The Art of Long Term Commitment

images[4]by Sheila Kreifels, LMFT

The word commitment can make people squirm.  I hear statements like, “My boyfriend is a commitment-phob”, or “We’ve been together 6 years and still no marriage.”  However, I also observe couples who struggle, but never identify the problem as “commitment”, because they are too afraid to talk about it directly.   What is commitment and why is it so scary?

I define commitment as a responsibility to your partner to make the relationship exclusive and to put forth the effort to make it  work long term.  Lifetime togetherness is not luck, marrying the right person, or having the right circumstances.  It is always about right behaviors.

Take this example:  If every time a couple fights, the wife yells, “I want a divorce!”  The long term commitment becomes eroded by the fear of divorce as a constant possibility.  If when a couple fights, the wife says, “Honey, right now I am angry, but I am sure that we will work out our disagreement.”  The long term commitment is confirmed in both their minds, there is no fear because there is no constant threat of rejection.

Here is a case study:  Liezl and Dean have been living together for 2 years.  Liezl is turning 30 and wants to get married and have children.  Dean is still working on his career path and wants to be financially stable before he commits to marriage.  They are on different places on the “commitment continuum”.  Although they both want to marry  one another, their timing is different.  Liezl and Dean have not yet developed good conflict resolution practices, so they do not know how to deal with this difference.

Liezl begins to “nag” Dean about getting engaged.  She gets very upset when he does not respond.  Dean gets fearful of her emotions.  He does not want Liezl to get upset, so he begins to avoid the discussion.  This makes Liezl feel that Dean does not want to marry her which increases her insecurities.  Dean begins to spend more time at work to avoid Liezl’s emotional outbursts.

Dean and Liezl are stuck in an unrelenting pattern of emotional distance.  They have both attempted to solution for the problem with doing more of the same, nagging and avoiding.  These attempted solutions do not work because the truest form of love is how you behave toward someone not how you feel about them.  Nagging communicates to Dean that he is not good enough.  Avoiding communicates to Liezl that she is not good enough. How can they change their behaviors to be more loving, and less controlling and rejecting

Step 1.   Turn nagging into an honest boundary statement -” You never want to talk about us anymore!” becomes ” I love you and I would like to be engaged within a year, be married in two years and have children by the time I am 35.”  Is that possible for us?  Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans.

Step 2.  Turn avoidance into an honest boundary statement – Lack of response and distraction becomes “I love you too, however I have some financial concerns and I want to be able to move into our own home when we get married.”  Men and women often have different agendas leading up to marriage.

Step 3.  Really listen from your heart to your partner’s concerns and fears and even if you do not agree with them, understand his perspective.

Step 3. Identify the common ground issues – “We both love one another and we do want to marry one another, we just need to work out the timing and come up with a plan that meets both of our needs.” 

Step 4.  For better or for worse – Build resiliency in your marriage with a “we can overcome this” attitude!  Relationships require skills which you learn over time.  If you give up, you cannot learn.

The truth is that couples rarely fear commitment.  They  fear rejection or hurt and loss of autonomy or powerlessness. We don’t want to be discarded or engulfed.  Therefore, honest communication, clear boundaries, good problem solving skills and continued love and support even during times of high conflict are key to long term commitment in relationships.

“Real love has little to do with falling. It’s a climb up the rocky face of a mountain, hard work, and most people are too selfish or too scared to bother.
Very few reach the critical point in their relationship that summons the attention of the light and the dark, that place where they will make a commitment to love no matter what obstacles-or temptations- appear in their path.”
Stacey Jay, Juliet Immortal


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