“Couples therapists agree that commitment weakens as alternatives increase. Dr. Lewis recalls a client who realized she was unhappy in her marriage after she lost weight, became athletic and found she was attractive to men other than her husband.”
When I first read this idea (Wall Street Journal 02/01/11), I was appalled. But upon further reading, I realized the obvious. It’s not that commitment weakens as alternatives increase. It must be that the commitment wasn’t very strong to begin with, or that their concept of commitment was an extremely narrow one. In fact, the client referred to above went so far as to say, “I married him thinking I don’t have a choice because I was heavy.”
This is certainly not how I define commitment and it seems like a, shall we say, flimsy basis for a marriage.
In Ethics of Our Fathers we are told that love that is dependent on something external will not last. Only love that is unconditional is enduring.
Sometimes we hear about husbands who are no longer happy with their wives’ physical appearance. This is the complete opposite of our definition of love. Weight and looks can’t be made a condition of marriage. Besides making the overweight or otherwise less attractive spouse crazy, it doesn’t even come close to our understanding of a real commitment.
I’ve heard women say, “If he loses his money, I’m outta here.” It’s hard to know which alternative would be best for the hapless husband of such a person. And it never ceases to amaze me.
Commitment means NO conditions. It means that I have challenges and you have challenges and we’ll see them through together. If either partner feels that one false move leads to stern disapproval and rejection, we call that…abuse.
The truth is that in every marriage we need to separate fantasy and expectations from reality. And we need to learn what it means to make a commitment based on who our partner is and not who we’d like them to be.
In this economy, many people have lost jobs. Is your commitment dependent on your spouse’s career or power? People get ill; they lose limbs or end up in wheelchairs, God forbid. Did you only commit to someone you could go hiking and dancing with?
All too often, I hear one spouse say, “This isn’t what I signed up for.” But marriage isn’t a nine-to-five job where buying presents for your boss’ wife is considered outside the contract. It’s a 24/7 venture – with no limits to the job description. And many surprises in store – some wonderful, some less so.
If we don’t understand that commitment in marriage is unconditional, then we will never really know how great a marriage can be. We are hurting and limiting ourselves. Commitment means that, no matter what (with extremely rare exceptions like spousal abuse), we are in this for the long haul. There will be things I don’t like. There will be situations you don’t like. There will be challenges and struggles and we will meet them together.
It is wrong to believe that commitment weakens as alternatives increase. With a strong commitment, there are simply no alternatives.