Commitment and Dependency in Marriage

By Nock, Steven L. | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 1995 | Go to article overview

Commitment and Dependency in Marriage

Nock, Steven L., Journal of Marriage and Family

The persistence of marriage, like its dissolution, is the result of many factors. Research on the variables that contribute to persistence in marriage focuses on commitment, a term that is frequently used to describe individuals and relationships, yet one that is rarely defined and even less often researched. This article takes a small step toward filling that gap. The research reported here is an attempt to study commitment in marriage, especially as it is structured by various forms of dependency.

Commitment is presumed to be influenced by dependency (among other things). The married woman without gainful employment or marketable skills is believed to be more constrained in her options than an employed wife. Indeed, much of the increase in divorce since the late 1960s may be the consequence of women's entry into the paid labor force (see Cherlin, 1992, and Greenstein, 1990, for reviews of these arguments). Employed women have alternatives to abusive or loveless marriages that unemployed women do not.

Yet not all unloved or abused wives divorce their husbands. Research has shown that repeatedly battered wives, for example, will often remain with their husbands because of dependencies that constrain them--economic dependency in particular (Steinmetz, 1987). This research does not attempt to explain why abused wives remain with their abusive husbands. Nor does it attempt to explain divorce. Rather, the comments made about these topics are offered to illustrate conventional uses of the concept of commitment and to make the point that commitment and persistence are separable phenomena. Even were it possible to develop a full theory of why some marriages do not last, we would still lack a theory of commitment because the behavior of persistence is different from the concept of commitment, despite their obvious relationship.


Commitment is typically invoked to explain why people engage in a consistent line of activity--a point made by Becker over 30 years ago (Becker, 1960). With respect to marriage, for example, we might explain the persistence of unions by reference to the commitment of spouses to their marriage or to one another. As noted above, however, the behavior (staying married) is not the same thing as commitment. Becker suggested that two elements characterize commitment as a source of consistency. First, an individual does something that creates an interest in his or her following a consistent line of action. That is, some interest that was initially unrelated to a particular line of action is now linked to it because of something the person has done. Second, the individual becomes aware that his or her continued action has implications for the originally extraneous interest(s). When a person marries, for example, this action creates, for him or her, a stake in the continuation of the union. If it fails, then there will be consequences that would not have occurred without the marriage. Thus, the marriage created an interest that had not previously existed. For the married person, this may be the love, security, or tangible property elements that are part of intimate relationships. Many such interests are created by the marriage and are threatened by its termination. Domestic relations law recognizes the stake that partners have in their marriage in the legal principle of consortium. Spouses rely on one another for such things as domestic labor, sexual intimacy, and fidelity.

Over time, many spouses will invest massive amounts of time and energy in their relationships, while foregoing alternative relationships, in an effort to keep these spousal benefits flowing. Indeed, for many, if not most, spouses, protecting the marital relationship is as important as protecting any other major personal interest, be it health, sanity, or integrity....Historically, the law has recognized and protected this unique interest through its concept of consortium. Such elements as domestic duties, interaction, affectional intimacy, love, and sexual intercourse are among the factors typically recognized under the law, and when their infringement is deemed an offense according to statute or court decision, monetary damages can be exacted. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Commitment and Dependency in Marriage


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.