One of the most useful questions I ask my couple clients is “How committed are you to this relationship on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is totally committed and 1 is not committed at all?”
The answers I get back are most revealing for both partners and provide much fuel for exploration into the territory of commitment.
A word like “commitment” like the word “love” can mean different things to different people, but it is undeniably an important concept at the heart of much relationship work.
Often couples have not communicated what they understand or mean by commitment and what their position on it is. Marriage is ostensibly an outward sign of commitment but actually they can be quite independent. I have met many married couples struggling with commitment and many non married couples who are deeply committed.
The number that I hear back in response to the question can mean many things and the way it is said and the speed at which the response comes is also revealing. Like the woman who shoots back – “eleven” or the man who comes back after much thought with “six and a half”.
Some people who are cautious about relationships think that means they should keep their commitment on a slow boil – around the fives and sixes. But this in itself can lead to the slow death of a relationship as the life blood is slowly drained out of it.
What really is commitment?
Commitment is a willingness to give all into the venture of the relationship.
In a way the one to ten question may be a bit perverse to the idea of commitment as some would say that it is all or nothing – you can’t actually be half committed to a relationship, however it is true that most of us have struggled at some point with the issue of commitment.
Actually a relationship is a matter of continually choosing to be in the partnership and if we are to choose then we must at least consider the option of choosing the alternative.
So commitment does not mean we can’t choose to leave a relationship. What it does mean is the level of immersion, will or investment we make when we are in it.
You can choose to dive into a pool or not but you can’t half dive in.
Affairs and holding back.
The question of commitment is at the heart of many relationship issues and obviously it relates particularly to affairs.
Again the connection is not simple.
Sometimes there is no infidelity of any sort but the highly reserved, measured containment of commitment is worse as the partner craving passionate involvement slowly withers on the vine of a relationship that lacks sufficient nutriments to thrive.
Affairs can also occur in committed relationships for various reasons and many couples can recover from affairs by addressing these issues.
Why do we have commitment issues?
Commitment issues often reflect earlier relationship pains – the “once bitten twice shy” phenomenon.
The partner recovering from earlier relationship injury can be encouraged to come out from the shadow of this earlier trauma to give fully once more.
Much relationship distress is linked to differences in the expectation each partner has about the acceptable level of commitment.
This distress might show up in many ways and often underlies the most common reason coupes give for coming to relationship counseling: communication problems.
This article is written by David Indermaur, Clinical Psychologist Nedlands, Perth. David also offers Skype sessions for those not in Perth.