*This post originally appeared on New Age Gents.
Why did I sleep on the couch?
It’s certainly what my wife asked me in the morning. After the frostiness had dissipated, anyway.
The previous night I’d brought up a touchy subject. Which is a personal requirement of mine – ask the question that’s on my mind.
The answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear. In fact, the follow-up statement even more so.
I was taken aback.
Sadness came over me. I expressed this to her, and in that moment allowed myself to feel it.
It was this choice – to feel my feelings – that led to me leaving the bedroom, going to the lounge, rearranging the couch cushions and creating my bed for the night.
Some seated introspection followed, then a 30-minute session of writing in my journal, then hitting the couch.
In that moment, regardless of what was going on for her, I needed space more than anything. I needed to be alone with my thoughts and emotions; to process.
So I took it.
I created some space; I spent time alone and reflected.
Not to be mistaken with running from the issue – but a conscious decision to distance myself to process, understand, and then come back to the issue.
The morning wasn’t instant rainbows and unicorn farts, but when we stepped into a shared space, had the conversation that needed to be had, the next step was one of lightness, love and compassion.
Because I had to do me before I could do us. I created the space I needed in the moment so there wasn’t a bitter-tasting canyon between us for days after.
But that’s not even the major reason. That being, in short, because I give a fuck. More pertinently, I give a fuck because commitment.
I chose that course of action not because I wanted to appease or ‘keep the peace’/’not ruffle any feathers’ in the moment, which would be the easy way to avoid short-term pain – but because of the commitments that underpin me and my marriage.
These being – Commitments I have made to my wife; to be the rock that stands with power, and strength and won’t bend at the first sign of resistance or challenging discomfort; and the commitments I have with myself; to ask the question that needs asking, to feel my feelings and ensure I can do me so I can better do us.
The easy way out
As a men’s coach, what I see for many guys (myself a lot too, certainly in the past) is that these kinds of boundaries are completely missing. Instead, trying to appease in the moment and make peace for the sake of it, swallowing what has come up for/in us, and entering some kind of low-level resentment and pettiness/finger-pointing as a result.
It’s the actions of the immature little boy inside us reacting and pushing back, or the weak man losing himself to make peace. The consequence is the same; any commitment we have with ourselves and our partner falls away in favour of easy the short-term pain of what honouring those commitments involves.
My encouragement to the guys out there that resonate with the simple (or complex) conversations that turn into issues that could part an ocean, is to respond with the awareness and maturity of a man doing what’s necessary, not react like a hurt little boy doing what’s easy.
Stop, feel, think, and then act. The long-term rewards are worth the consistent short-term effort.
Important side note: I will screw up many more of these similar situations, FYI. I do not have this control in all situations, but – we perfect that which we practise… Consistency and effort in the face of the storm is where the growth comes, my man.
That’s one simple look at commitment. Let me give you another.
Roughly seven years prior to the incident above I was in another relationship. I was engaged, and my fiancée and I were planning our wedding.
Then one day while she was away in New Zealand at a wedding (I was in Sydney, Australia) I got a call from her. I answered excitedly because I missed her.
I was to end that call completely devastated, as she told me that while sat watching her friends commit to a life together she realised she couldn’t do that with me.
She sat through the rest of the wedding and called me the following morning.
The next few months were tough, as I came to terms with a broken heart and attempted to wrap my head around how and why this had happened. I started to reflect on my part in this and how I could learn from it moving forward.
Now, while all the reflection and personal growth may have helped me to get past that break-up, it didn’t even really touch the sides of preparing me to commit to another relationship.
I’d done some work, but not the kind of understanding of trust and what entering the unknown with no real control is about.
So, I had some casual relationships – at arm’s length. I played around under the guise of ‘having fun’ and ‘seeing what’s out there’, but I all reality – I was shit-scared of putting my heart out there again.
I was afraid of commitment.
What happened between heartbreak and sleeping on the couch?
I won’t lie, a lot happened. Most of that involved me learning the nature of trust, what love involves, and learning that in order to reach the pointy end of what we really want in life (especially in relationships) we have to be willing to trust.
We have to be willing to step into the unknown, into uncertainty, knowing that what comes as a result, we are not in control of, but only in doing so can we reach the spoils.
And this takes the willingness (and ability) to commit.
When we’re resistant to commitment, what we’re really showing is an unwillingness to enter into risk. The potential reward, in that moment of understanding, doesn’t outweigh the risk of being hurt (or, perhaps, feeling like a failure – which, in case you haven’t connected it yet, is a ‘hurt’ we will avoid experiencing).
You can’t sugar coat it – that is what we fear when we resist commitment – that we may be hurt. Sure, it might come out as being disappointed, let down, backstabbed, or any other number of flavours, but it all boils down to that bitter taste; hurt.
And this is the nature of trust – knowing there is a risk, but stepping forward with confidence despite the risks.
Where this starts is with self. This is also what happened for me; I learnt to trust myself. I didn’t jump from break up to engagement. No, no, no. Just ask my wife! I kicked the tires, as it were, for some time while I worked this stuff out for myself.
What can happen often is that we point to the struggle to commit, the lack of trust (and consequently, the attachment to the potential risk) at the other person/party (let’s say, in the case of a job or employer or partner). Whereas, in reality, the responsibility to trust and commit begins with self.
So for me to get to a point where I could commit to my now wife, then girlfriend, with a marriage proposal, I had to trust in myself more than the love I had for her. I had to know that it’s in stepping into the unknown of a commitment, like marriage, there is a large amount of uncertainty and risk. I had to know that that’s ok, that if I want all the goodness that comes with committing to a partner in that way, I had to be willing to risk the downsides; the potential to be hurt.
It’s in this vulnerability (read: everyday courage) that we can take ownership of our trust and the risk that comes with commitment – not placing it entirely on “Is this person right for me?” or “What if they leave/cheat/aren’t the one?”, instead, something more like this – “Knowing how I feel about this person, am I willing to commit in order to reach the highs that come with that even in the face off the risk of being hurt and feeling shitty?”
In that willingness to step into uncertainty that commitment brings, we are stepping out of the vanilla ‘safety’ and into the more volatile and risky, yet infinitely more rewarding place of possibility.
You have to have skin in the game in order to have a chance at the prize. Sure, you could sit on the sidelines and watch others and not risk losing the buy-in, but you never get to experience the euphoria of ‘winning’, either. And that is exactly what we’re dealing with here.
As Michael Jordan so accurately said:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Commitment isn’t just about love
“I can commit to loads of things, I just struggle with relationships” – I hear you say. Sure, and it might be committing to a job, a house, a city to settle in and put down roots, eating some fucking vegetables. Perhaps you are great at committing elsewhere, but not with love. In which case, I would encourage you to look at how you may be using these extraneous non-emotional, more cognitive based commitments to hide behind. There is less risk involved – because emotional risk is the hardest to quantify, and for many men who have a pretty stunted capacity in this realm, immeasurably more terrifying.
If, however, you simply struggle to commit anywhere in your life; to a meal choice, which movie to watch, clothes to wear, job to take, etc, then I have two pieces of advice for you.
- You just have to start. You must. And this begins with you acknowledging that the risk of an unfavourable outcome is always possible, however, to avoid risk is to avoid reward. Allow yourself to suck at it a bit, but start making decisions and committing to your choices. If it goes awry, learn the lessons and move on. Developing a thicker skin in this sense is vital.
- I would point out that you actually can commit, in fact, you seem fairly committed to being indecisive and risk-averse. As paradoxical as that sounds, if you acknowledge that you actually can commit to something, you can use this as evidence to convince yourself to exercise that muscle elsewhere. Areas with more payoffs, as long as you use the advice in point one above.
Once you do the work on yourself in this form, developing the ability and willingness to step into the field of play and realm of possibility, then the person, the job, the opportunity that fits can actually come along. Before that, we’re too focused outwardly on the thing being perfect, so as to reduce or eliminate risk. And that just isn’t life. The moment you think you have that; you’re bound to get the rug well and truly pulled out from under you.
All great reward comes with risk, and it is in experiencing the downside of some of those risks that play a huge part in actually enjoying the reward when it does come.
Not only do the lows provide vital perspective and a point of relativity for the highs, but once you’ve been through the process, once you’ve been playing the game of risk, of trust, of committing, you’ve changed for the better. You’re actually ready to better enjoy the reward.
Because remember, the alternative is to settle for a simmering mediocrity; less risk of hurt and uncertainty, but none of the reward.
I know which one I’d rather play for, and it’s why I occasionally sleep on the couch. What game will you play?