I n a world filled with labels such as “Serial Monogamy,” “Polyamory,” and “Hookup Culture”, is a committed relationship still important? I’ve heard all about the downsides of “till death do us part.” But what are the benefits, if any? What does commitment even mean? Why should I commit myself, to you?
There is perhaps no more singularly descriptive definition of a traditional marriage than the word commitment. But today, the definition is blurring — or dare I say, smearing. According to the Oxford Dictionary, commitment is “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” And even though this is a great dictionary definition, in reality, commitment as it pertains to relationships is so much more. While not mutually exclusive, commitment supplants love, romance, and even soul-mate as the most important ingredient in building long-lasting, meaningful, and successful relationships. In a deeper sense — commitment actually enables the culmination of all of the above.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw my wife. Parked outside my freshman dorm at Grinnell College, I was in the middle of unloading my father’s station-wagon when she walked down the steps of my new home and stood, smiling. Radiating in the Iowa sunshine, I’ve yet to see anything more beautiful. Something inside of my chest moved, and at the same time, both an intense excitement and deep calm hit me hard. Excitement because I knew that we would somehow be together. Calm, because I knew that somehow, we would be together.
Between the drama, romance, and more drama that ensued, the notion of real commitment never came to mind. It wasn’t until years later, after we officially tied the knot, that I began grappling with the challenge of commitment. And it wasn’t for another decade after that, that I began grappling with what commitment actually means.
Turns out, the verb form of commitment — i.e. committed is a much more accurate descriptor of what it means to be married. Because being committed is not a thing — it’s a verb — a way of being. And it’s a way of being that follows a decision — that failure is not an option; that I will see this through to the end.
If that’s the case, why are relationships failing at such a high rate? Perhaps the biggest challenge in our relationships is not “falling out of love” or “drifting apart.” Perhaps it is our choice to weaken our commitment — to be less committed. Once this happens, of course “we fall out of love.” Of course we allow disagreements to define our relationship instead of become an opportunity to grow(up) together. Of course our eyes begin to wander, and the grass on the other side begins to look really, really, green. Without the security of commitment, our boundaries slip, our perspective shifts, and eventually, our love falters. Every person that is still married battles against this. It is perhaps the hardest fight, with the greatest reward.
For me, I eventually decided that unless my bottom-line relationship must-haves were irrevocably crossed, the word “divorce” was permanently banned from my vocabulary. I stopped looking at my relationship as an extension of my needs and wants, and instead, began treating my relationship as a third party in my life, giving it the respect, honor, and commitment it deserved. And that is when things really began to change.
While it’s true (at least Oxford Dictionary says so) that being committed is an “obligation that restricts freedom of action”, is it that very restriction that brings magic to your relationship. Within the walls of commitment lay true love, intimacy and connection, all infinitely enhanced by vulnerability and safety. Being committed means that I can be me, and you can be you. It means that we can touch each other, love each other and care for each other, 100%. And on the other side of the coin, it means that when we hurt each other, we will find a way to fix it, to make it right, to forgive and restore our love.
As men, as fathers, and as the leaders of our relationships, we set the atmosphere of being committed.
And don’t think for one second that being committed only means “not cheating” — fidelity is merely the starting point. Being committed means taking care of your partner’s emotional and physical needs, such as listening, caring, providing, and protecting. It means dedicating yourself to building a safe home, full of light and patience and spirit and love. It means connecting with and making time for your children. And it also means taking care of yourself — physically, spiritually, and financially. A committed man is an engaged, responsible and available man, partner and father.
I disagree with Oxford. Commitment is not just “being dedicated to a cause.” It is the framework that creates trust, safety and love. It inspires real romance, allows for true intimacy, and connects soul-mates for a lifetime. The legacy forged by being committed is the greatest gift we can give to our wives and children, and it becomes the greatest privilege that God has bestowed upon us.