What Is Commitment in a Relationship?
It is increasingly clear to me that when romantic partners talk about having a “committed relationship” often neither one has any clue what the other one means by a committed relationship. To what, specifically, has each person committed, and for how long? Don’t you think it’s time we had some clarity about this?
Setting: Oprah show
Situation: Two 15-year-olds talking about planning on having sex together
Celebrity Relationship Coach: How long do you plan on being together?
Boy: Um, we’re in high school, so, like, maybe, six months?
Girl: (frowning) Ummm. Really? Because I was thinking, like, forever? Six months? No way I’m having sex with you if that’s what you’re thinking!
I was coaching two clients who make a great couple. They both do things that hurt the relationship, but it’s all stuff that’s easily handled, and in a few weeks of my coaching them, they’ve already made the better part of that journey. But she has an issue about his level of commitment. According to her, if they’ve been together for four years, they should stay together forever. But if they really were committed, they would get married (I’m not saying I would or they should, that’s what they expressed to me). So, until they are married, I won’t believe the full commitment is there. He’s waiting for her to be more balanced and for there to be less regularly occurring big upsets before he’s willing to propose. And indeed, if you ask her, she’ll say she’s totally committed… but then the slightest provocation that taps into her primal pain has her questioning whether she wants to be in the relationship at all!
So, with the help of some lawyer friends (some of whom are trained in Collaborative Divorce, I drafted this Commitment Manifesto which you are free to download and use. Of course, one commitment size does not fit all, but at least here is a template from which you can craft your own.
My wise friend, Lou, distinguished that this document is more a way of saying to what kind of relationship are you committed. Many of us might not even make that distinction, but just collapse the two, and I think that’s fine.
Some may prefer to think of the Commitment Manifesto as the “doing” of commitment. Perhaps the “being” of commitment is having a very high level of integrity, and being committed to doing whatever it takes to take care of your relationship. The following short form nicely collapses the being and doing parts:
“I’m committed to staying with you (indefinitely), being faithful (no romance with other partners) and honoring you and our relationship. If I do anything that is apparently outside this commitment, I’m committed to cleaning it up, restoring your trust and doing whatever I have to do to return myself to my commitment.”
I’m anxious to know your thoughts about what constitutes commitment in a relationship.