Commitment The Glue That Holds Marriages Together
Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
Do you know what a starter home is?
For those who don’t, a starter home is a home that some young couples might buy when they first get married. And as their needs change, and their bank account and family grows, they will move into a larger home. In effect, a starter home is a place for them to start life.
Some people who write about marriage today have adopted, and modified this concept to justify their perspective of our country’s high divorce rates. They look at the divorce rates and say, “what’s the big deal.” They argue that it’s unnatural for people to be married to one person for an entire lifetime. They also maintain that it’s more reasonable to expect people to get involved in what some are terming a “starter marriage,” and as an individual’s personal needs grow and change, so might their marriage partner.
Commitment Across the Life Cycle
From a Christian Orthodox perspective, marriages are not like automobiles, appliances or electronic equipment – when they break or appear out dated, we get to replace them for a newer model. Orthodox Christians enter marriage with the understanding that marriage is a life long commitment. And while the Orthodox Church does acknowledge that some marriages fail, when couples receive the Sacrament of Marriage, one underlying assumption throughout the celebration of this Sacrament is that both partners are committing themselves to staying together across the life cycle. This perspective is based on a number of teachings embedded within Orthodox Holy Tradition, one of which comes directly from our Lord when he stated, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (MK 10:9).
Not Simply “Until Death do us Part”
Saint John Chrysostom, - a fourth century saint who wrote extensively about marriage – once offered the following observation: “Husbands and wives commit themselves to one another over the course of this lifetime and beyond.” I believe that what St. John was alluding to when offering this counsel is that the marriage bond doesn’t simply endure “until death do us part.” Like many other church fathers, St. John was referring to the fact that love relationships transcend death, and that holy matrimony is no exception. And while we will not be committed to one another in the conventional sense in which we understand the marriage bond in this life, a connection nevertheless remains beyond this lifetime and into the next.
My Own Work with Conflicted Couples
I’ve worked with hundreds of different couples. Some have been very satisfied and happy with their marriages. Others have been reasonably happy, and still others have been mildly to seriously conflicted.
In my own work with conflicted couples, I try to help them reclaim the lost love, intimacy, understanding, trust and commitment that has worn away over time and disappeared. But I know I can’t do this without their help. So, when unhappy couples come into my office seeking some help, at some point during the assessment process I may ask them the following question:
“On a scale of one to ten, with “one” representing “I haven’t any commitment to saving my marriage,” and “ten” representing, “I’m totally committed to saving my marriage,” how would you rate yourself?”
If one or both partners rate themselves somewhere between 1 and 3 – in other words very low - after a few more questions, I might also tell them that until one or both partners’ commitment increases, I don’t see how I can help. Some are confused by this statement, but after they ask a few more questions, most usually respect my approach.
Some of you might also be wondering why I take such a hard line. Well, it’s because experience has taught me that when one or both spouses have hardly any commitment to their marriage, marital therapy simply won’t work. That’s because I believe that commitment is like glue – it’s what holds marriages together through thick and thin. So, if there isn’t much shared commitment in the marriage, it’s very unlikely the marriage will stay together.
What About Your Marriage?
Now, let me turn to you.
If I were to ask you to rate your commitment to your marriage on that same scale, how would you answer?
If you’d respond by saying I don’t have much commitment – I’m probably a 1, 2 or 3 - then I suspect you’re not very happy, and I would urge you to ask God to help you recommit yourself to your marriage. I’d also advise that you seek out some help from a good self-help book and a pro-marriage therapist.
Perhaps some of you may be thinking, “That won’t work….My husband won’t change, or my wife won’t change, or I don’t think I can change.” If that’s what you’re thinking, then let me tell you that I’ve seen many people change, and change is possible.
If there isn’t any serious physical or emotional abuse in your marriage, like tens of thousands of couples today who’ve rejected divorce and worked hard to rekindle the trust, understanding, love and commitment that they’ve lost, you too can rediscover a mutually satisfying relationship. How? Well, I can’t tackle this complex question here. But what I can state, is that it all starts with a recommitment to your marriage. For more information, consider reading my newest book entitled, Attending to Your Marriage: A Resource for Christian Couples.
If, on the other hand, your commitment is strong and you’d respond, I’m probably an 8, 9 or 10, then thank God, and keep working hard at protecting and promoting the trust, understanding, love and commitment you both enjoy, because even the happiest of marriages are vulnerable in the divorce culture in which we live.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (I Cor. 13:14).Father Charles directs the Archdiocese’s outreach ministry to intermarried couples and their families. For more information, log onto the Interfaith Marriage Web site using the following address: www.interfaith.goarch.org.