If you say you’re in a committed relationship, what does that mean? What are you actually committing to?
If I ask some people who claim to be in committed relationships what they mean by it, they might say things like:
I’m committed to my partner.
This answer is pretty vague, wouldn’t you agree? It could mean anything. Committed to what specifically?
How is this any different than taking care of your dog?
I’m committed to loving my partner.
That’s a step forward but still essentially a cop-out. Love is wonderful, but what’s the actual commitment you’re claiming to make? To feel the emotion of love for your partner 24/7? To feel loving at least once every couple days? To hug your partner 5 times per week? To live together in the same household? To have joint finances?
What are you actually saying? Temba, his arms wide.
I’m committed to having a spiritual bond with my partner.
I feel like I’m asking a Ferengi how much they’d like to donate.
Believing that you’re creating a spiritual bond is great and wonderful and all. But once you return from Narnia, then what are we really talking about here? Are you meditating together till your chakras look like a bowl of Lucky Charms? Are you smoking the same joint as one? What will we actually see of this spiritual bond you speak of?
When you define your commitment in such a vague way, there’s so much wiggle room that we could say you haven’t actually committed to anything yet. This is laziness masquerading as commitment.
I’m committed to only having sex with my partner.
At least we’re getting specific now.
I’m sure your partner is very shaggable, but this is merely exclusivity. Is that all there is to commitment? If you’re exclusive with someone, is that sufficient to claim that you’re in a committed relationship together?
And does this mean that prior to your current relationship, you were in a committed relationship with your hand?
I’m committed to my partner’s highest good.
What’s your partner’s highest good? Are you sure it involves being with you?
Does this highest good include encouraging your partner to leave once you suspect that being in a relationship with you is no longer (or perhaps never was) equal to their highest good?
I’m committed to your highest good. Does that mean I’m in a committed relationship with you?
I’m committed to loving, cherishing, honoring, and obeying my partner.
What does that actually mean though? How does this translate into what we can perceive? You can love, cherish, and honor a friend or family member if you so desire. What’s so special about how this shows up in your committed relationship?
I like the obeying part though. Yum!
One reason so many relationships involve cheating, lying, and secrets is that the commitments are poorly defined. This creates gray areas that can be easily stretched until you reach the point of having crossed the border into breaking that commitment, but it isn’t clear at what point the border was specifically crossed.
How will you know if you’re honoring your commitment or not?
Be specific. Start by explicitly defining what your commitment looks like. What do you expect of each other? What have you decided to co-create together?
Talk about actions, events, feelings, reactions, expectations, and consequences. Step out of the conceptual realm, and move into the world of what’s perceivable. If you’re going to make a commitment, then let it be grounded in reality. Bring it over to this side of the wardrobe.
Making a subjective commitment is wonderful. That’s a good start. It’s perfectly fine to begin with abstractions like loving and honoring each other. But if it’s a real commitment — and not an airy fairy nebulous one that could mean anything — then there will be an objective side to it as well. The subjective and objective commitments are two sides of the same coin. Ultimately you can’t have one without the other.
If there’s genuine love present, how do you intend for it to manifest? Will this translate into flowers, joint finances, and having kids? Or will it show up as sailing around the world together, sharing bottles of wine, and hours-long lovemaking sessions? Or is it simply a matter of texting “I <3 U, Schmoopie!” twenty times a day?
Everyone has a different understanding of commitment. If you assume your partner’s notion of commitment is the same as yours, good luck with that. It’s a well-trodden path to disappointment and heartbreak. Be prepared for that slow sinking feeling down the road.
Reality vs. Semantics
As you discuss your commitment with your partner, be careful not to get lost fussing over the exact meaning of words like commitment and cheating. The exact labels you use aren’t that important. What matters is that you focus on what’s real and grounded and experiential as opposed to getting too abstract and vague.
Talk about what your commitment means to you in a grounded way. It may be less romantic than the ungrounded version, but creating that level of clarity can deepen your connection. You’ll tend to feel more connected when you and your partner clarify what you expect of each other and what you’re willing to give.
Saying that you expect your partner to love, cherish, and be faithful to you is likely to create headaches down the road. Instead, replace these vagaries with a specific expectation like, “If you were to kiss another woman in a way that’s more than a friendly greeting or a peck on the cheek, such as if you were to make out with her or French kiss her, I’d consider that a violation of our commitment, and I’d feel hurt and betrayed.” Or say, “I’d like you to take at least one specific action each day that you expect will make me feel loved and cared for, such as making me a nice dinner; going for walk together while holding my hand; cuddling me on the couch as we watch a movie; looking into my eyes and saying ‘I love you and care about you'; or slapping a slave collar on me, commanding me to strip, tying me to the bed, and shagging me rotten.”
Updating Your Commitment
As your relationship evolves over time, it’s wise to update your commitment now and then. Talk with your partner about the changes you’re experiencing. If you can’t renegotiate your commitment in a way that feels good to you both, then agree to let go with love, and give yourselves the freedom to seek out new partners who feel good about making the commitments you each desire.
You don’t actually have to commit to anything. So if the idea of being specific doesn’t feel right to you, then it’s absolutely fine to let go and to allow your relationship path unfold as it will. In that case, don’t get too attached to the idea of commitment as it relates to any one person, as it will simply devolve into attachment and clinginess. Commitment requires free choice, not obligation.
If you claim to be in a committed relationship but you don’t have a specific commitment with your partner that goes beyond the use of vague and ill-defined words, then don’t be too surprised when your connection gradually becomes something that appears committed on the surface but lacks the true spirit of commitment in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. If you haven’t spelled out any specific commitments, then you’re better off not using the C-word to describe your relationship. But if you still want to feel the spirit of commitment without going through the trouble of defining it, use a slave collar instead.