Earlier this month we were interviewed by Coach Iris Benrubi about passionate commitment. We first familiarized our audience with the five levels of commitment from the Commitment Scale in our book I Do! I Do! The Marriage Vow Workbook:
- Uncommitted—Disconnected entirely from your partner
- Obligated—Begrudging participation, duty-bound
- Desiring—Wishing for a deeper connection
- Committed—Connected to one another as allies, equals
- Passionate commitment (or inspired)—Synergistic partnership, deep connection to one another as well as connection to the world-at-large
Though we may move up and down the scale, the idea is to spend most of one’s time on the committed end of it.
But how do you fully commit to your significant other, whether in a new relationship or in an existing relationship? We offer the following suggestions. You can learn much more about each of these strategies in our book.
- Choice—Choose to be committed, then keep your focus on this choice.
- Vision—Create a joint vision, a vivid mental picture, for the future of your relationship together, and bring that vision into your consciousness on a regular basis.
- Vows—Craft vows or commitments about how you will be one another.
- Live your vows—Put practices in place that support you to be intentional about keeping your commitments to yourself and to one another.
- Daily housekeeping—Handle all disconnections from your partner as they arise, stepping over nothing; work through conflict and bring yourself back to connection.
- Empathic listening—Make a conscious effort to truly hear and understand your partner’s point of view.
- Forgiveness—Refuse to hold ill will and clean up resentments as you go. Ask for and offer forgiveness for all transgressions.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. Review the first 15 pages of I Do! I Do! The Marriage Vow Workbook (PDF format).
“It is important to know the difference between giving in and giving up.”
~ Brad Brown, co-founder of The More to Life Program
In our partnerships, be they romantic or platonic in nature, we are in a dance. There is give and take as we negotiate the steps of effective relationship. Many of us learned to relate in an adversarial way where someone wins and someone loses. If you’re like me, you might have even perfected the art of giving up simply to avoid the conflict that seemed to erupt when a disagreement occurred between two strong-willed people. Or you may be afraid to “give in” believing that it’s a sign of weakness or lack of conviction. But like the quote reminds us, there is a difference between “giving in” and “giving up.” Living that difference can transform your relationships.
Giving in versus giving up
- Giving in creates space between you and another person; it’s an opening to step into. Giving up creates a void where you’ve disappeared; negative feelings occupy the void.
- Giving in brings you closer to your partner. Giving up is the same as running away.
- Giving in is admitting that you aren’t the sole authority. Giving up is abdicating your personal power.
- Giving in is equivalent to saying, “You’re important to me. Let’s find a way to connect/work together.” Giving up is equivalent to saying, “F— you. I don’t care about our relationship.”
- Giving in is moving toward your partner and seeking to reconnect. Giving up is pushing back and distancing yourself.
How to give in in your relationship
My guess is that many of you reading may be thinking, “Okay, this makes sense, but I don’t know what ‘giving in’ would look like or how to do it.” So here are a few ways you can practice giving in.
- When you’re in a disagreement, giving in can mean not getting in the last word, refusing to continue trying to “win,” or simply, and honestly, saying, “You’re right.”
- When you are personally feeling stuck, upset, scared, frustrated, angry, giving in can be telling the simple truth about how you are feeling and what’s going on for you. Giving in can also mean saying, “Help. I really need ‘x’ from you right now.”
- Switch from your habitual ways of being in your relationship. If you tend to take the lead, choose instead to step back and let your partner play that role. If you generally are the task master, put away the “to do” list and instead seek to be spontaneous and playful.
While giving in may seem radical or odd at first, as you practice, I think you’ll find that it’s one of the best ways to make a positive impact on your relationship. I’d be delighted to hear about your experiences with this experiment.
I recently wrote about how many of our visions of marriage are tainted by the often obscene promise of fairy tale romances or the numbing, heart-hardening lies we’re told about failed relationships (Love lives between fairy tales and apathy). Today, I found some related and extremely valuable thoughts on a fantastic relationship and intimacy blog, Making Love Sustainable, by Wendy Strgar. She writes about a new book by Seth Godin called The Dip, which refers to “the hard place where days can go by before any satisfying results come in.” I encourage you to read Wendy’s entire post. In the meantime, here’s a brief excerpt:
“The Dip though points to a bigger and more rampant problem–the willingness to quit on the hard stuff because we believe ourselves to be mediocre or not up to it. We are afraid to feel the strain, so we quit–and most easily on relationships that are challenging. The problem with this kind of quitting which can become serial. . .as soon as the relationship demands more that we think we have, we bail. That place becomes so familiar, it is the jumping off spot, time after time. The real shame is that often the breakthrough place, where things start to work in a new way is just past that jump.”
What really struck me in this quote is the statement, “we believe ourselves to be mediocre or not up to it.” I think that kind of self-doubt and belief that neither partner is capable of navigating challenging waters is one of the biggest barriers to long-term happiness. If you hit a bump and your mind automatically assaults you with “you’re not smart enough to get through this,” or, “he doesn’t have what it takes to weather this kind of storm,” or, “this relationship isn’t strong enough to last,” you’ll likely not even be inspired to attempt to work through the challenge.
So, if you want to be able to make it through dips in your relationship, start building your confidence in yourself and your partner. Start strengthening your beliefs about the dedication, tenacity, capability you and your partner both possess. Work the muscles of belief and lose those flabby, flat-out-false thoughts that get you nowhere good, replacing them with toned, truths that will become the foundation for a strong, sustainable, and deeply satisfying relationship, whether you’re in a dip or on top of the world.
Recently at the party given in honor of my Grandpa’s 90th birthday, my new cousin-in-law, Scott, shared with us an idea for a relationship book. He envisioned stories from couples who’ve been in relationship for awhile — say 10 or more years –and are happy with their partnership (be it marriage or other commitment). As a newly married man, he believed such couples could provide valuable advice to burgeoning relationships and also could show that happy partnerships are possible, since that’s often not the prevailing story of our culture.
It does seem that many people today hold views at the far end of the spectrum. Either that relationships are pure bliss — like those childhood fantasies of Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming — or that all relationships are doomed to end in divorce or merely to subsist in the haze of obligation and less-than-content cohabitation. What I’ve found in the 10 years since Bruce and I first became a couple is that love resides comfortably in the middle territory between these two extremes. While there are many times that I feel like a princess and am as giddy as a teenager in love, sustaining these euphoric feelings takes a commitment from me (and from Bruce, too).
I choose not to think of relationships as requiring “work,” however I do believe that staying in love requires a willingness to let go of anything that threatens to keep us feeling unloving toward our partner. Here are some of the things I endeavor to avoid in my quest to nurture a loving, happy, and mutually-satisfying marriage.
- Negativity about relationships — whether it’s people bitching about their ex or talk shows ranting about some woeful couples. I want my relationship to thrive, so I’m careful about the kind of environment to which I expose myself and the relationship.
- Resentment and retaliation. When I notice that I’m holding a grudge against Bruce, I either get over it or talk with him about it so the air will be clear again. Having any kind of ill will between us does nothing but weaken the love that bonds us together.
- Mistrust. I’ve committed to sharing my life with Bruce. If I find that I’m not trusting him, it’s time for a heart-to-heart conversation so I can come back to a place of mutual respect.
- Low self-esteem. If I’m not believing in myself or am thinking that I’m in any way unworthy, unloveable, incomplete, or inadequate, I become extremely needy and depend on Bruce to “make me okay.” In this state, I’m completely vulnerable to any slight I perceive and he’s likely to end up being the “bad guy” at some point through little or no fault of his own.
Sure, there are more things that can drive a wedge between a couple, yet these are ones that, when avoided, help me stay in a state of happiness. So, while I don’t believe that having fairy tale delusions is in our best interest, being apathetic about our potential for bliss doesn’t serve us either.
Most people I know make New Year’s Resolutions an individual thing. If you want your marriage to be better, however, it’s best if you both resolve to make changes instead of making this a solo act. That doesn’t mean you both have to make the same resolutions. It simply means that you’re both committing to doing your part for the health of your marriage. Based on my experience, here are suggestions about two areas to consider for improvement — changes in these areas can profoundly alter your relationship for the better.
Past = resentment and grudges. 2008 = forgiveness and growth. Resolve to forgive each other for those hurtful things that we all sometimes do in our relationships. Let go of hurt feelings, talk about the pain, offer and accept apologies, then choose a new path forward.
Past = busyness and lots of “priorities.” 2008 = slowing down and reserving time for the relationship. Resolve to hold your marriage as sacred and give it the time and attention that it needs to thrive. Instead of waiting for special moments to say “I love you” or to give a gift, do things to show that any moment is a special moment in your relationship.
“Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world.”
~ Wayne Dyer
May 2008 be a truly magical year for you and your beloved. May all that did not serve you in the past be gently left behind. May those dreams which you deferred now blossom and grow in the light of a new year. May you find more joy, love, and peace in the journey to come than that which you already have known. Happy New Year!
Gratitude is something Bruce and I consciously bring into our lives on a daily basis. At the evening meal we each express gratitude for one or more things that happened or simply were during the day. It might be something “small” or “big” for which we’re grateful. We might give thanks for something that is “positive,” or we may even notice gratitude for something we perceived as “negative.” Some days our words of thanks flow easily from hearts filled to the brim with appreciation. Other days we might really have to think about what we actually feel grateful for. Regardless of how easy or hard it is for us to identify that for which we are thankful, we have maintained this practice for over 5 years. I believe that gratitude has made our relationship even stronger than it would be without this thankfulness ritual.
How gratitude enhances our relationship (and can enhance yours too)
- Gratitude infuses a relationship with positive energy. When we feel grateful for our lives, we tend to be more loving, thoughtful, compassionate, and supportive. Gratitude is a spark that lights many other warm and soothing fires.
- Gratitude makes the “bad” times less troubling. Even when we do hit rough patches in our relationship, our commitment to find things for which we are thankful helps to pull us out of the blues.
- Gratitude helps our love grow deeper. Along with our practice of giving thanks each evening, we verbally acknowledge each other (and then ourselves personally). Though we do have grievances with one another, our focus on what is working and what we’re truly grateful for helps strengthen our connection.
- Gratitude becomes a positive foundation for the rest of our lives. Since we focus our relationship on gratitude and what’s already working, we tend to carry that same outlook with us into our work, our play, and our other important relationships. Having a gratitude practice as a couple means that we both have the practice as individuals.
- Gratitude helps us keep the peace. It’s easy to get caught up in the ravenous energy of modern American culture and find ourselves yearning for more and better things. By noticing that which we are already so blessed to have, our cravings subside and we realize how happy, satisfied, and fulfilled we already are.
I would be grateful to know about your experience with gratitude, especially in the context of relationship. How has it changed your connection with your partner? With yourself? What roadblocks to gratitude do you find? What most profoundly evokes your gratitude? Please use the “comments” area to share or trackback to this post from your site.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. . . . Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
~ Melody Beattie
“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other as though everything is a miracle.”
~ Albert Einstein
“We can spend a whole lifetime enjoying various benefits and not appreciate their value until we are deprived of them. How many lovers boldly contemplate separation, fondly imagining that they have had enough of the beloved. And yet as soon as they actually experience separation, they burn up with longing.”
“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.”
~ Mary Jean Iron
“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.”
~ Edward R. Murrow
One of the greatest challenges all couples face centers around communication, because nearly every interaction involves communication of one sort or another. As one of my college professors in speech communication used to say, “you cannot not communicate.” So if we’re always communicating–verbally and non-verbally, intentionally and unintentionally–it’s important to be mindful of how our communication is being received. Let’s start by considering the messages you send verbally, through your words, tone of voice, and other qualities of speech.
Evaluate your verbal communication
While words only account for approximately 7% of the meaning people ascribe to your communication, tone of voice accounts for 38% of the meaning. So, it’s obvious that to be a successful communicator, you need to be aware of your verbal cues and clues (e.g., everything from words to sighs, moans, grunts).
- Inflection refers to ups and downs in talking. Inflection helps you signal to your partner what’s important and may even indicate your emotional state (especially combined with volume and pitch).
- Volume indicates the degree of loudness to your voice. Again, volume can indicate your energetic involvement with a topic and gives your spouse clues about your temperament and mood.
- Pacing deals with your rate of speech or the speed of your talking. Matching your rate of speech and your intensity to that of your partner creates rapport and connection.
- Word choice of course means what words you use to convey your message. Though words may have specific definitions, our lifetime of experience with a word means that our meaning for the word and someone else’s meaning might be quite different.
- Silence refers to those gaps in our conversations. (Though silence is “non-verbal” it’s the absence of verbal communication, that’s why I’ve included it in this list.) Allow room for your partner to absorb what you’ve said and give yourself the space to take in what he/she is communicating to you.
As you engage in the next conversation with you partner, bring these aspects of verbal communication into your awareness. Are your choices enhancing communication or bringing about a disconnection? See what subtle changes you can make to connect with your partner and communicate in a productive, honoring, and meaningful way.
“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”
~ Rollo May
“When you are for me as much as you are for yourself, and I am for you as much as I am for myself, we will start to understand the meaning of our relationship.”
~ Brad Brown
The process of creating a conscious, enduring relationship is a sacred journey, an evolving partnership in which both partners are fully committed to loving, honoring and respecting one another and themselves. Below are some suggestions for creating such a relationship for yourself.
- Be clear about what you really want in your significant other and in your relationship.
- Choose to fully commit—all the way in without reservation.
- Create meaningful guidelines—vows or commitments—for your relationship that you and your partner intend to follow throughout your time together.
- Have a clear vision about where you want to go together and how you intend to get there.
- Ensure that your values are in alignment, not necessarily the same but aligned nonetheless.
- Meet regularly to review your vows/commitments, acknowledge one another, and tell your truths.
- Tell the truth even when you believe it might be challenging for the other to hear.
- Focus on what is working in the relationship and the positive attributes of one another.
- Clean up your space as you go and step over nothing.
- Refuse to hold onto ill will. Resentment is the real relationship killer.
- Support one another to be fully authentic, rather than try to get your partner to become the person you sometimes believe he/she should be.
Take these actions and see how your relationship blossoms and your happiness grows.
What qualities do you need to possess to be capable of creating and maintaining a great romantic relationship? While I don’t think that relationships can be boiled down to a formula (whether it’s the “right” or “wrong” mix), I do believe that there are qualities and skills that are highly useful in the pursuit of a wonderful partnership. Below are eight of the most critical attributes from my (Shonnie’s) perspective. Bruce will be writing on this same question in another post.
- Communication – though there are many details included in this one word, generally I would emphasize the importance of being able to listen openly and fully, speak clearly, honestly, and compassionately, and read other non-verbal communication accurately
- Unequivocal support – by this I mean being 100% for the good of your partner, wanting and supporting their success, growth, achievement, and highest good every step of the way even when it seems to be at cross-purposes with your own desires
- Self-awareness and self-love — to be an excellent partner to another person, we must first be an excellent partner to ourselves; taking care of your own needs (spiritual, emotional, physical, mental) and being the best human being you know how to be
- Forgiveness – no matter the depth of our love for our partner, we will sometimes be angry, hurt, or resentful about something they did/did not do; being able and willing to readily and regularly offer your forgiveness is essential to long-term happiness and stability of the relationship
- Loving truthfulness — honesty is one of the foundations of a strong relationship, yet so is the ability to be truthful in a loving, compassionate, and helpful way
- Equality – sharing in an equitable way all that happens in your relationship (blessings, challenges, responsibility, praise); being partners that co-create your lives together, offering your gifts, perspective, and experience and making room for your mate to offer his/her own contributions
- Intentioned flexibility — time and circumstances will change us so it’s important to be flexible enough to adapt or evolve; it’s essential, however, to know what you won’t change (values, commitments) or give up regardless of the paths you travel together
- Commitment – especially in today’s world of multiple priorities and responsibilities, it’s easy for a relationship to get moved to the back burner (or off the stove completely); keeping your relationship a priority in your life requires a commitment of yourself in time, energy/spirit, and heart
If you want some great, tested advice about how to make your relationship thrive, read What Has Made it Work? Wisdom from The Happiest Couple I Know a post by our good friend, Adrian Deal. In it she shares the practices of her uncle Mike and aunt Kathy. Below are the 10 habits they’ve used to cultivate their happiness through the years.
- We Only Made Two Promises
- We Don’t Expect Things From Each Other
- We Let Go of Jealousy
- We Treat Each Other as True Friends
- We Don’t Tease
- We Build and Cherish Private Traditions
- “That’s The Wrong Answer!”
- We Make No Deals
- We Assume We Won’t Fulfill All Needs
- We Hug Often
Shonnie’s observations: I think their light-hearted way of saying, “That’s the wrong answer,” is a great way to diffuse the tension of potentially sticky situations. It’s a gentle way of redirecting the conversation without making it easy for anyone to feel guilty. Not having expectations is also a great way to avoid conflict and minimize one’s chances of being “let down.” Equally valuable is not teasing and this is a conversation Bruce and I have from time to time. Though swaddled in the guise of “just joking,” teasing often has an unloving or dishonoring message at its core.
Bruce’s observations: I don’t know what Mike and Kathy’s two promises were, yet it’s clear that they’ve made it simple to be intentional about their commitments to one another. Bravo! Plus hugging is a great way to stay connected–physically, emotionally and spiritually. A practice I learned from David Deida: When I sense a disconnection between me and Shonnie, I hug her, really hug her so that our hearts are physically close, and without words I let her know that I love her deeply, that all is well, that I’m with her all the way.
Yeah for Kathy and Mike for making their first 24 years so fantastic. Here’s best wishes for the same kind of bliss over the next quarter-century.