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Commitment: the art of making a relationship happen

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About a month ago, Mr. Lauren married his longtime girlfriend and moved into her apartment. That’s when he bites his nails. During their engagement, everything was pretty much under control, though he hated all the planning, rehearsals, and extensive expense they had agreed to share. “I would have gone to City Hall,” he said, “but Harriet wanted everyone.” So I wondered why, if he survived it all stress With his fingernails intact, he resumed biting them once he was settled. It seemed counter-intuitive.

But that was not the case. In Mr. Lauren’s frame of reference, biting her nails, was associated with her mother’s dominance and her conscious inability to resist effectively. Transposed to today, that is to say to his life as a married man, the fact of biting his nails reflected his discomfort with the loss of autonomy. He should satisfy someone else, at least sometimes. He should act like he’s engaged. So the real problem, it seemed, was not how he could stop biting his nails, but how he could adapt and accept the concessions of a long-term commitment.

Mr. Lauren acknowledged that this had happened to him.

The habit started when he was about six years old. His mother would drag him out for a manicure every week or so, and he would be extremely embarrassed. “I would be the only man, the only child there; It was a whole bunch of women with their heads under the dryer, and I felt like an idiot. His mother, however, insisted that he leave. She called it “grooming,” the same word for when they took the dog in to have his nails trimmed and his hair trimmed. “Can you imagine how I felt? He asked. He begged her, offered her all sorts of good deals, but she insisted.

As a form of rebellion, Mr. Lauren started biting his nails. At first he was conscious, a way of spitting out his mother; she couldn’t get him a manicure if he didn’t have nails. But then. . . the practice has become a habit. His mother fumed. In fact, he hated how unsightly his nails were getting. But his anger was so real, his reaction so intense, that he couldn’t stop. Every time he felt someone on his case, encroaching on his freedom, he would lose control. “I knew it was ugly and unsanitary, but it made me feel like I was in control again; I got that kick because of the pain.” I could see the direction of his reasoning. I could also see how Harriet looked like a threat.

Even before Harriet, he bit his nails when another person seemed to pressure him. Even if they only do Powerful hurry him, he would bite his nails. In college, he bit his nails when he had to give a presentation, say, in an English class. He thought about joining the Debating Society, but declined as he understood the intense preparation required by the coach. “There were stories about Professor Murphy, and how he made you spout statistics and dates, and I just couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t deal with how I would self-harm.

The term was chilling and suggested that Mr Lauren first anticipated a difficult situation and then allowed himself two choices: steal one way, bite his nails the other. Since he couldn’t run away from Harriet like he could Murphy, he would bite his nails to prevent the control she might exert. He projected onto Hariet his own problems with self control.

So we discussed how he could short-circuit his response. After all, Harriet wasn’t exactly a bossy woman. She had wanted a big wedding but, once married, they hadn’t had a fight about how they should live. She was actually concerned and anxious work things out to their mutual satisfaction. It was just that Mr. Lauren was afraid he was locked up. Engagement seemed like a box.

For most people, it’s a soft, flexible box, not a concrete bunker. Of course, we have to anticipate how another person may feel, but that’s not the same as assuming they will control us. That is to say, there is a distinction between acting jointly, as a committed couple – with all the concessions that entails – and being coerced by someone who we know will impose his will regardless of our feelings.

In Mr. Lauren’s case, that was the difference between Harriet (and his relationship with her) and her mother (with whom he had a non-adult, committed relationship). He had to accept the difference. If he did, I thought he might stop reacting with such anxiety towards Harriet and eventually stop biting his nails.

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The funny thing was that Mr. Lauren would tell you that he felt completely devoted to Harriet. “I never think about other women,” he said, “and I would never cheat.” But, of course, commitment is more than just not sleeping around. It’s trust in the other person, the recognition that they want the relationship to work. By the time you get married, this kind of feeling should be well developed. At Mr. Lauren’s it was and it wasn’t. He trusted Harriet to make an effort, but he was still afraid, for reasons he couldn’t articulate, that she might be overbearing. It was irrational, a remnant of his childhood and overflow in his young adulthood. So he should take care of it.

I suggested he go through the weeks and months ahead and pay Warning when he really felt controlled. If there weren’t many of them, then maybe he could start adjusting his level of fear. Perhaps he could relax into the relationship and feel “committed” in the broadest sense. That is to say, a big part of engagement is feeling like you are. It’s the will to stop wondering if the relationship is real and start behaving as if it is. Our partners understand how we feel about the relationship, and we don’t want to telegraph concerns that might upset them. A cycle of mutually reinforcing nervousness can be destructive.

At this point in Mr. Lauren’s life, the control mechanism that scared her was not (or rather shouldn’t be) hers. wedding, but the anxieties it brings to it. So as we continue Happiness In relationships, we need to let go of old imported fears that stand in the way of a relationship based on love.

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