Understanding your commitments

This innovative report by Standard Life is a welcome study into the importance of commitment, both financial and emotional, throughout a person’s lifetime. By breaking it down into life stages, commitment begins to take on a more logical picture, as your plans change at different points in your lifetime.

Commitment has been defined in research as: “A clear set of choices for the future.”1 It is central to keeping relationships stable and a lack of it is the largest single contributor to divorce. People make commitments because of a desire for security, and it is conceptualised within any relationship – both financial and emotional – as planning and creating a future.

Financial commitments are part of a committed relationship and commitments in relationships are about our future goals. This research helps us to think more clearly about financial commitments as the underpinning of our relationship choices.

Commitments are at their most fragile when they are perceived to be too constraining and disconnect can occur when future plans and aspirations are unsupported by financial plans.

Commitments can also feel too constraining when they haven’t been consciously chosen and are instead drifted into subconsciously. You can avoid this feeling by engaging with your hopes or the future and the financial commitments that can be made to secure these aspirations. In this way, financial planning supports all commitments – it forms the backbone for shaping relationships, values and goals.

Financial planning can also strengthen commitments by underpinning them. People who are secure in their emotional relationships demonstrate their future plans by investing money in joint ventures such as housing. Financial commitments can be expressions of those joint future plans and dreams, defining committed relationships and making them feel safe.

A fascinating aspect of this research is that it reveals a discrepancy in how long we think about our financial and emotional commitments. We spend, on average, two hours 18 minutes daily thinking about emotional commitments, with 50 of these minutes spent thinking about our partners. But we spend just 36 minutes thinking about financial commitments. Women in the Fully Committed life stage spend the greatest amount of time thinking about their emotional commitments, spending two hours and 54 minutes a day. The small amount of time we spend thinking about finances is perhaps explained by the fact that we consider financial commitments and money as something abstract, rather than symbolic of what we want from our future.

In fact, if first you understand that your financial and emotional commitments are as one, then you can begin to align your future goals. The research has found, for example, that a quarter of UK residents (23%) believe that their finances would benefit if treated with the same care and attention as their personal relationships.

The Your Commitments, Your Future study suggests that to make sensible, lasting, and satisfying commitments in life you must first start with your future and your aspirations. Then you work back from that – planning the financial circumstances that will allow you to achieve those goals and aspirations and leave you looking toward your future with optimism.

Professor Janet Reibstein, Psychologist (Commitment and Relationships Specialist)

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