As a culture, we pride ourselves on our ability to maintain commitments in all areas of life, but when it comes to relationship, our ability to commit stretches the boundaries of our very self-hood. When the usual vows of “till death do us part” end early in high divorce rates across the country, it is time to return commitment to a place of healthy dialogue and exploration. When commitment is defined solely as an obligation, troublesome patterns can develop such as disconnection, resentment, and worst of all, contempt. Partners set down patterns of “earning points” (i.e. doing chores) to get that “hall pass” to spend time with friends. One or both partners begin to feel like they have “lost themselves” through the relationship and may “act out” to explore themselves again by having an affair, lying about working late, or asking for a separation.
Yet, we always come back to longing for and seeking out relationship. We are, in fact, wired for relationships. Our nervous systems do not function like a closed circuit, regulating and recharging ourselves by ourselves. Our human, mammal bodies are designed to be seen by others, be soothed by others, and be recharged by sharing emotional connection with others. We also need time to ourselves to continue to grow individual interests, careers, and life paths. So I ask you, what are you literally committed to in your relationship? And how do we navigate a living, breathing, growing, changing commitment? Here are 4 ideas:
1. Commit to filling your own bucket.
Think of our needs as humans as two circles partially overlapping. If we overlap our lives completely, we loose our individuality. If there is no overlap and live “parallel lives” there is no “we” connection. How would it be to still do what you love and then share stories and time with your partner? We can maintain that erotic synapse; the space for connection. If we do not fill our own buckets by what we love, the relationship bucket will stay empty. Think of it as putting the oxygen mask in an airplane on yourself first and then your companion; if you have no energy for yourself, you have none to give your partner.
2. Commit to take responsibility for personal growth.
In the words of two of my dear friends who recently married, “I commit to marrying myself first, to love myself, care for myself, and continue to do my personal work.” Resentment builds when our personal worth is only based on the attentions and affirmations of our partners. Yes, we need love and affection from our partner. And yes, we also need love and affection from ourselves, our family, our friends, and the activities that make us feel good and alive. This is the important balance that community creates.
3. Commit to take responsibility for emotional reactions.
We will always have emotional responses to the behavior of our partner and the dynamics of the relationship. Remember that our emotional responses are our own and are informed by our personal biographies. When we blame our partner for “making” us feel a certain way, we loose the opportunity to learn about ourselves and transcend unhealthy patterns. We also give control and responsibility of our body, mind, and heart to our partner. Call your soul back into your own body and get curious about what wisdom your emotions give you.
4. Commit to seeing your partner through the lens of “now.”
After being together for a few years, we get to know our partners, our internal chemistry changes and feeling the “fire” of connection requires more stoking. This is normal and provides the opportunity to come back to the “now” moment. Allow yourself to become curious again about your partner, to not assume or take them for granted. Brainstorm ideas for doing new things together. Marcel Proust said, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Commit to seeing your partner with new eyes.
Consider reviewing how you define commitment. How is it serving you and your relationship? How could the above suggestions enhance your life? I look forward to hearing your responses. You can post your ideas below.