I am so happy to report that my new book PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Home is getting oh so close to publication. I am in the process of recording brief interviews with some of the people I cite in the book. These interviews will be scattered throughout the book and accessible with a QR Code reader, or simply typing the link into a browser.
Until it’s available, I thought I would share one of my favorite chapters with you. By the way, I’ve recorded interviews with two sources I cite in this chapter – Scott Stanley, and Dave and Claudia Arp. Since they did most of the talking, I don’t mind telling you they came out really, really well.
Section Seven: Commitment: A matter of life or death?
“Commitment is making a choice to give up other choices.”
A husband and wife were having an argument when the husband blurted out, “I was a fool when I married you.” The wife maintained her composure and calmly replied: “I suppose you were, dear, but at the time I was so much in love, I didn’t even notice.” At the risk of sounding like a broken record, married couples will experience times in their marriage when they don’t especially like each other. This shouldn’t come as a great surprise as there are times in most of our lives that we don’t like ourselves all that much. We let ourselves or others down and beat ourselves up for it. If that is true, that we are not always comfortable with our own behavior, what chance is there that we will always be totally comfortable with someone else? And therein lies the great need for commitment if your marriage is to be all that you hoped for when you first said, “I do.”
Commitment appears to be a vanishing quality in our society. When something isn’t working just right, we replace it with a newer, more up-to-date version. This is fine if you’re talking about a mattress or television set. It’s not so good if you’re talking about a marriage partner. My fear is that we have not prepared folks for the reality that any marriage will have challenging moments. Anyone who has been married more than five years and tells you the thought of divorce has never entered their minds will likely lie to you about other things as well. Or if not divorce, they have at least entertained thoughts that maybe they married the wrong person or that getting married was a mistake. That is normal, and those thoughts need to be taken to the recycle bin in your mind and quickly deleted.
Another problem I see is that many folks have a lowered concept of what marriage can be and therefore settle for less. They also hesitate to fully invest in the marriage for fear the payout will not be worth the investment. Dr. Scott Stanley, who I have cited a few times previously, has authored or co-authored numerous books and journal articles and has participated in several studies designed to find out why marriages fail and how to help them succeed. In his book, The Power of Commitment, Dr. Stanley writes that “only in the context of a total commitment are you free to develop greater levels of intimacy and connection—the things that are perhaps the very essence of oneness.” What a paradox. We want true and lasting commitment, but we’re afraid to give it ourselves for fear it will not be reciprocated.
Dr. Stanley describes two forms of commitment, each of which is vital to a lasting, satisfying marriage. One is dedication commitment, which “implies an internal state of devotion to a person or project.” This is the fun part of commitment. It’s the part where you want to be with your spouse because you are being fulfilled and feel like you are adding value to his or her life as well. Every marriage needs a healthy dose of dedication commitment to be successful and high functioning.
The second form of commitment is what Dr. Stanley calls constraint commitment which “brings out the sense of obligation.” You may not be very happy with the state of your marriage, but the cost of divorce, the impact on the children, and the grief you will cause family and friends serves as a deterrent to ending the marriage. As with dedication commitment, every couple needs constraint commitment from time to time. When things get rough, as they will, you need to buckle down and fix what’s broken. Cutting and running should rarely be an option at all and certainly never the first option. When divorce is a readily available option, folks are more likely to choose it than to do what’s necessary to make things better.
I’m reminded of the Biosphere, a failed experiment of controlled living in a glass bubble in Arizona. There were a few reasons why the experiment failed. One was that researchers underestimated the dynamics and tension that could exist between men and women living in such close quarters “24/7/365,” as they say.
Another reason the experiment failed is that they could not regulate the oxygen properly. The designers had planned that the trees they planted would be a major component of the oxygen system. But the trees died. The reason they died was that they did not put down deep roots. In nature, trees face challenges from winds and other elements. This causes them to put down roots to solidify their standing. In the Biosphere, no such challenges were present, so the trees had no motivation to root deeply. When your marriage faces storms, it can and should be an incentive to you and your spouse to deepen your commitment to each other and to your marriage. Each weathered storm makes the next one that much easier, or should I say, less difficult to face.
Marriage is and should be a serious matter. People should neither begin nor end their marriage without careful forethought. Unfortunately, we as a society have made marriage too easy to get into and far too easy to get out of. Though it is also so much more, marriage is a form of contract between two consenting adults. Can you name any other contract which either party can unilaterally end without incurring penalties?
So, let me challenge you to focus on your marriage in the coming weeks, months, and years. Determine now that you are going to do your part to make it successful and healthy. Don’t worry about what your mate will or won’t do. Just subtly leave this book in a conspicuous place in the house and hope they come to the same conclusion that you have. Or, be brave and let your spouse know you are committed to him or her and to doing your part to increase the harmony and intimacy in the relationship.
Many of you can do this on your own. Buy the book 10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage by Dave and Claudia Arp and just do what it says. Others of you will need more personal help in one form or another. There’s no shame in that. If your tooth hurts, you are very willing to go to a dentist. So if your marriage is hurting, then there should be nothing keeping you from going to a counselor or relationship coach to get things to a better state. The investment will be minuscule in comparison to the payoff.