Commitment is a foundation that nourishes a sense of safety, trust, and security, among other key ingredients that form a healthy, vibrant couple relationship. The same neurochemicals that make partners feel loved and loving are the same ones that make them feel safe and secure. That is an unalterable aspect of human life and relationships. We yearn to love and feel loved, to matter in life in relation to self and another, and when we perceive a treat or obstacle to this, we lose our sense of balance, safety and trust. It is in moments when we are at our worst that our defense strategies and desperate actions get activated, alas, to make things worse.
And, in a couple relationship it begins with a commitment each partner makes to self and the other to disallow difficult emotions, and defense strategies these activate, from controlling and blocking the level of emotional connection they’re wired to aspire and realize. The shared drives for security and love is worth every ounce of effort into fulfilling.
Learning to navigate the emotional storms of a couple relationship, however, without getting overwhelmed, going into attack-mode or retreating to a pretend-everything-is-fine bubble, takes a lot of determination and know-how. The influences of past experiences imprinted in memory, in combination with a growing trend in the last few decades to mainstream junk values, mostly via TV, porn and entertainment, make this a nearly impossible task for many couples to do on their own.
Thanks to the latest findings in neuroscience, much of the guesswork is now science. Couples therapy can help partners identify and steer clear of toxic patterns, and focus instead on learning actions, specifically, to improve the quality of energy each partner brings to their relationship at any given moment — and how to energize heart to heart communications, in place of old toxic defensive patterns.
It takes a willingness to be honest and vulnerable, and at least 15 commitments to protect and nurture a healthy relationship whenever seas get a bit choppy or stormy, and yes, that means when you least feel like being kind or lovable. Truthfully speaking, however, love means little without action, more specifically, conscious acts of kindness. A quote by Robert Louis Stevenson eloquently reminds us, that:
“The essence of love is kindness.”
A stated commitment is genuine to the extent it’s backed by action. In a love relationship, ideally, this involves conscious choices to express love with a series of kind-to-self-and-other actions that energize each partner to more easily participate in creating a bright future together.
When each of you stop relying on defenses as crutches (it will take “two to tango”!) and instead learn to “feel good” about your level of commitment to improve or heal your relationship, the results will please and surprise you—perhaps even delight you. In the words of Denis Waitley:
“Commitment is that turning point in your life when you seize the moment and convert it into an opportunity to alter your destiny.”
Here are 15 commitments that articulate specific actions partners can take to express their devotion to keeping their relationship healthy and mutually fulfilling:
In moments when I feel stressed, upset or angry, I will do my best to:
- Recognize and appreciate the assets you bring to our relationship, especially ones that are different from my own – and ask that you do the same.
- Identify and understand what triggers and activates your and my “defensive strategies” as individuals – and ask you to do the same.
- Set an intention to remain present (relatively calm, confident, centered) when one or both of us feel triggered – and ask you to do the same.
- Handle my emotions as valuable information that helps me make better choices at any given moment – and ask you to do the same.
- Treat myself and you as fully capable and equipped to handle difficult emotions of anger and underlying emotions of vulnerability, such as hurt, anxiety or shame – and ask you to do the same.
- Learn to regulate my emotions (consciously self-soothe) when I get triggered as an essential part of healing myself – and ask you to do the same.
- Feel my fears, and learn how to transform these into assets of courage, strength, and confidence– and ask you to do the same.
- Recognize when one or both of us feel stressed or particularly vulnerable that I always have a choice to steer clear of triggering words or actions that predictably cause harm and waste your energy and mine – and ask you to do the same.
- Value and treat you with dignity at all times, especially when I am not at my best (i.e., triggered, thus do not feel loved/loving) – and ask you to do the same.
- Let go of punitive, “teach-you-a-lesson” ways of getting you to love me by making you feel bad – and ask you to do the same.
- Identify and let go of all shame-, guilt-, fear-inducing tactics of communication, such as fault-finding, labeling or withdrawing – and ask you to do the same.
- Identify and transform my early survival-love map patterns (of thinking, feeling, acting) and stretch out of limiting “comfort zones” – and ask you to do the same.
- Express my thoughts and feelings in ways that make it easier for you to listen to understand my heart, to remain present and empathically connected (rather than triggered) – and ask you to do the same.
- Learn from mistakes and see them as essential ways human beings are designed to learn and grow and stretch along the way – and ask you to do the same.
- Seek to learn and ever grow to become the best person I can be on our journey together as individuals and a couple – and ask you to do the same.