This post written by Dr. Jonathan Sandberg–Marriage and Family Therapist and Professor at Brigham Young University.
Popular media is full of references to “commitment issues.” Generally this refers to people that lack the ability to be “all in” when it comes to romantic relationships. When I teach undergraduate classes I often ask students to make a list of the attributes that are most essential to successful marriages. Usually, commitment makes the top three. Personally, I believe commitment is the most important factor for success in dating and marital relationships because it is central to resolving issues in productive ways. Though easily recognized as important, how can you recognize a committed person when you’re dating or married?
Take two minutes to watch this video, how does it demonstrate commitment? Pay particular attention to 1:09-1:25, it’s so encouraging to see that commitment like this still exists!
How did this gentleman show he was committed? What motivated his commitment? Commitment to a partner increases a sense of safety and security, which makes it easier to take a deep breath and relax in our relationships. A sense of commitment is comforting and stabilizing. Perhaps the following three suggestions can help us deepen the level of commitment in our romantic relationships:
1. Be a woman or man of your word
It is so important to say what you mean and mean what you say. If you say you will pick up your spouse at 7pm, don’t show up at 7:30. Speak sincerely to your partner, don’t placate, lie about your feelings, or say things you don’t really mean or feel. Do these things with love and tenderness, but be true to your word
2. Use committed language
Avoid conditional statements about loyalty and love…”I can’t love you when you act like that or this is why it is hard to be around you.” Do not threaten divorce or separation. These statements erode confidence and trigger abandonment issues in all of us. Instead, when you have a concern or feel hurt, talk directly about the issue without leaving the relationship hanging in the balance.
3. Challenge your own fears about commitment
When you feel yourself withdrawing from your relationship and wanting to escape or bail, take a moment and ask yourself: “What am I feeling right now that is so scary that I want to run?” Identify and then address the issues with your partner. Often we find we cannot run far or fast enough to get away from our fears, simply because we carry them with us.
Of course there are legitimate reasons for exiting a relationship (abuse, exploitation, abandonment, etc.), but contrary to pop-culture (i.e. Seinfeld’s close-talker, man hands), most relational problems can be resolved with commitment and hard work. We can avoid the modern tendency to avoid and escape by identifying and addressing issues. That is what committed people do. You can decide today to be more committed, thereby inviting more commitment from your partner.