The world is obsessed by the ideals of romantic love. Couples everywhere struggle in their quest for passion, love and intimacy. The agonising truth is the course of love and the reality of an enduring relationship is complex. Without commitment, enduring the rollercoaster ride of transformation to intimacy, passion and love is impossible.
Relationship breakdowns are endemic. The reason? Beyond the economy that influences our culture of disposal and FOMO (fear of missing out), it is easier to leave (or emotionally check out but stay physically) than be honest with ourselves. Living with another person, in a process of partnership and collaboration is much harder.
Relationships reveal the difficult truths about who we really are. It is far easier to avoid intimacy when there is no one else to show you what you don’t want to see about yourself. Relationships expose layers of dishonesty within each of us (the parts we may not want to reveal to ourselves or others).
So why is commitment so important to transforming a relationship? Vulnerability is the birthplace of intimacy and love. If we don’t have certainty that our partner will stand by our side, then it is hard to open up the vulnerable parts of ourselves within a relationship that leads to intimacy and passion.
Without music (our deeper primary emotions) there is no dance of connection in a relationship. For many of my counselling clients a symphony of emotion (fear, sadness, loneliness) and longing plays inside. Yet their partners are only privy to the occasional note. When we censor ourselves and don’t express our needs and true feelings it is impossible for a relationship to thrive. It is impossible for a couple to dance differently in the presence of incongruence.
Commitment is fundamental to a sense of security and freedom to explore the vulnerable parts of ourselves within our relationship. To give more of ourselves we need to be certain we won’t fall into a void or abyss; the absence of presence or responsiveness of our partner, or expect judgement or rejection. When this occurs our attachment system is activated and we experience distress.
The science of love and adult attachment helps us understand the importance of our attachment system to couple relationships. It is designed to help us sense when our relationship is threatened. It is the mechanism our brain uses to appraise, track and monitor our sense of safety and the availability of our attachment figures (our partners). Once activated our attachment system will not settle until we have a clear indication that our partner is truly there for us and the relationship is safe.
Commitment is fundamental. We need to know our partner is:
- Accessible – will you be there for me, when I need
- Responsive - will you respond, when I call?
- Emotionally present - attuned and aware
When we get mixed messages from our partner our attachment system is activated and we become preoccupied with the relationship. In order for passion, intimacy and love to grow and thrive we need a secure base to ensure our attachment system is calm. True love involves peace of mind that emerges from certainty of reassurance, comfort and support.
Unless our early development included attachment security, then insecurity persists. The challenge for couples then is to understand how this influences how they respond in their adult relationships, how they cope with stress, distress and disconnection and what it is they need to rebuild connection. Essentially they have the opportunity to change the narrative of their life, to grow in their dance together.
So what if we decided we didn’t need to go anywhere? What if we chose to explore and accept more of the denied parts of ourselves and our life experience, the difficult truths of who we really are? What if we chose to live in partnership and collaboration, developing and integrating a greater understanding of ourselves and each other? What if we chose to commit and love the one we are with?
Amir Levine and Rachel Heller (2010). Attached.
Anna and Andrew Wallas (2013). Call off the search.
Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review,