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Moral commitment in intimate committed relationships: a conceptualization from cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Amber Leighann Pope (Creator)
Institution
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Advisor
Craig Cashwell

Abstract: Diverse types of intimate committed relationships, namely cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships, are increasingly prevalent in the United States (Bumpass & Lu, 2000; Garber, 2005; U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Given the rise in the number of individuals participating in intimate committed relationships outside of the marital context, researchers exploring relationship constructs, such as commitment, in intimate partnerships need to build upon the current literature base by investigating such concepts in samples of cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Currently, the psychosocial literature regarding the experience of commitment in intimate committed relationships outside of the marital context is scarce, and researchers have been inconsistent in how they conceptualize relationship commitment (Adams & Jones, 1999; Johnson, 1999; Rusbult, 1991). Johnson's (1991, 1999; Johnson, Caughlin & Huston, 1999) Tripartite Model of Commitment is one of the most prominent theories of relationship commitment in the psychosocial literature. Johnson (1991, 1999) proposed that commitment, the intention or desire to continue and maintain one's intimate relationship, is a multidimensional construct that is a result of two dichotomous experiences: (a) attractions and constraints forces, and (b) internal and external processes. From these distinctions, Johnson operationalized commitment as three dimensions: (a) personal commitment, (b) moral commitment, and (c) structural commitment. Moreover, Johnson asserted that the Tripartite Model is applicable to various types of intimate committed relationships. The dimension of moral commitment, which is the extent that one feels obligated to stay in a relationship (Johnson, 1991, 1999), has been the least developed empirically, particularly in relation to partners in intimate relationships outside of the marital context. Moral commitment is a constraining force that operates via internal processes. Researchers examining the Tripartite Model in samples of non-marital partners have left moral commitment out completely or defined it outside of Johnson's (1991a, 1999) conceptualization (e.g. Johnson, 1985; Kurdek, 2000, 2007; Lydon, Pierce, & O'Regan, 1997; Oswald, Goldberg, Kuvalanka, & Clausell, 2008). Thus, researchers need to operationalize moral commitment with cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners in a way that is consistent with Johnson's (1991, 1999) conception to test his assertion that the Tripartite Model is applicable to all types of intimate committed relationships. The aim of this study, then, was to conceptualize the dimension of moral commitment within the framework of Johnson's (1991a, 1999) Tripartite Model of Commitment for non-marital intimate relationships, namely same-sex and cohabiting heterosexual partnerships. An additional goal of this study was to inform counselors' knowledge of how commitment operates in diverse types of intimate partnerships. The researcher used a mixed-methods approach called concept mapping with a sample of cohabiting same-sex partners and opposite-sex partners, collecting data through a three round process. The researcher used an open-ended Internet survey, mailing out data collection packets, and focus groups to collect data for the concept mapping process. The intent of the concept mapping methodology was to develop a better understanding of moral commitment for those in diverse types of intimate committed relationships. Several interesting results were obtained from this study. First, participants in the cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners' focus groups conceptualized the dimension of moral commitment as distinct from that of personal and structural commitment based on their responses to the Relationship Commitment Type Identification Task. Moreover, participants rated the clusters of personal commitment as most descriptive of their experience in their relationship with their partner, with moral commitment being moderately descriptive and structural commitment the least descriptive. These results support Johnson's (1991a, 1999) theory that commitment is a multidimensional experience, and his claim that the Tripartite Model is applicable to diverse types of intimate relationships. The results provided mixed results in terms of Johnson's (1991a, 1999) conceptualization of the three components of moral commitment: general valuing of consistency, person specific obligation, and relationship-type values. Cohabiting same-sex partners typed clusters of moral commitment with items that perceptibly fit with two of the three components, person specific obligation and relationship-type values. Participants in the cohabiting opposite-sex partners group identified one cluster of moral commitment that was discernibly related to the person specific obligation component. Neither group had clusters that were overall indicative of the general valuing of consistency component. Both groups also had clusters typed as moral commitment that were not perceptibly fitting with Johnson's components. Thus, Johnson's (1991a, 1999) theory of the components of moral commitment was partially supported by the results of this study. Finally, the findings of this study indicated several similarities and differences between cohabiting same-sex and opposite sex partners' conceptualizations of moral commitment based on the interpretation of the final cluster solutions from each focus group. Intimate relationships seem to share a comparable basis in that cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners engage in and maintain these relationships because they have feelings of attraction and commitment towards their partner and the relationship. Differing social discourses, however, surround same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. Cohabiting opposite-sex may be less validated in U.S. society than marital partnerships, yet opposite-sex partners do not have to contend with the social discrimination and stigma against their relationships that is faced by same-sex partners. Although the findings of this study suggest that the Tripartite Model may be applicable to diverse types of intimate relationships, unique factors impact same-sex and opposite-sex relationships in light of the differing contexts in which these relationships are situated. This study highlighted the importance of examining relationship commitment in diverse types of intimate committed relationships. The findings provide direction for future research and useful implications for counselors working with cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners.Diverse types of intimate committed relationships, namely cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships, are increasingly prevalent in the United States (Bumpass & Lu, 2000; Garber, 2005; U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Given the rise in the number of individuals participating in intimate committed relationships outside of the marital context, researchers exploring relationship constructs, such as commitment, in intimate partnerships need to build upon the current literature base by investigating such concepts in samples of cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Currently, the psychosocial literature regarding the experience of commitment in intimate committed relationships outside of the marital context is scarce, and researchers have been inconsistent in how they conceptualize relationship commitment (Adams & Jones, 1999; Johnson, 1999; Rusbult, 1991). Johnson's (1991, 1999; Johnson, Caughlin & Huston, 1999) Tripartite Model of Commitment is one of the most prominent theories of relationship commitment in the psychosocial literature. Johnson (1991, 1999) proposed that commitment, the intention or desire to continue and maintain one's intimate relationship, is a multidimensional construct that is a result of two dichotomous experiences: (a) attractions and constraints forces, and (b) internal and external processes. From these distinctions, Johnson operationalized commitment as three dimensions: (a) personal commitment, (b) moral commitment, and (c) structural commitment. Moreover, Johnson asserted that the Tripartite Model is applicable to various types of intimate committed relationships. The dimension of moral commitment, which is the extent that one feels obligated to stay in a relationship (Johnson, 1991, 1999), has been the least developed empirically, particularly in relation to partners in intimate relationships outside of the marital context. Moral commitment is a constraining force that operates via internal processes. Researchers examining the Tripartite Model in samples of non-marital partners have left moral commitment out completely or defined it outside of Johnson's (1991a, 1999) conceptualization (e.g. Johnson, 1985; Kurdek, 2000, 2007; Lydon, Pierce, & O'Regan, 1997; Oswald, Goldberg, Kuvalanka, & Clausell, 2008). Thus, researchers need to operationalize moral commitment with cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners in a way that is consistent with Johnson's (1991, 1999) conception to test his assertion that the Tripartite Model is applicable to all types of intimate committed relationships. The aim of this study, then, was to conceptualize the dimension of moral commitment within the framework of Johnson's (1991a, 1999) Tripartite Model of Commitment for non-marital intimate relationships, namely same-sex and cohabiting heterosexual partnerships. An additional goal of this study was to inform counselors' knowledge of how commitment operates in diverse types of intimate partnerships. The researcher used a mixed-methods approach called concept mapping with a sample of cohabiting same-sex partners and opposite-sex partners, collecting data through a three round process. The researcher used an open-ended Internet survey, mailing out data collection packets, and focus groups to collect data for the concept mapping process. The intent of the concept mapping methodology was to develop a better understanding of moral commitment for those in diverse types of intimate committed relationships. Several interesting results were obtained from this study. First, participants in the cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners' focus groups conceptualized the dimension of moral commitment as distinct from that of personal and structural commitment based on their responses to the Relationship Commitment Type Identification Task. Moreover, participants rated the clusters of personal commitment as most descriptive of their experience in their relationship with their partner, with moral commitment being moderately descriptive and structural commitment the least descriptive. These results support Johnson's (1991a, 1999) theory that commitment is a multidimensional experience, and his claim that the Tripartite Model is applicable to diverse types of intimate relationships. The results provided mixed results in terms of Johnson's (1991a, 1999) conceptualization of the three components of moral commitment: general valuing of consistency, person specific obligation, and relationship-type values. Cohabiting same-sex partners typed clusters of moral commitment with items that perceptibly fit with two of the three components, person specific obligation and relationship-type values. Participants in the cohabiting opposite-sex partners group identified one cluster of moral commitment that was discernibly related to the person specific obligation component. Neither group had clusters that were overall indicative of the general valuing of consistency component. Both groups also had clusters typed as moral commitment that were not perceptibly fitting with Johnson's components. Thus, Johnson's (1991a, 1999) theory of the components of moral commitment was partially supported by the results of this study. Finally, the findings of this study indicated several similarities and differences between cohabiting same-sex and opposite sex partners' conceptualizations of moral commitment based on the interpretation of the final cluster solutions from each focus group. Intimate relationships seem to share a comparable basis in that cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners engage in and maintain these relationships because they have feelings of attraction and commitment towards their partner and the relationship. Differing social discourses, however, surround same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. Cohabiting opposite-sex may be less validated in U.S. society than marital partnerships, yet opposite-sex partners do not have to contend with the social discrimination and stigma against their relationships that is faced by same-sex partners. Although the findings of this study suggest that the Tripartite Model may be applicable to diverse types of intimate relationships, unique factors impact same-sex and opposite-sex relationships in light of the differing contexts in which these relationships are situated. This study highlighted the importance of examining relationship commitment in diverse types of intimate committed relationships. The findings provide direction for future research and useful implications for counselors working with cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners.

Additional Information

Publication
Dissertation
Language: English
Date: 2010
Keywords
Cohabiting couples, Commitment, Concept mapping, Couple relationships, Same-sex couples
Subjects
Unmarried couples $zUnited States.
Interpersonal relationships.
Commitment (Psychology).