New relationships are often hindered by assumptions and confusion around commitment. People can assume that the other person is as committed as they are. Or they are confused about how committed the other person really is. Being aware of the five levels of commitment can put you both on the same page.
I had a friend once who said that he found dating really hard, and the main reason for this was because he felt one person is always more committed than the other in the beginning. So it’s difficult to know what the relationship is, or if there even is a relationship. (Read I Wasn’t Sure When We Were An ‘Official Couple’).
Modern dating has many joys but it does bring uncertainty
My friend had a very good point. If one person in the new relationship is really keen and committed while the other person isn’t sure, it can become toxic. If a couple assumes the other person is as committed as them when they aren’t, it can lead to feeling hurt and betrayed.
Talk It Out
The advice I give that can help is twofold. Firstly, you need to talk about it. Modern dating has many joys, but it does bring uncertainty. Especially in the beginning. But we aren’t mind readers. You need to talk about how you both see the relationship and how invested you really are.
If we don’t talk about it, we can end up suffocating a relationship, leading people on, over analysing, or the like. This can result in hurt and pain, which none of us want to experience or cause. Talking and communicating is part of any healthy relationship. (Read my post on the importance of activeness in a relationship)
What Can I Say?
Now me telling you to talk is all very well, but what do you say? How do you explain your commitment levels? Well, I think Barbara Wilson’s ‘five levels’ can really help you here, and help you understand where you’re both at, and bring you to the same point.
(The following extract is taken from page 116-117 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)
In case all of this commitment talk is putting you off asking someone out because it feels way too serious, relax! Forming a new relationship is supposed to be enjoyable, because it’s full of lots of exciting firsts; the first time you have a deep and meaningful chat, the first time you pray together, the first time you refer to each other as your boy/girlfriend, the first time you hold hands, the first blazing row, the first kiss. But it’s at the very moment that we want to be going full speed ahead that we need to learn to pace ourselves!
Go Deep, Don’t Sink!
Getting to know someone can be intoxicating and incredible. You share thoughts that no-one else knows and feel alive when you’re near them. This is intimacy. It grows through a number of levels. Barbara Wilson outlines these in her book, The Five Levels of Intimacy.
Level one: When we start liking someone we want to get to know them. ‘Chatting someone up’ is simply a way of building a link with someone through conversation.
Level two: We get to know a bit about the person we’re attracted to: their values and beliefs. Things are getting more personal as we’re making choices about whether this person’s values match ours or not.
Level three: We feel safe to share our values and beliefs with them. This opens us up to the possibility to rejection, and is where relationships between Christians and non-Christians often end.
Level four: We share our feelings and experiences by talking about our mistakes, hopes and dreams. Have you ever started talking at this level with someone too soon? You probably felt a bit vulnerable, especially if they’re not doing the same.
Level five: We explore each other’s deepest needs, desires and emotions. It’s at this level that we open ourselves up to the greatest experience any relationship can ever offer, and the greatest risk of rejection. So we save this for marriage; that ultimate commitment that alone makes us safe enough to give ourselves completely to the other person.
Exclusivity doesn’t mean intensity
As you prepare to go deep in your dating relationship, consider how you can travel together emotionally. Be careful that you don’t jump into intimate conversations before you have established the foundation, trusting each other and feeling safe with who they are as a person.
Exclusivity is good, but we must remember that intimacy takes time to grow.
So alongside being exclusive, we need to be wise in how we nurture intimacy. Rushing headlong into vulnerability and pinning all our hopes on one person can be very overwhelming for them. Exclusivity doesn’t mean intensity. Our trust and intimacy with each other needs to flourish over time.
As you commit yourself to being exclusive and going deep, avoid sinking into intimacy you’re not yet ready for.
What stage are you at? Are you between stages? What about the person you’re dating? You need to be honest about where you are and where you want to be. By having a rough guide in your head and talking, you can take out the assumptions and confusion, and focus on growing together.
What would you add to these levels if anything?