Hello everybody, welcome to episode 120 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino and totally we’ll be taking a look at a very reflective question about commitment in relationships and how, frankly, it’s changed over the years. We’ll explore this change and see if we can come up with a universal constant for reliable commitment in relationships. But first, let’s hear what this listener has on her mind…
QUESTION: “I am one of many divorced people living in the United States. Over the years, I’ve watched each generation become worse at commitment, and it makes me ashamed, but I too was in a marriage that failed. Commitment doesn’t mean what it used to mean if it still means anything at all. Shouldn’t couples that make a commitment to one another work harder to stay together?“
Commitment and Generational Differences
How ironic – this is a discussion I was having with my Dad recently. He is, like you, one of the many divorcees from a past generation wondering what on earth is going on and how the seemingly bulletproof model of family life set forth in the 50s has managed to fail 53% of marriages.
It was a good discussion and one I’m really happy to have here again.
Social Norms and Traditions
If you think back to commitment a few generations ago when you and my Dad were getting married…not to each other, that is. I don’t think so, anyway. Mom? But when your age group was getting married, the commitment was really just about carrying on a tradition more than anything.
Back then, people got married and had kids thoughtlessly – those who didn’t were outsiders. It was just what you did once you found someone tolerable, because at the time, it was better to be seen as married to someone than not married at all. Women were under particular pressure to do this because marriage also equaled financial stability, as at the time, women were not working as much.
And realistically, the same approach was taken with friends, places, even jobs and items.
How many friends did people used to keep that they really didn’t like that much? How many people never left their hometown and now complain about never getting out?
How many jobs did people try to make lifetime careers out of even if they were miserable and unfulfilling? How many items did people keep around that go no attention whatsoever?
Commitment and Change
My parents are very guilty of this last one: a typical Italian household would often have the TV in one room, and the living room be something totally separate with furniture you couldn’t sit on and artifacts you couldn’t touch.
Same could be said of dining room tables that only get action on the major holidays. For what? It’s nonsense. Just unused space and paraphernalia to pay taxes on.
A quick history lesson, though: apparently this type of thing became commonplace after the great depression. Once families recovered enough to be able to buy some things just for pleasure, those things were kept separate and were really just bought to be celebrations of wealth rather than actually used.
What a stupid thing to do. Anyway, I digress.
None of these forms of commitment to people, places or things ever took into consideration the various ways that the people committing to them could change.
And frankly, not many people believed they would or would want to change anyway, because this was also a time in which individual expression and exploration was simply not in fashion.
It's Different Nowadays
These days, the flip has totally switched. There are far more stimuli that are almost imploring people to adjust their lives. The internet and social media regularly drown us in opportunities to change, see things differently, listen to new worldviews, date new people, travel to new places, and so on.
So not only do people change inherently based on what they’re exposed to in their physical environments, but each generation is at risk to change more and more because there is more and more opportunity to do so on top of their physical environments.
Does it make it hard to plan for the future, and put a little too much emphasis on present satisfaction over long-term satisfaction? I’d say so.
But every generation has it’s price to pay and that would be ours. It just happens to be the opposite of the problem generations past thought they would have, but based on the stuff we’re talking about, I’m not sure it turned out that way.
Understanding True Commitment
The magic elixir for someone my Dad’s age, someone your age, someone my age, and someone younger than me to commit right now is to learn to commit in such a way that pays respect to these changes, changes which are becoming more prevalent with each passing year. And it’s too bad this wasn’t more encouraged back in the day, but again, no one really conceived of such things.
So you’re right, couples should work harder at commitment, but that means working harder at understanding true commitment rather than working harder to stick with things that clearly don’t serve us. As far as couples go, if you love someone and want to commit to marrying them, then do it. But here’s what the commitment should be based on:
Commit to both being good communicators. Commit to listening to your partner and seeing them through whatever changes may occur in a way that is respectful and free of ego. Commit to being vulnerable and honest.
And commit to the uncertainty of all of it.
Making peace with the uncertainty from the get go can make relationships that do fail much less painful and feel more like lessons than wounds. These are the types of qualities that we should take into consideration when committing to people romantically, but they also help us commit to maintaining good relationships with our ever changing selves.
And there we have it everybody. I thought this was a really good and important question, thank you so much to the woman who sent this in, and I hope you’re able to see your next relationship in a new light when you’re deciding to take the next step with someone.
I also hope you have a better grasp on just why it is that commitment has changed so much. That’s going to do it for today though, everyone, so if you have questions of your own you’d like emailed on the show, wait no longer! Email them to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
Nothing is off limits, and we’re here to help. We’ve got a lot of great questions lined up already and can’t wait to bring one to you in our next episode. I’ll see you all there guys, take care of yourselves until then.