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Is Commitment Enough? Part 1
By Barrington H. Brennen,  February 21, 2002, 2017



Question: Dear Sir: Iíve discovered that too many of my friends are not really committed to making their marriages work. Is commitment all you need? What is commitment in marriage?

Answer: Commitment is a positive and powerful ingredient in healthy relationships. However, if a spouse is not totally committed, or is committed to the wrong thing, then the marriage will not be healthy.

Marriage specialist, Dr. Jeannette Lauer states in her book "Til Death Do Us Part" that "commitment provides each spouse with the sense of being able to survive all kinds of problems without being emotionally or interpersonally crippled." In a deeper way, we can also say that committed couples seek to avoid creating painful situations that will destroy marriages. "Commitment involves a promise of dedication to a relationship in which there is an emotional attachment to another person who has made the promise." The problem is if one spouse does not make the same promise as the other.

Let us explore further the meaning of commitment. After working with hundreds of couples and studying the meaning of commitment, Iíve discovered that there are at least three kinds of commitment. The first is a commitment to a happy marriage. This may sound good on the surface, but the problem is that this type of commitment only lasts as long as the happiness. When the happiness goes away, the commitment is over and the marriage ends.

Secondly, there is a commitment to marriage itself. Spouses who are prepared to stick to the marriage no matter what. They have been taught to ignore their pain and misery and to endure the relationship. Many Christian wives mistakenly have this type of commitment. They would remain in a relationship even after contracting sexually transmitted diseases as a result of their husbandís unfaithfulness. They just "rough it out" because "it is the Lordís will." I call this blind commitment.

Thirdly, there is a commitment to both marriage, happiness, and the spouse. This is healthy commitment. I call it total commitment. This is the kind of commitment found between happily married couples. Being committed alone to the marriage vows itself is not enough. There must be a blend of the two other types of commitments. When both spouses are totally committed, the marriage can make it through the rough times because both partners are seeking to make it better and have a commitment to not give up in the face of pain. It is imperative to note both partners need to have this kind of commitment.

Unfortunately, there are too many marriages where partners are going through constant struggles, pain, torment, and frustration. I call this a "bootcamp marriage" where the survival of the fittest seems to be the philosophy. There are too many spouses who are taught that "endurance" should be the most sought-out ingredient in marriage. This is sad. As I have mentioned in earlier articles, marriage is not an endurance test. God does not require any spouse to just endure a relationship. On the other hand, I am not suggesting that a spouse should easily give up on a marriage when there is pain and disappointment. Persons in painful marriages should seek professional help. The real challenge with "bootcamp" marriages is that the partners are not really allowed to admit the pain, to themselves, or anyone else.

I have met many spouses who thought God expected them "put up," "endure" or "rough it out" in order to be a good spouse. These marriage are characterized not by their joyous times, but instead by the selfish demands, painful put downs, and unrealistic expectations. One or both partners refuse to shape up nor shake out. Either they are too shameful to leave the relationship or they fear God will strike them if they "disobey" Him. Bootcamp marriages are that way because the partners are only one-sided in the commitment. A commitment to the marriage vows, each other, and happiness is needed for a satisfying as well as a long-lasting relationship.

Is it possible to change a bootcamp marriage into a vital or total marriage where both are mutually supportive, happy, and understanding? Yes, but it requires honest personal examination and mental adjustment from both partners.

Here are suggestions that may help free a "bootcamp" marriage: 

  1. Write a letter. When one partner is awaken to the reality of the state of the marriage and wants to save it, write a letter to the other partner expressing how you feel about the pain in the relationship. Hold the partner accountable for his or her behavior by stating your willingness to work on the relationship if he or she will seek professional help, go to a marriage seminar, or read a book, etc. Remember, this letter is to focus on the writerís feelings by using the "I" instead of "you always" and "you never." 

  2. Seek counseling. Find a good marriage counselor who is aware of the dynamics involved in bootcamp marriages. 

  3. Stop nagging and criticizing. Focus on the positive and the good. Take the time to praise even the little things. 

  4. Each partner should accept the role they played in bringing pain to the relationship. 

  5. Read the book "Boundaries" by Dr. Charles Whitfield. 

  6. Develop positive self-talk. Tell yourself:

a. That you have the right to express your opinions and have them respected. 
b. You have a right to have your needs be as important as your partnerís needs. 
c. You have a right to change your mind.
d. You have a right to not be physically, emotionally, or sexually abused. 
e. You have a right to not take responsibility for your partnerís behavior. 
f. Accept your spouseís personality as a gift to the relationship. Accept the difference between both of you as an opportunity to grow and learn.
g.  Tell your self that you are somebody special, unique, and with a purpose.

These are only a few of the things that may help a bootcamp marriage become a vital one. Remember, total commitment in marriage means the willingness and determination to work through troubled times. That means also that commitment involves patience and acceptance to be complete. Dear friends, be totally committed.

 Part 2

Barrington H. Brennen, MA, NCP, BCCP, a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical psychotherapist, USA.  Send your questions or comments to barringtonbrennen@gmail.com  or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org  or call 242-327-1980.  



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