Marriage continues to be one of the most important relationships to today's Americans (Fowers, 2000), generating numerous studies on the physical, emotional, mental and financial outcomes of marriage (Waite & Gallagher, 2000). Yet, little research has been done to explore the moral outcomes of marriage. Examining how marriage may contribute to individual spouses' moral development is compatible with recent studies on marital virtues that aim to provide a more complete as well as less individualistic view of marriage (Hawkins, Fowers, Carroll, & Yang, 2007). This study adopts a moral personality approach to examine marriage's role in adult moral development. Taking a moral personality approach when studying marriage's influence allows for a broader understanding of moral development that includes character virtues and identity constructs. In order to examine how marriage may exert such a moral influence, it is necessary to focus on aspects of marriage that are characteristically different from those of other relationships. Commitment is one aspect of marriage thought to set it apart as distinct from other relationships (Adams & Jones, 1997). This study examines how commitment may play a role in the moral development of individual spouses themselves. The purpose of the present study was to examine, using qualitative methods, how married individuals experience commitment and how that commitment may be associated with a greater motivation to be moral. Couples were interviewed on how they experience commitment in their marriages. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed using grounded theory methods. Themes that emerged were organized into the following seven categories: (1) What marriage means; (2) What commitment in marriage means; (3) Examples of the influence of marriage; (4) Moral traits and the influence of spouses; (5) Themes relating to identity; (6) Commitment, challenges, and personal growth; and (7) Other influences on moral development. Themes are discussed in terms of their relation to past literature and how they might be integrated into a conceptual model. Implications for practitioners and suggestions for future research are given.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Psychology



Date Submitted


Document Type





Marriage, Marital Commitment, Moral Development, Moral Personality



Included in

Psychology Commons