Besides the role of intimacy in interpersonal relationships, passion and commitment are considered by many to round out the best of relationships. Keep in mind that these big three are not meant to have a static relationship, rather that the three interact in such a way that sometimes intimacy is the lead, at other points in a relationship passion takes the lead, and at still others, commitment rules. And just to add to the dynamics, sometimes it isn’t one of the three that rides point, it’s two or all three.
Passion is a powerful, compelling, and focused state of being. Note that sexuality is only one aspect of passion. One can be passionate about living, politics, learning, religion, art, music, etc., or a combination of a number of things. In the best of relationships, passion is not only present, it is multidimensional and ever changing. And in the best of relationships, there is a certain congruity between one individual’s passion and another’s. Differing passions can be a red flag, even if some disparity can be normal. But where critical passions are not aligned, rough sledding is likely.
Recall that intimacy can be very gender driven, but passion is not strictly about gender, though passion can be very different for individual men and women. However, when it comes to passion, the likely issue is that gender is less important than particular individuals. For instance, the notion that sex is more important to men than it is to women is just too general to be helpful. So let’s throw gender out here while keeping in mind the role of intimacy in both passion and commitment. In other words, passion is something that can be fueled by intimacy and commitment, even if passion can stand alone. However, passion not backed by both intimacy and commitment can be a flash in a pan—powerful, but not sustainable. Fun? Sure. Solid ground for enduring relationships? Hardly.
Congruent passions are like keys and locks—the right key opens the right lock. Don’t get me wrong, the key and lock metaphor only goes so far as we’re talking dynamics again—those darn keys and locks can change. Nonetheless, passion is important as it signals not only intense attention, but strong underlying motivation. What we’re passionate about is like having heightened awareness, involving our entire being. Using sex as an example again, can you imagine having a true orgasm that doesn’t involve every bit of yourself? But, it behooves us to keep in mind that one person’s passion is another’s chimera. We don’t want to get our signals crossed. And mostly we don’t want to think there’s a necessity to have Stepford passions. That leaves making laws governing one person’s passion needing to be another’s as a bit dubious. There are exceptions, but let’s leave psychopathology as an outlier at this point. There is a rule here: lack of passion equals a relatively boring being. If you’re alive, try having some. And then try finding someone who shares your passion and is likely to change in tandem. Then go for a community, a nation, a world.
Commitment is the glue that holds intimacy and passion together in the best of relationships. In other types of relationships, commitment might just be all there is. That’s something, but it’s a handicap—I mean what good is glue without something other than itself to stick to?
In an intimate and passionate relationship, commitment is like a reference point for what one is doing. Such commitment is a ground in the event a flood of distracters wash out familiar landmarks. Lost? Go back to your commitment.
Like intimacy, positive relationship commitment may also have a gender component. It may be that men could view commitment as a trap—a contract; women may see it as caring—they and the relationship are important no matter what. Obviously the situation can be reversed with females feeling trapped and males feeling like they’ll now be cared for no matter what (big mistake on both counts). However, any difference is likely linguistic as both male and females can thrive on commitment as long as it means a gain in freedom rather than a loss. If women don’t feel they must watch out for what a man is up to—that would be like having a child—and if men don’t feel commitment is like being confined to a dog run (or vice versa), commitment can set each free. I mean, for most of us, just how much fun is dating after awhile? It’s like a job interview that just never works out. True commitment in an intimate and passionate relationship is like having one’s energy freed up. And that’s the key. If commitment comes across like a pattern of loss (some trepidation is inevitable), trouble will follow. It is little wonder to me the high percentage of dissatisfied relationships when we use language like “tying the knot” or “the ol’ ball and chain” to describe marriage.
And here’s an important consideration: Commitment in an intimate and passionate relationship is not commitment if both are not creating, maintaining, and honoring it. One or the other in a relationship can remain committed when the other isn’t, but that’s pretty much like self-flagellation—which seems to get banked as an I’m-better-than-you deposit.
Which raises another point: One needs to know where the commitment lies. If one is really committed to undermining the relationship, that’s not a commitment to an intimate and passionate relationship, that’s a commitment to sabotage. Maybe our unwillingness to examine the nature of commitment closely is why we have a lot of phobia about commitment.
Intimacy, passion, and commitment are not just components in a marriage or partnership, but are about community as well. Consider the current global mess we’re in. Where did commitment really lie? Who was passionate about what? Where was intimacy—transparency—in our dealings? When we deliberately ignore the necessity of weaving the individual threads of these Big Three together to strengthen the fabric of all relationships, we practice ignorance. One would think somewhere along the line, we’d notice we just keep coming back to the same point in human dealings—different characters and context, but the same point. We can keep walking with the same short leg in the same circle, but it’s a well-worn path, even if it’s a path of seemingly least resistance. Cutting a new trail will create some ecological upheaval, but I suspect in the long run, we’ll go further faster and do it a lot easier.
Whatever will we do with all the excess energy? Whatever we decide, let’s increase the play component and reduce the world-is-dire template. Last I checked, play is not an act of irresponsibility. In fact, the spirit of play may be the best way to build intimacy, passion, and commitment. If nothing else, we know that fear doesn’t make for a good foundation.