Commitment in a marriage is like eating the same food for years, till you die. How does one not get bored of it? How does one not crave other food options on the menu? “It’s difficult but worth it” is the answer of people who have had years of successful and happy marriages.
Understanding the concept of commitment is one thing. But to deeply adhere to the power of commitment in marriage is something else altogether. So, what exactly does commitment mean in a marriage, especially in a world with dating apps, swipe generation, hookup culture and rising divorce rates?
Let’s dive deeper into what commitment and faithfulness in marriage actually mean, with the help of emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney). She specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, breakups, separation, grief and loss, to name a few.
What Does Commitment In A Marriage Mean?
Pooja says, “Commitment in marriage can mean different things to different individuals and different couples. But it can be a set of basic rules or promises that are non-negotiable for both partners. This would essentially mean that both partners have given their consent for these and are ready to remain committed to these sets of rules till they are together.”
So who’s going to feed the baby at 3 AM when s/he cries? Is flirting with other people allowed? Who’s going to pick the children up from football practice? Is an extramarital affair forgivable? Is staying friends with an ex on Facebook okay? Do porn, happy ending massages or online affairs classify as infidelity? Commitment in a marriage means mutually finding answers to such difficult questions.
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According to Dr. Michael Johnson, a sociology professor at Penn State University, there are three types of commitment in marriage — personal, moral or structural. Personal commitment means “I want to stay in this marriage”. Moral commitment is “I made a promise to God, hence it would be immoral to give up on this marriage”. And finally, an example of structural commitment in a marriage is: “My kids will suffer/ divorce is too costly/ what will society say?”
Your “why” is very important – Why stay in this marriage? Why not give up on your partner? Why is marriage worth it? If you have the answer to this “why” in place, commitment can be a cakewalk for you. So, when things go wrong (and they will because marriage is long and complex), you can go back and look at the answer to “why” you got into this marriage in the first place.
Personal commitment is the most important among the types of commitment in marriage. Commitment in a marriage must come from inside you, instead of some extrinsic reasons. If you are staying with your partner just for the sake of kids or for financial reasons or because you’re too scared of what others would say, you may easily find yourself feeling frustrated often, thinking commitment has been “imposed” on you. So, how to cultivate personal commitment in a marriage, so that it doesn’t feel like a burden to you? And what exactly does commitment mean in a marriage? Let’s find out.
The 7 Fundamentals Of Commitment In A Marriage
On the importance of commitment in a marriage, Pooja says, “Commitment is not essential for just marriage but for any relationship. More so for marriage, because it brings with it a new set of relationships with the spouse’s family and might also include having children together or parenting together offspring from previous marriages.”
Related Reading: 12 Characteristics Of A Successful Marriage
But, how and why does one stay committed for years? After all, it can get frustrating and monotonous! How to not give up on someone? To find out the answer to such questions, let’s dive deep into the fundamentals of commitment in a marriage:
1. You have to work on it every day
Commitment issues in a marriage arise because at some point, spouses stopped working on their connection. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, commitment in a marriage requires constant work. Every little conversation counts, every little habit matters. All these little things accumulate over the years, serving as the foundation of unwavering commitment between partners. So, bigger problems like infidelity arise from smaller problems that started way before the infidelity happened. It’s important that you pay attention, every single day.
Pooja explains, “Staying committed in a marriage requires constant work on self and on the relationship. It is like nurturing something together. In life, there are always “options” and there is no harm in taking them provided one is clear about their primary relationship with their partner. The notions of fidelity, how much flirting is okay, does a threesome amount to infidelity – such tough questions need to be asked and introspected.”
2. Be creative in your marriage
Commitment and faithfulness in a marriage become easy when there is a sense of novelty. So, instead of looking for new partners, start looking for new activities that you can enjoy with your partner. Find different adventures to keep the spark going; this will strengthen your marriage. River rafting, wine tasting, playing tennis, Salsa/Bachata classes, making couple friends, it could be literally anything.
On what to do when infidelity seems tempting, Pooja suggests, “Rediscovering new common interests, having a fulfilling life other than marriage and kids and maintaining your own personality, interests and social group away from the partner are some of the ways to keep the relationship fresh and alive. Infidelity does seem tempting more so when it is casual and might not have impending consequences on the primary relationship. In such situations, people need to re-examine what their vows are and how they renegotiate boundaries with their partners.”
3. Appreciate your partner
Expressing gratitude toward your partner is one of the keys to the lock of commitment in marriage. Making a relationship work doesn’t have to be difficult. It could be as simple as complimenting your spouse on the new recipe he/she tried. Or throwing a bash when they get a raise. Expressing appreciation for the little victories will boost your partner’s self-esteem and make them feel like they are noticed and not taken for granted. To show commitment in marriage through actions can work wonders for you.
As Esther Perel, psychotherapist, puts it, “Monogamy is a practice, it’s not a dogma; it’s not natural. It’s a choice.” And when you make this choice, you have to remember that it’s not all glitters, you will have to make an effort to show commitment in marriage. So, support your partner’s growth and focus on their good parts. The best marriages are those that enable both partners to evolve into the best versions of themselves.
Related Reading: 6 Facts That Sum Up The Purpose Of Marriage
4. Take control of your mind
It could be flirty glances across the room with a stranger or responding to the text of a cute person hitting on you – if you are someone who constantly ‘slips away’ while you are committed, start taking control of your mind. Self-control is a skill that comes with practice. Commitment in a marriage requires constant authenticity, sacrifice and honesty, which should come from the deepest corners of your soul.
Try deep breathing, meditation and praying for marriage restoration. Find healthy distractions like dancing, writing or sports. Observe impulsive thoughts that go in your mind. Establish control on your impulses, try not acting on them. Because before you know, one thing leads to another, and you end up creating a mess that will require years of damage control.
5. Accept your spouse for who they are
What does commitment mean in a marriage? Accepting your partner’s true nature. Don’t waste years trying to change them. Keep some scope for imperfection. There has to be room to err. They will make mistakes. You will too. It’s not going to be a perfect marriage, keep that in your mind. Don’t constantly compare your marriage to that of others or to an idealistic standard you have set in your mind.
Don’t see things as either black or white, try grey. Be watchful of your behavior – are you being too critical of them, all the time? When things go south, work it out and come close again. Seek couples’ therapy for a stronger sense of commitment in a marriage. Go on vacations together. Marriage is a dynamic bond. You might drift apart a little. You might come close again. That’s how it functions.
6. Be honest and establish trust
Trust, honesty and loyalty in a relationship take years to build. The commitment of each spouse in a marriage must be to provide each other with a safe and non-judgmental space to be vulnerable. Your boss gave you a difficult time at the office? You should be able to vent in front of your partner. Are you missing your mom or dad? You must be able to open your heart and share this with your spouse. Commitment in a marriage is all about effective communication.
Pooja explains, “If both partners are sure about the commitment from each other, they would feel more secure about the relationship. Suppose a wife comes to know that her husband was in love with someone else and married her only under family pressure and has had no commitment per se by the man, she is bound to feel insecure.”
So, even if you are not sure about the commitment, the least you can do is be honest with your partner. Because, before you even realize it, smaller lies give way bigger ones. You think you are saving them from the truth, but the truth is that white lies not only destroy the power of commitment in marriage but may also destroy your relationship with yourself. In fact, infidelity takes a bigger toll on the culprit.
7. Physical intimacy
Esther Perel explains, “One can live without sex but one cannot live without touch. Children who were not touched warmly during childhood develop attachment disorders when they grow up. If you don’t touch your partner, except sex, they might become irritable.
Humor, touch, playfulness, cuddling, skin-to-skin contact, eye contact and an ongoing curiosity on who your partner is as a person, these are the secrets behind commitment in a marriage.”
To sum up, as Pooja points out, “One must understand that ultimately the marriage is about the two of you hence having heart-to-heart communication about expectation management and what are the general dos and don’ts here needs to be established and changed from time to time.”
Hence, commitment in a marriage is not an easy task. But, if you work on harnessing it, one day at a time, it is not too difficult either. Don’t place your partner under a microscope and constantly express love, gratitude and honesty toward them. Respect each other and give space for each other to grow. If you find yourself struggling at any point, don’t shy away from seeking professional help. The counselors on Bonobology’s panel can help you with this.
Commitment is so important in all relationships but marriage in particular because if the commitment takes a hit, it’s not just two people’s lives getting affected. The lives of the children are also involved and going through something as traumatic as breaking up the family can give them abandonment issues and commitment issues for life. Your commitment in a marriage determines how they will look at commitment for the rest of their lives.
If you stay committed, you can have a happy and fulfilling marriage. Staying in a marriage with a weak sense of commitment will affect your mental health because you’re neither totally in it nor fully out of it. This middle ground will confuse you and affect your happiness and that of your whole family.
Have a really strong intrinsic reason to “why” you are in this marriage. Be honest with your partner. Constantly express respect and gratitude for all the good things they do. Communicate everything that you want for them. Apologize often and practice forgiveness. Constantly try new things with them. These are the secrets behind commitment in a marriage.