Despite our best efforts, and our clear intention to hold our temper, listen with patience, offer more acknowledgment, give up control, remember to say “I love you”, or keep any of the resolutions that we have made, sometimes we just don’t do it. Like most people, we’ve failed to do what we want to do countless times.
We know what it will take to get the items on our relationship improvement list done, and we have the ability to do them. We’re clear that there is value in fulfilling these commitments, yet they remain undone.
What is it that determines whether these items do or don’t get done?
Why is it that with some things we can be great procrastinators, yet others get taken care of immediately? We may tell ourselves (and others), "I guess I don’t really want it badly enough because if I did I would do it." or “I’m not really committed because if I were, I would have handled my resistance by now.” It sounds right when we say it, and people rarely argue with us, but things are not so black and white.
Perhaps I AM committed, AND I have another commitment that is in direct competition with this one. I remind myself, although I haven’t actually been the loving partner that I want to be, I HAVE spent energy thinking about it and feeling guilty about why I haven’t shown up more. That counts for something. I really am serious about improving my relationship, or I wouldn’t be obsessing about it so much.
This IS the way the mind works. We can rationalize not doing something by claiming that feeling guilty counts as legitimate time put into the project. We would not apply this kind of thinking to someone who we were paying to do a job.
My conscious intention IS to become a devoted loving partner, but unbeknownst to me, I have other intentions that are in are in competition with the spoken commitment. Until I become aware of what they are, I will continue to feel guilty. I can’t see those competing commitments until I start telling the truth. The truth isn’t that I’m a bad, lazy, dishonest, uncommitted, or stupid person; the truth is that I haven’t done it. The rest is speculation. My mind makes up stories that have little if anything to do with the reality that keeps me from recognizing the competing commitments that are overriding my conscious intention.
Once we tell the truth, without blame, shame, guilt, or justification, what has been outside of our perception comes into awareness.
Commitments that may be competing with our conscious desires:
Bringing up these concerns allows us to examine their validity and to become clearer about the nature of the risks involved that we have been unconsciously trying to avoid. Then we can devise strategies for dealing with our concerns. When we tell the truth about our ambivalence, one of two things happen. We get OK with not doing it and no longer hold it as a commitment. Or we no longer have negative feelings that accompany an incomplete commitment. We find ourselves being more fully committed since we are no longer being held hostage by unconscious fears.
This insight enables us to see what actually does have meaning. When we put our heart into something, it becomes a labor of love rather than an obligation. The process of growing a mutually fulfilling relationship inevitably contains challenges.
The greatest gift is the peace of mind in relieving ourselves of self-recrimination when we fail to fulfill our promises. Refusing to punish ourselves when we don't follow through is not equivalent to letting ourselves off the hook. It's an opportunity to reassess our true priorities or whether it is just another "should." Telling the truth to ourselves BEFORE we make any promises to others is always a good idea. It can prevent suffering in the long run.