Contrary to popular belief, commitment is an act of will. It is not something that should be guided by feelings or passion. Feelings, no matter how valid they may be, can be fleeting. If we allow our lives to be swept along by the erratic tide of feelings, we will never find solid ground.
Passion may be very intense and very real, but it fizzles when familiarity sets in. American psychologist Robert Sternberg put it this way: "Passion is the quickest to develop, and the quickest to fade. Intimacy develops more slowly, and commitment more gradually still."
This does not mean a person should abandon their dreams. It is vital to follow your heart, but it is even more vital to do so with wisdom. This is especially true when an act of commitment involves another human being. Then it becomes a promise. It becomes something worth fighting for, even if that conflict is waged within one's self.
Here are some points to remember about true commitment in a relationship:
Many proverbs and parables warn against making rash decisions. The ability to stand back, assess a situation and weigh the options before taking a course of action is a sign of wisdom. This is especially true of human relationships. Do not make a promise before you are prepared to keep it.
Don't let passion compromise your core values simply because a potential spouse or best friend is headed down a different path. When the fire of getting acquainted dies down-and it always does-you might then look at your spouse or friend and resent them for altering your course. Determine who you are before you make a commitment and know what is negotiable. If a devout, practicing religious person falls in love with an atheist, the common ground might get very shaky. If one partner wants a large family and the other vows never to have children, one will obviously be unhappy. Differences that are so fundamental to everyday living are difficult to resolve.
Our level of expectation is directly related to our level of disappointment. If a woman is smitten by her own conjured image of a man rather than the real person, she will be disappointed. If a man thinks he has married a goddess and cannot accept that she will eventually morph into a flawed human being, he will be disappointed. You cannot mold someone into the person you want them to be. The only person you can control is you.
You have to do both. Otherwise one person is a parasite and the other is the host. Be sensitive to the needs of a spouse or a friend, and open yourself to them when you are the one in need. Very often, this is what separates the true friends from the acquaintances and the life partners from the flings. Being present to one another at all times forges the most enduring bond.
Respect is a common denominator in all long-lasting relationships. Know what your strengths are, and respect the strengths of the other. Together you may form a very dynamic entity.
Trust is essential, not optional. Its most important underlying element in any relationship, yet it is the most fragile.
No man is an island, and believe it or not, no woman is an island, either. Women often take on the role of family superhero, juggling lives and details until, inevitably, a ball is dropped. There will even be times when grief or despair tests love to its limit. It is the proving ground of a relationship. People who face their problems together emerge from these trials in stronger union.
It sounds cliché, but nobody is perfect. This Commandment has a Part B: Do not bring up past injuries if they have been resolved.
Unfortunately, we do not appreciate what we have until it is taken away from us, and regret is a bitter pill to swallow when we lose someone. That is why it is good to plan for the future without living for the future. Don't be caught wishing you had given your loved one the world. Give them what you can right now.
It is not always about you. Period.
July/August - 2018
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2010 Jan/Feb issue
Tammy Erickson, Olympic Medalist
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