“John and I broke up… He kept wavering on his commitment to the relationship. It was like he had a commitment phobia, so I had to move on, even though it broke my heart to end it.” ~Donna, ending her year-long relationship
Commitment in love is an integral part of any healthy marital or relationship foundation—more specifically, it is the demonstration of commitment that is essential for couples.
It’s simple: There can be no sense of security, no emotional stability between partners, without a foundation that is constructed out of the cement of commitment. A strong foundation of commitment allows couples to:
- Feel emotionally secure with one another;
- Weather the marital and relationship challenges that all relationships must endure;
- Open up emotionally in order to express our deepest longings, vulnerabilities and insecurities;
- Remind one another of the stability and unrelenting nature of your love and loyalty (in a world that seems to increasingly fickle and full of broken promises);
- Maintain and deepen the mutual trust needed for meaningful emotional and physical intimacy (commitment and intimacy go hand-in-hand).
How can you trust each other when you question or doubt another’s loyalty, commitment and willingness to be there for you?
Relationship Help: Commitment Versus Love
Falling in love with someone—feeling pulled to that special someone out of a sea of others—is a magical experience that in many instances seems to have a life of its own. The notion of “falling” in love implies that we are swept up by forces that are bigger and mightier than us; it can make us think that who we are attracted to and drawn to (and ultimately want to spend the rest of our lives with) is simply beyond our willful control.
You can have the conscious goal to be in a relationship or someday marry, but you cannot will yourself to desire and love a particular person. You might find the guy at work who is clearly interested in you to be “cute in his own way,” or the woman your friend set you up with to be “fun and interesting,” and yet if the chemistry isn’t there in these instances, if you don’t click (for whatever reason), then these attempts at romance may simply fall flat and peter out.
But once love’s magnetic field draws two people together and a relationship is underway, the course and future of love cannot be left to chance alone. Why is this? Romantic love (no matter how profound or wondrous or special it may feel) is fragile, and because of its fragility, love must be protected and nurtured. Over the course of a relationship, love becomes increasingly susceptible to outside stresses — unfriendly forces that can undermine the very essence of love’s fabric.
Don’t panic, this is where commitment comes into play. Mindful commitment understands that love is not a static experience, but rather an experience that may contract and expand, and even be shaken to its core at times (depending on circumstances inside and outside of one’s marriage/relationship). As a marriage or relationship is challenged (by the many stresses of life, by the cycles of martial/relationship conflicts, etc), commitment becomes the fabric that holds a relationship together—a relationship safety net that allows love the breathing space needed to regain its footing and reestablish the emotional connection/intimacy that is love’s hallmark.
Couples Need a Safety Net—Deciding To Commit
While falling in love might happen to you, protecting love is something you actively do to love.
In short, a commitment to your relationship and to one another arises out of a conscious, willful decision between partners. There is no magic here, no secretive formula to follow. It’s a matter of rolling up your sleeves and being realistic about love (and its shortcomings) and being realistic about each other (and your strengths and vulnerabilities).
When couples fail to make commitment central (which involves acts of commitment—I will cover the issue of commitment actions in another blog post), the relationship becomes susceptible to falling prey to whim and emotionality (e.g., feeling intense anger at your spouse/partner after a big fight), and to unfriendly relationship circumstances (e.g., finding an available coworker suddenly and irresistibly attractive).
In the above examples, it is the presence of commitment that holds you steady in the relationship in the face of inevitable conflict and strong emotions; and it is the voice of commitment that reminds you that being attracted to another person is a normal part of life and should not have the power to topple what you and your partner have worked to build.
Without the lifejacket of commitment, it’s not difficult for couples to lose perspective and become overwhelmed by the immediacy of a stressful relationship moment. When this occurs, it’s easy to prematurely assume that the grass will be greener with someone other than your spouse/partner.
Here’s to making commitment a central part of your relationship!
Dr. Rich Nicastro