So, lately I’ve been considering pulling some kind of relationships book together — for a lot of reasons, including some preliminary thoughts about a new website dedicated to healthy, intimate “presence based” relationships.
I also get asked the “commitment” question, a lot, by clients who are clearly confused about the whole concept of commitment. And then I realized that I use the word to mean several things, so today’s article is an attempt at clarity.
I think I’ll try 2 versions of commitment, to start.
Commitment to a Process
Oddly, I think the first commitment necessary is to a way of being — or committing to how I am going to relate. This comes well before committing to an actual person!!!
How I choose to be has nothing to do with anyone other than me.
It’s funny. I say this to clients, and they agree with me, and then don’t follow through. They tell me, for example, that they will use the communication model, then don’t. They blame their partner (or someone or something else.) So, here’s the first relationship commitment we teach and recommend:
I commit to being open, honest, and vulnerable as I relate.
I’m only hiding because you’re hiding! Am not! Are too!
This must be a hard and fast commitment, not a conditional one — this is my main point. Many people are looking to hedge their bets:
~ “There are some things I just won’t talk about.”
~ “I’m an adult, and entitled to my secrets!” (This is typically said in a 6‑year-old voice, and may be accompanied by the stomping of feet…)
~ “I’ll be more open as soon as everyone else of more open.”
~ “I’m willing to share my thoughts after I’ve figured everything out, but I will not talk about my feelings, insecurities, or confusions until I get there.”
Adults in adult relationships do not hedge their bets. They commit to the only thing one can commit to: what I will do, right now.
We insist: the first commitment is to a way of relating.
Man, you’re not who I pretend you are!
Again, most people never even consider this. They assume (erroneously) that “Things will just work out if I find the right person.” This is otherwise known as magical thinking.
Many are the folk who believe that relating is supposed to be easy (as in, they think they should not have to work at the relationship — it should “just happen.”) This belief is paired with the equally odd belief that one’s partner is there to “…do my bidding, make me happy, perform on demand, and in general follow my lead.” This is typically phrased as, “If you really love me, you will…” And when asked if they do the same regarding their partner’s demands, such people look at you like you’re crazy. “Of course not! My demands are reasonable! His/hers aren’t!”
Waiting for it all to work out, waiting for the right person to fall out of the sky — it just does not work that way.
Except in Hollywood, and you do know that movies aren’t real, right?????
So, the solution is to study how good relating works, learn what the tools for elegant relating are, and then apply them. Again and again. And to repeat — you do this, no matter what your partner is doing.
This is where the “It’s not fair!” complaint arises.
“Why should I have to communicate if s/he isn’t?” This seems logical, on the surface, but dig a bit, and it’s just an excuse for not doing what you said you’d do. Because we can always find some reason, or someone to blame, and let ourselves off the hook.
Nothing in your life is about fairness.
Life just is. We are each given unique skills and talents, a unique genetic make up, and a unique social background. (We all come from somewhere, and some somewhere’s are scary…) Nothing fair about it. We work with who we are, we work with what we have, and the only place we ever start is right here, right now. It may seem that others have a better deal, have it easier, etc., but we all labour under the weight of our past, potential, and story.
So, you just drop all the drama and story telling, and do what you commit to doing: relate openly, honestly, clearly, and with vulnerability, because you said you would.
AND, if you really don’t want this kind of deep and meaningful relationship, then don’t lie about it — go find a superficial one. Hell, those are a dime a dozen.
Commitment to a person.
Here comes another tough idea. I can only commit, in my case, to the Darbella standing right in front of me — to the real person who is right here, right now. I can’t commit to an imaginary person, nor commit to who I wish she was.
Can you hear me now? Great! Change! Right Now!
Most get this one wrong. Dialog: “Once we get married, I’ll stop nagging you to change.” “Great, and once we are married, I’ll change everything you don’t like!” (Said, of course, with starry eyes blinking madly.)
Or, “I’ll just work myself to death for another year or two or three, and then I’ll slow down.”
Or, “The sex will get better after we’re married.”
Or, “You were a lot more interesting 10 years ago. Why can’t you be like that again?”
Or, “We can work on our relationship after the kids are grown.”
Or, “Just wait a little longer, and I’ll get around to clearing up my messes, and being normal.”
The only person you are ever in relationship with is the one you are looking at, right now. AND, who they say they are (or who they say they are going to be, once the time is right and all of the problems are over) is irrelevant.
I am not who I say I am. I am, always and only, what I do. Or better, what I am doing right now.
Darbella and I have been together for 28 years, and we both say we’ve committed to each other day-by-day. I can say with a straight face that I have never wanted any other Dar than the one I was with, had no list of who she ought to be. I wanted her. And I still do, as of this afternoon 😉
Now, she’s 28 years older, and so am I, with everything that that entails. I have no, “Boy, do I wish we were 30 again” fantasies, as nothing changes after having one. Except that maybe I feel crappy. I am totally committed (at this moment) to the actual woman who is wandering around upstairs, preparing food for this weekend’s workshop.
Does this mean that I always agree with her? Of course not! I hear some of her ideas or see some of her ways of doing things, and immediately say, “I’d never do it that way!” What I do not add is, “And so therefore do it my way.” I have no clue, even after 28 years, about how Dar “should” be Dar. I have enough trouble figuring out how to be Wayne. I like watching her do her thing, and will offer suggestions if asked, but mostly I just watch, and chuckle. And I notice she’s laughing as she watches me.
I’ve always liked and loved who she is, because I had no expectation she should be anyone or any way other.
So, we do commit to a person, but not to a stereotypical one. The only true commitment is to a real, flesh and blood, drippy, weird, odd, interesting person. A person that is one way one minute, another way the next.
And lastly, (bonus!) there’s commitment to integrity.
I think either Dar or I would be out the door in a heartbeat if either of us stopped being in integrity.
By integrity I mean that I do what I say I’ll do, damn close to 100% of the time, and so does Dar.
We don’t make empty promises, we never lie, and we never commit to something just to get the other person off our backs. We say what we will do, and we do it. No excuses. And on the rare occasion when we do mess up, we quickly apologize, without blame, and get right back to doing what we said we’d do.
I’m responsible for my integrity and Dar is responsible for hers. It’s not my job to “make her” keep her word. That’s her job. And vice versa.
So, are we special?
Nope. We’re stubborn, and we’ve learned the value of keeping our word. To each other and to those around us whom we value.
This way of being is everything to us, and it’s our commitment.
So, what are you committed to, and are you actually living it?