When you think of commitment, what comes to mind?
If you’re like most people, the term commitment refers to the status of your relationship. You are either “in” a committed relationship, or you’re not. For some couples, “commitment” is simply synonymous with “exclusive.”
Not that you asked me, but I want your relationship to be about more than vague promises to not sleep around.
I want it to be about creating and sustaining a continuous flow of vital, positive energy. I want it to be about you and your partner celebrating your individual essences.
And for this, commitment is absolutely crucial. Here’s why:
Most relationship problems stem from the fact that one or both partners have not made a full commitment to the relationship.
When conflict arises, the more invested partner tries harder to solve the problem while the not-so-invested partner withdraws into even less participation.
If this pattern persists, the more committed partner takes on the mantle of “martyr” while the other partner becomes “the bad guy.” Once in place, these roles can take on a life of their own. Lacking an understanding about the nature of commitments, we create a lot of unnecessary suffering for ourselves and our partners.
The Two Biggest Problems With Commitment
Most of us receive precious little training in the art of commitment. In fact, the majority of what we are taught actually sets us up for failure. In my view, there are two big problems with the way most of us make commitments:
1) We commit to things we cannot control.
Most wedding vows fall into this category, as in “I will love you forever.” Feelings, by definition, are not under our control. I tell my clients: “You have no control over whether or not you’ll feel loving towards your spouse 20 minutes from now, let alone 20 years from now!”
We do, however, have control over how we deal with our feelings. We can choose to express or stifle them. We can choose to own or disown them. Feeling our feelings and expressing them moderately is a process we can commit to, rather than an outcome we can’t guarantee. Our relationships thrive when we commit to processes we can control, rather than outcomes we cannot.
Here are some examples of processes you might consider making part of your commitments:
I am committed to being accountable for my actions.
I am committed to feeling my feelings and expressing them to you as they arise.
I am committed to learning something from each of our interactions.
I am committed to empowering you.
I am committed to clearing up anything that gets in the way of being close to you.
The last example points to the second problem, and I believe this is the single biggest thing we are not taught about commitment:
2) We all have unconscious commitments that compete with the conscious commitments we have made to our relationships.
Love, by its very nature, dredges up old patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, all of which are informed by key commitments we have made sometime in the past. For a relationship to thrive, we need a way to deal with these unconscious commitments as they work their way to the surface.
How do you know where your commitments lie?
The surest way to tell what you’re committed to is to look at the results you’re generating.
Arguing a lot and not getting anywhere? You are more committed to arguing than you are to getting close.
Do you say you’ll spend more time with your partner only to find that something always comes up? You are more committed to putting your energy to other places.
Typically, we make relationship commitments in good faith. It’s not that we aren’t committed. It’s that we are more committed to something else.
The good news is that as we resolve our unconscious commitments, we gain clarity in our own hearts and set ourselves up to live more harmoniously with our partners. Once we become commitment experts, we can continuously find ways to refresh and revitalize our relationships.
How to Become a Master of Commitment
Mastering commitment is a two-part process.
First, spot the unconscious commitment and own it. (“I am committed to arguing with you over money”). Once we acknowledge and own the unconscious commitment, it loses its power over us.
Next, make a new, conscious commitment. (“I am committed to resolving this issue in an easy and loving way”). When we make these conscious commitments, the energy surrounding our relationship shifts and becomes invigorating, rather than stifling. We can now embrace our partners as learning allies, rather than burdens of improvement.
Hopefully it’s now clear that commitment is much more than a description of you relationship “status,” it is a conscious, minute-to-minute effort. An effort, I believe, that is well worth it.
So what are your biggest obstacles to commitment? Spend some time this week thinking about what it is you’d like to commit to. I mean really commit to. Feel free to comment and let me know what you’ve discovered.
Committed to you and your well-being,