Dr. Butch Losey
Author of Managing the Aftermath of Infidelity
The simple truth is that every couple gets busy. Personal pursuits, friends, and career can all threaten the intimacy and erode the commitment to one another. Another simple truth is that there are some very basic strategies for maintain a strong commitment to one another (Goddard and Olsen, 2004).
Before considering commitment strategies though, it is important to take a moment to reflect on some common threats to intimacy. American couples face a society that encourages individualism and self-actualization, and without ongoing intentional investment by the couple in the relationship, intimacy can erode to a point where the couple is living parallel lives.
A noticeable threat to intimacy among couples is relationship neglect. These couples have neglected the relationship through focus on career, over-involvement with friends, a drive for personal pursuits, or a difficulty in to balancing the relationship with childcare; triangulation can occur with inappropriate Internet uses, alcohol/drug use, or involvement in relationships outside the relationship. Relationship neglect for some couples is so extreme that they have only a few minutes a day of intimate dialogue with one another or none at all.
Another significant threat to intimacy is the patterns in which couples communicate. Since disclosure and curiosity are primary avenues to creating intimacy, it is not a surprise, then, that many couples list their number one problem as having an inability to communicate.
Small violations of trust are corrosive for the relationship. What might seem as a small mistruth or omission of the truth can significantly hurt the relationship over time. Patterned violation of one or several dimensions of trust can thwart intimacy that may be difficult to recover.
Now, let's discuss the basics of commitment. The first commitment strategy is for each partner to make the relationship a priority over everything else. If couples are not intentional in prioritizing the relationship, demands from work, school, or family can take over, with little time left for the relationship. This requires what I call "protected time".
On one level it is important to make time for each other, such as a date or to go out with couple-friends, but on a deeper level, it is important to protect time for each other. Protected time does not get interrupted by last minute changes in schedules. Protected time is private, just between the two of you, and meant for connecting emotionally. When each of you agree on a protected time, it is guarded because it is important.
Protected time is characterized by an openness to share increasingly personal discussions with each other, not just talking about work, the kids schedules or the news of the day. Protected time is successful when one partner openly shares something personal and the other partner offers an inviting presences to hear the perspective. It is not only hearing the perspective that is important, the partner needs to be interested, encouraging, and inviting of the disclosure of the perspective.
The second strategy is to protect the relationship from external influences. For example, couples can limit their interactions with friends who are not healthy for the relationship. They may decide not to have intimate conversations about their relationship with friends or family or to go out to dinner with individuals that might be a threat to the relationship.
The third strategy is to create rituals or traditions that will sustain the relationship. Some couples will worship together, participate in sports or activities together, or have special holiday traditions. For example, my wife and I bring the children together to bless the house every Christmas.
Rituals and traditions serve many purposes and when they occur predictably in the relationship, they enhance, strengthen, and safeguard your relationship, ultimately creating increased overall emotional health.
Goddard, H. W., & Olsen, C. S. (2004). Cooperative extension initiatives in marriage and couples education. Family Relations , 53 , 433–439.