By Joyce and Barry Vissell –
What does it mean to be fully committed in a monogamous relationship? The traditional meaning has to do with focusing your romantic energies only upon your partner. You’re not committed if you have “one foot outside the door,” meaning you’re still available for a romantic relationship with another person. I use the term “romantic” to include sexual relationships as well. You’re committed if you’re sure you’re with the right person, or feel there’s no one else out there who can better fulfill your needs. Most people understand this definition of commitment.
There are more subtle definitions of commitment; you’re also committed when your beloved is clearly number one in your life. This involves not only other people, but also everything else in your life. For example, you’re fully committed when your partner is more important than your career or your hobbies. After Joyce followed me to Nashville, Tenn., and then to Los Angeles for my medical education, I assumed she would follow me to Portland, Ore. for my internship and residency in psychiatry. That assumption, however, proved that my medical career was a higher priority than my marriage. Joyce, meanwhile, had a wonderful job in LA, and chose to stay. Her powerful choice directly confronted my lack of commitment to her. I realized that being with Joyce was more important than my medical career. I told her I would stay in LA, get a job for a year, and then reapply locally to continue my career. That’s all she needed to hear. She quit her job the next day and told me she was joining me in Portland. I even tried to talk her out of her decision, yet she was firm. She just needed to see that I was more committed to her than to my career. Then she could show me that being with me was more important than her job.
Hobbies, sports, and other activities can sometimes get in the way of commitment. I love going on river trips. I especially love sharing them with Joyce. She is very willing to go with me, yet not as many as I would like. I recently hurt her feelings by wanting to go on another river trip by myself, shortly after we returned from one. The pressure I put on her made her feel that the river trip was more important than she was. The truth is, she is vastly more important than any river trip I could ever take. When I show her this, she feels my commitment, and is usually happy to make plans that work for both of us.
Another indication of commitment: you’re fully committed when you have no hidden secrets. An example is an emotional affair, which by definition is a secret relationship that includes nonsexual intimacy. It’s the secrecy that causes the deepest pain and damages the commitment. The same is true for pornography.
A little-known ingredient of commitment is the awareness of your need for your partner’s love. Early in my relationship with Joyce, I was not aware of my need for her. I knew I loved her, and I chose to be with her. “Need” was a four-letter word as negative to me as some other words I need not mention. I clearly told her that I didn’t need her love, which hurt her deeply. Because of this, I was not fully committed to her. Now that I’ve made peace with my inner child who needs Joyce’s love, my commitment to her is more complete.
There’s more to commitment; there’s a higher commitment than to a person. It’s the commitment to your own heart and soul, to God, to your higher self. It’s a commitment to trust in the goodness of the universe, to be aware of the source of the light and energy that you use. Without this commitment, there can be no real commitment to a partner. It’s a bit like the flight attendant’s announcement, “Put your own oxygen mask on first, before you put masks on your children or family members.” You can help no one if you pass out from hypoxia.
We see many couples where one partner feels that they are fully committed to the relationship, and complains that the other partner is not committed to them. All too often, the one “fully committed to the relationship” is not committed enough to themselves, and especially to their highest good. We typically hear, “I’m committed to God (Source, Higher Power, Divine Love, call it what you want), and to my partner.” What’s missing is a commitment to self, which is construed as being “selfish.” I must say, there has to be just enough selfishness in every relationship. Not enough selfishness communicates that your partner is more important than you are. Too much selfishness communicates that You’re more important than your beloved.
What about a relationship that is no longer serving either person? Is it a failed commitment when two persons separate? Not necessarily. Joyce and I believe the only relationship failure is throwing someone out of your heart. Ending a relationship is not a failure. You fail when you close your heart to the goodness of your ex. Sure, you may be angry and disappointed, but villainizing him or her only hurts you. Instead, create a new commitment, a commitment to hold on to the good that was there in the relationship, a commitment to bless this person to find happiness.
So, you could look at commitment as having three parts: 1. Commitment to something bigger than your personal self (the spiritual commitment). 2. Commitment to yourself (the personal commitment). 3. Commitment to your partner (the relationship commitment). When all three are in balance, then there is real commitment.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of many inspirational books. Visit their website at: SharedHeart.org .