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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Commitment

The last in this series of posts is a topic many find scary – commitment. We bandy that term around easily, but what does it truly mean to be in a “committed” relationship? And what needs to happen in this type of relationship?

In The Psychology of Romantic Love, What Love Is, Why Love Is Born, Why It Sometimes Grows, Why It Sometimes Dies, Dr. Nathaniel Branden states, “Commitment means the acceptance without resistance or denial of the importance of the other person to our life. It means that we experience our partner as essential to our happiness and are at peace with this fact. But it means more than that: it means that our experience of self interest has expanded to include the interests of the person we love, so that the happiness and well being of our partner becomes a matter of our personal, selfish concern.

Without any denial or loss of individuality, there is the sense of being a unit, especially in regard to the rest of the world. There is the sense of an alliance: whoever harms my partner harms me. And more: the protection and preservation of the relationship exists on my highest level of priorities, which means that I do not knowingly or deliberately act so as to jeopardize our relationship. Profoundly respecting the needs of the relationship, I try to be responsive to those needs to the best of my ability.


It is easy enough to see that if this is the meaning of commitment, most marriages exist with far less than a full measure of commitment on the part of those involved. Marriage is too difficult and hazardous an undertaking to be entered into without total, unreserved enthusiasm. And the ability to make the kind of commitment that marriage logically requires presupposes a reasonable level of maturity. It presupposes, among other things, the wisdom to choose a partner with whom sustaining such a commitment is realistically possible.


The sustaining of romantic love requires two attitudes or policies that superficially may appear contradictory. One is the ability to be in the present, to be in the moment. The other is the ability to hold an abstract perspective on one’s life and not get lost in the concretes that may immediately confront us. We realize that this is not a contradiction when we acknowledge that it is necessary both to see the trees and the forest.


One of the characteristics of mature love is the ability to know that we can love our partner deeply and nonetheless know moments of feeling enraged, bored, alienated, and that the validity and value of our relationship is not to be judged by moment to moment, day to day, or even week to week fluctuation in feelings. There is a fundamental equanimity, an equanimity born of the knowledge that we have a history with our partner, we have a context, and we do not drop that context under the pressure of immediate vicissitudes. We remember. We retain the ability to see the whole picture. We do not reduce our partner to his or her last bit of behavior and define him or her solely by means of it.”


And so ends my rather lengthy breakdown of Dr. Branden's book. I, obviously, feel it is a treasure and can be used as a fountain of knowledge to be sipped many times over. The Psychology of Romantic Love is currently out of print, but can be found at your local library. Dr. Branden has authored many other books too, which can be accessed through his website at http://www.nathanielbranden.com

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