When asked how you wound up in a particular life situation, you might respond with, “It kind of just happened.” You shrug your shoulders and look away, still wondering the answer to that question yourself.

Think, the couple whose relationship began as a swipe right, the couple who moved in together to avoid a solo quarantine or the couple who got pregnant and felt obligated to get married. Often without realizing it, these couples slid through transitions that could have been planned out, discussed, and debated.

Sliding versus deciding separates dedication from constraint commitment:

  • Dedication commitment = expecting/preparing for long-term
  • Constraint commitment = buildup of stuff that makes it harder to leave the relationship. For example, buying a house together, having pets together, or having kids together.

Simply, constraint commitment is sliding; dedication is deciding.

Studies show moving through critical transitions together purposely creates a healthy and satisfying relationship.

In the past, relationships followed a sequence: courtship, marriage, cohabitation, and sex, and ended with children—each milestone a signpost necessitating a check-in, a conversation, a setting of expectations.

Now these milestones, if you can even call them that, happen out of order, in every sequence possible. About nine in 10 couples have sex before marriage, half of all women cohabit before marriage, and four in 10 babies are born to unwed moms.

It’s simple: without a map, without any signs, you’re likely to continue on the same road that you’ve been on until you eventually wind up somewhere. We’re all kind of “playing it by ear.” It’s the inertia of it all that keeps us sliding. The constant buildup which, research shows, prevents couples from breaking up.

Why do deciders fair better than sliders?

Deciders might be more thoughtful people. Deciding means thinking thoroughly about what they want in a partner, living together, getting dogs together, or having children. It’s deliberate. Deciding gives couples more practice working together, proactively talking through important life issues, skills that could help them build a happy marriage.

We need to create those signposts for ourselves, communicate, and reflect on our situation. Ending up anywhere is not better than ending up nowhere. Deciding can lead to ending up somewhere pretty spectacular.