In Defense of Commitment: The Curative Power of Violated Expectations

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Abstract

A new model of commitment defense in romantic relationships is proposed. It assumes that relationships afford a central resource for affirming meaning and purpose in the world. Consequently, violating expectations about the world outside the relationship can precipitate commitment defense inside the relationship. A meta-analysis of 5 experiments, 2 follow-up correlational studies, and a longitudinal study of the transition to first parenthood supported the model. Experimentally violating conventional expectations about the world (e.g., “hard work pays off”) motivated less satisfied people to defensively affirm their commitment. Similarly, when becoming a parent naturalistically violated culturally conditioned gendered expectations about the division of household labor, less satisfied new mothers and fathers defensively affirmed their commitment from pre-to-post baby. The findings suggest that violating expected associations in the world outside the relationship motivates vulnerable people to set relationship their relationship right, thereby affirming expected associations in the relationship in the face of an unexpected world.

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