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Editor’s note: This is the seventh article in a series of 9 on the Myths of Marriage. They are drawn partially from the Eyres’ new book “The 8 Myths of Marriaging” and are intended as a preview of the book for our readers. The Myths are eight erroneous beliefs that are discouraging and undermining marriages throughout the world and particularly within the Church. Today’s article is on the sixth myth. The six previous articles in this series can be read at these links: Intro, Myth 1. Myth 2. Myth 3. Myth 4. Myth 5.
MYTH: You wouldn’t buy a car until you had taken a test drive, and it is unwise to make a marriage commitment before you have lived together long enough to know if it will work.
TRUTH: It is the commitment that will make a marriage work. Real security comes from promising and implementing complete allegiance, not from conditional, tentative try-it-and-see.
- SUB-MYTH: Formal commitments don’t matter. We don’t need some license or certificate or ink on paper to be in love and live together.
TRUTH: Formally married couples have twice as high a chance of being together in ten years than those without the “ink on paper.”
- SUB-MYTH: The longer you wait and the older you are when you get married, the better your marriage will be.
TRUTH: There is no one-size-fits-all or one ideal age for marriage. It’s more about preparation and commitment than it is about how old you are.
- SUB-MYTH: The more relationships I have, the more likely I will be to find the right one—the one that will last.
TRUTH: Several uncommitted relationships will never add up to one committed one.
ARE YOU “IN A RELATIONSHIP” OR “IN A COMMITMENT”?
For many years, we have taught a seminar on prioritizing relationships above everything else in life. The word “relationship” has become, to us, one of the most important words in the English language. And of course—in our minds at least—the marriage relationship is the most important of all.
But over the last decade or two, this favorite word of ours has taken on a new meaning that we don’t like—a meaning that, in some ways, connotes the very opposite of what we think the word should mean. We remember one of the first times a certain juxtaposition got our attention. In the Question and Answer phase of our seminar, a young man raised his hand and started his question with “I’m currently in a relationship . . .” The connotation was that relationships are things you can move into and out of, like apartments. In one today, in another one tomorrow, moving out whenever you don’t like it anymore.
Strangely then, “a relationship” has become the alternative to “a commitment.”
A relationship in this new vernacular is temporary, without a set term or span of time; something conditional and transitory and unpredictable. A relationship is a trial balloon, something that we will blow up to see if it holds air, something that could pop at any moment.
Where is the power in such a relationship? Where is the security? Where is the learning and the growing? And where is the joy that only comes from enduring the ups and downs and from finding a way to make things work.
Where is the “in sickness and health” and the “in good times and bad”? Where is the durability and the resilience that, over time, grow into a love deeper and more exciting than any erotic fling?
Are you in a relationship? Or are you in a commitment?
We recently had a conversation with an associate who is living with his girlfriend. We asked him if they were planning to get married.
“Well, we hope to, if everything works out,” he said. “We just want to live together long enough to be sure we are compatible before we make a commitment.”
In the conversation, he used a cliché́ that we don’t like: “You wouldn’t want to buy a car before you had taken it on a test drive.”
We didn’t know him well enough to start giving advice, but we would have loved to tell him (and if we get better acquainted, maybe we will) that he and his girlfriend’s chances of it “working out” are less than half of what they would be if they were married. We would also have liked to tell him that even if and when they do get married, their chances of divorce will be higher than if they had not cohabitated before marriage.
But the biggest thing we wanted to tell him has to do with commitment—when it should come and what it can do for a relationship and for a marriage. His view of commitment—as something you do after you are sure that the relationship will work out—is backward. In truth, commitment is the one thing that can maximize the chances that the relationship will work out.
Commitment is not a culmination. It is a strong beginning.
Commitment is not a nice celebration you have if or when you decide you can be happy together. It is the thing that makes it possible to be happy together.
Commitment is not something you do after you have made it through the hard times. It is the thing that will get you through the hard times.
The reason people are afraid of commitments is that they involve risk and vulnerability. When you commit to someone in a way as visible and public as marriage, you risk that it won’t work and that it will be hard to get out of the relationship; you give up some of your “freedom”; you eliminate some options. You get into a situation that requires some sacrifice and some extra responsibility.
The easy way is to just live together, just try it out, leave yourself a back door. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Easy come, easy go. But when nothing is risked, nothing is gained. High risk, high reward; low risk, low reward. You have heard that marriage is not for the fainthearted. We agree with that. Marriage is for the adventurous. Marriage is for the risk-takers.
But the irony is that our odds get better as we take that risk.
THE MAGIC OF TOTAL COMMITMENT
We are writing this article from the middle of the Mediterranean, where we are speaking on a cruise ship. And as luck would have it, the magic show in the ship’s theater gave us the metaphor we were looking for.
Real, nothing-held-back marriage commitments actually become a kind of magic. It is the magic of synergy—of a combination where the total is greater than the sum of its parts; where one plus one can equal more than two. Much more.
A year later in Philadelphia, we were reminded of this kind of magic by singer and songwriter John Legend, who was the commencement speaker at our son’s graduation from UPenn. He talked about his song “All of Me.” It’s a song about the magic of commitment where “all of me loves all of you.”
Of course, marriage can be thought of as a responsibility, which it certainly is. It can be thought of as a duty and as a sacrifice and as a challenge, too, all of which would be accurate. And these same words would also be fitting descriptions for the children and family that usually come with marriage.
But if those were the only contexts for marriage, we might miss the most important and the most fantastic aspects of what marriage is and what it can be. We might miss the “all of me loves all of you” part. And we might miss the magic of knowing marriage as synergy, adventure, and the ultimate security and joy.
We know of a very successful coach who seemed to be able to create a winning team out of mediocre talent—every season. When asked how he did it, he said, “It’s all about the commitment.” Commitment, in his mind, meant loyalty, teamwork, and unwavering determination. Total commitment, he said, was much more rare than talent. Commitment meant you never gave up, no matter what the score and no matter how long the odds. Commitment meant you cared more about the team than about yourself.
To that coach, courage, risk, devotion, and determination were all manifest in the concept of commitment. It was what got you through tough situations. It was what freed you from doubt and from second-guessing. It was what made you “all in” and banished any thought that perhaps this was not the right game or the right team for you.
It can be the same in marriage. Once there is total commitment, things become much more simple and positive. When disagreements happen, you do what you have to do to work through them—there is no thought of jumping ship or second-guessing about whether you knew each other well enough before marriage. Total commitment is unquestioned, and it is so strong that it makes molehills out of what could otherwise be mountains.
When marriage is built on total commitment—when we absolutely mean our vows of “in sickness and in health” and “for better or worse”—life takes on a certain purpose and clarity. Bailing out or giving up is never an option, so you don’t waste time or mental energy contemplating it. You just work through things, believing in each other and believing in your commitment.
Don’t fall into the trap of saying you don’t need “some ceremony” or “some ink stains on a piece of paper” to prove your commitment. Don’t look for ways to commit without formalities and rings and vows. Instead, look for more of these symbols to safeguard and solidify your commitment. Marriage is the ultimate manifestation of commitment.
Not all marriages will last, or should last, and perhaps some should never have happened. However, the best chance marriages have come via total commitment. It makes you strong. It makes you resilient. It frees up your mind and your heart to know things and feel things you couldn’t access without it.
And it allows you to give your partner the greatest gift and the most profound security imaginable—the gift of yourself and the security of knowing that you will always be hers—only hers—and she will always be yours—only yours.
Quoting the rest of Legend’s song:
“Cause all of me loves all of you. Love your curves and all your edges All your perfect imperfections. Give your all to me, I’ll give my all to you.
You’re my end and my beginning. Even when I lose I’m winning. Cause I give you all, all of me. And you give me all, all of you.
That is magic.
Now available on Amazon: The 8 Myths of Marriaging. CLICK HERE to get your copy.