Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

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Understanding Commitment and Implementing it in Marriage

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

Commitment has become a confusing word in our society. The average age of couples getting married today is 27.5 years. More couples of all ages are living together without being married. Many are hesitant or afraid of commitment. The word “commit” means to connect, entrust, or obligate oneself to do something for someone. In marriage, it is a relationship pledge and promise to a partner to something bigger and more powerful than either individual. In reality it is a willful decision to live with the interests of others in mind and behavior. In its true form it is an agreement to develop a relational “we” or “us” and seek to nurture and treasure the other person as well as protect and plan the short and long view of the relationship. This is no easy task in any era, but especially hard today with our cultural emphasis on personal happiness. As Peter Drucker once wrote, “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans.” The uncommitted marriage only exists and drifts in the sea of life and is susceptible to the winds, waves and tides of life. The result is often running aground on the reefs and shoals of existence. My challenge to each of us is to take the long view in marriage and understand that commitment is often the glue that bonds us together. “United” in the NIV means to cleave or to join fast together or to glue (Greek word KOLLAO).

Matthew 19:3-6 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

There are two types of commitment we all experience. One flourishes in love and the other can exist out of duty or fear of outside consequences.

Dedication Commitment is evidenced by a desire (and associated behaviors) not only to continue in the relationship, but also to improve it, to sacrifice for it, to protect it, to invest in it, and to seek the other’s welfare, not simply one’s own. Dedication is strongly associated with the quality of marriages. Further, dedication is something you have a choice about: how much of yourself are you going to give to your spouse? The New Testament concept of AGAPE love is what the research concept of dedication is all about. Consider 1 Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…”

In contrast, Constraint Commitment refers to forces that constrain an individual to maintain a relationship regardless of their personal feelings about it. Constraints favor relationship stability by making termination of a relationship more economically, socially, personally, or psychologically costly. Constraint leads to stability and roots in a marriage. Without constraint commitment, probably no marriage would stay together, because no marriage is consistently satisfying. Research shows that constraint grows over time and changes in marriage–and is really evidence of choices made from dedication in the past. Constraint leads individuals to make more constructive choices in marriage during times of crisis.

Implementing commitment is as vital to marriage as blood is to the body. Johann Von Goethe wrote about the importance of taking this first step.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too…”

When you boil it all down, commitment in all it’s complexity leads to a long-term view in a marriage. This is crucial because it allows you to see beyond the ups and downs and to invest for the long haul. You can encourage the long-term view and enhance dedication by spending time dreaming about your future years together. This makes it clear that your intentions are as Christ’s:

Hebrews 13:5… “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

The challenge of commitment is that Jesus Christ has made us free to choose to love. Dedication commitment is maintained though selfless love. The heart dedicated to God is a heart ready for service. May your service in love begin closest to home, with your spouse and children, to the glory of God and the delight of your soul.

Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (NASB)

Material adapted from A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage. Stanley, S. M., Trathen D.W., McCain S., Bryan M., 1998, Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers. San Francisco, California.

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