Trust is the foundation of a healthy intimate relationship (for more on this topic see also the articles: Trust: The Foundation of any Relationship and Trust and Relationships – Pt. 2). Commitment, however, especially our capacity to remain faithful to critical values and principles (which is what largely defines our character), is the foundation of trust. When it comes to a developing and maintaining a sound relationship, trust and commitment go hand in hand.
So what does it mean to be committed? The word commitment dates from medieval times and originally referred to the voluntary entrusting of oneself or one’s property to the custody of the state ( the process of civil commitment still embraces this original meaning). When one commits, one freely and unrservedly surrenders some personal freedom, and binds oneself to another entity or self-imposed obligation. So to commit is to truly give oneself away. One of my favorite definitions of commitment is attributed to Ashbash:
Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It’s not just in the words that speak boldly of your intentions but in the actions that speak louder than the words. It’s making the time when there appears no time, and coming through time after time, year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of: the power to change the face of things; the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.
One of the things I especially like about the above definition is the notion that commitment necessarily transforms an abstract conceptual promise into a tangible everyday reality. Commitment is much less a matter of making a verbal pledge and much more about daily demonstrating behaviors that evidence the solidity and intractibility of that pledge.
Unfortunately, I know of too many instances where a lack of commitment doomed a relationship, especially a marriage, and often from the very beginning. Sometimes, neither party to the relationship was emotionally or characterologically “ready” to fully and freely commit. Other times. one person truly did give him/herself away but the other person didn’t and that fact would not come to light until a lot of damage had been inflicted. Still other times, one of the parties was in denial about or simply chose to disregard the signs of the shakiness of their partner’s commitment. I give examples of all these scenarios in my 3 books, In Sheep’s Clothing, Character Disturbance, and The Judas Syndrome.
It’s particularly damaging and traumatizing when one person comes to a relationship with full commitment only to have that commitment dishonored and/or exploited by the noncomital partner. Here’s an example:
Mary knew Mike would stick through thick and thin. He would never betray her or undermine her. He was not like so many of the other guys she’d dated. She knew how seriously he took his vows and how sincere his commitment was to his faith. And it’s not so much that she didn’t care about him. She did care. And she’d cared about him from the beginning, just not in the way she knew she needed to. She knew in her heart that she probably shouldn’t have married him because she knew he couldn’t fulfill her emotional needs. But he was solid, stable, and caring – a good man. And good men are hard to find after all. Besides, she wasn’t getting any younger, so how could she not say “yes,” even though a part of her heart was saying “no?” When she made that promise on the altar, a part of her knew she didn’t fully mean it, and eventually, the inveitable (to Mike, it was the “unimaginable”) happened. The man she once yearned for years ago and almost snagged until someone else snatched him away was suddenly “available,” having recently divorced. They connected at a social gathering and Mary simply couldn’t ignore the chemistry. And she knew she just had to be true to her feelings. She hated to leave Mike and certainly didn’t want to hurt him but felt she would only be betraying herself in way if she didn’t claim this once in a lifetime opportunity to be with the true love of her life. So she did. And she just knew it would make her happy and finally put an end to that deep yearning that had long been in her heart. So when it didn’t, and the “love of her life” broke her heart, she was not only stunned but also thrown into an emotional crisis. What had she done? How could she have thrown away what she did? And how could such a horrible thing happen happen to her when she was only following her heart?
Commitment has value in and of itself. As the quote above asserts, it’s the very stuff of character. And it’s just as devastating to one’s character development and overall well-being to be incapable of commitment as it is to be truly committed and have one’s commitment dishonored, exploited, or trampled upon by someone who proves to be of disturbed or disordered character.
There will be more coming on trust, relationships, and commitment in the wrap-up article of this series next week.
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Look for both advance registration information on this fall’s webinar as well as my itinerary for professional workshops for the remainder of the year and early next year to be posted soon.
Character Matters will again be a live program this Sunday at 7 pm EDT, so I can take your calls.