The 3 Parts of Relationship Commitment

The 3 Parts of Relationship Commitment

What does it mean to be fully committed in a monogamous relationship? The traditional meaning has to do with focusing your romantic energies only upon your partner. You are not committed if you have “one foot outside the door,” meaning you are still available for romantic relationship with another person.

I use the term “romantic” to include sexual relationships as well. You are committed if you are sure you are with the right person, or feel there is no one else out there who can better fulfil your needs. Most people understand this definition of commitment.

Subtle Definitions Of Commitment

You are also committed when your beloved is clearly number one in your life. This involves not only other people, but also everything else in your life. For example, you are fully committed when your partner is more important than your career or your hobbies.

After Joyce followed me to Nashville, and then to Los Angeles for my medical education, I assumed she would follow me to Portland for my internship and residency in psychiatry. That assumption, however, proved that my medical career was a higher priority than my marriage.

Joyce, meanwhile, had a wonderful job in LA, and chose to stay. Her powerful choice directly confronted my lack of commitment to her. I realized that being with Joyce was more important than my medical career. I told her I would stay in LA, get a job for a year, and then reapply locally to continue my career.

That’s all she needed to hear. She quit her job the next day and told me she was joining me in Portland. I even tried to talk her out of her decision. But she was firm. She just needed to see that I was more committed to her than to my career. Then she could show me that being with me was more important than her job.

Obstacles to Commitment

Hobbies, sports, and other activities can sometimes get in the way of commitment. I love river trips. I especially love sharing them with Joyce. And she is very willing to go with me, but just not as many as I would like.

I recently wanted to go on another river trip by myself, shortly after we returned from one. The pressure I put on her made her feel that the river trip was more important than she was. The truth is, she is vastly more important than any river trip I could ever take. When I show her this, she feels my commitment, and is usually happy to make plans that work for both of us.

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Another Indication Of Commitment

You are fully committed when you have no hidden secrets. An example is an emotional affair, which by definition is a secret relationship that includes non-sexual intimacy. It’s the secrecy that causes the deepest pain and damages the commitment. Same is true for pornography.

A little-known ingredient of commitment is the awareness of your need for your partner’s love. Early in my relationship with Joyce, I was not aware of my need for her. I knew I loved her, and I chose to be with her. But “need,” that was a four-letter word as negative to me as some other words I need not mention.

I clearly told her that I didn’t need her love, which hurt her deeply. Because of this, I was not fully committed to her. Now that I have made peace with my inner child who needs Joyce’s love, my commitment to her is more complete.

There’s More To Commitment

There’s a higher commitment than to a person. It’s the commitment to your own heart and soul, to God, your higher self. It’s a commitment to trust in the goodness of the universe, to be aware of the source of the light and energy that you use.

Without this commitment, there can be no real commitment to a partner. It’s a bit like the flight attendant’s announcement, “Put your own oxygen mask on first, before you put masks on your children or family members.” You can help no one if you pass out from hypoxia.

It Takes Two to Tango

We see many couples where one partner feels they are fully committed to the relationship, but complains that the other partner is not committed to them. All too often, the one “fully committed to the relationship” is not enough committed to themselves, and especially to their highest good. We typically hear, “I’m committed to God (Source, Higher Power, Divine Love, call it what you want) and to my partner.”

What’s missing is a commitment to self, which is construed as being “selfish.” But I must say, there has to be just enough selfishness in every relationship. Not enough selfishness communicates that your partner is more important than you are. Too much selfishness communicates that you are more important than your beloved.

Failed Commitment?

And what about a relationship that is no longer serving either person? Is it a failed commitment when two persons separate? Not necessarily. Joyce and I believe the only relationship failure is throwing someone out of your heart.

Ending a relationship is not a failure. You fail when you close your heart to the goodness of your ex. Sure, you may be angry and disappointed, but villainizing him or her only hurts you. Instead, create a new commitment, a commitment to hold on to the good that was there in the relationship, a commitment to bless this person to find happiness.

The Three Parts of Commitment

So you could look at commitment as having three parts:

1. Commitment to something bigger than your personal self (the spiritual commitment).

2. Commitment to yourself (the personal commitment). 

3. Commitment to your partner (the relationship commitment).

When all three are in balance, then there is real commitment.

Article written by the co-author of:

Risk to Be Healed: The Heart of Personal and Relationship Growth
by Joyce & Barry Vissell.

Risk to be Healed, book by Joyce & Barry Vissell"In this book, Joyce & Barry offer the priceless gift of their own experience with relationship, commitment, vulnerability, and loss, along with the profound guide to healing that comes from the core of their being and blesses us with gentle wisdom." -- Gayle & Hugh Prather

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

More books by these authors

About the Author(s)

Joyce & Barry VissellJoyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors, near Santa Cruz CA, who are passionate about conscious relationship and personal-spiritual growth. They are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. Joye & Barry are the authors of 9 books, including The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift. Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone/video, online, or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.


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