Creating and Maintaining Relationships that Work

Cre­at­ing and Main­tain­ing Rela­tion­ships that Work — rela­tion­ships that work don’t just hap­pen. You have to com­mit to mak­ing them work.

Want to learn more about liv­ing a full and mean­ing­ful life?

Want to have the best rela­tion­ship ever?

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It’s amaz­ing how often, when we’re talk­ing with oth­er cou­ples, the con­ver­sa­tion turns to rela­tion­ships and relat­ing. As you like­ly know, I’ve writ­ten a cou­ple of books about this top­ic. (see: The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.)

Just the oth­er day I was talk­ing about commitment.

I said,

In suc­cess­ful rela­tion­ships, peo­ple do not com­mit to each oth­er.
They com­mit to a way of being and relat­ing.”
“We com­mit to a verb, not a noun.”

Thus, we com­mit to Cre­at­ing and Main­tain­ing Rela­tion­ships that Work 

I did a Thesaurus.com search on “com­mit.” Here’s one section:

Syn­onyms: accept, adopt, appoint, call for, cast, co-opt, com­mit one­self, crave, cull, decide on, des­ig­nate, desire, deter­mine, dis­crim­i­nate between, draw lots, elect, embrace, espouse, excerpt, extract, fan­cy, favor, fin­ger, fix on, glean, judge, love, make choice, make deci­sion, name, opt for, pre­des­tine, pre­fer, see fit, sep­a­rate, set aside, set­tle upon, sift out, sin­gle out, slot, sort, tab, tag, take, take up, tap, want, weigh, will, win­now, wish, wish for 

Antonyms: decline, for­go, refuse, reject, spurn 

Source: Roget’s New Mil­len­ni­um™ The­saurus, First Edi­tion (v 1.1.1) Copy­right © 2005 by Lex­i­co Pub­lish­ing Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

To com­mit, then, is to opt-in; to select some­thing. Now, you may be say­ing, “Yeah. And I chose him or her as my life-part­ner. What’s wrong with that?” And I would reply, “Noth­ing, oth­er than that it won’t work.”

This is a nor­mal mis­per­cep­tion. It’s one of many inside / out­side con­fu­sions. The only thing I can know is myself, and even that task is nev­er per­fect­ly accomplished.

I can commit, then, only to what I am in direct control of. In other words, I can only commit to what I will do.

Mis­un­der­stand­ing what I can con­trol and what I can­not is what gets us into trou­ble. When­ev­er I com­mit to an exter­nal any­thing, I make a fun­da­men­tal mis­take. The mis­take is this: I am actu­al­ly com­mit­ting to my present view of the thing I am com­mit­ting to, which means I am in deep trou­ble when that exter­nal thing changes.

And change it will. I can safely say that the biggest cause of relationship discord is the disenchantment that comes when the object of our affection “changes.”

Let’s cre­ate Dick and Jane, and work from Dick’s side of things.

Dick meets Jane, they strike up a con­ver­sa­tion, and they decide they like each oth­er. They decide to date.

Now, as soon as they met, each began to cre­ate a data file. For Dick, there is a “Jane file,” and it’s filled with bits of infor­ma­tion select­ed by Dick. Ini­tial­ly, he filled it with “enchant­i­ng” bits: for exam­ple, hor­mon­al­ly dri­ven data about her appear­ance, smell, what she wears, how she sounds. Let’s call this data, “All the things about Jane that I turn myself on about.”

As time goes by, bio­graph­i­cal data is added, as are “likes and dis­likes.” Sex­u­al pref­er­ences are added as they occur. Safe top­ics, unsafe top­ics are added to “do and don’t” lists.

This adding process goes on, not only when Dick and Jane are togeth­er, but per­haps more impor­tant­ly, when Jane is absent. It is dur­ing the absences, espe­cial­ly, that Dick attach­es mean­ing to the bits of data in his “Jane” file. 

It’s, “Hmm. In the mid­dle of the meal, right after I talked about base­ball, Jane got a pained look on her face. She must hate base­ball.” Dick inserts “Do not talk about base­ball” in the “don’t” file.

Hopefully, you see the problem emerging. THE interpretation Dick made has absolutely nothing to do with Jane.

All Dick knows for sure is that an expres­sion came over Jane’s face dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about base­ball. All the rest is Dick, mak­ing guess­es, with­out check­ing with Jane.

The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.

Note: If your present rela­tion­ship needs work, well… check out The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever. It’s my rela­tion­ships book… you’ll find all the help you need!

And here’s the weird part.

All of the data col­lect­ed about Jane is also com­plete­ly about Dick. (In oth­er words, Dick doesn’t know dick about Jane…)

This is where I lose most people, so stick with me. Let’s set things up for the inevitable disaster, and then return to Creating and Maintaining Relationships that Work.

Ini­tial­ly, Dick is sim­ply turned on by Jane. He likes the length of her skirts, the choice of her clothes and the way she smells. Into Dick’s file goes, “Jane is one sexy woman. Every­thing about her turns me on.”

Dur­ing sex, Jane goes, “Mmmm.” And Dick thinks, “Boy, Jane real­ly likes it when I do that. She thinks I’m a great lover.”

This is Dick, invent­ing things. Dick has cre­at­ed an expec­ta­tion and a sto­ry about who Jane is, based upon his obser­va­tions and his interpretations.

He totes it all up, and decides that Jane is the woman for him. He decides he’s ready for a commitment. 

Dick is about to com­mit him­self to a rela­tion­ship to the imag­i­nary woman he has cre­at­ed in his head.

We jump ahead to after the engage­ment, or after the mov­ing-in-togeth­er, or after the mar­riage (the thing Dick com­mit­ted to, with Jane) and one day he rolls over in bed. Jane is star­ing at him. She’s dressed in a rat­ty tee shirt, has morn­ing breath, and says,

Dick, we have to talk. I’ve been think­ing about it, and our sex life sucks. You’re the worst lover I’ve ever had. And not only that, you refuse to do what I tell you to do.”

If Dick is nor­mal, he either slinks out of bed or fights back. The fight­ing back will be,

You’ve changed. You’re not the woman I mar­ried (or what­ev­er.) All the times in the past, you liked it. I heard you go “Mmmm.” You lied to me about who you real­ly are!” 

Jane defends and explains. He thinks “betrayed!”, and she thinks, “deceived!”

And on and on. If they go to ther­a­py, they’ll each tell the ther­a­pist how betrayed they are. “He/she is not the per­son I thought he/she was.”

Damn straight.

Jane is who Jane is, and who Jane is, is who Jane is today. Added to all the yes­ter­days. And tomor­row, she’s every­thing she was and who she is tomorrow.

And thus it is with every­thing exter­nal that I choose to com­mit to. A reli­gion. A polit­i­cal par­ty or type. A job or career. Every­thing changes. Includ­ing you. Minute by minute. (You are chang­ing, whether you know it or not, as you read this.) 

When we get caught into think­ing we com­mit to a per­son, we set our­selves up for fail­ure, as such a com­mit­ment is to that per­son at a par­tic­u­lar point in time. Absolute­ly no one liv­ing is a sta­t­ic enti­ty, and no one you know is as you per­ceive them. The pic­ture in your head, as you describe some­one, is data about how you inter­pret that per­son.

It is not a description of the other person. Ever.

Here’s an exam­ple that all sib­lings know. You’re sit­ting with your broth­er or sis­ter, talk­ing about a past event, and you can’t agree on any of the details. If you get the joke, you laugh. If you are dumb, you argue about who is right. And all that is hap­pen­ing is that both of you were there, observ­ing the same event, from two dis­tinct per­spec­tives. Each of you took in what was impor­tant to you, and each of you inter­pret­ed it. Thus, your descrip­tion is about younot about the event.

When couples are shown a video tape of the event just disagreed about, both look at the tape and go, “See! I was right!” Even with the tape, they still see what they are predisposed to see.

So, if you can’t com­mit to an exter­nal with­out even­tu­al­ly dis­ap­point­ing your­self that the exter­nal shift­ed, what can you com­mit to?

You commit to Creating and Maintaining Relationships that Work 

Here’s the short form:

  • I can only com­mit to an action — to some­thing I will do.
  • I com­mit to being in rela­tion­ship with you. Here is what I com­mit to:
  • I will be open, hon­est and vul­ner­a­ble in my dai­ly com­mu­ni­ca­tion with you.
  • I will tell you, today, who I am and what I am thinking. 
  • I will tell you, today, every­thing I have done, and what it meant to me.
  • I will lis­ten to you with curios­i­ty and inter­est, today. 
  • I will accept that you are who you are today, and will inte­grate who you are today with my pic­ture of you from “yes­ter­day.”
  • I will make myself ful­ly avail­able and present to and with you, today, and engage in clear and con­cise com­mu­ni­ca­tion with you for not less than 30 min­utes, today.
  • I will own all of my thoughts, feel­ings, emo­tions and inter­pre­ta­tions, work­ing to take full respon­si­bil­i­ty for each and every one of them. If I slip and go into blam­ing, I will stop myself, apol­o­gise, and return to self-responsibility.
  • I will active­ly encour­age you to lis­ten to me and to active­ly hold me to the per­for­mance of what I have com­mit­ted to.
  • I will com­mit to all of these things, with­out any expec­ta­tion of any­thing from you, as all I can ever com­mit to is to what I can and will do.
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