All of us juggle multiple commitments in life – or promises to invest our time and energies in a job, activity or cause we believe in. These include our commitment to show up at work in order to earn an income, a commitment to eating healthily to reduce our chances of burdensome diseases, a commitment to watching Netflix over the weekend to maximise our satisfaction from our monthly subscription, and even a commitment to our pets to care for them as loving masters. In short, our sense of commitment in any relationship we value is what makes each of them important to us.
Unsurprisingly, commitment and trust are fundamental in supporting a happy and healthy marriage. They are the “weight bearing walls” in the spousal relationship, as the psychologist and family researcher Dr John Gottman puts it, in his famous concept of the Sound Relationship House.
Trust begins with cherishing each other and showing your partner that you can be counted on. Commitment starts with accepting who your partner is and who your partner is not. They come together in the deliberate choice that is marriage: the commitment to stand by your spouse in good times and bad, trusting that by working through any challenges that appear together, a better future can be forged.
The wedding vow “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part” makes concrete this unconditional commitment that spouses make to each other. It is not “to love and to cherish for as long as” some condition is present.
As a Family Life Educator and Social Worker, I have seen various clients, as well as loved ones around me, struggle through major relationship transitions. While some manage to navigate past these challenges, others let their commitments lapse in the face of unfortunate pressure, eventually finding themselves forced to accept outcomes they never wished for. Let me recount two real-life stories of two couples who faced challenges in commitment.
Mike* and Ying* have been married for 5 years and have 3 children together. Mike has been busy working and pursuing his own interests. Ying devoted herself to taking good care of Mike and the 3 children. Things got a little volatile at home when Ying was carrying their 4th child. Mike’s friends took him out on at night to cheer him up. That night, Mike met Eunice and they had a great time. Mike felt bad and decided to have an honest conversation with Ying about his stress and needs. They went for counselling and emerged a stronger couple.
David* and Annie* have been in a long-distance relationship for 3 years. Even after marriage, the couple couldn’t live together for another 2 years due to immigration hurdles. By the time the couple was able to live together, they felt so defeated by the issues they faced that they ended up mired in constant conflict. After one particularly bad argument, David stopped responding to Annie’s bid to re-connect. Annie felt abandoned and left. The couple ended their relationship in a divorce.
These two stories show the different paths travelled by two couples who made different decisions in the face of challenges to their marriage – the first doubled down to find a way forward to strengthen their relationship, while the second evaded the short-term pain of addressing bubbling tensions that ultimately led to a painful breakup. The pain of losing someone you love is much greater than the short-term pain you may experience in heated arguments.
Are you looking to seal your relationship through marriage? Or to renew the mutual commitments made when you tied the knot? Here are some of the questions that you and your partner would benefit from having an intimate conversation over:
– What made us want to get married?
– What can we do if our marriage gets off track?
– What can we do to get a better clarity about our future?
– What are our shared views in marriage, children, finance and life?
Written by: Evelyn Chye, Senior Family Life Educator, Fei Yue Community Services