"What do you mean does our relationship have a future? We've got a date next week haven't we?"
Commitment can be a spiky word in relationships. Some people seek it as a goal in it's own right. Others back away from it as if it bites. If you and your partner have different ideas about commitment you might find yourselves standing on shaky ground.
You might feel swamped or constrained by commitment. On the other hand, you might feel exposed and vulnerable without it. Your reaction probably depends on what you mean by commitment, and just as importantly, what you imagine your partner means.
For you commitment might be the foundation that makes it possible to plan for the future together. It might enable choices about who you live with, where you live, how you live.
Or perhaps commitment makes an obligation of your choice, narrows your horizons, or replaces spontaneity with routine.
It might be complicated to fit different views of commitment into the same relationship and it probably gets pretty uncomfortable if you're determined to convert each other.
So how do you find a balance that offers security without suffocation and independence without isolation? Instead of trying to get your partner to see it your way you might find it useful to shift your focus.
Together you might explore the shape of both the commitment and the freedom you offer each other. When can your partner count on you? When do you need room to move? What sort of a future do you anticipate for the relationship? What loyalty do you offer each other? What loyalty do you need to sustain the relationship?
The specifics will give you a clearer picture of what's possible. Your views don't have to be the same to be compatible. Sometimes compatibility is all you want. Sometimes it's a good beginning for something that becomes more committed in the future.
You can ask for commitment. You can invite it. But it's not something you can force someone to feel. You can't persuade someone into it by the strength of your logical argument. You can't create it in them out of shame or guilt or duty.
Commitment is a willingness in you. It fuels your ability to let go the attitudes, the grudges, the lovers or choices that might otherwise trip up your relationship. It enables you to hold what you have chosen.
The level of your commitment isn't a competition. It isn't a gauge of your quality as a person. You can find it a burden and a gift at the same time. You'll feel it more in some relationships and less in others.
Your relationship is alive. It's not static. It's in constant motion. It shifts and sways to balance your commitment to yourself with the commitment you offer the relationship. It dips and swings while your partner does the same balancing act.
Honouring your own promise and honouring the promises you make. This is at the heart of the commitment riddle. Commitment that has no room for your self amounts to shackles. Freedom can be very lonely. Commitment and freedom in partnership is one path to generous shares of intimacy and independence.
If you would like help to balance freedom and commitment in your relationship, contact Relationships Aotearoa on 0800 RELATE (0800 735 283) or your local office which is listed in the telephone directory.