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The Best Reasons to Commit to an Intimate Relationship

A gateway to personal growth and emotional maturity.

What are your reasons for choosing to be in an intimate relationship? They could predict the quality and longevity of your relationship.

Is Love Enough?

During my couple's therapy sessions, when it seems clinically advantageous, I'll ask partners to describe their reasons for choosing to be a part of what is convincingly the most challenging relationship of them all—the intimate relationship. Surprised at getting a question with such a seemingly obvious answer, many couples look at me as if to say, "Well duh...we fell in love with each other!" And while this patently conventional reaction is expected, nonetheless, I'll purposely follow with another simple, probing and potentially unsettling query, "Do you think love is enough?" Of course, this question clearly implies that falling in love, or love itself, may be incomplete, an inadequate "relationship glue," as it were. Indisputably, this is the bleak reality for approximately half the population of married people who ultimately divorce, but, hopefully, it won't be the case for the couple now in my office seeking help.

While the couple mulls over these provocative and profoundly pertinent questions, I'll throw a little more fuel on the cognitive fire. "Does your love feel sufficiently resilient to meet the often-rigorous demands of your intimate relationship? If so, how sustainable is it? And would you agree your reason for committing to each other—or your love for each other—is often put to a difficult test, it's sometimes subjected to the proverbial refiner's fire for its resilience and sustainability?" Then I'll ask, pivoting in a therapeutic direction, "What do you think might be the best reason(s) for committing to your intimate relationship or for continuing your commitment to it?" Similarly, what reason(s) would serve you best in navigating its rugged but fulfilling 'lovescape'?"

As this dialog slowly, thoughtfully unspools, clients will frequently default by "paying their respects" to the traditional/conventional reasons for committing to their relationship, saying unsurprising things, like, "We wanted to keep and protect our emotional closeness, our stability and security... We wanted to raise a family... We wanted safe and meaningful sex... And there were financial advantages," and so on. Without a doubt, these reasons are both manifestly conventional and indisputably valid. They're what's expected. Notwithstanding, the same nagging but crucial question is left hanging and doesn't go away, nor should it be left unpursued, or unanswered: Are these reasons always sufficient?

Certainly, they're not. Again, the statistics on divorce provide harsh evidence that, for too many couples, the conventional reasons fall disappointingly short, making the probability of marital dissolution a coin flip. Surely, we need additional or better reasons, ones that will help us steer a wise course along intimacy's bumpy, potholed ride, reasons that will help us negotiate its continuous flow of miscellaneous complications and unending challenges.

"Emotional Bad Breath"

I'm usually glad to propose this next cognitive excursion because it's one couples often grasp fairly quickly: Intimacy uncannily shines a bright, uninterrupted light on who we are. In particular, it reveals the positive and the negative aspects of our emotional development. Naturally, it is our weaker qualities that can plague our relationships, and, as would be expected, intimacy unflinchingly leaves no personality flaw unexposed.

Further, our intimate partners come to know us extremely well. In fact, they may know things about us we're not aware of ourselves—a simple example: bad breath. With the unfailing, irrefutable exactitude of a mirror, our partners reflect an accurate image of us based upon the sheer accumulation of informing interconnections they've shared with us. And just as our image in the mirror dictates how we ought to groom ourselves, the same applies to the "image" our partners reflect about us, in particular, our incomplete emotional development—the "grooming" is incomplete and should be continued.

The Proposition

Next, I'll ask the couple to humor me as I suggest it is the very nature of intimacy, even its "job," to indefatigably tease out and sometimes even vigorously "yank and pull" at the less developed aspects of ourselves and expose them, by bringing them to the forefront where they are on full, undeniable display. The good news is that once exposed, partners can now do something about the glitches in their character, as opposed to defending against them, playing them down, or ignoring them.

The intimate relationship serves up a constant helping of opportunities to overcome these deficits in our development. By rising to this sometimes-gargantuan task, we mature ourselves and unburden our relationship of our incomplete development, along with its potential for imposing relationship stress—this includes taking personal responsibility for disposing of the entangling psychological debris of our past.

A Common Example

When Brianna's husband, Marcos, becomes strong-willed about his needs, expectations, opinions, etc., too often Brianna's quickest and strongest emotional reaction is to pull back out of fear that if she were to voice any opinion of her own, especially a contrary one, Marcos might react angrily, negatively, or otherwise withdraw his affection from her. Sadly, Brianna's fear has a deep, tragic familial taproot. She witnessed her mother's devastating abuse at the hand of her alcoholic father's frequent, vitriolic outbursts during his unhinged drinking binges. During these frightening episodes, she watched her hapless mother crumble in fear and hurtful confusion.

The Best Reason

Now, in her current relationship, each time Marcos makes his brawny assertions, Brianna's painful, fear-filled memories of her past rear their ugly heads, haunting her in an emotionally debilitating manner. As a consequence, she finds it hard, sometimes impossible, to express her needs and feelings. Thus, to varying degrees, depending upon the circumstances, she forfeits who she is.

These acute reactions reveal not just the "hole" in Brianna's emotional development, which is incumbent upon her to "fill," but ironically, it also gives her the best reason for continuing her commitment to her relationship, which is to further her emotional development, as difficult as it may be. It is within the rigorous context of her relationship that this enfeebling aspect of her personality gets most fully, albeit disturbingly, revealed, making it ripe for self-examination and, ideally, self-repair.

The gateway to Brianna's personal growth and maturity can be found within her personally informing, challenging relationship with Marcos. Further, her efforts to overcome her fears, which would include learning to identify, validate, and represent her needs, are key to her emotional growth and maturation. Though appearing self-centric, paradoxically, Brianna's focus on her own emotional development promises a huge contribution to the quality, resilience, and durability of her relationship with Marcos which, in turn, brings enriching personal benefits to Marcos as well.

As a psychologist specializing in couples therapy, I'm a firm believer in intimacy's far-reaching fulfillments, most notably, the furtherance of our emotional maturity. The pursuit of this lofty, self-potentiating goal may be the best reason for committing to an intimate relationship. Moreover, however it might be defined, complete emotional maturity may not be achievable outside of an intimate relationship, making the reasons for its resilience and durability all the more critical.

Facebook image: Max kegfire/Shutterstock


Johansen, R.N., Gaffaney, T., (2021), Need Management Therapy: A New Science of Love, Intimacy and Relationships. Archway Publishing by Simon & Schuster, Bloomington, IN

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