"If you really love someone, you shouldn't have to work at it."
That's what High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens told CosmoGIRL! for its August 2008 issue. This young celebrity was speaking out loud what millions of people privately think: Loving feelings should come naturally in a relationship, so if you have to work at it, something's wrong. But the truth is exactly the opposite: If you truly love someone, you will work hard for the relationship.
Jesus spoke of a house that was built on sand and shaken by storms, while another house was built on rock and remained unmoved. One of my greatest surprises as a relationship analyst is just how many of us build our marriages on the sand of feelings instead of the rock of commitment. But I've been encouraged to see that truly committed couples are able, with God's help, to thrive even through the inevitable storms.
Over a five-year period, a close friend sent me e-mails sharing about her struggles with her marriage. She went from daily messages that read, "I can't take this anymore!" to e-mails saying, "He is such a gift to me." What accounted for the change? Her determination.
As she now says, "A successful marriage has little to do with circumstances and a lot to do with determination — taking the word divorce out of your vocabulary and replacing it with commitment."
Commitment is a decision to have the abundant marriage God desires, regardless of circumstances or whether you think your spouse is doing his or her part. This includes:
The often-cited statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce — even among churchgoers — can make commitment seem fruitless. But that statistic is misleading. Dozens of studies distinguish between couples who claim a nominal faith and those who prioritize church attendance. Couples who have a strong commitment to faith and attend church regularly are far more likely to have lifelong relationships.
One recent study in particular shows that those who go to church and pray together have a much lower divorce rate. The University of Virginia's Brad Wilcox found that regular church attendance cuts the likelihood of divorce by 30 percent to 35 percent. Wilcox's work is supported by another study by Annette Mahoney of Bowling Green State University, which independently came to a similar conclusion.
While that rate is still unfortunately high, when you add prayer into the mix, thoughts of divorce plummet. A 1998 survey by the Georgia Family Council found that among couples who prayed together weekly, only 7 percent had seriously considered divorce, compared to 65 percent of those who never prayed together.
The abundant marriage that God has designed for us is not only possible but also likely, and the journey there starts with one word — commitment.