At a recent business conference, a speaker made an offhand remark about having to recommit to her marriage vows every day. It was in the context of a discussion about the challenges of change management and how reforming a company culture requires persistence and recommitment in the face of setbacks and resistance.
It was an unexpected analogy but what struck us was how easily it was accepted by the audience; it seemed to be common wisdom and is an observation many of us have probably made.
But how deeply do we live this truth: that life-long marriage requires a daily “I do” to be sustained?
When things are cruising in our relationship, the need to recommit daily is less necessary and easily forgotten. In the absence of being tested, our forbearance does not require the buttressing of our conscious rededication.
It is when the relationship is less fulfilling when loving our spouse is more challenging, when we feel our needs are being starved to point of romantic death – it is then that the daily “I do” becomes essential.
At these troubled times, recommitting the rest of our life can be the very last thing we feel like doing; doing this when we feel miserable can seem like strapping in for a no-return trip to outer space. How do we recommit in a situation like this?
Some years ago, the docudrama ‘Touching the Void’ retelling the true story of two mountain climbers was released. Assuming his friend Joe is dead after he falls into a crevice, Simon returns to base camp. Meanwhile, Joe who has a broken leg, manages to crawl along a ridge in the crevice and over the next three days covers the five miles back to camp, without food or water, just in time to catch his friends before they depart.
In recounting the story, Joe talks about how he did it. He noted that when he thought about how far he had to go, he would slip into despair and the pain would overwhelm him. So, he focussed instead on a snowdrift or ice formation about hundred yards from him. When he reached that landmark, he identified another. And he simply did this over and over until he had crawled five whole miles in excruciating pain.
It’s a great insight into human nature and a wonderful life lesson for us as couples. Trying to recommit to an unfulfilling marriage for the rest of our life is like trying to crawl five miles in one go.
When things feel really desperate and we feel ourselves sinking into despair, we need to shorten our horizon and bring it in closer. Instead, focus on this day, or even the next few hours, and just commit to that. We can do this over and over, and eventually, it becomes a habit and then second nature and soon we can look back see that we’ve covered a great distance.
This same strategy is used by our colleague, family therapist Bill Doherty. When he has a spouse struggling to stay in a difficult marriage, he knows that marriage therapy will be ineffective if they have one foot out the door. He also knows that asking them to recommit to the marriage indefinitely is not something they can do. But they can often recommit for three months. And if they are prepared to do that, then therapy has a chance to work in the relationship so that they start to see progress in their relationship, and with progress comes hope and renewed motivation.
So think about your “I do” and make it a daily one. But also make it a simple one… what will “I do” for my marriage today? It’s a powerful strategy for both the good times and the bad.