The Character in Your Marriage - Commitment

Some of us are married to characters. Some wish the one to whom they are married had more character. Then there are those of us who cringe when others say our faces show lots of character - we know they really mean "wrinkles."

When we talk about the character of marriage, what do we mean?

The word character means those moral or ethical qualities. So the character of marriage includes those moral or ethical qualities that make a marriage – not just a good marriage but a great, enduring marriage.

“Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things man chooses or avoids." Aristotle
To us, the most important character quality in marriage is commitment. In the baseline survey done for the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, when asked why they got a divorce, the majority answered "a lack of commitment."
As we meet with couples, we look for a level of commitment. We ask them if they are ready to do whatever it takes to save their marriage. Even for couples who are not in a crisis, the commitment makes a difference in the quality of their marriage.
What is commitment? The dictionary says it is a pledge or a promise, an obligation.

The Power of Commitment: A Guide to Active, Lifelong LoveScott Stanley talks extensively about the topic in his book The Power of Commitment.
He defines two kinds of commitment:

1. Commitment of dedication – ex. “He is very committed to improving his golf game.” He is dedicated to getting better at golf. He does it because he loves it or has a drive to meet the challenge of mastering the game.

Dedication implies an internal state of devotion to a person or a project.

It includes the idea of moving forward, a motivating force, based on the thoughtful decisions you made to give your best effort.

2. Commitment of constraint – ex. “He has committed to play in the golf tournament. His team won’t be able to play without him.”

Constraint entails a sense of obligation. It refers to factors that would be costs if the present course were abandoned.

The commitment of dedication is a force drawing you forward. The commitment of constraint is a force pushing you from behind.
What do you think a marriage would be like if you only had the commitment of constraint?

Couples who maintain and act on dedication are more connected, happier, and more open with each other. Those who lose dedication and have only constraints will either be together but miserable or come apart. The loss of dedication represents the loss of the will to try, the loss of the sense of “us,” and the loss of the actions that protect a marriage over time. A marriage without dedication is a marriage without passion or without life.

Some examples of constraints are:
  • Social pressure – how will friends and/or family react?
  • Morality of divorce – how much do you believe that divorce is wrong?
  • Concern for the welfare of your children – do you believe your children will be harmed by the divorce?
  • Financial limitations and loss – how will you lifestyle change if you get a divorce
  • Termination procedures – how difficult are the steps to end the marriage?
  • Alternative quality – what kind of quality of life do you think you will have living apart from your mate?
What do you think a marriage would be like if you only had the commitment of dedication?

A marriage with dedication or devotion will almost always have a commitment of constraint also, but if it did not, the marriage might get better but there would be no commitment that it would last. The marriage might be very exciting and fun while it lasted, until one of the partners found someone else to be devoted to. There would always be that uncertainty whether it would last.

We have seen three commitments make a marriage great – commitment to God, to the marriage, and to the spouse. In the next post, we explain those three kinds of commitment.

By: Donna Edwards

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