Being the best partner — 04 July 2009
Commitment to your partner should be a daily practice

Making a commitment to a mate goes beyond a verbal declaration of unending love, a public “I do”, or even non-revocable fidelity. It is a vow to a mate and a self-prescriptive daily mission.

The dictionary defines commitment as an “act of pledging or engaging oneself”. In a love relationship it is actually both- a pledging to the mate and engaging oneself to live by your oath. To commit is “to bind by pledge or assurance”. The binding is the volitional connection one pledges to uphold by providing the mate with ongoing reassuring acts of love and loyalty.

Stanley Markman in “Assessing Commitment in Personal Relationships” draws the distinction between two types of commitment: a personal dedication and one initiated by constraints. Personal commitment manifests the emotional devotion each partner feels and exhibits, while those committed through constraints are bound by external factors such as: finances, responsibility for children, social pressures or lack of anticipated alternatives.

Dr. Scott Stanley, in his keynote address at Smart Marriages in 2002, underscored that marriages held by constraints are not usually happy marriages, while personal dedication does provide a basis for solid happy unions. He describes the four components of personal dedication as: “a desire for a future together, a sense of “us” or “we” (or as being a part of a team), a high sense of priority for the relationship, and more satisfaction with sacrificing for the other.”

Researchers Richard Clements of Indiana University and Clifford Swensen of Purdue University found that “Commitment to the spouse was strongest and most consistent predictor of marital quality; commitment was negatively related to marriage problems and positively related to expression of love and dyadic adjustment.”

In my clinical observations love and commitment predict couples’ success in resolving their relationship challenges. Commitment frees each person to safely sacrifice for the other in a more open- hearted way.

This state of “one-ness” is best achieved when each mate focuses on the other’s needs, wishes and preferences as opposed to his/her own wishes. When each mate seeks first to benefit the other – both end up feeling valued and esteemed. The consideration they show each other reduces difficulties, solidifies their bond, and increases their happiness.

It is important to underscore that caring for the other does not mean abandoning oneself. It means placing the mate’s needs in first priority, modifying yours or exploring a mutually satisfactory resentment-free compromise. Being considerate toward a loved one is easy and often initiates corresponding responsiveness. Commitment in relationship also breeds security and safety, two prerequisites for intimacy.

Since your love, dedication and loyalty can only be measured by your words and actions, you may elect to behave in a way that manifests your devotion to your beloved.

• Accept that your commitment only begins with vows and declarations, but must be supported by pledging yourself to ongoing conduct that demonstrates your loyalty.
• Make your time with your mate a top priority to be altered only in extreme circumstances. For example: do not answer calls during dinner, do not cancel date night, create special events only the two of you share, keep your romantic times sacred. Always check with each other before making any time and activity commitment to anyone else.
• Speak of your joy and blessing about being with each other, being together and having a relationship that is special. “We are so lucky to be such a great team”.
• Plan together your near and far future and create visions for your ideal mutual or corresponding life dreams.
• Use empathy to imagine what your partner may need, remember your mate’s preferences, joyfully offer to help, sometimes sacrifice your comfort to ease your partner’s burden.
• Praise your partner in front of your children and others.
• Committing to daily considerate acts will keep both of you secure, loving and thriving.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life.

Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions.

Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column “Relationship Matters” for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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