to the relationship, constraints encourage the continuance of the relationship by making termination of the relationship more financially, socially, or psychologically costly (Stanley & Markman, 1992). Alternatives to the relationship can include not only other potential partners but also alternative relationship types with the current partner (see the Bases of Relational Commitment Model; Agnew, Arriaga, & Wilson, 2008).

As partners invest in their developing relationship, anxiety over the potential loss of the relationship grows (Stanley & Rhoades, 2009). Partners may choose to deal with the uncertain future of their relationship in a variety of ways with varying degrees of risk. In an optimum situation, partners resolve uncertainty about the current and future state of the relationship quickly and overtly (lower risk), but relational uncertainty can make discussing the relationship more threatening, increasing the chances that partners will avoid the topic (Knobloch & Theiss, 2011) and slide through relationship decisions without clarifying each partner's dedication to the relationship (higher risk). In the lower risk sequence of relationship development outlined by Stanley and Rhoades (2009), partners evaluate their compatibility and commitment level to the current and future development of the relationship as well as the risks associated with the relationship before moving through relationship transitions (e.g., having sex, moving in together) that may accrue constraints to ending the relationship. Making conscious and explicit choices (i.e., about the boundaries of the relationship) decreases ambiguity (and anxiety) about the relationship by clarifying the desire and intent (dedication) of each partner (Stanley & Rhoades, 2009). …

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