Commitment vs. Conditionality


Epic Love

Setting:  The Six Elements That Determine the Tone of Your Love Story
Element #5:  Commitment versus Conditionality.

Most people understand the importance of unconditional love in a marriage and few people marry with much consideration to the possibility of divorce.  Certainly, most believers recognize that marriage is meant to last a lifetime and that, even in the face of betrayal and infidelity, God’s ideal is a relationship that reflects His gracious, sacrificial and committed love.  A good marriage, like a good love story, allows room for mistakes and healing, weakness and growth.  A good marriage, like a good story, unfolds and matures across time.  In order for this to happen, a commitment to permanence and unconditional giving are critical.

The courtship phase of a romantic relationship is typically marked by a level of euphoria and oneness that allows a young couple to believe that maintaining a lifetime of closeness and passion is easy.  However, this very real bio-chemical change is not permanent and burns off within 18 months.  At that point, couples are often left confused and uncertain.  As the neurochemical high of courtship dissipates, they begin seeing their spouse more clearly as their spouse begins seeing them more clearly.  Fear of disappointment emerges as your spouse’s weaknesses and flaws become more evident.  Simultaneously, the disappointment you observe in the eyes of your spouse provides a painfully clear reflection of your own weaknesses and shortcomings.  Disappointment leads to doubt as you begin to question not only your spouse’s ability to care for you, but your own ability to please them.  The trust and willingness to risk which were so prominent during the courtship phase begin to erode.  You pull back, measuring more carefully what you say and what you do.  Unconditional giving devolves into conditional relating as you tell yourself, “If he doesn’t… then I’m certainly not going to…”  “If she won’t….  then I’m…”

The first time that John forgot to pay the water bill, Alicia was amused and, perhaps, a little annoyed.  When she discovered that he had bounced a check six months later, she was angry.  Unsure as to whether he was really looking out for their financial welfare, she began watching the bank account more closely.  If he’s not going to look out for me, then maybe I need to start a separate checking account Alicia mused out loud.  John was embarrassed by his mistake and irritated at Alicia’s mistrust.  The disappointment he saw on her face cut him deep.  In an effort to patch things up later that week, he surprised her with a night out at a nice restaurant.  However, when Alicia sarcastically questioned whether they had enough money in the bank to cover the meal, John’s shame erupted into anger and he almost walked out of the restaurant.  Though Alicia apologized a few moments later, the damage was done.  John’s sense of adequacy was wounded and until Alicia learned to relax and manage her anger better, he wasn’t going to risk doing anything special for her.  Conditionality had begun to creep into the relationship.

Although John and Alicia wouldn’t recognize it for several years, their willingness to give care and reach for care had begun to shift away from the unconditional regard that characterized their dating toward the conditional quid pro quo that too often marks marriages.  A good marriage is not a 50/50 exchange; it is a 100% commitment that is conditioned on your own love for your spouse, not their ability to reciprocate in some manner.

Once expressions of caregiving or vulnerability become conditioned on behavior, it is not long before the commitment to permanence becomes conditioned as well.  Even though the first allusions to divorce are more likely to be expressions of frustration, helplessness and pain than a meaningful consideration of divorce, they are no less destructive.  “I’m over it.”  “I’m done with this.”  “I’m outta here.”  “I can’t – I won’t – live like this.”  Such statements are received as rejection and they foreshadow abandonment.  They escalate fear and undermine security, provoking an array of self-protective and self-serving reactions in a relationship.

If you’ve never watched the show American Ninja Warrior, let me recommend it to you.  Its an exciting reality TV show that follows the quest of athletes striving to complete a legendary obstacle course in Japan.  The challenge of the course – and the qualifying event that precedes it – is that there is no room for mistakes.  One fall from any element of the course and you are out of the competition for the year.  For some athletes, this means that years of training become meaningless in the blink of an eye.  Although I would love to try my hand at the American Ninja Warrior obstacles courses, I’m really more of a Wipeout kind of guy.  On the more user-friendly TV show Wipeout there is much more room for the average person to compete.  Not only are you layered in gear designed to protect you from the inevitable falls and blows you will suffer, but if you get knocked off an element you simply go back to the beginning of it and start again.  In other words, there’s room for mistakes and learning as you go.  Whether fast or slow, most contestants are eventually able to master the obstacles placed in their path and successfully complete the course.

Writing an Epic Love out of your marriage will require grace, time and a stubborn resolve to offer your spouse unconditional regard.  In a relationship where acceptance is not conditioned on behavior, there is room for you and your spouse to learn from mistakes and grow.  In a relationship where permanence is certain, both you and your spouse can relax, allowing trust, passion and intimacy to grow across a lifetime.

- Jeff Pipe

If you want to learn more about this topic or how you can make your marriage into an Epic Love, consider participating in an Epic Love retreat


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