Choiceful Commitment

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

We are now crossing the threshold into the 12 aspects of healthy, generative relationships. As we move through these different elements, we will offer a viewpoint into the meaning of each element and describe practices you can be in related to each one. We are looking forward to offering not only our thinking about these, but also practical experiences and practices with each aspect. We begin with Commitment. And we look forward to receiving your comments and questions related to each topic. OK, here we go!

#1 Choiceful Commitment

“We have to recognize that there cannot be relationships unless there is commitment, unless there is loyalty, unless there is love, patience, persistence.” ―Cornel West

It can be easy to say one is committed, and it is quite another thing to embody commitment. Knowing how to live commitment is one of the most important foundations for a long lasting, viable relationship. Embodiment of a commitment to relationship means taking the actions necessary to fulfill the relationship commitment. Every partnership has to decide what this means to them, decide the particulars of the commitment, and how they will be acted upon. Some examples could include:

  • Presence and connection – truly showing up in the relationship
  • Listen to your partner, taking their concerns into consideration
  • Have necessary conversations in a timely way
  • Taking actions that produces trust
  • Willingness to compromise – collaborative compromise

Choiceful commitment is important, and almost everyone has at some point felt either coerced or compelled to commit to something that just didn’t feel right. Commitment in relationships works best when choice is happening. It can occur at times that a commitment happens and the other person senses reluctance from the one committing, like when you see one of those side glances with a sighing, “OK….”. It is healthy to note and bring this up with a question such as, “Are you sure?”. If there is care for your partner, why would this not be attended to? It should not be all about one partner getting what they want; it benefits the relationship when there is care and collaboration.

Through decades of working with individuals and couples and from our own experience, it has been revealed to us that the skill of long-term commitment can be difficult for many people. Regardless of the content of a commitment, holding commitment over time is often not what seems to be happening. This shows up in the highest levels of politics, from our own parents, and to that friend we all have who is chronically late. It doesn’t seem like sincerity is missing, more like a skill is missing. Those who have the skill of commitment stand out as different and powerful, powerful in the sense of being very effective in their lives. No one is perfect at this. We are human and we will make mistakes. Our humanness suggests it is the effective handling and management of commitments, not perfection in execution, that holds the real power.

Managing commitment means we honor the relationship with the person we are in commitment with whether it is internal, our commitments to ourselves; or external, commitment to others. Think commitment = promise. There is something very basic about this: Don’t promise anything you can’t do or really don’t want to do, and if you make a promise, fulfill on the promise in a timely way. Holding our promises also means that if something interferes with our ability to fulfill, it is best if we speak up and admit it. This is best done before the promise is due. Seems simple enough, but often our “stuff” takes over. Things like the inability to admit mistakes, “what will they think of me”, I’ll be a bad person, they won’t love me, they’ll leave me, etc., are the kinds of internal constructs that can interfere with this skill. Then we have to go back and apologize, do damage control, or hopefully it will just be forgotten. Fulfilling and effectively managing commitments builds trust. Commitment breakdowns erode trust. Building and maintaining trust is foundational for long-lasting relationships.


Choose a commitment that is missing in your life that will build trust and enhance your relationship. This could be finishing a home project, behaving differently, offering support to each other, or some fundamental commitment to the relationship. Form the commitment into a short, positive statement that will be easy to remember. Write it down!

For example: For the conclusion of a conversation about having dinner together as much as possible, partners write down their commitment, such as, “I will be home for dinner to eat with my family.”

What will success look like? What is the timeline? Look into the future and describe what, when the commitment is fulfilled, will be different. What does satisfaction look like?

Using the commitment above, it might look like this: Success is being home minimum of 5 nights a week with dinner at 6:00 PM, sitting down and having the meal.

Then write what steps you will take to fulfill on the commitment. These may include learning how to fulfill. Is there a missing skill set? Is there a book to read, a workshop to attend, conversations to be had? List in detail the steps to take for each action and attach a time by when each specific action will happen. This level of detail allows for efficient tracking of yourself and your actions. Your ability to take each action by the appointed time reveals your ability to make, hold, and manage commitment and may reveal a place to focus personal work.

Partner with your partner. Your partner can support your commitment and assist you staying on track. Offer ongoing updates and be willing to admit when you make mistakes. This also works well when each partner makes and is working a commitment and you are supporting each other. You may pick a specific time to get together and have this conversation. Be a listener, not a fixer.

And remember, you are human and you will make mistakes. It won’t be perfect, so it’s not about that. Part of the skill of commitment is to be able and willing to re-commitment after the mistakes. If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Thank you for reading! We look forward to hearing from you.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome