Commitment: The First Defense Against Marital Stressors
God cannot love you less than He does. Consider two people - a priest who has devoted himself to the Lord for the last fifty years, and an evolutionary biologist who has dedicated himself to proving God does not exist. To which of these people is God most committed?
Intellectually, we know that God loves them equally. But, emotionally we struggle to understand how that is possible; it is beyond the comprehension of our conditional, emotional worlds. As evidenced by the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), this concept speaks to one of God's most basic characteristics: His unconditional commitment. It is the cornerstone of God's relationship with us, and, by extension, it serves as the centerpiece of marriage in two ways.
Marriage: Commitment by Design
First, God designed marriage to center upon an unconditional commitment to Him. This requires a daily sacrifice of replacing your own desires for your marriage with God's plans for it - a reminder that your marriage belongs to Him. When life's stressors beset your marriage, your greatest assurance is that God's commitment to your marriage is sufficient to contain any problem you may face (Romans 8:35-38).
Second, God designed your marriage upon an unconditional commitment to one another. This unconditional commitment requires agreement between spouses to cultivate what God has planted in them. It requires an assumption of good will to care for each other's vulnerabilities. Finally, it requires a vow between spouses to reserve their best emotional, psychological and physical selves for one another.
The Power and Peril of Unconditional Commitment
Unconditional commitment is the only secure foundation as family pressures, financial struggles, health challenges, work demands and church obligations mount. Your marital health depends on your ability to keep these pressures at your back rather than between you. From behind, these forces push you towards one another - creating intimacy in the struggle. Conversely, when wedged between you, they push you apart - nearly always fostering emotional, if not physical, separation.
Of course, unconditional commitment is not without its risks. Many spouses fear such a commitment because of the vulnerable position in which it places them - possibly being taken advantage of by a self-centered spouse. If your spouse exhibits a pattern of spousal abuse or blatant disregard for your well-being, it is vital that you protect yourself first and lean on God for reassurance.
Three Keys to Marital Commitment
Keeping marital stressors at your back requires unconditional commitment to a three-step process. When maintained, these iterative steps engender a climate of trust and respect that honors God and protects the marital relationship.
- Keep Facing One Another. You are most likely to move in the direction that you are already facing. Frustrated couples often look outside of their marriage for answers to their emotional needs. Then, as difficulties push them, it is only natural that they move towards that which meets their need rather than towards the spouse. Spouses who make a decision to satisfy their emotional needs (especially romantic ones) only within the confines of their marriage satisfy the fundamental requisite of unconditional commitment.
- Communicate Honestly. Effective communication is the glue that binds marriage. Conveying your needs, wants and feelings with your spouse, even in stressful situations, creates unity. Always remember that the complementary aspect of communicating honestly is listening actively. Active listening relies more on your heart than your ears.
- Encourage Each Other. Many couples fail to encourage one another either because they do not think it is needed or because of their own insecurities and shortcomings. God, however, placed you and your spouse together to shape each other into His likeness. Encouragement soothes the pain of this molding process. Encouragement provides validation and legitimacy in discouraging and distressing circumstances. Look at how God offers you encouragement in Deuteronomy 31:6: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." I doubt there is any clearer model of unconditional commitment.
The Transforming Power of Commitment
Inspirational speaker Zig Ziglar says, "Many marriages would be better if the husband and the wife clearly understood that they are on the same side." Think about the military force or sports teams that unite to defeat an opponent. For victory, the "me" focus of the individuals must yield to the "we" focus of the unit. Being on the same side creates synergy as the best part of each person contributes to the strength of the whole.
Herein lays the success of a godly marriage. The "we-ness" of your marriage, born of unconditional commitment, builds as you and your spouse share respect, trust and quality time. Unconditional commitment or "we-ness" transforms potential marital threats into powerful testimonies of deliverance that glorify God.