“The hard, cold truth of marriage is that the commitment of staying together can be tough at times for almost any couple. Most of us probably know wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful people who —despite all the evidence of the harmful effects of divorce on children —are divorced anyway. Why is it so hard for couples to stay together?” (Marcia Segelstein)
This question was addressed in an article titled, “Intentional Marriage” written by Marcia Segelstein (featured in a past issue of “Connecticut Family Matters”). We hope the info given inspires you to think make a serious commitment to having an intentional marriage:
“Research has demonstrated convincingly what most people have known all along: that a stable, loving, two-parent family is the optimal environment for children’s health and development in our society. Children do better in homes with stable marriages even if their parents aren’t particularly happy together, as long as the parents are reasonably cooperative.
“I believe that the core social and personal challenge of our time is how to make loving, permanent marriage work for ourselves and our children. I fear that no social program, no educational achievement program, no job program, no anti-crime program, and no amount of psychotherapy and Prozac will solve our society’s problems unless we figure out how men and women can sustain permanent bonds that are good for them, their children and their communities.
“Even if we have an unbending commitment to our mate, most of us are blind to how we lose our marriages by slow erosion if we don’t keep replenishing the soil. I decided William Doherty would be a good person to supply the answer to my question.
“Doherty believes part of the problem is that the consumer culture in which we live has affected our attitudes about marriage. We expect our mates to fill needs for us, and to bring us happiness and fulfillment. We’ve internalized the notion that it is okay —and even psychologically healthy —to be looking out for number one even within the context of marriage.
“We ask ourselves during stressful times, or boring times, or just from time to time whether we’re getting what we should from our marriage.
“As Doherty puts it, ‘Our culture teaches us that we are all entitled to an exciting marriage and great sex life; if we don’t get both, we are apt to feel deprived. What used to be seen as human weakness of the flesh has become a personal entitlement. Steadfastness and self-sacrifice aren’t in this picture. When the marriage relationship becomes psychologically painful or stunts our growth, there are plenty of therapists around to serve as midwives for a divorce.’
“Doherty believes that the two key ingredients for a successful marriage are commitment and intentionality. Commitment may sound obvious and clear-cut. But in his years of therapy, Doherty has come to recognize two distinct kinds of commitment couples make. One is what he calls ‘commitment-as-long-as.’ It means staying together, ‘not as long as we both shall live, but as long as things are working out for me.’
“The other kind is what Doherty calls ‘commitment-no-matter-what.’ He describes it as ‘the long view of marriage in which you don’t balance the ledgers every month to see if you are getting an adequate return on your investment. You’re here to stay.’ This long-term kind of commitment is essential, according to Doherty, but can lead to stale marriages if not accompanied by intentionality.
“By intentionality, Doherty means making one’s marriage a high priority. During courtship, a couple’s relationship is front and center, as he puts it. After marriage, other things often take priority: careers and children, to name the most common. Having an intentional marriage means being conscious about maintaining a connection through, among other things, ‘a reservoir of marital rituals of connection and intimacy.’
“The main way to resist the forces that pull us apart —the natural drift of marriage over time and the insidious pull of the consumer culture —is to be a couple who carefully cultivates commitment and ways to connect over the years. Simply stated, the intentional couple thinks about their relationship, plans for their relationship, and acts for their relationship, mostly in simple, everyday ways and occasionally in big, splashy ways.
“Doherty gave me an example of a simple ritual that he and his wife developed during their child-rearing years. Every evening after dinner, they’d have coffee together —without children present. Their children knew they had to leave their parents alone for these few minutes.
“Years later Doherty asked his grown daughter what she had thought of that ritual as a child. She told him that it had made her feel safe because she knew it meant that her parents liked each other.”
We need to continue the rest of these thoughts in the next Marriage Message. We’ll pick up with William Doherty’s suggestions on how to make our marriages stronger through intentionality. Meanwhile, if your spouse would do so, go through this message as a couple, and talk about the kinds of things you could do to build intentionality (also be called rituals) into your marriage.
Here’s one example of what we’re talking about. We know a couple that are both very active in ministry. It’s the kind of work that could easily keep them apart. However, early into their ministry they became intentional in that they would have a “coffee date” (just the two of them) once a week to talk and discuss matters that are important to them and just enjoy conversing together –a time just to reconnect. They’re adamant about protecting this time together. Get the idea?
They’ve told us that this has strengthened their bond as a husband and wife. What about you? What can you do to become more intentional in making the time to connect emotionally with each other? Think and pray about it and we’ll give more on this topic in the next Marriage Message.
Please know that our love and prayers are with you as together we work together to “reveal and reflect the Heart of Christ in our marriages.”
Cindy and Steve Wright
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