Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Happy to be Stuck With You” ?

A Commitment Check

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

. . Pleasure requires high and loving spirits and energy, but living in the world-being battered by it-having your heart pierced, sharpens everything. I had grown up without knowing it, and now I knew. I knew that you might believe in rapture, but you had to earn the right to feel it. You had to pay for it with grief and loss, and it was worth it. I knew what it was like to be ultimately close to your best friend on earth, to some one you had waited to know, had watched and calculated, some one well loved and intelligible to you. . . . It was relief, and it was terrifying. -Laurie Colwin, Shine On Bright & Dangerous Object


Never Again!

My ignorance and immaturity were major downfalls in my relationship history. I concluded that I wasn’t capable of being in relationship. I had quietly avowed that I would never marry again. In August of 1982, I met beautiful, elegant Pat at a conference center at the Lake of the Ozarks. Arriving late, I was ushered to one of the small groups that had already been in session for an hour. My immediate attraction to Pat’s beauty and elegance was intensified when she had something to say when she spoke. My vow to singleness was immediately dismissed. Although we both were well into adulthood, the extent of the commitment we made later that year was yet to be revealed.

It Just Happened!

I had fallen in love in an instant; it just happened! My commitment to Pat began because I wanted her to be a part of my life. As we have journeyed together these past 27 years, there have been times that our “want to” has been “have to” or “ought to”. Commitment doesn’t just happen but is built through interactions with our partner. According to Robert Sternberg, “Loving relationships almost inevitably have their ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ and there may be times in such relationships when commitment is all or almost all that keeps the relationship going.

Ebb and Flow of Commitment

A study of married couples who have been together for over 15 years indicates that each relationship “ebbed and flowed” between “want to”, “have to” and “ought to” types of commitment. These changes, although not always comfortable, are very functional and can create resilience and strengthened commitment. Neither Pat nor I could have understood the full strength of our commitment until events and circumstances created tests of our resolve to one another. Given the challenges that life presents, the “want to” commitment often becomes “ought or have to”. Couples are challenged by a cultural belief of that a relationship has failed when the “want to” commitment fades. Huey Lewis’ song “Happy to be Stuck with You” is a great description of the ups and downs of commitment.

Growing Commitment

Interestingly, the process of committing oneself to a relationship increases the positive future of a growing commitment. The widely held belief that you must be madly in love for the relationship to work often prevents couples from remaining engaged through the challenges presented by life. Remaining committed even in the “ought or have to” state can yield tremendous rewards. I do want to caution that remaining in a relationship that is physically or emotionally abusive is an entirely different matter.

Action Steps to Strengthen and Affirm your Relationship

· Share personally written notes, letter and cards with your partner

· Sharing commitment related stories to friends and family

(I enjoy telling of my meeting Pat – my kids have heard many times)

· Spend time looking at and talking about photos of the great times in the relationship.

Tell us your story of the “Ups and Downs”

Enjoy the music video “Happy to be Stuck With You”

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Reader Comments

"...My spouse and I have been married for 32 years and I've experienced our relationship from giggly in bed, to passionate in bed, to mad in bed to "sleeping" in bed...As we grow older the intimacy definition changes for me. Intimacy also for me is just sitting quietly, or driving for miles quietly or walking just hearing our footsteps crunch the leaves, holding hands. My usual struggle in intimacy is in my head - I have to intentionally stop my daily to do list, my past and future stuff and live in the present moment..." Pam

it's ... smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion

“We have found that passion ebbs and flows but we set a goal for our relationship a number of years ago that is working for us. At least every six months we do something that will create a lifetime memory. For us, we love to travel, so it's been pretty easy to find something big to do that will create that lifetime memory, but sometimes it's the finding of smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion.” Steve Rae

What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?

“The "typical beliefs that people have when the “fire” seems to have gone out of a relationship" I believe are a) that you feel your partner should have changed or should not have changed and b) that you feel you should change or that you should not have changed.

Acceptance of yourself and your partner leads to forgiveness. What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?” Brian Massey

A word from Russ Hardesty

The realm of relationship is mysterious; filled with magic, surprise, excitement, passion, intimacy, loss, disappointment and creativity. I am fortunate to have a life partner who is at once a mirror, teacher, lover, nurturer, student and companion. In this place of mystery, I continue to grow into a mature, loving and free man. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and comments – which is a gift to me! Thanks for joining the expedition! Russ