Keeping the Commitment in Your Marriage Making a commitment is not just a decision, itís a process with many factors weighting in. BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
There are many factors that go into commitment, it's a process.
Why do IÖ Feel that Iím more committed to this relationship than she is? Any thoughts on dealing with emotional distancing? She has some abuse issues from her past that has made her emotionally distant. Can you give me any strategies for this? We both want this marriage to work, but I know it takes two to be on the same page. I am afraid that I am more gung-ho and committed to this than she.
I fondly recall my days as a child, eagerly awaiting the weekly TV appearance of Lee Majors as, "The Six Million Dollar Man." If your memory goes back to these halcyon days, youíll recall that the bionic man was "better, faster, stronger." In my heart of hearts, I knew Iíd never be as good, fast or strong as the fictional Steve Austin. But my mother assured me that I was smart. Take that, Majorsóeven if you did get to marry Farrah Fawcett.
The Six Million Dollar Man wasnít real, but the theme of the show serves as a reminder that we are not all equally endowed with the same qualities. Commitment, like smarts, strength and speed, is a human quality that is not the same in all individuals. Being able to commit yourself to one person is an outgrowth of many personality traits and lifelong experiences. For instance, some individuals are born with high risk taking traits, and some with more reticence. Some individuals are more outgoing by human nature and some are shy. The more withdrawn personalities often have difficulties establishing close bonds with people, while those with the ability to be open and optimistic toward new experiences find it easier to trust others.
Besides inborn personality traits, early life experiences also affect a personís level of commitment. People who grow up in stable households, and who have a secure neighborhood and stable friends, are more able to see commitment to one person as a tangible life choice. Adults who are exposed to early childhood trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, may have problems feeling safe with others throughout their lives. As a child, of course, we donít have much of a choice about the world that surrounds us, but what happens to us in childhood does have an impact on the capacity to trust and be trusted.
The ability to commit is also based on life events in adulthood. People who have promised their heart to one person, and later find that person has been unfaithful or abusive, will often have a harder time forming a solid bond to their next partner. Also, people tend to shy from committing to partners with a bad track record themselves; if youíve been married six times before, or have been involved in past or current substance abuse, spousal abuse or infidelity, than itís reasonable for your mate to hold back on the expectation of a lifetime of mutual love.
A Series of Processes
Commitment, though, is not a dyed-in-the-wool trait; peopleís ability to commit depends on many factors besides inborn traits and early life experiences. Commitment is a process. Every suitor knows or can imagine the panic of having a person at the end of a first luncheon date say, "I want to spend the rest of my life with you!" It wouldnít be right to feel a lifetime commitment to one person after just one date. If two individuals are involved in an emotional relationship, where each has consistently demonstrated trust and the ability to be trusted over time, then itís natural for commitment to grow. It may take longer for people who are less naturally inclined toward commitment or who have had bad experiences before. Itís simply not realistic to expect attachment to grow at the same rate for each partner. That may be why youíre feeling more committed to the relationship than your partneróyou and your mate simply havenít arrived at the same place at the same time.
You can take the initiative in trying to understand why your partner is lagging behind in commitment by asking some open-ended questions. Find a quiet time to sit and try to understand the factors that contribute to your mateís commitment-shyness. Here are five questions to ask:
1. What kind of child were you? Was it easy to form attachments to other people?
2. What are your early experiences with developing trust? As a child, was your trust ever betrayed?
3. Was there a time when you felt committed to a person, and you were hurt because you put your heart on the line?
4. Are there things that I am doing in the relationship that make it hard to put your trust in me?
5. Do you envision a time when you are able to trust me more, and make the kind of commitment that will allow me to trust that we will be together for a lifetime?
As you listen to your mate discuss these issues, try not to judge and donít try to cajole into firming up his or her commitment. The best way to help trust grow over time is to be a concerned listener and a dependable friend. Then, your mateís commitment will grow better, faster and stronger.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is also the author of the newly released "The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to Get More Out of Your Relationship by Doing Less." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com