When lost in a delicious fog of love, many lovers propose the commitment of marriage. Despite their intent to share life “til death do us part,” more than half of those unions end unhappily far sooner than that. Is there confusion about the nature of commitment? The high frequency with which marriages fail and commitments are broken suggest that romantic partners have either unrealistic expectations of marriage, do not possess sufficient strength or both. Today the wedding alter is a place where fiancées commit with a wink and a nod because every engaged partner knows that if he or she becomes unhappy there is available the often-used escape hatch of divorce.
A commitment is a promise. People make promises to obtain a benefit now by “promising” to provide something in the future. Whenever a promise is given, it is really made to oneself, an opportunity to prove strength of character and integrity. Our entire society and economy is based on the good faith of promises, which if empty, will erode all the freedoms we value in our society.
Too many partners seem to forget that a commitment is a permanent promise to “love, honor and cherish” in which failure is not an option. By offering a complete commitment great life benefits may be gained. Marriage is more about deep lessons for the soul than ego-based happiness. Many partners seem to want the benefits of a commitment without doing the work. Only if a lover is “all in,” can a marriage bloom to its potential. Lovers who half-heartedly commit almost certainly will experience accumulating troubles. Partners make better relationship choices if escape is not an option. A strongly committed relationship offers safety from the risk of rejection; each partner has the security to open completely by revealing all of him or herself.
Marrying is a bond of love that is similar to a chemical reaction. The commitment is the reaction’s container and love is the catalyst. Once activated the chemical reaction melds partner qualities. The fizzing and churning of the chemicals in emotional terms is uncomfortable while old wounds are brought to conscious awareness so they may be healed. The worst of each partner surfaces during this process. If the healing is successful, each partner develops a deeper capacity to love. The discomfort and adversity associated with loving is a normal part of the growing process. Typically each partner blames the other for his or her pain, but truly the discomfort belongs to oneself and is a by-product of to one’s own limitations of loving.
On the surface, a commitment appears to be for and to the partner, but in reality loving another and making a commitment of love is truly a commitment to one’s own growth and well-being. It is a commitment to one self. A lover who breaks the commitment is failing to cultivate the best in him or herself. The adversity that flows from a commitment of love is one’s own; failing to resolve an issue means that personal limitations linger unresolved.
Committed partners are at risk for confusing their emotions with the deeper part of themselves. Emotional struggles are a normal part of the work of love and not a signal that a relationship or partner choice is wrong. Intense negative emotions may signal that the progress of growing in love has gotten stuck. During the work of love, happiness, at times, is not experienced. Unhappiness does not indicate dysfunction. Rather than questioning the value of the marriage or the rightness of the partner, better to seek to fix the problems and search deep within one own self to determine if in any way one self is contributing to the problems.
The choice of partner involves deeply unconscious and wise parts of ourselves and ought not be taken lightly. Marital partners are selected carefully and deliberately; the chosen partner possesses certain qualities and characteristics that are vital for one’s own development. There can really be no mistakes when it comes to partner choice and commitment; however a lover may underestimate the amount of work required and not be prepared for it. The best partner in terms of facilitating our growth is not a partner with whom a relationship will be only comfortable and fun. Not even the weather gives us only sunshine. If turbulence exists within a marriage, it may actually mean that growth is happening. Love your spouse well, even if you
do not believe he or she deserves it; fix the problems instead of ending the marriage…after all, you promised. Andrew Aaron, LICSW