Commitment is an Ongoing Choice

He’s snuggling up to you as though nothing’s wrong, but you don’t even want to be there. How did you end up married to this guy anyway? Right now it seems like any one of three suitors would have been a better option … and you’re still counting.

The grass on the other side of the fence beckons. You could use a little wooing and tenderness, from somebody who’s not taking you for granted even after blatantly insulting you.

Before you seriously consider jumping the fence, though, talk about it or at least let him know how you feel. The grass on the other side of the fence is deceptively green when life at home seems worse than it really is. And chances are you have a lot to lose by walking away—or running, to muster the momentum to clear the fence.

The last thing you want to do right now is fertilize your own patch of grass, but that’s precisely what you need to do in order to be satisfied. When everything is okay, and it may have seemed that way just yesterday, you naturally invest in your relationship; and that investment is part of what gets you through the inevitable I-can-do-better moments.

We may buy the idea that we can choose one man once and for all, but it’s actually an ongoing choice, and it remains big. Choose with the same deliberation you used, or wish you had used, in the beginning. Don’t choose in anger or an overly-sensitive moment or with the bruised ego you got when you personalized his bad day (without even thinking to ask what troubled him).

You probably don’t threaten divorce every time you get angry; but if you stop nurturing your relationship when you get emotionally upset, you’re on a slippery slope.

Here’s how it works. There are three variables to commitment that act to strengthen and weaken each other: satisfaction, quality of alternatives, and investment (see sidebar).

When the mortgage is paid off, you’re exercising together, discussing challenges and wrinkles instead of worrying about them, and making love three nights a week, you are one satisfied girl. That’s when you barely notice the grass on the other side of the fence—regardless of how green it is. That’s when you continue to invest in a future spent together. You’re living the happily ever after, and you’re not about to mess it up for an ego boost or a romp in fresh grass.

Ah, but what if you’re not even close to living the happily ever after? The grass on the other side of the fence likely invites you to more than it would deliver. And you’re likely spending more time on other relationships (family, friends, business associates, and “chance encounters”) than your partnership. Maybe you haven’t slept with somebody else, but you committed to more than sexual fidelity.

We don’t want to beat you up, though; we want to put you on the path to happy.

The first step is to face the truth. If you’re not satisfied, look at what’s missing in your partnership. Security, companionship, intimacy, sex? If you make a conscious choice to be the change you want to see, as Gandhi would say, rather than withdrawing (or ceasing to invest), you stop the cycle.

If you simply act from the default mode, you invest less and become more dissatisfied while eyeing greener pastures, perpetuating a downward spiral. But no pasture remains green without an investment of time and caring.

If you’re not satisfied where you are, maybe it’s because you’ve stopped lovingly tending your grass. Before you object, when’s the last time you told him how much you loved him instead of giving him that practical rundown on the events of the day? How about the last time you listened intently to every word he had to say, instead of assuming you could fill in the blanks? Truly knowing each other is also an ongoing choice; and it’s the foundation necessary to maintain a meaningful partnership.

If you’re thinking that you don’t have time to be present with yourself let alone him, take time. You can’t love him any better than you love yourself. And, yes, a lack of self-love is always the ultimate source of our dissatisfaction!

Don’t believe me? Try getting really satisfied with you. If you’re still not satisfied with him, you can walk away; but you won’t be jumping the fence for what appears to be greener grass. And you’ll be well prepared to nurture the alternative you can live happily ever after with.


Commitment Model,
developed by Caryl Rusbult, Ph.D.

Satisfaction: How effectively your needs for security, companionship, intimacy, and sexuality are being satisfied.

Quality of Alternatives: How effectively those same needs would be satisfied independent of the existing relationship. Alternatives can include a specific person, the field of eligibles in general, and self, family, and friends apart from a romantic relationship.

Investment: The value of what would be lost if the relationship were to end. Investment includes the time and effort poured directly into a relationship to make it better, as well as the house, children, and friends indirectly tied to the relationship.

Author's Bio: 

Jan Denise is a self-esteem expert and consultant, the author of Innately Good: Dispelling the Myth That You’re Not (Health Communications) and Naked Relationships: Sharing Your Authentic Self to Find the Partner of Your Dreams (Hampton Roads) and the columnist who penned the nationally syndicated “Inside Relationships” for ten years. Denise conducts workshops, speaks professionally, serves on the faculty of Omega Institute, and consults with individuals and couples nationwide. She is silly and deeply in love with life and her husband Dr. Sam Ferguson. They live in McIntosh, Florida, where their home in the woods—Gleneden—is also open to others as a sanctuary and retreat center.