Trust. Commitment. These are important elements in a relationship. I’m sure you will agree. But how does it look in a healthy relationship? That we may not agree on. Please read on.
If you watch as much television and see the same movies as I do, possibly you yearn to hear someone say, “I am committed to you”. Or long to be in a relationship so you can say, “We are committed to each other”. It sounds so romantic. And as soon as that happens you will live happily ever after. Quite alluring. And I think, UNdoable.
But the pull is real. So use it for your advantage. Ask yourself why would you commit to someone? What NEEDS will be met? What kind of experiences are you hoping to have more of? (possibly safety, security, partnership, love, inspiration?) These questions will enable you to determine if being in a relationship with the person you are committed to is, indeed, an effective strategy for the experiences you say you want. I suggest you (both you and your partner), commit to those needs and values rather than to each other.
Compare these two scenarios:
You have found the love of your life. You are committed to each other. It is yummy. As humans, you begin the relationship by projecting your hopes and dreams onto the other person. (And, after a while you will begin to project your fears onto this person...but I’ll save that for another article). You like the same movies, you are both interested in art, and reading the Sunday times in bed. You both want a house and two kids. Everything is going to be great. Fast forward two years. Your partner lost his job 10 months ago. You discovered recently that it wasn’t due to a cut-back in his office, rather he got into a fight with a co-worker, and then published some private information about that person on facebook. Your partner was not the person who gave you this news. He is now interested in accepting a job halfway across the country. It would require you leaving your job of 7 years, where you will be vested in an 401k in just 2 more years (I made that up, please forgive that I know nothing of 401k plans). For the past 6 months you have been happily providing the finances that support you and your partner. You ask your partner for a conversation about your concerns about his leaving out some details about how he was fired from his job, and your dwindling bank account and moving. His response is, “I didn’t think I could tell you what happened, and this is why. You don’t have my back. I can’t believe you even talked to so-and-so. I thought you were committed to me. If you love me, you wouldn’t be making it so hard for me to take this new job. Its perfect for me.”
If you are committed to him, what are your choices? It seems that he is no longer committed to you, although if you ask him, he will say of course he is, that is why he wants to take the job. To support you. Even though that isn’t what you want in order to feel supported. He is committed to you, you are committed to him and now it doesn’t seem much like how you imagined it in the beginning. I see years of arguments increasing in volume and distress, until one of you blames the other one enough to finally feel justified in breaking your original commitment. Painful.
You have found the love of your life. You are so happy when you are with each other. It is yummy. As humans, you begin the relationship by projecting your hopes and dreams onto the other person. You like the same movies, you are both interested in art, and reading the Sunday times in bed. You both want a house and two kids. Everything is going to be great.
As you deepen your relationship you take the time to discuss what is important to you individually and as a couple. For example, you might say to you partner, “I am hoping to have an experience of collaboration, fun, trust and honesty inside this relationship”. To support that outcome, you each agree to have weekly check-ins, you decide that you want to dedicate time to hear the important things that are happening in each other careers, etc. In addition, you decide to have monthly check-ins about how you feel about the relationship. Maybe this is where you get to say, “Last Tuesday, when you decided to go out with friends, and didn’t invite me, or let me know, I felt disappointed. I made a roast for dinner, and I would have loved to have had more of an opportunity to make plans with my mom, had I known in advance. When we talked about collaboration, this is what I had in mind. I’d love to know how it worked out the way it did, why you didn’t let me know ahead of time.” This gives him an opportunity to express himself about what happened – from the agreement to collaboration and trust. Fast forward two years. Your partner lost his job 6 months prior – in the same way as the previous scenario. He told you about it, how it happened, and how he felt about it. Now he wants to take a job halfway across the country and has asked you to move with him.
The conversation might look more like, “Honey, I understand you want to support me, and I am having trouble trusting that this move will provide the support I am looking for, given the circumstances of the past year. I am not prepared to give up the security I have in my career, for the possibility that your job may work out. How about you go out for 3 months, and I stay here. I will continue to contribute ½ of the financial support during those three months. I am hoping that we can feel supported by each other again in this arrangement, as we work our way toward finding more trust, collaboration and comfort in our relationship. In 3 months, let’s talk about how it is and isn’t working, and what kind of changes we’d like to make then. How do you feel about this arrangement?”
If you are committed to the experience of trust, honesty, collaboration, your actions are in response to that. Meaning, that even if your partner ‘lies’ to you, your response to that would be one of collaboration and trust and honesty. Rather than blame. Remember that what you say and do will be to increase the experience you are looking to have. If it turns out that this person has changed their commitment, and is longer interested in the same values you agreed to, then your choices become more clear.
There may be many reasons to stay in the relationship – other needs that are getting met. You may choose to get your collaboration needs met in other ways, and modify your expectations about that inside this relationship so that you feel more contentment. Not giving up...but choosing new strategies to get more needs met. There is no arguing in this case. It still may be difficult and sad to change the relationship, mourning the loss of a certain quality of connection, yet there is actually trust, collaboration and honesty inside the re-working of what NEEDS you are both committed to inside the relationship now.
In the second scenario, where you are committed to NEEDS being met, there is so much more freedom to choose the perfect relationship in every moment. NEEDS and values change, people change, dreams change. Are you able and willing to notice what’s alive in you now, know what is important to you for your life and commit to that inside any relationship you have moment by moment?