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How to Commit In An Intimate Relationship

July 04, 202316 min read

With romantic relationships, not all are created equal. Some work better than others, but what makes them work? Commitment is key.

In ancient times, King Ts'ao sought to teach his son, Prince T'ai, the art of good rulership. He sent the prince to study under Master Pan Ku at a temple. The master instructed Prince T'ai to spend a year in the Ming-Li Forest and return with a description of the sounds he heard.

After a year, the prince returned and listed various sounds he had heard in the forest. Satisfied, Master Pan Ku asked him to go back and listen for more. Confused, the prince obeyed and spent days and nights attentively listening. Just as he was about to give up, he began to hear faint, unheard sounds that grew clearer with focus. These were the sounds the master had wanted him to discover.

Upon his return, the prince shared these newfound sounds with Master Pan Ku. Impressed, the master explained that a good ruler must listen closely to the hearts of the people, understanding their unexpressed emotions, pains, and grievances. By doing so, leaders can inspire confidence, address underlying issues, and meet the genuine needs of their citizens. Neglecting the true voices of the people and focusing solely on superficial words leads to the downfall of states.

In this article, we will look at what a committed relationship looks like in the real world, so you have a reference point to model for your own relationship.

We will briefly define what commitment is, then we will go over the four main stages all new adult romantic relationships go through. There are different relationship commitments at each stage.

This overview will help you identify the stage you may go through or get stuck in.

Keep in mind there are many more aspects to commitment, but this will provide you with a great start.

What Is a Committed Relationship?

Committed relationships are those in which two people who put in a heart-felt effort and dedication to keep the relationship going—especially when the impulse to give up is weighing on them.

Committed relationships usually have common goals, values, and interests, and they’re often willing and steadfast to go through tough times together. At a fundamental level, they believe eventually things will work out even though they cannot see the answer yet. Indeed, a committed relationship is one of the most rewarding things you can experience in life! They defy the impulse to bail when things get tough.

Relationship commitment provides each person with a sense of security. This means the “fear-brain” can remain calm and trust its environment. From a place of trust and predictability, each person can feel safe enough to grow and foster their innate creative abilities and reap the most from life.

Commitment from each other allows each person’s nervous system a chance to relax and slow down. Many innate habits challenge couples and cause unnecessary relationship stress because they are chronically making assumptions and inferences about each other's behaviors, not realizing they are projecting their own past into the situation.

When we are incomplete from our past, we end up filtering our present and future experiences through the lens of incompletions. This colors the current situation unfairly. Most people have good intentions but have faulty memories, bad habits or are unskilled. When we can slow our nervous system down enough to catch our knee-jerk reactions toward our partners. We can then untangle the web of the past that follows us forward in time until we face or question the inferences and assumptions we are making. Never forget, when we were little, we rely completely on instincts that are fear based. We don’t yet use necessary and discerning critical thinking skills.

When people learn the skills of slowing down reactions and investigating inferences and assumptions, they can finally find a resolution to the problem, they have most likely been encountering since birth. Long-term relationships become easier to attract and manage as the past is no longer influencing the thoughts and decisions based on old and often inaccurate information.

What is also helpful to know is your attachment style. There are 4 main types: Avoidant, Anxious, Disorganized and Secure. Each one offers its own challenges and sometimes romantic couples can oscillate between any of them for short periods of time. You can read more about each attachment style in other blogs on this site.

Anxious Avoidant Secure and Disorganized Attachment Styles In Brief

Anxious Attachment Style: Primary caretaker was inconsistent with attunement, affection, and attentiveness to your needs.

Avoidant Attachment Style: Primary caretaker is consistently not available and even dismissive to your needs.

Disorganized Attachment Style: Primary caretakers, one, or both, were dangerous. The child’s brain struggles between “I need safety from this person” but “they also seem dangerous to me.”

Secure Attachment Style: It’s estimated that a child’s needs need to be met at least 60% of the time. Healthy attunement, presencing, and validation are the key indicators.

Now let’s focus our attention on what a committed romantic relationship looks like so you can compare and aspire to achieve it in your own romantic, committed relationship.

What Does a Committed Relationship Look Like?

There are many common traits to couples in a committed relationship. By modeling these for yourself, you will head in the right direction. Practice these patterns of relating and watch your relationship thrive.

Traits To Consider

They Portray You in a Positive Light

People in committed relationships are often fiercely loyal to their partners - they are unlikely to criticize them even if they know they have flaws, and will instead focus on the good qualities of their partner. This loyalty is especially apparent for portraying their partners in the best possible light; these people will minimize any negative aspects of their partner, while emphasizing all of their positive traits.

I will add that these couples also do not hide or ignore the negative traits either. Instead, they discuss and change behaviors that support the relationship.

“We” Speak

Commitment signs include speaking in the third person. Whether it be taking care of a loved one, completing a goal, or tackling new challenges head-on, these individuals see themselves as “we.” This perspective allows them to connect with others on a deeper level and share in collective experiences.

When you use “we” statements, there is a sense of commitment to togetherness. The bond is sacred to these couples. 

Honor Needs And Prioritization (and Vice versa)

People have different needs, so if partners are meeting each other's needs, they are likely very committed to the relationship. For example, some people might desire sex every day, while others may want a partner who is comfortable giving them some independence. If both partners are happy with this arrangement and are meeting each other’s needs, then the relationship is likely strong.

Committed Couples Are Satisfied

Feeling satisfied in your life leads to a sense of fulfillment and well-being. This creates motivation to form stronger relationships, as we want what is best for those around us.

In this context, think of commitment as a blanket, keeping you warm on a cold winter night.

Committed Intimate Relationships Make Sacrifices

Committed couples are attentive and considerate partners who always look out for the best interests of their relationship. They decide based on what will benefit the relationship as a whole, rather than what will benefit themselves individually. They honor their own needs and make request(s) as needed.

They are interested in maintaining the relationship and putting the needs of their partner first. This often leads to more considerate decisions that benefit both parties.

Now that you have a thumbnail sketch of what a committed relationship may look like, it's useful to understand the stages all new relationships go through to troubleshoot your own sense of commitment.

Stages of Romantic Relationship Commitment

Ed Ferrigan Coaching Relationship Stages

Stage 1: Forming (Romance and Infatuation)

When you first meet someone you’re attracted to, there is no better feeling. Maybe you ruminate daily about what is possible, or walk around smiling because life just seems to be a little less stressful. Mother nature has wired us to be together so this is no accident.

Oxytocin is the bonding chemical that helps create those inspiring moments where you feel on top of the world. It is part of our biology designed to bring us together and ideally keep us together. The feeling when oxytocin is streaming through your body is the equivalent to the most addictive drugs you can find on the streets.

The problem with this feeling though, is it can attribute to overriding what needs to be seen, discussed and decided on. How many times have you gotten into a relationship with high hopes only to be disappointed a few months in? You are not alone. The oxytocin trance, as I like to call it, blinds us to what amounts to be the shadow side of ourselves that is not always pleasant to look at.

Ways to navigate this stage include:

  • Tell the truth early on (Their reaction is informative)

  • Reflect on the outcomes you are getting

  • Does the dating sequence feel right to you? (e.g. too much too soon?)

  • Clean up any breaches ASAP so you do not collude with dysfunctional behaviors

  • Recognize both people are probably nervous (lots of grace)

  • Notice what you say to yourself about them when you are alone

Stage 2: Storming (Reality Check, Power Struggles)

After the first few months, reality seeps in as the oxytocin cocktail lessens, bouts of self-doubt creep in, and often a deluge of insecurity surfaces. This can also trigger commitment fears.

Insecurity will “bleed through” the romantic fixations first as disagreements, complaining, arguing, fighting, or even distancing behaviors.

Skills to navigate this stage:

An interesting point to consider is as you age, these “differences” can get harder to tolerate. We tire of the game and often think it may be easier just to be alone. So, depending on your age, you may retreat faster than when you were younger and desperately wanting things to work.

Jumping ship too quickly is a mistake, though. If you think of it as your brain has still not gotten the lesson it’s trying to resolve, you can have remarkable breakthroughs. Intimacy can be attainable, but you need to know some things about how early life Attachment Strategies work and how they play out later in life as they attempt to resolve themselves.

During this stage, you’ll want to suspend judgment or quick decisions, or you may miss out on the gold.

That said, here is a list of potential show-stoppers to consider:

  • Addictions: Drugs, alcohol, etc

  • Regular defaults to blame when differences emerge (not much desire to change)

  • Lack ability-skills to communicate their needs and shows no desire to learn them

  • Extreme narcissism (They have all the answers and yours don’t matter)

  • Gaslighting (Flipping any problem to make it seem like you are the problem)

In the storming stage, you are asserting your personal power. You are testing the other person to see if they will meet your needs in this relationship. Will they accept you as an equal is a question being answered at this stage.

This is the stage that is good to make a list of the ways your parents handled you when you were young — when you tried to assert yourself. Chances are good you will see parallels.

The way to navigate this stage is to keep both points of focus in mind:

  1. What are you wanting and is your request realistic?

  2. Are you leaving space for the other person’s wants and needs to be voiced and considered as well?

Stage 3: Norming (Reconciliations)

Once the Power Struggle stage is complete, you will either decide to continue or leave the relationship. 

I’ve been in relationships where my potential long-term partner had the best of intentions but could not seem to let go of distractions that consistently made the relationship hard to endure.

Many things may line up, but if I was being honest with myself, I didn’t want another “project” to fix. I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent countless years and money repairing early life wounds and learning new skills.

Where do you draw the line? 

It can be a drawn-out process. Depending on the person and their commitment to grow and learn, this can be a determining factor to stay or leave.

The challenge is to decide how much you will tolerate. Is the other person at the beginning of their learning curve? Is it worth the amount of work it can take to work through the layers with them?

You’ll have to decide if the payoff is worth it.

All things lining up, there is a time in the sequence of dating where you decide it’s worth the effort or not and decide to work any future issues out.

A good litmus test is having evidence that, when difficulties emerge that they can be sorted and worked out. Commitment is what we need to go through the gauntlet of learning this about each other.

As you move into this stage, this is the time to re-pattern your old habits into new habits that support the growth of each other. Long-term success is enhanced with this attitude.

This is the time to focus your energy towards establishing a co-creative relationship. A co-creative relationship is one where couples are each others best advocates.

They have each others back.

They hold each other lovingly accountable to live there “A Game” of life. They strive to live in integrity and take a stand for being the best person possible.

They have both agreed to not collude with dysfunctional behaviors, like:

  • Racing to the victim position when life doesn’t work out as planned.

  • Blaming others or talking behind their back when conflict emerges.

  • Finding excuse not to follow through on projects, especially with stepping fully into the person’s potential.

  • Not taking responsibility for tracking the balance of giving and taking in the relationship

During the reconciliation stage, there is a sense of being on the same page after the storm.

Skills needed to navigate this stage include:

  • Being clear what success looks like

  • Commitment

  • Truth Telling

  • Processing emotions to completion

  • No sandbagging (don't keep bringing up stuff that the other person thought had been resolved.)

Stage 4: Performing (Co-Creating)

In this stage, couples have reached a state of balance. There is a committed relationship in the performing stage. There are no longer many surprises that threaten the trust being formed.

Couples have talked most issues out. They have effectively negotiated conflict and differences. They show commitment to each other’s success and are effective at presencing and daily attunement to needs and cultivating each other’s passions.

In the performing stage, signs of co-creating their life are prevalent and embraced.

There is a sense of calm and possibility.

The couple sleeps better. (ha ha)

Love making and touch is consistent during the week and part of the weekly rituals of connecting and intimacy.

There is work-life balance and the relationship takes priority. After all, who in life will measure success by how many hours they worked? Right?

Partners understand each other’s habits and pleasures of life. There is support when needed, healthy listening and encouragement when self doubt emerges. They continually enjoy surprising each other with generous eye gazing and touch.

There is still accountability to be each other’s advocate and to support each other being the best person they can be. Problems don’t go underground, and are addressed immediately. There are no secrets. When inconsistent thoughts about the relationship emerge, they approach each other with genuine curiosity and desire to go deep if needed to uncover fear based patterns that can derail relationship success.

Relationship Commitment Summary

Keep your relationship commitment strong. Ed Ferrigan Coaching

Relationship commitment is essential for long-term relationships. To stay committed, you need self-awareness and skills to untangle the past so it stops affecting your present relationship. Stability to the core sense of security is key here. If you threaten relationship security, you will erode trust which eventually leads to separation.

The nervous system needs to settle. Fear eventually takes a back seat or the relationship may dissolve. Providing the relationship with a sense of security and stability quiets the fear brain. Taking in the love and connection also goes a long way in healing past relationship traumas that can taint the current relationship.

Commitment offers the opportunity to develop your skills and to re-wire your early life patterns that can often hi-jack the relationship if two people don’t realize what is going on. 

Once a couple learns about early life attachment styles and can see their own blind spots, they can take initiative to slow the experience down and practice corrective experiences. The goal is to bring in new information by asking more questions then pausing and reflecting.

To stay committed in a long term committed relationship, each person has to take responsibility to monitor their needs and make healthy request. Simultaneously, they need to consider that life provides no guarantees that you will always get your need met.

It’s up to each person to decide what are the “show stoppers” behaviors or not.

It’s inevitable for attachment fears to come up. It’s part of the coming together that wants to happen. We always attract the perfect person to drum up our wildest insecurities. If we can see that and learn from the interactions, two people can successfully repair any early life problems that are tainting your perceptions that cause you to attract a certain type of person. The quicker you get the lesson, the quicker your perceptions change.

Secure attachment is when you are no longer entertaining fear based thoughts and behaviors. When fear comes up, you quickly pivot to focusing on what you want to create in the relationship that brings you joy and is fulfilling. I’m not saying sweep issues under the rug either. That never works. What I am saying is at some point you need to discern between fear based behaviors and creation based behaviors. I highly recommend staying committed to feeding the creation based behaviors.

Fear responses include Fight, Flight, and Freeze responses. Examples include:

  • Shutting down when arguments ensue (Freeze response)

  • Leaving the room instead of reporting to the other person, you are afraid of what is happening and feel powerless (Flight response)

  • Turning to blame the other person as if they are in control of your perceptions and interpretations in life. (Fight response)

  • Maybe slipping into the victim position when, in reality, you feel helpless.

In these scenarios, simply naming what your experience is often changes the knee jerk reaction and brings consciousness to the situation. 

Your goal is to step more fully into self-awareness and interrupt reactions that are based on memories from long ago. Memories that host certain assumptions and patterns of thoughts that are fear based.

Thanks for your attention. If you know of anyone who would benefit from this blog please share.

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blog author image

Ed Ferrigan, M.A., CPCC, SEP

Working with Ed, you’ll get a clear focus on what you are wanting, gain permanent skills to identify and remove any limiting beliefs and heal any potential trauma from that past (most people have no idea this is an issue). He will make the process simple to understand so you can make more conscious choices in the future that create the results you are wanting. Ed lives in Durango, CO and is fond of most outdoor activities including photography, fly-fishing, hiking and camping. Ed is also an avid dancer and has an affinity to West Coast Swing.

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