Friday, January 28, 2011

"Moral Commitment in Intimate Committed Relationships: A Conceputalization from Cohabiting Same-sex and Opposite-sex Partners."

Amber Pope, PhD, LPC, NCC

The purpose of this study was to operationalize the construct of moral commitment as consistent with Johnson's Tripartite Model of Commitment in samples of cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Moral commitment, the idea that one ought or feels obligated to stay in his/her relationship, is a central construct in Johnson's model which has not been defined in relationships outside of the marital context. This study intended to advance counselor's understanding of moral commitment in diverse intimate partnerships, and to continue to build on the research exploring the dimensions and determinants of commitment.

Participants were those who self-identified as having been in an intimate committed relationship with their partner for at least one year and who were currently cohabiting with their partner.

Data was collected in three steps as described below:
1.      Participants generated statements of moral commitment in response to the prompt: "I ought or feel obligated to stay in my relationship with my partner because..."
2.     Participants structured the statements generated in step one. Participants were asked to rate each statement of moral commitment based on how true it was to their experience to their relationship with their partner, and to sort the statements of moral commitment (which were printed onto small index cards) into piles based on similarity. The data in this step was analyzed to create conceptual maps of the statements of moral commitment generated by participants.
3.     Participants came to campus for focus groups to analyze and interpret the concept maps. Two focus groups were held, one for cohabiting same-sex partners (N =7) and one for cohabiting opposite-sex partners (N=6). Participants were presented with the conceptual maps and asked to determine groupings of statements of moral commitment (i.e., clusters). The participants then labeled each cluster to create the final cluster solution. Finally, the participants were asked to identify each cluster as being most descriptive of personal, moral, or structural commitment (i.e., the three dimensions of commitment as proposed by Johnson in his Tripartite Model).

Major findings:
·      Same-sex and opposite-sex partners’ typed at least one cluster in the final cluster solution as most descriptive of moral commitment, lending support to Johnson’s Tripartite Model.
·      Same-sex and opposite-sex partners conceived of clusters consistent with the person-specific obligation component of moral commitment, containing items descriptive of one’s obligation to one’s partner (i.e., “I ought to stay …because ending the relationship would hurt him or her.”).
·      Same-sex partners conceived of a cluster, “Generativity,” containing two items (i.e., “I ought to stay… because I want to have a child with him/her,” and “…because our relationship is a model for others in our social network.”) they described as related to values associated with same-sex relationship, whereas opposite-sex partners did not associate these two items with any cluster in their final cluster solution.
·      Same-sex and opposite-sex partners conceived of similar clusters of moral commitment, that they described containing statements (i.e., “I ought to stay… because I am committed to staying in our relationship;” “…because I believe most relationship problems can be worked out”) indicative of the values that keep them hopeful for a better future during relationship difficulties.


The results of the methodology should be used mainly for descriptive purposes and to inform future assessment strategies. The sample was mostly white, female, middle class, highly educated, and reported high relationships satisfaction, so generalizability of the results is limited.  The results of this study should not be considered comprehensive of all major variables impacting moral commitment.

Counselors need to be aware that the dimension of moral commitment may be a salient factor in enhancing the relationship stability and positivity in diverse types of intimate relationships. Clients' ideas of moral commitment may be influenced by external forces, such as religiosity or social pressure, and counselors should help clients deconstruct their values and beliefs. Counselors can help clients make personal decisions about moral commitment by locating the problem in the dominant culture vs. the individual. Social constructivist approaches to counseling, such as feminist therapy or solution-focused therapy, may be particularly suited to help clients examine their feelings of moral commitment. Both groups conceived of clusters of moral commitment that contained items describing values and beliefs that helped them stay hopeful during rough times in their relationships, thus counselors may want to assess for such beliefs and draw on them to increase positivity when their clients are experiencing relationship difficulties. Commitment seems to function similarly in cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, but counselors need to remain aware of the unique social context in which these relationships are located. In particular, same-sex partners may feel an obligation to stay in their relationship to be a positive role model for other same-sex partnerships, and due to the effort and decision-making that goes into have children together in a same-sex relationship. 

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