Consider the wife who finally decides that she’s “not willing to live like this anymore.” She musters the courage to tell this to her spouse, and says she plans to move out by the end of the month. Some would ask, Where’s the commitment?
Compare to the wife who also decides she’s “not willing to live like this anymore.” She musters the courage to tell this to her spouse, and affirms her willingness to work hard with her partner for six to twelve months to make things better. Some would say, That’s commitment.
Commitment is about making it hard on ourselves to walk away once we’ve decided — and only after making it clear to a spouse — that we’re not willing to live like this anymore. And it’s about being ready to do what it takes for a period long enough to give change a chance, relying on reasonable compromise, appropriate sacrifice, professional counseling, and lots of conversation. (But it’s critical to first say to a spouse, “I’m not willing …” That’s when the clock starts ticking.)
In a ten-year study of 172 couples reported in the online Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2011; DOI:10.1037/a0026290), the couples willing to work hard to make the marriage successful were the couples who tended to stay together — no surprise. Perhaps they understood the difference between being smart and being right. Being smart is what we do when our goal is to promote the welfare of the relationship; being right is what we do when our goal is to promote ourselves — to win the argument or push until our needs and wants prevail. We versus me.
“The behaviors I might engage in to win [marital] conflict,” says one of the study researchers, “are different from those that are best for the relationship. What our data indicate is that committing to the relationship rather than committing to your own immediate needs is a far better strategy [for keeping the relationship strong].”
Maybe that’s at the heart of real commitment: doing what I can to help my marriage win, knowing all along that when the relationship wins, it’s a win for me, too.
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