Finding rhythm in a relationship is the biggest challenge for a couple. It’s easy to fall in love, once you’ve found someone (Prior to the relationship, the finding someone is indeed the hardest part!). It’s easy to say, “I love you,” once you’ve shared some special moments with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
But what about that consistency we all crave, which comes only from true commitment? That’s a lot harder. But absolutely possible. Commitment begins with desire. Each person has to want it and be willing to sacrifice for the other. It takes shifting the way we view ourselves and giving up something, in order to give to someone else. Thing is, it’s not as hard as you might think.
We millennials tend to commit to things a bit less than our parents and older generations. Buying a home, settling down, finding that special someone. We don’t want to feel rushed. To back this up, is some striking research from The Pew Research Center which bears this out:
“The Pew Research Center reports that millennials are significantly less likely to be married than previous generations in their 20s. And a recent Gallup poll found that the percentage of 18 to 29-year-olds who say they are single and not living with a partner rose from 52 percent in 2004 to 64 percent in 2014. Marriage among 30-somethings also dropped 10 percentage points during that decade, while the percentage living together rose from 7 to 13 percent.” Source
Ah, commitment. I’m a living, breathing example of this study. Much of my 20s was defined by a lack of commitment to a partner. I stumbled around in different relationships, while all along, the relationship I needed to most get right was the one with myself. You have to be right with yourself before you can truthfully expect to commit to someone else.
My wife and I, in many respects, are opposites. I’m much more open with my emotions and feelings. She tends to keep them in. We both show our emotional intelligence in different ways. Socially, it takes me a little longer to get comfortable in a crowd, but then, I’m a total extrovert. My wife, who’s more introverted, is a social butterfly at galas and large social gatherings.
We defy explanation!
When it came time for me to commit to my wife — I guess it really depends whose version of the story you’d be willing to trust. My wife knew I was “the one” the night she met me. No joke. It took me far longer to figure that out. I wasn’t thinking about commitment. I wasn’t ready.
What I learned from that experience is that commitment requires open communication channels and an “all-in” mentality by both people. Relationships require each individual to meet in the middle, with dual commitment for the present and future. Sure, nothing is promised, but when it comes time to progressing in a relationship and talking marriage, it’s critical for communication to be on point.
Marriage is the covenant meant to last a lifetime.
So, what about you? How will you know when to commit? How will you know what it will mean to strike that accord in commitment between loving with all your heart and following through on that over and over again?
I’ve identified five keys to commitment that I’ve learned through my experience, observing others and scientific studies. I hope you benefit. Please share your thoughts in the comments!
1. Positive Experiences
A great confidence and commitment builder in a relationship is a shared, positive experience with the person you love. Think of the identity of your relationship — how you and your partner perceive it to be. I bet that inside-joke you share with your partner came from that first date at the baseball game, or that awkward moment at the restaurant when your boyfriend forgot his wallet. Oops! Now, he’s eternally grilled for that mishap!
But those are the things we remember! Take the negative, funny things and turn them into positive experiences. And take the positive experiences and live through the memories and build toward new experiences.
My wife and I still joke about our first date together in graduate school. I was the rough-around-the edge northerner, she the more proper southern girl. She literally couldn’t believe that I decided to go “Dutch” at a nice pizzeria. We split the bill. She thought I’d pick up the tab. Yeah, we still joke about that. And I’m still unapologetic!
Worried about whether you should spend $1000 on that trip to Florida? Go for it. It’s the positive experiences — the memories — that will always last, and define your relationship. They build commitment.
2. Going “All in” in thoughts, words and actions
Essentially, this is the strategy I aim to live by each day. While attending a talk recently, I heard the speaker say, “You’re here. You’re present. So be present. Work hard!” Exactly. Relationships take work! There will be easy, seamless days, but there will also be conflict and struggle!
What I’m getting at is, value your time with your partner. Value that moment. The moments we share with the people we love are so precious. Go “all in.” Think about what will make that person happy. Think about ways to improve your relationship, fun things to do or chores that will help ease their burden.
In words, express your love and tell your boyfriend or wife that you care. Most importantly, show that you care. Actions will always speak louder than words, but that doesn’t mean words and thoughts don’t matter. Those are what contribute to your actions. So go ahead — get your boyfriend tickets to the basketball game. Get your wife flowers. Tell your partner you love them. Let them know they’re the most important person in your life.
3. Eliminating distractions and temptations
That guy who checked you out at the bar and asked for your number at your work happy hour? Forget it. Staying up late at night to check out that video your friend sent you on YouTube? A slow killer. Vices, temptations, minor distractions — these are the things that tear relationships apart. And most of the time, it’s not exactly the big-bang approach. It’s more the slow, gradual, pernicious path to destruction.
Dr. John Lydon from McGill University discussed a study in which people were shown pictures of women and men of the opposite sex. They were told to identify the person they found attractive. Then, it got really interesting. He discusses more in this New York Times piece:
“When they were attracted to someone who might threaten the relationship, they seemed to instinctively tell themselves, “He’s not so great.” “The more committed you are,” Dr. Lydon said, “the less attractive you find other people who threaten your relationship.” Source
To be faithful and committed to my wife, I had to eliminate the temptations, like too much perusing on Facebook or letting my mind wander too much in social settings. We’re all vulnerable to letting our minds and eyes wander. Things like alcohol, emotionally charged occasions and tiredness can all contribute to putting us in a position where we’re weak.
Take those things out of the picture. This requires discipline, but then again, so does committing to a relationship.
4. A willingness to understand things from your partner’s point of view
We’re always going to see things through our own experiences first. That’s a fact of life. But what separates great relationships from mediocre ones, is a willingness to understand your partner’s needs, wants and point of view. You have to throw your ego out the window and understand where that person is coming from.
When you’re struggling emotionally with anxiety, worry or a feeling of inadequacy, there’s nothing you need more than someone to just listen to you. Part of commitment to your partner is satisfying a need for them. Be a great listener. Do something kind. Always express a genuine interest in understanding their point of view!
5. What Matters Most
I’ll be the first to tell you, spontaneity is part of what makes love and relationships special. And you should always savor the spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment things that make relationships great. But it’s even more important — for longevity — to discuss what matters most to you personally and as a couple. These are two different things!
I love writing, coaching and watching the Yankees play baseball. My wife loves women’s fashion and home interior design. We understand how much our personal time means to us. We also love to do activities together and with our son that make us happy.
In the end, focus on the things that matters most to each of you. Make sure your passions and enthusiasm get to come out! This is so important to striking the accord of commitment.
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