Commitment: What’s in it for me? |

Commitment: What’s in it for me?

Danielle B. Klotzkin
Special to the Sun
Bride and groom posing in meadow | liquidlibrary

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; and#8216;Til death do us part. Yikes. That is a big commitment.

But the whole thing seems murky and#8212; people get divorced, split up and break their vows. And, most people in our society believe that ending committed relationships can sometimes be a healthy and wise decision. So then what does it mean to say and#8220;I do?and#8221; Is it for life or isn’t it?

And into that murkiness comes more murkiness. There are committed couples not choosing, or not legally allowed, to get married. Some make vows to each other, privately or in a public ceremony and some do not. There are couples that seem completely and#8220;togetherand#8221; and even have children together, but are not and#8220;committed.and#8221; And, there are a lot of married couples who are not committed in any way except they are still legally bound and mostly cohabiting.

So where are you in all of this? And why aren’t we all talking about it more?

Whether you are already in a committed relationship and want to reaffirm your vows, or are considering taking that next step, or are single and debating if you might someday want marriage or commitment, step up and take responsibility for making this a conscious choice by exploring some commitment questionsand#8230;

First of all, is it forever or not? A commitment is made by making the best decision we can reach at a certain moment in time and then letting go of the option to opt-out in the future. But to what extent are you letting go of that option to exit? Is it a truly unconditional commitment? With no exceptions?

Or, do you favor a and#8220;basically unconditional: Commitment, in which there always exists some element of and#8216;possibility of exit,’ but that possibility has the probability and unpredictability of a meteor hitting you? In that case, do you want to wait until you have such trust and confidence in your loyalty to your partner and in the character of your partner and in his or her feelings for you, that it feels absurd and unnecessary to make conditions on your commitment? Do you want to wait to commit until the relationship is safe and fair, so that you feel confident that your expectations of one another can be discussed and negotiated over time, within the bounds of a basically no-exit relationship?

Or do you want a and#8220;conditionaland#8221; commitment? In order for the commitment to remain valid, must your partner fulfill certain obligations? Is there a line that could be crossed that would nullify the commitment? Is there an expectation that your partner will change, or not change, in certain ways? What happens if your feelings for each other change radically? How far would you go to and#8220;try to work things out?and#8221;

And, to what exactly do you want to commit? Is it that you won’t be with someone else physically? That you won’t leave your partner? That you will and#8220;provideand#8221; for your partner financially, emotionally or physically? Or, is it, as the traditional vow goes, that you promise to and#8220;love, honor and cherish?and#8221;

And why are you crossing the line and moving from and#8220;being togetherand#8221; into commitment? Is it because of an ethical or moral or religious value? Is it because of a financial reason? Is it for the purpose of having children? Is it a romantic leap of faith? Is it because of fear of losing the relationship if you do not commit? Is it because of a sense of familial or social group expectations? Is it for an escape from your current life situation?

Is it for a developmental purpose, to challenge yourself to let go of one type of and#8220;freedomand#8221; because you believe there is something important to be gained from sticking with something through the painful and challenging times? Is it because the commitment supports your psycho-spiritual goal to accept and make good on what is, instead of continually seeking something and#8220;better?and#8221;

Is it in order to stake a public claim to be a and#8220;we?and#8221;

People define commitment in different ways, and choose commitment for different reasons. But whether it is based in a fearless dive into love, a fear-driven attempt to prevent the loss of the relationship or a code of duty to our partner or our children, in all but a few truly survival-dependent marriages, it is our choice to commit. And, depending on how conditional we have made our commitment, we have either made a choice to give up our choice to exit (no matter what, or barring something so extreme that we’re not even imagining it as a possibility), or we have made a choice to have a choice to exit if certain conditions are not met.

Yes, it all sounds so unromantic and technical. It is also unrealistic to completely codify all the and#8220;rulesand#8221; and reasons in a committed relationship and#8212; they are always going to be a bit murky and are going to change and evolve over time.

But if we fail to own our responsibility for doing our best to make conscious commitment choices, and communicating our ideas with our partners, we give up what little control we do have in our relationships. And then we are prone to blaming our partners for making us feel trapped and controlled and dissatisfied.

When we recognize that commitments are our choices, on the other hand, we own our power. We create space for our unique selves in the sea of commitment and#8212; space we need in order to actually give and receive love. Where the waters take us is another story.

and#8212; Danielle B. Klotzkin, licensed marriage and family therapist, provides psychotherapy for clients who are looking for a way to move forward through relationship issues, problems with alcohol, drugs, or managing money, eating and body issues, trauma, grief and loss, depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety. Contact her at (530) 470-2233 or

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