How many times have you heard from a partner, or someone else to whom you are close, “I promise never to do that again?” And how many times have you found that they do it again?
Many of my clients are surprised that I don’t believe in making promises, even when a behavior has a severe impact on the couple (e.g., one member’s drinking and driving). The reason for this is that we are–shocking as it may sound (drum roll)–imperfect human beings! Despite the best intentions, we may find ourselves in a situation so difficult that we are unable to follow through. This aggravates the conflict in the relationship, because, after all, “You promised!”
Even more problematic than promises are guarantees. In guarantees, we have the fantasy that we can not only completely control our behavior, but predict what happens around us. Events outside our control may keep us from fulfilling guarantees. Let’s say that a husband has been neglecting his husband (yes, I meant, “husband and husband”), and he agrees to cut short a trip. What if he gets caught in the flooding of the Mississippi? (Ouch.)
Just as we can’t control the world around us, we can’t control what happens between ourselves and our loved ones—and even within our selves! We may have a biological, psychological, and social addiction to alcohol—or we may be addicted to beating ourselves up. Much as we try, we find ourselves unable to stop the behavior or thought process.
What I recommend instead is a commitment. An alcoholic who’s trying to get sober may say to me, “Doctor-Jon, I know myself–I can’t promise that I won’t drink and drive.” I tell them, “Then make a commitment.”
A commitment is not a promise or guarantee. It means, “I will do my doggonedest to change this behavior.”
An even more powerful goal is a covenant. On the evening of June 7, the Jewish holiday of Shavuot begins. (Oy–don’t worry—I’m not trying to convert you!) I learned from my rabbi, Dr. Ben Romer, that this holiday commemorates God’s giving, through Moses, the Ten Utterances to the Israelites. Yes, the more accurate translation is “utterance,” not “commandment,” because God wanted a covenantal relationship with, and among, the Jewish people. In a covenant, people choose to dedicate themselves to mutual caring within, and beyond, the community.
So as LGBT people, let’s make a covenant to treat ourselves, and others, with respect and love. It’s not a promise. It’s not a guarantee. But what have we got to lose?
Jonathan Lebolt, PhD (“Doctor Jon”) is a licensed clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, and group psychotherapist specializing in relationship issues. He lives with his partner of 14 plus years, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, and their princely pooch, Cocoa. Robin and Jonathan are proud grandfathers of a beautiful one-year-old girl, Juna. Feel free to contact Doctor Jon at his website.
My sweetheart and I don’t pay much attention to roles in our marriage.February 15, 2016
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