Recently I may have been responsible for a $400 blunder. I say “may” have because I don’t feel like ultimately it was my fault. But the $400 part is definitely true. Now I had the task of breaking this news to my wife. I looked at the situation from every angle to find the silver lining but just couldn’t come up with one. I considered creative ways I might fit this news into a conversation with her. And then I was reminded why, even though it might be a hurdle for us to overcome in the short term, it’s not going to cause a long-lasting problem in our marriage. So I bit the proverbial bullet and hit it head on.
Now, I’ve certainly been solely responsible for a number of other things that have hurt my wife and our marriage. Some have been way more serious than a few hundred bucks. Words. Decisions. Actions. But even those things haven’t wrecked the whole thing entirely because of our commitment to one crucial thing.
“Commitment to what?” you might ask.
Good question because I think the answer is pivotal for a lasting marriage.
What’s it not
The one commitment every spouse must make…
…is not a commitment to marriage itself.
…it’s not a commitment to making it.
…nor is it a commitment to your parents, or her dad, or his Grandma.
I know many of you think the answer is God, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s it either. I believe someone could have little or no belief in God and still get this one commitment right.
And as much emphasis as we put on committing to one’s vows in a ceremony, I don’t think that’s it either.
I remember many things from our wedding 25 years ago, but the specifics of the vows are not one of them. I know we repeated some words but honestly, I don’t have a clue what they were. We have a video tape somewhere that I could go back and watch again if I wanted to remember what those vows were (if it doesn’t have a basketball game recorded over it). I do know that part of my pledge to care for my wife included the handling of all bugs, rodents and other animals. Other than that, honestly, I had no idea what I was really committing to at that time.
Last year, however, I helped a couple renew their vows after 50 years of marriage. Now those vows, yes, those vows really mean something. After five decades of being husband and wife, this couple has been through it all. They have lived the marriage relationship of highs and lows and who else knows. They’ve experienced what it takes to have a thriving marriage by living it every day for the last 600 months. And they’re saying to each other, “if we could go back and do it all over again, we’d say ‘yes’, we still do.”
What they are saying yes to is what my wife and I have said yes to.
And it’s the one commitment every spouse must make and the one that gets us through it all.
It is a commitment to each other.
You’ll never have a growing, thriving, lasting marriage if you only commit to the idea of marriage and not the person you’re married to.
A few years back UCLA psychologists studied 172 married couples for the first 11 years of their marriage. 78.5 percent were still married after those 11 years and 21.5 percent had divorced. Professor Thomas Bradbury summed up one of the main findings this way:
There’s a “difference between ‘I like this relationship and I’m committed to it’ and ‘I’m committed to doing what it takes to make this relationship work.’ When you and your partner are struggling a bit, are you going to do what’s difficult when you don’t want to?”
In other words, a lot of people are committed to a marriage when things are working right. But rarely is it the case that we find the right person at the right time in the right situation and it all leads to a great marriage. Great marriage relationships don’t demand commitment as much as commitment demands a great relationship.
What I’m saying is that we can choose to be committed to our spouse, and that choice will dictate the quality and strength of our marriage.
In our marriage, a commitment to each other has brought a lot of Safety and Security.
Safety, says “I’m for you”.
I mean that we don’t want to intentionally hurt or harm each other. We want to do things and live in ways that are “for” the other, their good and their growth. I want to see my wife achieve her highest potential and grow into the person God has designed her to be.
And one of the greatest gifts we have given to each other (and maybe not so knowingly) is security.
Security says, “I’m with you”.
It’s me and it’s you. Together. That gift of knowing that neither of was going anywhere has allowed us time to learn who we are, and who God made us to be. I had a lot to learn when we were first married. I needed to deal with things in the past. I was still figuring out who God made me to be. And together, we were just growing up into the man and woman that God wanted us to become.
It is our commitment to each other that gave us the Safety and Security of knowing all other options are off the table. Even when the circumstances surrounding our relationship have been less than ideal, because our commitment is not to ‘the marriage’, but to one another, we’ve been able to learn and grow.
In a letter written to his son Michael, J.R.R. Tolkien offered this advice about marriage. “When the glamor wears off or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find…but the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.”
Because we said “I do” to “you” and there are no other options – it’s forced us to find solutions that don’t end in “I don’t”.
That commitment has allowed us to get through a lot of difficult times in our marriage. To work through things that could be damaging to our relationship. Even things that could have even ended the relationship for many couples.
When you commit to your spouse you make an intentional decision to feel something towards them. And that choice dictates how you treat them.
We grow our commitment to each other and strengthen it through our positive actions. I wrote about 3 of the most important actions we can practice in this post.
Earlier I wrote that the commitment we must make is not necessarily to God. However, I do believe that a person who truly wishes to honor God and follow Jesus has a greater capacity to love, forgive, and extend grace to others because they’ve experienced in their own life the greatest love, forgiveness, and grace possible.
I will make more mistakes in the future. I certainly won’t try to, but I know myself, and I know that I don’t always get things right. I will likely even act in ways that wrong my wife. And I never want to take advantage of her commitment to me. But I know we have the Safety and Security in our relationship, through our commitment to one another as individuals, to not only survive those moments but grow through them.
We’re not committing to words, ideas, dreams or even ceremonies, but to a person.
And here’s our promise of commitment: “I’m for you and I’m with you.”
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