Healthy Relationships Part 2: Commitment
By Dawn Obrecht, M.D.
...not to a mental institution or prison, but voluntarily taking on an obligation, pledge or promise...
To what, or whom are you committed?
When asked what they want and how they imagine a healthy relationship, most people put commitment high on the list. Remember that we are not just talking spouses or significant others, but also family and friends and perhaps employers, anyone with whom we want a healthy relationship.
Are you committed to a cause? An activity? A job? If you are in recovery from addiction, cancer, heart disease or anything else, are you doing whatever it takes to remain in recovery? Is your behavior consistent with what you say? Could your friends and family identify your commitments by watching your actions?
Most of us make commitments of some kind. For example, lots of people get married, an emotional and legal commitment, often with some spiritual component, vows said in front of God, family and friends. With a fifty percent divorce rate in the U.S., almost 75 % for second marriages, we might wonder why these husbands and wives don't keep their vows. Why don't their marriages last? Even common law marriages, those where there is no official marriage, no commitment in front of friends, family and God, no verbalizing of marriage vows, often don't last. (Hint: marriages in which couples pray together at least once a week have a divorce rate of less than one percent.)
What does it mean, if anything? More importantly, what do those of you who want a healthy relationship, which includes commitment, need to do?
Begin with honestly identifying what you believe and want. Look at your own behavior; are your actions consistent with your words? Do you need to make changes to synchronize your talk and your walk?
If you are married, are you willing to keep that commitment? Instead of separation or divorce, are you both willing to seek counseling? Do you remember what you liked, or loved about each other when you decided to marry? If there is a specific behavior that is keeping you emotionally distant, are you willing to change it? Since addiction is a progressive and sometimes subtle disease and may mimic the example of putting a frog in cold water and slowly heating to a boil, you may suddenly realize you have become, or are living with, an alcoholic, workaholic, rage-aholic or other addict.
Is your previous commitment to this marriage worth working to reupholster the old instead of throwing it out or trading it in on a new model? If it helps to get you off of the fence, it is cheaper to get lots of counseling, go to workshops, retreats, and even treatment, than to divorce...cheaper in dollars and in emotional expense to you and your children. Sustained healthy relationships require commitment on the part of all persons involved.
Just for fun, let's use an analogy from the professional cyclists currently riding in the Tour de France. The annual three week event will be over by the time this is printed, but you may still get the point.
The cyclists are among the most committed human beings on the planet. They train all year (it is their job) for this and other races. Many of them leave their family and even their home country for part of the year to train in specific locations. They hire and fire coaches based on results. They do whatever it takes to improve their skills and become better cyclists.
Imagine if you and your spouse had this level of commitment to each other and to your marriage vows. (It does take both husband and wife...one can lead, invite the other to participate and make personal changes, but to actually have a healthy marriage takes both.) Imagine how fabulous your relationship could be if you both were willing to move, to seek "coaching" when needed and to spend six hours a day, even three hours, doing whatever it takes to acquire and maintain a healthy relationship. You would go wherever necessary, do whatever is suggested, make whatever changes are required and spend time feeding, watering and nurturing the relationship, learning to be the best spouse you could be. Both of you.
Like the cyclist, you must first decide to what and to whom you are committed.
If you are unwilling to commit to a relationship, ask some questions. Is it the right time? The right person? Are you living in fear? Looking at what you will lose (freedom?) instead of what you will gain (life partner, emotional intimacy...hmmm...fearful of emotional intimacy?) Are you more committed to alcohol, control, work, money, fame or anything else rather than to your marriage?
Decide what you want and what you are willing to do, then take action and commit to it!
Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver firstname.lastname@example.org.