The Half-Hearted Marriage

By Scott Stanley
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Focus on the Family
Commitment means making a choice to give up other choices.

Why Do Couples Fear Commitment?

Commitment means making a choice to give up other choices. This simple truth explains why marriage can be so difficult. We don’t like to give up options in life, and our culture screams at us to hang on to them all. But great marriages are based on a deep commitment that casts aside all options but one.

More and more couples fear committing in marriage because they have seen so many marriages fail. Since marriage seems so much like gambling, many hedge their bets. For example, many couples live together to test their relationship, even though studies show that living together before marriage increases the risk of divorce.

Likewise, 94 percent of singles believe that finding one’s soul mate is crucial for marital success. Too often this belief compels singles to search for the perfect mate – someone who does not exist. Fear of making a mistake contributes to this way of thinking.

Sliding vs. Deciding

Reluctance to make a clear choice can lead to a tentative relationship that fails to build lasting love. It has become common to make all sorts of relationship changes without a clear commitment in marriage; this includes having sex, living together and having children. Even once married, people slide into things that are immensely important without really planning. For example, many couples slide into huge credit card debt without talking together about how they are using money. Similarly, and more important, too many couples slide into having children without ever deciding together to be the best parents they can be.

Deciding is very different than sliding. The word decide comes from a root word meaning “to cut.” You cannot make a commitment without deciding to cut off other options that compete against what is most important.

Gender Differences

My associates and I have been researching commitment and sacrifice in marriage for years and have been finding fascinating differences between how the average man and woman operate. How the typical man feels about sacrificing for his wife or girlfriend is strongly linked to his commitment to the future with her. Think of sacrifice as all the small, medium and large acts in a relationship when one partner gives up something for the other without resentment. A man tends to give most completely to a woman once he has decided, She is my future.

In contrast, research suggests that women begin sacrificing when they have developed a strong emotional bond with a man. In some relationships, this means that the woman will give up a lot for her man long before he does the same for her. After years of sacrificing, she may end up shocked to find that he won’t commit.

Choose This Day

We live in a “maybe I do” world. There’s a big difference between “I do” and “maybe I do.” You do not need to have said the vow “as long as we both shall love” to be living that way. You are not committed if you have not decided to give up other options and give your all. Sadly, many couples never reach their greatest potential in closeness because their commitment never became clear enough to provide the security essential for true intimacy. Further, more couples than ever have gone too far down the relationship path by sliding rather than deciding.

When marriage gets tough – and it will get tough at some point – you need the assurance that I chose this; I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it work. Otherwise, it’s too easy to say to yourself, I never really signed on for this.

If that sounds like you, you can still decide, today, to commit to your marriage. Marriages thrive when both partners make choices, each day, for their mate, their marriage and their families.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap” (NIV). We live in a world of wind watchers. Are you waiting until conditions are perfect before you commit to your marriage?

This article first appeared in the Couples Edition of the January, 2007 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2007, Scott Stanley. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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About the Author

Scott Stanley

Scott Stanley, Ph.D., is a research professor and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. He has authored/co-authored many books including Fighting for Your Marriage, The Power of Commitment and A Lasting Promise. To learn more about Dr. Stanley, visit his blog: www.slidingvsdeciding.com.

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