IN THIS ISSUE:
Commitment - The Foundation of a Radical MarriageBy David Steele
I recently realized that in more than 30 years as a counselor, therapist, and coach, I have never been able to help anyone who wasn't committed to what they wanted.
Having a strong rescuer/hero complex, for many years I tried for a 100% success rate helping couples save their marriages, individuals find happiness, business owners achieve success, and so on, taking personal responsibility for the outcome. Whenever the desired results didn't happen, I blamed my skills and methods and sought more training and techniques, and never achieved more than a 50% success rate. I felt relieved when I discovered that other helping professionals did no better.
Thinking of all the people I tried to help, the biggest difference between those that succeeded and those that didn't, appeared to be - Commitment.
Discovering the pivotal role of commitment, I now seek to address level of commitment first and foremost with my clients, going so far as to say that I can't help them unless they are committed. So far, I have not had any luck helping people become more committed than they already are. I'll let you know if I figure out the secrets of "Commitment Coaching." Until then, I will assume your level of commitment determines your outcome.
We seem to live in a society that values immediate gratification and happiness, and devalues commitment and sacrifice. Co-habiting couples want to be happy first, then they'll commit. No wonder the failure rate of co-habiting couples is so much higher than committed couples.
WHAT IS COMMITMENT?
Commitment is both a FACT demonstrated by behavior, and an ATTITUDE consisting of thoughts and beliefs. Saying vows and exchanging rings in front of witnesses establishes the fact of commitment, as does the behavior of staying in an unhappy relationship no matter what. A committed attitude involves thoughts and beliefs to stay in the relationship under all circumstances.
What people say and do is typically preceded by their attitude, but not always. It is common to have a difference between fact and attitude, for example, the married person who wonders "Is this relationship right for me? Do I want to stay?" As long as they stay in the relationship, they are committed in fact, if not attitude. Behavioral choices can be interpreted to reflect the true, underlying commitment, regardless of what people say.
While both are important, if there is a difference, it is probably more effective to focus on what someone does more than their attitude and what they say. You can change actions and behavior much more easily than beliefs and thoughts, and "acting as-if" is a well-established technique for changing attitudes.
In my view, making a commitment to a relationship is a serious and irreversible choice, not to be taken lightly or entered into quickly, because you can never go back to the way your life was before. When you are single and dating is your opportunity to explore possibilities. When you enter a pre-committed relationship is your chance to fully compare your requirements with the reality. Ideally, you make a commitment with full consciousness and clarity that this is what you want, accepting all challenges and obstacles as part of the package.
PATH TO HAPPINESS PAVED WITH COMMITMENT?
I have found compelling evidence that the path to long-term relationship happiness requires commitment in the results of a study by Linda Waite, author of "The Case for Marriage," who found that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happy five years later. She coined the term "Marital Endurance Ethic;" stating that "marriages got happier not because partners resolved problems, but because they stubbornly outlasted them."
This is astounding. All by itself, the act of commitment appears to be more effective than counseling, therapy, workshops, self-help books, and even relationship coaching, in overcoming problems and creating a happy long-term relationship.
ATTITUDE, BEHAVIOR AND RESPONSIBILITY
Couples come to counseling and coaching wanting to be happy together. Chances are, they'll be happy if they just stick it out long enough, they don't need me for that. If they wish to proactively co-create their happiness together, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I've discovered they both must be committed and be willing to accept personal responsibility.
In working with couples I now inform them of this, and seek to immediately learn their level of commitment, their ability to accept responsibility, their attitudes toward commitment, and whether there is a difference between fact and attitude. If the "fact" is that they are in a committed relationship (e.g. married), yet their "attitude" is less than committed (e.g. "I'm not sure this is the right relationship for me" or "It's his/her fault, I'll change when s/he changes."), that is where the work must begin.
It is understandable that their unhappiness might cause couples to question their relationship, however, I share with them that I have learned that the path to happiness starts with commitment and personal responsibility. I explain that if they need results before commitment then we can't work together, as I would be doing them a disservice by wasting their time and mine, and chances are that if they do nothing other than stick it out, they'll end up happy.
Commitment is a fact simply demonstrated by the act of staying in a relationship. While "attitude precedes outcome" is true, it is also true that "all behavior is purposeful," meaning that what someone does is a better measure of the future than what they say. We can clear up a lot of confusion and "what ifs" ("What if there is an affair?" "What if they won't go to counseling?" "What if my needs aren't met?") by focusing on the "fact" of commitment as demonstrated by both partners staying in the relationship no matter what, since now, thanks to Linda Waite's research, we know that if they do so, the odds are that it will work out.
SHOULD COMMITMENT BE UNBREAKABLE?
When entering a committed relationship, the great majority of us do so with the full intention of being together for life. Ideally, breaking that commitment shouldn't be easy or quick. In my opinion, unhappiness is not a valid reason to break a commitment; it is simply an indication that there is work to be done.
If, most of the time but not all the time, commitment is the path to relationship happiness, how do we decide whether to stick it out or not? How do we know that our misery will eventually lead to happiness or not? We can't really know.
Since we can't really know the prognosis of an unhappy relationship, perhaps the following questions might help:
RESEARCH RESULTS ON COMMITMENT AND HAPPINESS
Excerpted from "Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages" By Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley:
Copyright © 2015 by David Steele. All rights reserved in all media. Used with permission.
The opinions stated are those of the author and not necessarily those of the staff, members, or leadership of Relationship Coaching Institute.
Feeling Pressured To Get Married
My girlfriend and I have been dating for 5 years, living together for 4 and have a 3 year old son. Lately my girlfriend has been pressuring me to get married. Things are going great the way they are. I love my girlfriend and our son, and I don't think we need to be married to have a great life.
What can I do to make her see I love her, even if I don't want to get married?
~ Tony from Austin, TX
Rev. Carol responds ...
Listening to you express your love for your girlfriend makes me wonder why you would be reluctant to take that next step-commitment.
What is it you believe about marriage, what it is, how it would change your life and change the relationship?
We all have preconceived ideas about what a marriage is based on what we've seen and experienced from the relationships we've grown up in and around. We're deeply affected by media portrayals and images. Yet, each relationship is different and two people have the ability to create a marriage that is as unique as they are. In a way it was easier to just follow the old roles of and husband and wife - no thought there. But you get to think about what is important to each of you and create a vision together of what you want. Work with a coach if you need support through this.
Your girlfriend may be thinking about your child now that he is getting older. Research has shown that children from homes with unmarried parents do not thrive as well and have more social issues as they get older.
Rev. Carol Baxter | www.treasuredrelationships.com
Yehuda responds ...
You ask how you can make her see that you love her even if you do not marry her? Of course you love her, you have a son with her and parent him together.
Maybe pondering on these questions will help each of you understand what you want, or need...
What needs does she have that are unmet as long as you remain officially unmarried? Is it that she needs more security, both emotional and financial? Maybe to be more respectable in her family or community?
What do you suppose are your needs that will be unmet if you do marry her? What makes you avoid marriage, when in fact you are a part of a committed, loving couple?
Maybe you feel free in this relationship as long as you do not officially marry her?
I hope the questions I asked here will lead you to a better communication with your girl friend.
Yehuda Ayalon | contact here
Nina responds ...
It is time to have an in depth conversation with her about what marriage means to both you and to her.
What are the expectations? What are the fears and concerns - specifically? What are the hopes? What is the meaning each of you gives to "marriage" and "commitment"? What conditions will need to be met? If "things are great just the way they are", why exactly is that? Does SHE feel things are great just the way they are?
Keep in mind she and her child are vulnerable in our current society without a legal agreement, so her needs are different from yours. As a mother, she is looking to protect her child as well as herself.
Have a frank and honest discussion about all of the ramifications of both staying single and getting married. You owe it to each other to be clear about your intentions, your bottom line requirements and your needs.
Nina Potter | www.playinyourmarriage.com
The opinions stated are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the staff, members, or leadership of Relationship Coaching Institute.
This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your question here www.relationshipcoach.org/ask-the-coach and it will be forwarded to our coaches all over the world. Each issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.
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