What is the biggest challenge facing marriage today? The answer might be one word: Commitment! This, however, is a relatively new problem. Historically, social norms and societal laws strongly encouraged couples toward commitment in marriage, but today a much different feeling prevails. We often speak of a “lack of commitment” or a “fear of commitment,” particularly among men. What are the reasons behind this noncommittal culture? I have found at least three; (1) the redefining of commitment, (2) poor commitment examples, and (3) the decreasing love myth.
#1 The Redefining of Commitment
To the modern generation, commitment has come to signify a loss of freedom. Committing your heart and your life to just one person is seen as limiting, restrictive, and even dangerous. This view of commitment has created a great amount of fear regarding the marriage decision. I often hear young adults speak of the fear of “making a wrong or poor choice,” or of eventually “being stuck with someone they no longer love.” Commitment, however, was never meant to be a loss of freedom, but a door to freedoms not peviously available.
When you find someone you truly love, you want to be with that person. You want them to be yours, and only yours. Commitment through marriage gives that assurance. Commitment becomes the guarantee that the friendship and passion which are beginning to bud in dating will have the opportunity to fully bloom in marriage. Commitment is not a prison, but a whole new world of additional freedoms, rights, and privileges. When commitment is seen as the opportunity to expand a wonderful relationship, some of our fears become irrational.
As a young man, I learned this truth for myself. I was dating a wonderful girl, but I felt that I was not ready for a commitment. One evening I suggested that we date other people. Surprisingly, she took the idea in stride. I really had no intention of dating around, but protecting my “freedom” calmed my fears. A few weeks later as we made plans for an upcoming weekend she said, “I have a date for that night.” I was stunned and immediately protested,“What do you mean you have a date?!” She calmly countered, “You said that we should date other people.” Suddenly I was ready for commitment! Commitment was now my best friend! The possibility of losing her made me realize just how much I loved her. She eventually agreed to break her date on the condition that “my dating around days were over.” I happily agreed and soon asked her to be my wife. My fear of commitment was replaced by a fear of what could happen without it.
#2 Commitment and Poor Examples
I recently asked a young woman why she thought people were not getting married at the rate they used to. Her answer, “Because so many people we know are getting divorced,” didn’t surprise me. There can be no doubt that the number of failed marriages being witnessed by singles is adding to their fear of commitment. As singles watch the demise of marriages close to them, it significantly increases their insecurities regarding their ability to obtain and maintain a happy marriage for themselves. To counteract this, we must re-energize the appeal of marriage and commitment. We need more visible and vocal examples of happy marriage. The number of marriages that succeed is still greater than those that fail. We need to celebrate and highlight those successful marriages.
#3 Commitment and the Decreasing Love Myth
Finally, a deadly myth regarding married life is being perpetuated by the media and pop culture. It is the devilish doctrine that the love in a relationship “peaks” at the marriage altar and then gradually decreases from there on out. It is as if the couple had their “hour-glass” of love turned over at the altar, and now the sand is continually draining out. Under this misguided idea, commitment becomes an act of holding-on or hanging-in-there. We talk of couples “surviving” 50 years of marriage and ask how they were able to “make-it” for so long. All of these nuances assume that their love has been slowly dying over the the years.
Young couples are beginning to wonder why they should get married at all. It would seem much more logical to just live together–free to move on to a fresh and new relationship when the love has drained. It is imperative that we correctly teach that the “honeymoon phase” is just the beginning, and that young couples have barely scratched the surface of the joys that will come from a true, growing, and enduring love. I once spent an entire hour telling a commitment shy young woman how my love for my wife has grown deeper and how marriage has gotten better every day. At the end of our conversation she exclaimed, “This was awesome. I have never heard someone talk about marriage like that!”
Commitment and the Married Couple
Commitment has become a problem among married couples, as well. Around 40% of those who marry will choose to end their commitment in divorce. Why would anyone walk away from years of deeply developed friendship and an ever increasing physical attraction? The obvious answer is that they don’t. No marriage fails that is experiencing continual growth. A careful look at marriage and divorce will show that most divorces come about because the elements of true love were allowed to die.
In today’s world, the focus has moved from seeking the good of your spouse, to protecting yourself. With the introduction of “pre-nuptial agreements” marriage has become more of an experiment than a commitment. And if it goes wrong, it is chalked up to a “poor choice” and the individuals move on.
But these failed marriages are not all marriages. Innumerable couples happily and willingly come to the marriage altar and promise to “have and to hold” each other, for “better or worse,” for “richer or poorer,” and in “sickness or health.” The words are spoken as an expression of love and unity. They witness that each individual is committed to strive for the happiness of the other. They recognize that married life will have challenges and fluctuations, but, those challenges will not change their commitment to each other.
Marriage is not a promise that you will never “get out,” but a commitment that you will always be “all in!” When the wife is sick, the husband won’t see an excuse to leave, but an opportunity to show his love by nursing her back to health. When money is tight, the good wife won’t jump ship–she will budget and scrimp to make it work. When things are “worse” between the couple, both will strive to make them better. As said in one of my favorite love songs, “Whatever came their way, they would just work it out.” (Diamond Rio) Challenges can be a blessing to our union. Marriages of continual ease and bliss may not have the strength to survive. Pulling together through the highs and the lows strengthens and solidifies the marriage.
The marriage of Elmo and Cheryl Keck is an example of the joy of commitment that I have been attempting to describe in this article. The Kecks met in college as members of an A Capella choir and sang together on their first date. Elmo was a skilled musician and had a gift for working with young people, so he became a music teacher. Cheryl committed herself to the full-time care of their 8 children. Their early years were filled with love and hard work. Whenever their song, “Moon River” played, Cheryl insisted that they stop everything and dance together. Living on a “teacher’s wage” can be a challenge, but Cheryl was up to the task. She was a genius at making every penny count, and Elmo loved her for it. She would carefully separate their money into different envelopes to ensure that expenses were always covered.
In the middle of raising a large family, tragedy came to the Kecks. Two of their young children, Brenton and Angela, passed away. This might have torn less committed couples apart, but it bound Elmo and Cheryl even more tightly, as they sought to support and comfort each other in their grief. Time marched on, children grew up and moved away, and retirement for Elmo was approaching. Again, tragedy would strike. At the age of 55 Cheryl was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Although her physical and mental capacities were quickly diminishing, the Keck’s filled their days making memories, including a mission for their church in New Zealand.
Eventually, Cheryl was unable to do much on her own, and Elmo took over her full-time care. She could not do her own hair, so a now retired Elmo learned to use a curling iron and some basic make-up skills. They spent their days at home singing, talking, and remembering good times with their children. Near the end of her life, Cheryl was placed in a care facility within view of the Keck’s home. Elmo visited her each day, serenading her as he had always done. On one visit near the end of her life a therapist had been playing music for the residents, his final song was “Moon River.” Unable to support her own weight, Elmo gently lifted Cheryl from her wheelchair, held her tightly around the waist and began to dance. Even though she could no longer remember the names of her family members, somehow Cheryl whispered the familiar words in his ear as they moved around the room.
Commitment is the expression of true love.
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