A common challenge we see for couples is that they don't really know when, how, or why to commit to the relationship.
Some throw themselves in way too early and then find themselves in a position they don't really want to be in. Some never get around to making the commitment and then lose the relationship, regretting it later. Others drag it out for years, never defining the commitment at all, and then find themselves in a marriage or coupled, sometimes even with a family, but with no clear feeling of purpose.
So how do we know when to commit? What to commit for? Or whether or not the person is the one to commit to? In this post, we've laid out some definite guidelines that can support anyone who is struggling with these questions.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on a relationship in the beginning stages to immediately expect it to be serious or to demand to have all the answers about what each partner wants. People often want to know "where this is going" before they've had an honest chance to experience each other and what it's really like to be together.
We often say that the first few months of a new relationship (the first year, really), is all about discovery— learning about each other, what we like and don’t like about each other or about being in this kind of relationship with this person. We also confront what we find challenging about being in relationships and we learn to work through that, not only for our own selves, but also with another person.
Even if you’ve known this person for years, you don’t know them like this. This is a whole other level of relationship.
Intimate relationships are not only about getting to know someone on a deeper level, but also about getting to know ourselves in relationship with that person. It's about learning to be with them, how to be there for them and have them do the same for you, all while in a loving environment. This process doesn't happen overnight; it is meant to unfold over time.
The relationship ground opens up a whole world of possibilities. We start to see ourselves differently in relation to our partner and we begin to see them differently as well. Things we never thought we’d care about or gave too much thought to suddenly become important and take the foreground.
To be successful in keeping the relationship alive and growing, we must quickly learn how to really listen to each other and how to respond to new questions, situations, and circumstances that arise.
At times it can feel thrilling, exciting--the rush of new love, experiencing deeper, more intimate sides of ourselves and our partner. All of a sudden, our world seems brand new. We remember everything they say and laugh at all their jokes. We spend hours on the phone or hanging out together, we text each other all day, and it feels like we can’t get close enough.
At other times, it can feel frustrating, scary, uncertain. One day we're flying high on all the good feelings of being with the person and being In Love; the next day, we're in worry and doubt, left wondering how to get back to those good feelings. We might even feel that we are losing the relationship or start to think that it isn't what we thought we wanted.
The kind of commitment necessary at this stage in the relationship is not the same commitment that is needed after many years together, and people often don't recognize the difference. This phase of the relationship is about exploring, learning, and determining if this is something that we even want to commit to.
We should ask ourselves and each other:
What kind of relationship are we in? What kind of relationship do we want to be in? Do we want the same kind of relationship? Do our visions of Love go together and can we see ourselves having a Life together? Is this a commitment we both can and want to make?
We discover with each other, unfolding the possibilities of where the relationship might go if we choose to continue to grow together. This is a critical time for any relationship. If these questions are not sufficiently answered during this time, it's sure to lead to challenges down the road.
Good feelings are not enough to sustain Love for a lifetime, though many people operate as though the passion and desire to be with the other person is enough to hold the relationship together. Later they are mystified at how such a good thing didn't work out when in reality, these important questions were not discussed fully, openly, or honestly. It wasn't that the person was "wrong" or that the relationship "just wasn't meant to be", simply that the necessary work was not done up-front.
When these questions come up in conversation, discuss them. We believe that having open, honest, exploratory discussions about these topics are important to get clear about your individual needs and expectations, as well as to hear your partner’s point of view.
This is essential to creating connected, lasting relationships.
At the times when you don’t see eye to eye about where you’re going together, bring it up. Don't hide from it. Respect between couples is built when both people are willing to hear each other and give each other the space to really express what’s going on for them in the moment. Working through those thoughts and feelings and what’s coming up along the way builds clarity, understanding, trust, and ultimately unveils deeper levels of intimacy and Love.
If you're being honest with yourself and each other, you'll want to know.
After a significant period of time (we say a year or more), both people have had enough experience of each other in the relationship to determine if this is something they want to commit to long-term. This is a great time to discuss, "Where are we going?" "What are we doing here?"
At this point, both partners can make an honest and educated decision about what they truly want and if this relationship is "the one". By this time there have certainly been challenges and disagreements that they've worked through together. They've experienced their partner, and themselves, at their best and at their worst. It's clear whether the way they work through the challenges and how they grow together as a result of those challenges is what it takes to keep the relationship alive and growing for years to come.
This is the distinction we make about consciously creating a relationship rather than just "seeing where it goes".
Most people are trying to make their relationships happy all of the time and they never process what's truly going on under the surface with each other. They try to end fights as quickly as possible and brush things under the rug so that things can be "good" again. If this pattern keeps up, over time it leads to emotional distance and feelings of dissatisfaction, resignation, and/or apathy. This is how some couples find themselves feeling unfulfilled in their marriage 10 years down the road.
By all means, enjoy the passion, the romance, and the Love early on. It is truly a magical time to bask in the wonder and the excitement of this beautiful time. But don't get so caught up in the rush, that you miss laying the foundation that your life together will be built on.
Almost any two people can have a relationship work with each other, but they must each authentically choose to engage in the relationship. No one can make an authentic choice unless they are fully aware what they are choosing.
Take the time to really get to know each other and give each other the freedom to choose. This is what builds trust and Love. Not everyone will want to commit for the long-term, but the one that does will be conscious about what they're committing to and they will want to keep that commitment alive and thriving.
Fatima da Costa is a dedicated business owner, coach, and writer inspired by a commitment to live an integrated Life of health, freedom, joy, and Love.
She is ecstatic to soon be marrying the Love of her Life, Shane Kohler, Creator and Founder of The Living Relationship.
While currently living in Northern, NJ, Fatima travels extensively with her fiance Shane to spread the work of The Living Relationship.
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