Summary: Commitment is the key to a successful marriage. First, commitment to Christ, which leads to commitment to one’s spouse.
The Commitment Factor—Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
It’s been said, “A successful marriage is one in which you fall in love many times…and always with the same person.” (Mignon McLaughlin)
However, marriage in America is in trouble--the divorce rate has sky-rocketed, and while those who say “I do” intend their union to last, half of all marriages end in divorce. One reason is that many people marry without proper preparation. If you want a drivers’ license in the Commonwealth, you’re required to take Driver’s Ed; to obtain a marriage license you need no preparation, yet I think we’d agree marriage is a tougher skill! Many couples become infatuated, and with little forethought, they get married. A soldier called my Chapel on a Tuesday morning and asked if I could conduct a wedding for him that Friday. I explained that I required at least 3 month’s notice. He replied, “I couldn’t have told you 3 months ago, sir--we just met last week!” Love is blind, and marriage restores the sight. Many people irresponsably leap into marriage. How many relationships are founded on selfishness, physical attraction and infatuation? How many marriages are entered into with serious misconceptions about the other person’s character, beliefs, background, and values?
When I was in seminary, I took a course on Marriage & Family Life, and I recall the instructor saying the top three problems in marriage were: money, sex, and in-laws. I wrote that down, and on the test, there it was again; so I put down “money, sex, and in-laws”, and got it right. So far, so good! When I became an Army Chaplain I found myself doing a LOT of marriage counseling, and I encountered those 3 problem-areas again…but I began to realize that they were mere symptoms of a deeper-rooted problem.
At first I was convinced that the root cause of marital discord was communication. I learned that communication is going beyond what is said, to what is meant. Many couples put up barriers to communication. They don’t ask for clarification, they assume they understand, or they use silence as a weapon. I conducted communication and problem-solving marriage workshops and thought all was well. I studied personality type and birth order. But I began to meet couples that communicated very well, so well that they were convinced they were incompatible and wanted out of the marriage.
And so I had to dig deeper, to figure out what was the Foundation of married life. I gradually understood that commitment was the key. First, commitment to Christ, which leads to commitment to one’s spouse. Even with good communication, without commitment a marriage cannot withstand the stresses or heal from the hurts.
Faith leads us to make a covenant with God, and a covenant is a promise, a pledge centered on relationship. We were once living on our own, for ourselves, apart from God, but now we’ve invited Christ into our lives. In so doing, we experience His unconditional, sacrificial love. We become part of His family. We make a similar covenant in marriage, in which we enter a relationship also based on love. Whenever I conduct a wedding, I emphasize that the bride and groom are entering into a sacred covenant, sealed by solemn vows, and this is not something to enter into casually nor temporarily. In our secular culture, we tend to take vows lightly, but the Bible warns it would be better to not make a vow than to make and then break one. When we commit our lives, this means that, in spite of storms and hardships, we’re not giving up. When our faith is tested, we remain true to God, in spite of unanswered questions. When our marriages are tested, we also choose to remain true. “What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”
A woman went to her lawyer. She wanted to know if she had grounds for divorce. He asked if she was married and she said yes. He then said, “You have grounds.” The same woman admitted to her minister, “When I got married, I was looking for an ideal; it became an ordeal, and now I want a new deal.” In our culture the prevailing attitude is: “Till divorce do we part”.
I know from experience what marital stress feels like. I spent a lot of time separated from my family due to short and long-term military deployments. I saw many marriages fall apart by the stresses of separations. Extended time apart can cause couples to feel less bonded, especially if they’re not communicating regularly. A soldier told me in Korea, “Why should I write my wife; she’s not writing me!” Resentments can arise, particularly when a remaining spouse suddenly has all the responsibilities of home maintenance, financial management, and child-rearing. When I returned from Desert Storm, after all the parades, you had to stand in line to see a divorce lawyer!