Relationship expert Dr. Scott Stanley's definition of commitment is twofold. First, he says, commitment involves constraints. Constraints are those forces that keep you and your mate together: kids, in-laws, money, friends, value systems, faith, even the threat of a divorce. But the constraint aspect of commitment is not strong enough to keep couples together and happily married forever. For that, Stanley says, a couple must also have dedication. Couples with dedication not only plan to stay together, they have a constantly evolving plan to stay together. They rededicate themselves to each other regularly through planning events and talking about the future.

If you're interested in discovering more on this important topic, read Dr. Stanley's book on this, The Heart of Commitment. For now, here's a guideline for you to recharge your mate's need for a lifetime together, a way for you to implement your dedication and show your commitment to your relationship:

• Plan several activities and dreams you'll be doing together over the next twenty years. Where do you want to travel? What goals do you both have together and separately that your mate can help you accomplish? What do you want to do together with your children? What projects do you desire to finish? Any future educational paths that might be mutually enriching? How about buying a boat big enough to live on for a while? My wife and I sat down recently and made a plan to follow our dreams of taking two major trips per year. We decided that one of the trips would be with our three grown children and grandkids; the other will be reserved exclusively for the two of us.

• Write out an agreement on what you plan to do for the next twenty years to keep your love alive. Here's a contract for you to consider for lasting love:

We agree to enter the fourth and fifth levels of intimacy whenever the other one so desires. We will do this by deeply listening to each other, not defending our own opinions, but striving to love, understand, and validate the other's feelings and needs.

We agree to highly value each other and consider each other as more important than anything else on earth, except our relationship with God. If gold could describe our honor for each other, we would each be married to a 24-carat person.

We agree to communicate with each other regularly. This will be accomplished by speaking to each other by sharing truthful loving information and listening carefully to understand and validate each other's uniqueness. Our preferred method of communication will be drive-through listening. Our everyday conversations will include the safety necessary to share opinions, concerns, and expectations.

We agree never to go to sleep at night without resolving our major differences or conflicts. We will forgive each other as needed.

We agree to find creative ways of meeting each other's deepest relational needs. As we each grow older and change, we will strive to stay current with our understanding of each other's needs and ways of meeting those needs.

Now, back to our guideline for recharging your mate's needs:

• Express your lifetime commitment in words. Print it on a plaque, say it with gifts, just plain say it. "I will be with you forever and keep loving you until death do us part." Write a poem and print it for the whole family to see.

• Become a student of your mate. Find out all you can about who she or he is. What are your mate's favorite foods, activities, clothes, dreams? Treasure your mate's special differences.

• When conflict arises, employ the three skills that can take you to the deepest level of intimacy. Write down how you plan to implement each of these skills in your relationship. Remember the three skills: (1) Keep honor alive daily; (2) use drive-through listening after you have a serious argument and have given yourselves time to calm down; and (3) lovingly recharge your mate twenty minutes per day in the areas in which your mate needs your care.

Another type of commitment that couples need from one another is a willingness to keep searching for solutions to problems between them. Thousands of couples have expressed the need to feel that each has a working plan to resolve personal problems or conflicts. After thirty-five years of marriage, my wife and I have discovered that we feel secure and included in all aspects of our relationship because of the establishment of a simple plan for solving disagreements. Here are the steps:

• We first try to resolve the disagreement by simply discussing the situation as calmly as we can. We go back and forth trying to understand each other's positions. We can do this on most subjects. Either she or I will see a logical solution or compromise that we can settle on. In this way we have truly become one, a successful "blending of two individuals together." Occasionally, we hit the wall of anger on some subject and start defending our positions with enthusiasm. That can lead to escalation of anger, so we usually take a time out and wait until we both calm down to take the next step.

• We head to a restaurant. Yes, that's right. We calmly sit down at the table or at a restaurant. We can't go out of control with other people there. We use drive-through listening and argue by the rules. We hold an object—a fork, spoon, or candle—when we are sharing our feelings or needs about the situation. The one not holding the object simply paraphrases what is being said to gain as much understanding as possible. We take turns passing the object back and forth until we both feel completely understood and validated. Then we start sharing any ideas we can think of that would solve the situation in a win-win way. We use our creative juices to think of some solution to fit both of our feelings and needs. It almost always works. But sometimes we can't do it on our own, so we move to the next step.

• We ask two or three of our trusted friends to sit with us as we use drive-through listening again. This step has never failed to work. We always go away from the meeting with friends with a solution we can both live with, and it feels really safe to know we can always solve our disagreements. Our friends are like the grand jury—they just help us say what our feelings are and what we need out of the solution. There have been times when Norma and I have been upset with each other during the group meeting, but it has always ended in peace. If it didn't, we would develop the next step. We haven't had to move another step, so I can't tell you what it is yet. But if we were forced into it, we'd keep trying different actions until we found the method that worked best for us. We keep trying, we never give up—which is, of course, another instance of a positive charge, a way to say, "You're so central in my life I'll do anything to get through problems and clear the way to deeper intimacy."

© Copyright 2005 Smalley Relationship Center.