"How do I stay committed in my marriage?"
"What are the signs of my commitment to love you and to honour you all the days of my life?"
These essential questions are the touchstones over the years as life happens.
Commitment, by definition, presents two almost contrary aspects - that of being dedicated to, and, being moderated by, that particular choice.
In marriage, commitment is a lasting pledge to daily practice caring and communication, sharing and sacrifice, learning and liberation, respect, reconciliation and responsibility, trust and teamwork, humility and humour, appreciation and active participation in our relationship.
It is about intentional relating as a couple because together we are one.
Choosing to marry presupposes an initial consideration of being ready for this kind of commitment. In Australia, fewer people are choosing to be married and one in three marriages does not last, calling into question both the capacity to commit and readiness to do so.
One obvious consequence of these trends is that formative learning may need mending so seeking help is vital (Matthew 7:7 Ask ... search ... knock ...). For many couples, preparation-for-marriage programs like FOCCUS and Partnerships are invaluable in providing necessary angles of reflection about beginning and continuing an enduring bond in good times and in bad. Likewise, building capacity can be enhanced by post-marriage options such as REFOCCUS, Marriage Encounter.
Conflict is inevitable for two different persons merging into one trajectory. How we deal with conflict in our marriage is possibly the measure of the authenticity of dedication to our union and of respect for each other. Resolving conflict is foundational to staying married.
Unlike the toaster and the dishwasher, we, are responsible for the repair and maintenance of our relationship. Some well referred insights here include the “Apathy-Empathy-Sympathy Continuum” as discussed by Robert Bolton (People Skills, Touchstone, 1986) and his take on three basic ‘types’ of conflict – of emotions, of values, and, of needs. Bolton’s views sit well alongside John Gottman’s notions of two types of marital conflict - resolvable and perpetual conflict (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Orion, 2000).
For comparison and contrast, Martin Seligman’s writing on ‘changeability’ (Authentic Happiness, Atria 2002) is pertinent. Although capacity for change is not infinite and influenced by intention, forgiveness in marriage gives us another opportunity to transform our relationship. Daily, weekly, monthly - the reciprocity of our saving love for each other nurtures our marriage.
Time perspective too is critical amidst the babble of opinions and expectations that intrude on us. Across the world, despite seemingly incredible circumstances, married couples continue jointly coping with the lack of basic needs and security, with loss, disability, bushfires, drought, migration, and more.
While Me Myself I (Joan Armatrading) remains iconic and expressive of the outlook of many today, we run the risk of downgrading the strength of us by the power of one if we don’t recognise that it is in relationships that we are most challenged to grow and to mature.
Sadly, sometimes, in our quest to better ourselves, our relationships, our productivity, etc, we reach a position of “When worthiness of love becomes a matter of passing tests and fulfilling conditions, [so that] we begin to experience more failure than success.” (John Powell, SJ, The Secret of Staying in Love, Argus, 1974).
A genuine acceptance of self and partner knows that no one is perfect. Each of us is the sum of many parts. Recognising our complementary strengths and weaknesses builds confidence and grows love. Love renews and we learn to love more by loving. Loving is Commitment.CatholicCare Marriage and Relationship Educator.