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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Commitment, the Three Party System

I just posted a description of an experiment where I tried to make a stable relationship by making contradictions explicit. In there, I say:

So this system trades off a little short-term personal flexibility for an ability to build longer-term expectations. It seemed the right approach for a long-term relationship, although probably unnecessary overhead for a short-term one. That short-term flexibility is just emotional randomness anyhow, right?

This is worth a sidebar. Conventional wisdom tells us that a long-term relationship requires commitment from both parties to each other. But I think that's a necessary but insufficient condition. You need a three party system.

1) You. 2) Your partner. 3) The relationship.

Let's face it, in a relationship there is only one stable thing you can commit to, and that's the relationship itself.

You are going to change. Your partner is going to change. So the nature of your commitments to your partner and what it takes is going to change as well. With a 100% probability. And commiting to a moving target is hard.

I remember a wedding service I attended some years back. The minister basically said, hey, you're going to fall out of love some day. Hard to believe right now, but it's going to happen. But even if you don't love your partner, boy, you had better love your marriage. Because otherwise nothing will hold you together during that time. It was an unpopular service, I recall many people complaining about it. But I found it very interesting.

Oh, and the couple divorced within a year.

But I agree. You have to be commit to the relationship abstractly. Maybe it's with pride, since many difficult promises are only held together by pride. Or maybe you love the idea of a relationship and won't let it fail. But once you internalize the fact that you and your partner will change, you have to patient and work hard for the relationship.

Now I have met some people with this philosophy. Apparently it's a popular marriage counseling philosophy. That and a 12 step program.

But one common mistake among these practitioners is that people use memories to cement their commitment to the relationship. Ah, all those happy memories of that vacation, those halcyon days of romance.

Big mistake.

The problem with memories is that there are bad ones too. And like trying to blank your mind on a sleepless night to get to bed, well, you can't really control those thoughts. So don't even allow your relationship to be poisoned by memories. Attach them to the other person, attach them to yourself, attach them to the wall... just make sure you keep the relationship abstract and clean.

I do this naturally by keeping all my long-term memories in a computer, and upgrading every six months. Can't recall a thing. Except the photos, but you usually only keep the good ones anyhow.

So you start with this three party system. In my experiment I explicitly discussed this. Could we commit to a relationship? What are the invariant properties of this relationship? This is important to define since long-term relationship is a poorly defined term, more so than marriage.

Given that, we could proceed with my experiment.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Silly question #1 from the bleachers since I don't know the answer but have an opinion...

Where did the idea of marriage -or- a relationship -or- commitment built on a 1-to-1 foundation / premise come from? Did that come from Christianity or another religious basis?

I know that it works for some people, but some people seem to be incapable of it during parts of their life? After all, we have heard that "men will be men" but we also know that women are the same too.

I think there was a book "The Myth of Monogamy" (as well as some other scientific studies) that propose that most people (by nature), aren't cut out to be faithful to each other long term.

So then we have to believe that sex and love are two vastly different things, and maybe the emphasis should be on understanding that people will have different partners over time, but still love each other, and reconciling that aspect.


6/08/2005 2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golly I love and appreciate your writing. Thanks.

6/19/2005 12:08 AM  

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