Commitment is one of those words that can either recruit people into holding on tighter to their relationship, or running a mile. It can elicit fears of being controlled and confined, or fears of abandonment and betrayal. One thing we know about commitment though, is that it is a word that can create a great deal of anxiety and stress in intimate relationship.
Commitment, Attachment & Relationship
Given that “commitment” is an emotionally loaded term, it is no surprise that it can cause havoc in our relationships. However, a lot of people do not know what commitment really means to them. In fact a better way of phrasing “commitment” could be “I really fear growing too attached (or not attached enough) to this relationship”. We could even say a better term for what a lot of people are really speaking about when they talk about commitment, is “attachment”.
Buddhist philosophy states that attachment to any idea, thought or emotion causes craziness and suffering. In intimate relationship we are heavily socialised to be attached to expectations, images, ideals and emotional states. These beliefs and concepts about relationship are defined by childhood conditioning, media, peers, broader culture and subcultures. They tie into some of our deepest fears and concepts of self-identity. So when we begin to understand the term “commitment” we need to deconstruct and clearly understand these external constructs.
Another reason it is important to understand these constructs is because if we lack awareness of how we are thinking about relationship and commitment then we cannot begin to make sense of our own reactions, or the roles that we unconsciously expect another to live up to. And the other person would not have a clue how their ‘beloved’ thinks it is “supposed to work” if that person does not know or communicate those ideas, and visa versa. While a lot of people may hope for long term committed relationships, the lack of self understanding and open communication can result in misunderstandings, power struggles, mutual blame and eventually separation and heart-break.
Conscious relationship is simply about self awareness and consciously working with another person to co-create a shared union and journey together. Conscious relationship can ‘hold the space’ for open conversations about relationship ideas and constructs that we often take for granted and assume that everyone else shares. What a myth … that we share similar ideas, expectations and meanings about relationships and how they should work! So a consciously shared understanding helps couples to navigate otherwise confusing territory at the level of the mind.
But wait there’s more…
Childhood Attachment, Emotional Wounding & Relationship
Even with this head-level-deconstruction of commitment and relationship, there are also our emotional reactions and childhood patterns that are so easily triggered in intimate relationships. A great deal of emotional reaction that is triggered in intimate relationship is more to do with early childhood attachment experiences with significant others, rather than a conscious adult-adult relationship.
These attachment-issues feel very real to many of us, and can recruit the most independent, rational person into a cringing, crying child or a screaming, tantruming toddler. It is like intimate relationship triggers all of those intolerable emotions that we shut off from our conscious awareness when we were infants. Here is perhaps where conscious relationship is the most powerful. Conscious relating teaches us to become mindful of our own patterns, even our intense ones. In conscious relationship, emotional reactivity is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow both as a person and at a soul level. John Welwood discusses these types of concepts in his writings. John used the term “sacred fire” to describe the deep transformational (and often painful) change intimate relationship can inspire. I love the term “sacred fire” because it captures the poetic beauty of intimate relationship, the spiritual dimension, and the heart wrenching agony that can accompany it. Intimate relationship can be like creating diamonds… including being compressed by the boiling hot molten lava deep within the Earth! But conscious relationship offers us meaning for the experienced pain rather than leaving people baffled and bitter…
In conscious relationship “sacred combat” and emotional reactions are indicators of childhood wounding. Our partner is seen as our mirror (rather than our enemy with deep psychological problems!). Our partners can show us where we are still wounded. So when it comes to commitment in conscious relationship, there is more opportunity to work through the deeper emotional issues that inevitably emerge, rather than being torn apart by them. This helps people to stay together in relationship and therefore, it can be said to strengthen commitment in relationship.
Commitment itself is multifaceted. It can be understood as a shared agreement or intention, or something that waxes and wanes throughout the life of a relationship. Some people say commitment is a belief that we should stand by no matter what, while others say it is an experienced connection that may grow over time. Some say you make commitment happen, while others say commitment grows in its own time. For some, commitment creates the safety and security the need in a relationship to relax, while for others it signifies confinement.
In knowing that commitment does not have a simple meaning, the importance of a conscious process to explore and co-create commitment becomes evident. If the shared meaning of commitment is one based on both love and freedom… then the creation can be beautiful indeed!
What does commitment mean to you?
Have you experienced a conscious process in your relationship to explore commitment? If so, please share your experience….