More and more lately, I’ve been thinking about relationships without promises. Marriages involve promises, and frequently, they’re broken. I meant my vows to last a lifetime, and they didn’t. And what about those people who get married over and over… what are they thinking? Are they eternal optimists, not really thinking about what they’re promising, or not believing the words they do say?
I’m not sure I can make more promises like that and feel any degree of certainty around them. Yet, I want a meaningful, deep, loving relationship. So the question… can long-term relationships exist without promises, and if so, what would that look like?
There’s a certain maturity to not making promises… it means you’re constantly choosing to be in the relationship you’re in. Rather than trying to hold someone to you by making them swear a vow (or even letting them do it voluntarily) you know that they are always with you because they choose to be. Insecurity and fear hinders this, it seems there is always an internal push to obtain a promise, as if that holds any kind of security or safety. People break those promises all the time, and then are afraid to tell their partners, which leads to affairs, which leads to heartbreak. How much better if we could always know that we both are where we want to be, and if we start to feel that we’re not, we can talk about it and allow change into the relationship – or out of it.
There can also be an immaturity in not making promises, if it is abused by rationalizing that this means you can do anything you want to do. People are usually more sensitive when their partner breaks a promise or a rule they’ve agreed on, but it is equally true that even when there are no promises, a person can be just as hurt. Because we are emotional beings, it’s just not possible to say – it wasn’t against the rules, therefore, it’s OK for me to do it and you shouldn’t care that I did it. If it hurts your partner, it hurts. And usually if you honestly ask yourself the question, would this hurt my partner? you know the answer. And if you don’t, that would be a really good thing to talk over ahead of time, when it’s not a current issue :)
And then there’s the problem that those vows seem to make people complacent – because there’s a promise to stay together for life, there’s less of a push to work on relationship issues. This is really where I think the lack of promises could be a good thing – there is a need to constantly maintain the relationship – to check in that things are working, to talk over things that aren’t working, and to work together through any change that is needed. And to constantly leave open the possibility that maybe the best thing is not to assume that you should stay together your whole life. Couldn’t there be such a thing as serial monogamy – a series of deep and loving commitments that enrich your life while you have them? Why is it that we assume we should have the same partner our entire lives? Fear of change? Or something deeper?
What do you think? This is a deep and engaging issue for me right now and I’d love to hear any and all thoughts on the subject :)