The Supreme Court's approval of gay marriage yesterday caps off a week in which Commitment has been a constant theme for me. Four of my clients this week have been struggling with that issue, and so I'm writing about it today.
Fundamentally, all four client issues relate to the fear of commitment, a fear that can sometimes stand in the way of the year experimentation necessary to decide on a full commitment. Let me give a bit of background on each.
Client #1, a 32 year old male, had been in a close, loving relationship for several years with a woman seven years older than he. The woman very much wanted a child and marriage, while the man was nervous and ambivalent about taking that step, and was being tortured by his indecision. After she exerted a lot of pressure, and after much additional anguished deliberation he proposed and moved in with her.
Client #2 is a woman a couple of years older than her boyfriend of 2 1/2 years. She has been repeatedly devastated by discovering that he has been in communication (and perhaps more) with other women via social media, despite his repeated promises to cease that behavior.
Client #3 is a man who over the past 4 years has been in a relationship with a woman who lives on the West Coast. This past winter she uprooted herself from her work and friends to move to DC, where they are sharing his one bedroom condo. He keeps talking about buying a house but several months later has not chosen a real estate agent or applied for mortgage pre-qualification.
Client #4 is a very senior government official who has been frustrated by some of the actions of her superior, which have run contrary to her values and to what she felt was the mission of her Department. She came to me to begin a serious job search.
In the first of these cases I was fully supportive of his proposal despite his misgivings. It seemed it was easier for him to move ahead in the relationship than it was to end it, and I felt that there was a decent chance that formalizing the commitment might lead to a different perspective on the rightness of marriage for him. As his fiancé ratcheted up the pressure to embark on a path leading to fatherhood his discomfort increased to the point where he finally decided to call off the engagement and end the relationship. A month later he is happier than he's been in quite a while, despite missing his former fiancé terribly. She has been devastated, but has yet to realize that at last she is free of a commitment dream that was not going to happen.
I had a couples session with client #2 and her boyfriend just the other night (the very first time he had come in for counseling). We very directly addressed the issue of his "philandering" which, not surprisingly traced to fear of commitment (and of reduced freedom and closed-off options). This was the first frank conversation the couple had had about this issue, and the transparency helped them come to an agreement to dedicate themselves to a deeper commitment. Not a "forever" commitment, but an experiment, if you will, that would permit the benefits that might come with a deeper commitment (e.g. Increased intimacy) to potentially outweigh the feared drawbacks.
In a session with client #3, I questioned his lack of action and discovered that the fear of commitment related less to the relationship than it did to the geographic and financial limitations that purchasing a house would impose. I got him to agree that finding an agent and pre-qualifying for a mortgage were not steps that required a full commitment, but were necessary to enable one to occur.
The fourth client came to a decision to stick it out in her current position and fight for the values that led her to join the Department in the first place, despite the undoubted difficulties she would encounter in undertaking the fight.
In each of these instances a choice was (or has been) made to give commitment a greater chance. Sometimes this will result in cementing the commitment, sometimes (as in the first case) it will result in sundering it, but in all four cases I am convinced that the end result, whether "go" or "no go," will allow the men and women involved to have a greater sense of peace about the rightness of their decisions.