Commitment: We Have So Much to Learn

Contract and magnifying glassIt’s that time of year again. Time to make our New Year’s resolutions. But how can we make true New Year’s resolutions when we know so little about commitment?

We may think we know about commitment. We may believe we know about commitment. We may feel absolutely sure we know about commitment. Then why are there so many who break their diets? Why are so many people able to stop smoking but unable to sustain their cessation? Why are so many men and women unfaithful to their spouses? How come so few are able to keep their commitments?

Let’s use the example of commitments to partners. If we’re so good at commitment, how come so many government leaders have extramarital affairs? Thomas Jefferson. FDR. John F. Kennedy. Bill Clinton. John McCain. John Edwards. Former General and CIA Director David Petraeus. And how come we let them get away with it? How come we normalize it? How come we don’t hold them accountable? How come we pretend that while they might break a commitment in the area of their marriage, they wouldn’t in the governing arena?

If we know so much about commitment, why do we collude with them? The short answers: Because we don’t really understand commitment, certainly not to its depths. Because we’re afraid of what commitment will bring up for us.

Let’s see what we can learn about commitment through the example of relationship. Let’s say you have been dating someone for a couple of years and now you’re concerned that your partner is afraid of commitment. Or let’s say you’ve been married to someone for many years, and you’re afraid your partner is ready to end the commitment. What do you do?

If you are concerned your partner is afraid of commitment, or that your partner is at the end of the commitment rope, I suggest five things to start—all having to do with learning more about yourself, all related to taking responsibility for yourself.

  1. I teach my clients and other therapists about commitment. It is far deeper and far more complex than most people realize. So the most important thing, before you do anything else, is to come to understand the deep meaning and the deep workings of commitment.
  2. People “transfer” onto commitment all sorts of things from their childhoods, without even being aware of it. For example: They might transfer a person, like a mother or father who took advantage of their vulnerability; or an experience with anyone, like being trapped. Each person needs to do his/her own inner healing exploration to find what he/she is transferring onto commitment, and heal it to the root.
  3. Once people make a commitment, they need to understand that if they don’t make a full commitment, consciously or unconsciously they are leaving a loophole for justifying breaking their commitment. They are creating a rationalization for not investing themselves wholeheartedly in fulfilling the commitment.
  4. Once you make a commitment, whatever within you needs to be healed in order to take the next step in following through on the commitment will certainly come up for healing. It may appear in the form of some obstacle or something more subtle, but many people utilize this as the excuse to break their commitment or as proof that they never should have made the commitment in the first place. It’s not an obstacle. It’s not an excuse. In reality, it’s a divining rod to something that needs to be healed within you.
  5. If your partner is afraid of commitment, perhaps you need to look within yourself first and explore your relationship with commitment. Maybe your picking a partner who fears commitment is a mirror to you of your own fear of commitment. Then, instead of using your partner’s fear of commitment as the reason you don’t commit—or as the illusion that you do commit but your partner doesn’t—you will be able to explore and find the root within yourself.

I hope this will help you begin to build a strong foundation for your commitments in the year and years to come. Commitment is a powerful thing. Just like everything else, we have the choice to misuse it or abuse it … or to utilize it well and for true good. How will you use commitment?

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC, therapist in Brookfield, Connecticut

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Howell

    Howell

    December 13th, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    I always break my new year resolutions, without an exception. I can’t seem to turn this around. Whether it is staying away from junk food or working out 4 days a wee, it never sticks.

    I have a question – does failing in commitment in one area of life mean definite failure in commitment in another area down the line? How does failure in one affect our commitment in the other?

  • david

    david

    December 13th, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    my belief is that many people think the reason for their breaking a commitment is due to changing circumstances..circumstances that develop later on compared to the circumstances when the commitment was made..I’ve even had a friend who cheated on his girlfriend say this!

    but hey that’s no excuse.if you’re making a commitment you are guaranteeing against such changes with changing circumstances! A commitment is exactly that..make one only if you think you can stand by your decision even under changing circumstances!

  • Serena

    Serena

    December 14th, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    I resolve to be a more committed person this coming year. . . how’s that? hahaha

  • Judith Barr

    Judith Barr

    December 16th, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Thank you all for your comments.

    The depth of self-discovery and healing that can come of exploring your own relationship with commitment is so deep, perhaps even limitless. This brings us face to face with aspects of ourselves – which is absolutely necessary if we are to truly heal and become all that we are meant to be.

    I’ve been working with people about commitment for many years. Nothing can get around this truth . . . not even denial, not even breaking commitments, not even joking about commitments.

    One of the things this brings us face to face with is that we will present ourselves with the wounds to our relationship with commitment in whatever areas of our lives we need to . . . as a way to insist that we heal that relationship. If instead of seeing it as a failure in commitment, you see it as your deep self being tenacious in getting you to heal your relationship with commitment . . . perhaps you can be tenacious in response in finding a way to do just that . . . heal it.

    This is meant to bring you information, inspiration, and hope for healing. I hope it does.

    Many blessings . . .
    Judith

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