What Commitment Looks Like — we continue our look at the actions necessary for a relationship to thrive
Last issue, I proposed the following “commitment list” — things that make for an excellent relationship:
• I can only commit to an action — to something I will do.
• I commit to being in relationship with you. Here is what I commit to:
• I will be open, honest and vulnerable in my daily communication with you.
• I will tell you, today, who I am and what I am thinking.
• I will tell you, today, everything I have done, and what it meant to me.
• I will listen to you with curiosity and interest, today.
• I will accept that you are who you are today, and will integrate who you are today with my picture of you from “yesterday.”
• I will make myself fully available and present to and with you, today, and engage in clear and concise communication with you for not less than 30 minutes, today.
• I will own all of my thoughts, feelings, emotions and interpretations, working to take full responsibility for each and every one of them. If I slip and go into blaming, I will stop myself, apologise, and return to self-responsibility.
• I will actively encourage you to listen to me and to actively hold me to the performance of what I have committed to.
• I will commit to all of these things, without any expectation of anything from you, as all I can ever commit to is to what I can and will do.
Last issue I wrote about commitment.
I drew portions of what I wrote from my excellent relationship book, The. Best. Relationship. Ever. I decided to expand a bit on the items on the list, above.
Let’s begin by talking about one of my favourite words – integrity.
1. possession of firm principles: the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards
2. completeness: the state of being complete or undivided
3. wholeness: the state of being sound or undamaged
Reading the first definition is an exercise in futility; we must ask: what are high moral principles? The answer depends upon whom you ask. So when I describe integrity, I provide an example.
“Integrity, for me, is demonstrated by how I act.
For example, “My word is my bond” is one of my integrity statements.
As a statement, it means nothing. It just sounds good.
The proof is this: I say I will do something, and then I do it, without excuse or equivocation.
Now, notice I did not say that my integrity is dependent upon the behaviour of others. My integrity is a characteristic of me and my behaviour, and only that.
So, how does this fit in with the list I proposed? I hope it’s obvious. Here’s the first statement:
I can only commit to an action — to something I will do.
Many are notorious for trying to escape responsibility for their actions and the results they get from those actions. Our culture teaches us to blame others when things go wrong — for example, blaming the teacher for your kid’s bad grades.
And most people are unwilling to make anything other than conditional commitments. “I’ll do this if you will do that, and you get to go first, of course.”
Where this goes off the rails is when I think that I “should” be able to demand what another person is permitted to do in relation to me. It’s as if I think that my opinion ought to dictate another’s behaviour. This is faulty logic.
It’s a variation on an old theme – “If you love me, you’ll behave the way I want you to, so that I don’t have any conflicts or have to work at this.”
When such statements are made, they demonstrate nothing more than a complete lack of integrity.
You are never going to meet one person who will do everything you want them to, act exactly the way you want them to, or treat you exactly as you want to be treated. On the other hand, what you can have, all the time, is a life of integrity: where the way you act matches what you say you will do.
You’ll notice that all the principles at the top of this article are statements of what “I” will do.
My level of integrity is solely determined by how and whether I live up to what I have committed to.
This is not the same as being judged for not living up to something someone else wants me to do. I am not obligated to do something just because someone wants me to. I am obligated if I agree. It’s just that simple.
So, I hear you asking, what do I do when someone promises me something and then fails to deliver? This is a good question.
I plan for such eventualities by having stated what I will do if there is an “agreement failure.” In other words, in my, case, my response would be to simply point out the “agreement failure,” and then to ask the other person to enter into dialogue.
Let’s propose a statement that has integrity: “I will always tell you the truth about me. This is so important to me that if you lie to me, I will leave.”
This is diametrically the opposite of, “If you love me, you will not lie to me,” or “I’ll stop lying when you stop lying,” or “Don’t you know you shouldn’t lie.”
Some people would argue that the example statement, above, is a threat. It is not. It is a statement of:
- what I will do about telling the truth, and
- what I will do if you lie to me.
In a sense, the statement is not about “you” at all. You can do whatever you want to (about, in this case, lying) and I am clear with you what I will do if you lie to me.
In other words, lying has consequences.
This is different from erroneous boundary setting, which typically is a variant of, “You are not allowed to lie to me,” or, “If you love me you won’t lie to me,” or, “You can’t treat me that way.” Anyone can treat you any way they treat you. Your choice is always limited to what you will or will not do in response.
Most people wimp out right here. I hear a lot of, “You do that again and I’m leaving,” and whatever it is happens again, and the person does not leave. This is a monumental lack of integrity on the part of the “threatener.” Threats are stupid and childish. If I say I will do something, I do it. This is not a threat. It’s a consequence.
I do what I say I will do. No excuses. No wiggling out of it. No trying desperately to make it the fault of the other person.
This is Integrity.
Get this: a loving relationship is not one in which another person does what you want them to on command, is not one in which the other person puts you first, is not one in which everything is a contest and everyone is keeping score.
A loving relationship is one where mutual respect and honesty is played out in integrity and forthrightness. No games, no manipulation, no trying to force the other person into a mold of your making.
You are either in the relationship wholeheartedly and unreservedly, or you are gone. No half-hearted, conditional commitments.
Being an adult (and god, there are so few of them) means being a person of integrity. Plain and simple.