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Is Your Partner a Commitment Phobe?
Is “imprison us” really the new “till death do us part?” This article discusses and attempts to answer the questions, what is commitment today in the 21st century and are you aware of the role commitment plays in your relationship?
My good friend Tina sent me an email telling me that she hasn’t dated anyone since her divorce about 6 months ago, and that since she’s been married and divorced 3 times, she insists she will NEVER get married again. Also, any man who comes into contact with her needs to understand that the word “marriage” is simply not in her vocabulary!
At the same time, I just ended a relationship with a man I love and adore because he couldn’t make the jump to marriage, which I believe is vital to commitment.
I have another client who has been married and divorced 5 times and says he will NOT have sex with someone without a marriage commitment. He wants to be respected and cared for and believes in the old saying, “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
How is it that three people who love and value commitment all come at it from different places? Where do you stand on the question?
What about the couple who sensibly decide to move in together and see how that goes and then decide if they are compatible and if so then get married. I recently spoke to a woman who told her boyfriend that she saw moving in as if she were auditioning, and if she passed, she would keep it. This may not bode well for many people looking for commitment. According to the Relationship Coaching Institute, your chances of getting married aren’t actually any better if you’re living together first.
Is living together a commitment? Is promising not to date someone else a commitment? Is having children together a commitment? Is marriage a commitment these days in light of high divorce statistics? Is sharing finances a commitment? Just what is commitment?
According to David Steele, president and CEO of the Relationship Coaching Institute, there’s a difference between a promise and a commitment that includes marriage. “In short, a promise is something you say, and a commitment is something you do… A promise is a thin commitment. If a potential partner doesn’t keep their promises, I would question their ability to keep their commitments, as they are definitely related. “
Steele continues, “Commitment is express and clear. Commitment is some kind of formal event between two people. Commitment is something you DO over time. Real commitment is usually legally enforceable and has consequences for breaking it. And for a relationship to be truly committed be it, there are no exits mentally, emotionally or physically.When the going gets rough, it works.
I recently worked with a client who had been with a man for 8 years. They have a 6-year-old child. He got kicked out of the house and is now homeless, going from friend to friend. The house was hers before the relationship and she had a job. He can’t even get custody of his son because he has nowhere to live. If you were married, you would have the right to the house, the child, and child support.
I have another client whose boyfriend left her after 17 years. She left the house and the child, but she couldn’t pay. Sure, you can go after him for child support, but since he’s self-employed, he’ll be lucky with $300 a month. If you were married, she would have to help with expenses and/or spousal support.
Of course, I will give legal examples of what can happen to those who live together without marriage or a cohabitation agreement. Heterosexual couples living together are similar to homosexual couples in that they do not have legal status. There is no right of inheritance without a will. Without marriage or a binding power of attorney, you have no right to make medical decisions about your loved ones, no right to health insurance, etc.
On the other hand, what about a marriage where one person is secretive, has affairs, hides money? Does a “marriage contract” bind a person? We all probably know many marriages that ended in divorce.
What about the emotional safety of commitment? I recently listened to Alison Armstrong’s show about being in sync with the opposite sex. He described that women can only love as much and as widely as their future can. So when a woman believes there is a never-ending future, she can give her whole self, all her love, attention and passion to a relationship. When you are uncertain about your future, you need to literally expand your emotions, moderate your loving feelings.
Similarly, there is security for men in marriage. When he is tempted by women or sexual advances, his wedding ring is a good reminder of the safety zone in which he lives. He remembers his vows and what is important to him. It is always difficult for a man to refuse free sex; let’s be honest here. But when he’s truly committed, his honesty saves the day and the relationship.
David Steele suggests these three criteria for testing whether something is truly a commitment to a promise:
CRITERIA #1: Promises made to each other about the permanence of the relationship that are kept.
CRITERION 2: Clear, formal, public declaration.
CRITERION 3: Commitment is clear to partners and others. This definition of commitment sounds like a marriage commitment, doesn’t it?
One of the problems we have with the term commitment is that it is confused with a mental or punitive definition of “commitment”. We mostly think of men as commitment phobic or afraid to commit. Perhaps the number one fear most men face is losing their freedom. True or not, it usually is
the #1 man site for NOT getting married.
According to Steele, “some couples have trouble with commitment because they confuse the two definitions. They fear that commitment in a relationship means being institutionalized with too much structure, control, and barriers to their freedom to be themselves. They are wrong.
“Commitment is a liberating and growing experience. When two people commit to each other to grow, learn about life and love together, they create a positive place to be. Commitment is an expression of trust in yourself and in yourself from your partner. “
A person who is afraid of commitment needs to look within themselves to see why they don’t trust themselves in a relationship. Are they losing themselves? Is their sense of self not strong enough to handle the “partnership” part of the relationship? When it comes to FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real), the only way to overcome it is to jump in and do it and TRUST that whatever happens, you can handle it.
I have known many people over the years who say that the fear of losing their freedom was really false evidence for them. It was only after the leap that they discovered the richness and fullness of life that commitment offered. The issue of commitment, especially for men, is interesting because men have all kinds of commitments in their lives. They commit to jobs, homes, sports teams, clubs, and tend to frequent the same bars and restaurants. In general, men are very loyal when they make up their minds.
Choice, it seems, is a key component of commitment. You have many couples who are together, happy and content while it is their decision. If the choice is gone, say in the case of marriage, it is now a promise and a “contract” and no longer representative of “free choice” in their lives.
Think of the whole idea of engagement as a big round circle. On one side of the circle is the gift of love, adoration, and care, and on the other side is obligation, change, and uncertainty. Yet, on the one hand, it’s fun, excitement and spontaneity, and on the other hand, it’s monotonous and routine. I believe that the view of commitment changes with your own perception and choices.
Most men, says my friend Tom, who has been happily married for over 35 years, resist change. If you have an older man who has been single all his life, he just won’t be comfortable making such a big change. Some younger men seem commitment-phobic, Tom says, because they don’t want to commit until they have a stable, successful career. They need to feel ready and for that younger men need to feel successful and know that they can make the woman in their life happy by providing her with a good home and lifestyle. Still, he says, sometimes a woman needs a wake-up call and an ultimatum. If you’re young, you need to see him trust you because he doesn’t have the experience of success yet. If you are older, you may need to “ease” into the change.
To those of us who want to be sure, I must apologize. I’m sad to say, I’m not sure. The divorce rate is 50% even if marriage is the ultimate commitment of our society. Is there a way to beat the odds? I believe that to be truly committed requires a combination of choice, continuous choice, to stand before people wholeheartedly, legally, and promise commitment. I love the idea of re-choosing each wedding anniversary. Reassess your relationship to see if you are on track with your goals and dreams as a couple.
We’re all different, that’s what makes the world go round. Feel free to get back to me with your comments on this. I am very interested in what you have to say. In the following article, I will share with you the most important factors that keep your committed relationship together.
Lori S. Rubenstein
Love Counseling Coach
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