Committing to a relationship means doing whatever it takes to establish a secure base and to resolve any problems that threaten the security, safety, and well-being of the relationship. It's "being there" for your partner—and if passion and intimacy are strong in a relationship, commitment is a lot easier.
Steven Stosny, Ph.D. is the founder of CompassionPower in suburban Washington, DC. Dr. Steven Stosny's most recent books are, Soar Above: How to Use the Most Profound Part of Your Brain under Any Kind of Stress; Living and Loving after Betrayal. How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It: Finding Love Beyond Words, and Love Without Hurt: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One.
Editor: Haroon Christy
Just as intimacy flourishes when ebbing passion gives it room to grow, the commitment stage of a relationship predominates as intimacy begins to wane. The discovery, sharing, and mutual acceptance that characterize the intimate stage of relationships cannot last forever. At some point the goals of discovery, sharing deeper knowledge and unconditional acceptance are realized. You've heard each other’s stories, felt the pain, and shared the joy of the past. Agreement to share the pain and joy of the future is commitment. This includes a palpable sense of connection, almost like an invisible lifeline that ensures support when needed but allows individual growth. If necessary, it can traverse great distances and endure long absences. You're connected even when you disagree and argue.
Commitment and Privacy
People who greatly value their privacy may sometimes view connection as a threat. The importance of privacy to individuals varies greatly and seems determined by temperament, early attachment experience, number of household occupants, and habits of emotion regulation.
Introverts are likely to require substantial privacy. Because they use more mental resources than extroverts to process information, introverts may be more sensitive to external stimulation. Uninterrupted association with others depletes their energy. They must be alone, at least for a short time, to recharge their batteries. For extraverts, extended periods of non-connection are depressing. Social interactions energize them. This tension between the introverted construction of privacy as gold and the extrovertedinterpretation of “aloneness” as a curse puts a strain on connection that only compassionate understanding can relieve.
The number of occupants of the household can influence how much an individual values privacy. Couples should consider the number of people in their households, as well as the number of children in each other’s family of origin, when embarking on negotiations around issues of privacy.
Regulating the amount of closeness in a long-term relationship is no easy task. After the initial romantic phase, attachment partners seldom agree on how close they want to be or how far apart they need to be. For everyone, the degree of desired closeness:
- Varies greatly from week to week, day to day, even moment to moment;
- May be cyclical;
- Depends on stresses. (Some people want to be closer in times of stress and some need more distance.)
The way we regulate closeness and distance determines how well we do in loverelationships. Unfortunately, three dysfunctional styles of regulation are common:
- Using anger as a distance regulator: Saying, “Leave me alone!” or picking a fight to gain temporary emotional distance.
- Blaming the need for distance on the partner: "You're overbearing!" or "You're boring."
- Interpreting distance regulation as rejection.
Commitment requires that partners:
- Recognize and respect each other's varying desires for closeness and distance (requests for closeness and distance are neither unfair demands nor rejection).
- Communicate directly about closeness regulation—how much intimacy you both desire.
Partners need to develop the ability to say to each other:
"I love you, you're important to me, and I like being with you, but right now I need some distance. I hope it doesn't cause a problem for you."
“I respect your need for space, but right now I would really like to connect with you. I hope that doesn’t cause a problem for you.”
With this sort of compassionate assertiveness, partners are more likely to want what is best for each other at any given moment. And that is the ultimate definition of commitment.