With a passion to help men and women manifest more love in their life, Angela Wilkinson uses her expertise in the art of attraction and love to empower people to create the relationship they want while falling more in love with themselves. Angela, known as The Goddess Next Door, combines her 10+ years as a therapist and transformational life coach with her intuitive insights to guide clients through her powerful Love SPARK formula.
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.
(Portions of this post, and others in this blog, are from my book New Earth Relationships – A Guide for Couples in the 21st Century ©2009 William S. Weil; All rights reserved)
I once heard Werner Erhard, the personal transformation guru of the 70’s and 80’s say something like “relationships are like mountain climbing – they’re not for most people.” That floored me. How can relationships not be for everybody, or at least “most people?”
My ex-wife and I were convinced we had an awesome, a forever, relationship. We wrote beautiful, deeply moving marriage vows and had a fabulous ceremony with hundreds of family members and friends present, all telling us what a wonderful couple we made.
We did have a wonderful relationship, and we knew it. What we didn’t know is that even the best relationships are full of potholes and landmines.
We thought that since our relationship started out great, we had the “magic.” Things would automatically stay great. Boy, were we wrong! We made the same mistake that countless other couples who start out with fabulous relationships make, and our relationship was tragically derailed in the first year. After 11 difficult years of trying to make it work, we divorced.
Perhaps you’ve been with the same person for a relatively short time. Perhaps things are great. Add some more years, kids, a mortgage, some pressures with your job, etc., temptations from other, more attractive people, and see where you are then. I’m not saying that yours isn’t the best relationship in the world. I’m just asking if you think you are immune to the realities that impact every couple around you. The fact is that if you think you have a better than one-in-ten shot, you are probably kidding yourself.
People in fresh, young relationships tend to be unrealistic at best, arrogant at worst. What are the odds that their level of happiness will last? Ten percent? Five percent? One in a hundred? With the divorce rate at 50% in the US, the odds just aren’t good. And remember that the 50% who stay together aren’t necessarily passionately, ecstatically in love. We all know people who stay together in dysfunctional, abusive, or dependent cycles and others who think any marriage is better than being alone. A small percentage of couples who stay together are in deeply loving and passionate marriages.
It’s common for people who have been in a happy relationship for less than a year or two to think they have it figured out. Typically they do not. Instead of watering the tree that is their relationship, they are picking the fruit. The tragedy is that at the very time when they might be developing skills to help them keep love and passion alive for the long haul, young couples are unconscious to what is, and is not, working. When the love finally dies, they figure it was either a) inevitable, b) the other person’s fault, c) that they just grew apart, or some other explanation. What they are left with is an explanation of why it did not work out. This will not serve them at all in their next relationship(s).
If you are happy now, now is the time to build the skills and tools for a long-term, loving, passionate, mutually-fulfilling relationship. If you are less than happy, then now is the time to begin to repair things.
Falling in love is one thing. To stay in love for the long haul you have to learn how to constantly and consciously “create” your love for one another. Sure it’s easy when you are first in love, but when that wears off, when the little things start to become big things, when you least expect it, that’s when you need a powerful habit of excellent communication to get things back on track.
The purpose of this blog, then, is to act as a kind of community to support couples in staying conscious, in helping to provide tools to enable couples to “create” their love for each other, and to be honest and open about what is and is not working.
What challenges have you overcome in your relationship? How did you do it? If you’ve found the secret to a many-year relationship, how do you keep love and passion alive?
In preparing for the June 30, 2009 radio show about “The Argument that Just Won’t Die.” I made a list conditions that allow arguments to persist, and a summary of solutions to address each condition.
I’d love to have your feedback and additional thinking on these. Note, I am not trying to classify what people are arguing about (guns, abortion, religion, taking out the garbage), but what’s occurring such that the argument is perpetuating.
Any one argument may have multiple conditions. Further, different conditions for a single argument may apply for different individuals (e.g., conditions A and B may be relevant for one person, while conditions B and D are relevant for her partner).
Often simple awareness is curative. If you and your partner choose a perpetual argument to dissolve, and then each clearly communicate where you experience yourself in this list, that may solve half, if not all, of the problem.
Conditions that Allow Your Argument to Perpetuate
Not Being Heard
One (or both) of us does not feel heard (or “gotten”) or is not being responsible for being heard.
Conduct a mindful dialogue until both of you feel fully heard and validated for your point of view.
Stuck on a Position
One (or both) of us is unwilling to let go of our
Let go. Be generous.
Blast from the Past
Something about the argument triggers something from the past which has not
The person who is irrationally upset (i.e., more upset than the specific event seems to warrant), must identify the past event that is being triggered, fully communicate the linkage between the argument and the upset, and own her piece of the energy of the argument.
The source of the argument is rooted in some trauma from one of our pasts (e.g., if one of you was abused as a child and something about the argument triggers that trauma).
It’s one thing if the argument triggers something relatively minor but significant (Blast from the Past, above); it’s another thing if the argument triggers a large trauma. In this case, the traumatized person may want to see a psychoanalyst (with or without her partner).
One or both of our emotional bank accounts is so empty that the smallest argument seems larger than the relationship.
This is best resolved by expressing love, providing acknowledgment, remembering why you got together in the first place and practicing being grateful.
My partner and I want different things and have not been able to compromise.
Most of the time this is not the issue. If you both feel heard, if you’re not triggered from the past, if you emotional bank account is not overdrawn, you can typically come to a reasonable compromise. Otherwise, find an independent third party (therapist, relationship coach) to help you negotiate.
One of us has offended the other and has not apologized / repented / made amends, and/or one of us has not forgiven the other.
The offender must find out what she needs to do to be forgiven and the person offended must forgive.
Rather Be Right than Happy
One or both of us would prefer to argue and/or be “right” and/or is more committed to the ego/racket/pain body than to a resolution.
Recognize that this is what you are doing and stop it – before your partner does. Observe your ego at work – which would rather be right than happy. When one party stops fueling the argument, it will soon die out.
One of us is not getting our needs or standards met.
Communicate that need clearly to your partner and make a clean request.
One of us is crazy, an addict, or someone who has generally unacceptable behavior (e.g., gets violently angry; behaves like a juvenile, etc.).
Until the unstable person is stabilized (e.g., by doing a course in therapy, by getting into a 12-step program, etc.), the argument is not likely to be resolved. Until then, it’s best to just avoid the argument.
If you have an argument that does not fit into one of these categories, I’d love to hear about it!
We generally consider double standards unfair.
Simple example: JoAnn can leave a mess, but if I do, I’ll hear about it. JoAnn can yell at me, but I’m not allowed to yell at her. JoAnn can talk about old boyfriends, but will get upset if I talk about old girlfriends.
The ego screams, “It’s not fair! Why should she have different rules than I do?!”
When we are single and alone, most of us are looking for that special someone. Someone who can be a best friend. But also someone magical. We don’t want an ordinary relationship; we want something more. Something truly extraordinary.
And when we find it, what will we do with that extraordinary person? We’ll turn them into someone ordinary.
JoAnn was my dream girl. While some might prefer more of the “fairy princess” type, I go for the “bitchy, tough and cutting on the outside; sensitive, loving and intelligent on the inside” type. Let’s focus on the “bitchy and tough” part. It’s true that I love her directness, the way she doesn’t take any crap from anyone. When she told me the story of how she repulsed, on two occasions, armed robbers, I started to swoon.
Ah! But what happens when she gets bitchy and tough with… me! Hold on a minute! That’s a different story. Now all of a sudden I’m criticizing her for one of the very things I most love about her.
That’s what we do with our fairy princesses (and princes). We say, “Look at her, she’s magical, beautiful, a princess!” Then we marry the princess and want to be her equal. And since we’re not royalty, that means pulling them down to our level. WHAT FUN IS THAT?!? I had a fairy princess… now I have… an equal?! How satisfying is that going to be when I see another fairy princess passing by?
Instead, I think the trick is to figure out how to keep the fairy princess a fairy princess. And this means embracing double standards. If she wants the groomsman to clean up after her mess, shall I do it begrudgingly? I shall not! I’ll do it joyfully. If she needs to yell at me to express herself, I will take it like a knight in shining armor. But yell at her, I will not! The queen gets to admonish her subjects, not the other way around. But the subjects get to have a queen!
(Really Important Note: I’m not talking about letting myself/yourself be walked on and mistreated. I’m not talking about letting your partner treat you like dirt. I’m talking about being really, really generous with your partner. I’m talking about letting your partner say what s/he needs to say before you express yourself. I’m talking about cutting your partner an acre of slack. I’m talking about stopping trying to find fault, and instead finding… whatever the opposite of “fault” is. Find blessings, perfection, etc. And there you’ll find your prince or princess.)
So, I’m going on record. No more resisting double standards for me. I’m going to treat JoAnn like a princess, like my queen (I mostly do already). I’m going to clean up after her (I already do and she’s not messy anyway). I’m going to let her yell at me (she doesn’t do that often), I’m going to let her talk about old boyfriends without feeling like I need to talk about old girlfriends. I’m going to let her admonish me for not calling her several times throughout the day, without ever admonishing her for not calling back.
Double standards usually are not what they seem, anyway. We each have different needs. We’re good at different things. We do different things for each other. It would be impossible to try to calculate who is doing more – and a loser’s calculation at that. If you want to keep track of something, keep track of how many times you caught your partner doing something right. Keep track of everything you love about your partner, of everything for which you’re grateful about your relationship.
I used to love to play tackle football with my friends in junior high school. I rarely cared about which team won. I just loved smashing into other guys, going all out and leaving it all on the field. Limping off, aching everywhere, wasn’t something you complained about – it was a badge. As long as you didn’t break anything, the more you hurt, the more you knew you went all out – and you were proud of that.
Just so, I don’t worry about coming out of each interaction with JoAnn unscathed. I want to give her everything I’ve got without concern for minor aches and bruises. I want to be the knight, fresh from battle, banged up but still whole, gazing into the adoring eyes of my princess who says, “You have fared well, good knight. We are most grateful to you. Now come inside and we shall feast.”