You might think that relationship commitment and personal freedom are at odds with one another.
My own experience was that when I made the commitment to my marriage I felt liberated.
When I shared this observation with my single friend Howard, he looked at me as though I had taken leave of my senses. I don’t blame him, really—it hadn’t been that long ago that I had the same association with this particular “C word.” In fact, it wasn’t until after Linda and I had been together for several years that I stopped feeling like I was stuck in a trap and began to experience the liberating nature of true commitment.
Prior to that realization, I was not really committed to our marriage. Sure, I tried to keep the promises and vows that we agreed would define our relationship, but it was more a matter of honoring the words than understanding their spirit. Much of the time, it felt more like going through the motions than really embracing the essence of the covenant. I hadn’t surrendered my resistance—which manifested itself in second guessing my decision to marry, envying men who weren’t “tied down,” and feeling resentful for having missed out on more time to sow my wild oats.
These thoughts often left me feeling sorry for myself. Small wonder that in those days I often found myself criticizing Linda and picking fights with her to blow off my self-created dissatisfaction. Doubting that “being myself” would be sufficient to elicit the acceptance that I desired from others, I was enslaved by a need for approval that was the real reason I felt I was living in a prison.
Thanks to a combination of perseverance, self-acceptance, supportive friends, my wife’s understanding, and the maturity that comes from staying with something long enough, I eventually grew beyond feelings of being trapped in my marriage. I began to appreciate the many blessings and benefits of sharing a relationship with a loving, supportive partner. I came to value the security that comes from sharing a life with someone who knows you at your best and worst—and whose support will not be withdrawn when you’re having a bad day. I came to trust that I could not do anything to jeopardize Linda’s love. This freed up vast amounts of energy that had been locked into patterns of approval-seeking that showed up not only in my primary relationship with Linda, but in others as well.
As the capacity to love one another grows, we become increasingly able to rest comfortably in the knowledge that we are loved for who we are, not what we do. Over time, we may come to experience a previously unknown well of self-love. Feeling loved and really letting that in provides a fantastic sense of freedom—freedom from fear of loss andfreedom to be ourselves fully.
If that’s not true liberation, I don’t know what is.