The Art of Commitment

The Art of Commitment

Dissolving Power Struggles in Couples Therapy

By Gay Hendricks

September/October 2001

In working with approximately 3,000 couples during the past 20 years, we have made several discoveries about commitment that made I profound difference in how we view the whole therapeutic enterprise.

Here's what we found:

- Problems in relationships almost always contain hidden problems of commitment, and two problems in particular--committing to outcomes that cannot be controlled and committing in name only--account for much of the distress.

- Although the breakdown of a relationship is almost always caused by a hidden commitment problem, the breakdown itself is the perfect opportunity to learn how commitment really works. If resolved, the breakdown can serve as the prelude to a new level of intimacy in the relationship.

- Therapists who understand and apply two concepts about commitment--that the results you get reveal the actual commitment you've made, and to make a change in a relationship, each participant must take 100 percent responsibility for the current situation--can eliminate a great deal of energy-draining work in the treatment of couples.

The Big Mistakes

Most of the couples whom we see have little understanding of how commitment really works. Correspondingly, we see the same commitment mistakes being made repeatedly. Of these, two stand out as being the most common and the most troublesome.

The first mistake is that people commit to outcomes (which cannot be controlled) rather…

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