Whiting column: Personal commitment has become an uncommon trait
Relationships are celebrated on Valentine’s Day but should be continually celebrated because personal commitment has become an uncommon trait.
Domestic disagreement and divorce have been a part of life for centuries, but in recent years it’s become so commonplace to appear typical. Recently, an abnormal number of friends, acquaintances and former students are experiencing separation or divorce.
I don’t possess any special insight as to cause, but it seems we have lost focus on what is involved in any relationship let alone marriage.
My father and I were driving to Laramie to begin my freshman year in college. He unexpectedly started talking about marriage. My father was far from bashful, but not one to randomly talk. Consequently, one tended to pay attention.
“Single is easier, but marriage is better. Having someone who loves you for who you are is not common. Life is better with someone who knows you, experienced your best, your worst and is still around supporting you.”
He went on. “In the short term, it’s easy to be physically attracted to someone. One can be so bound up in that it camouflages who they are inside. The rush can even seem like love. In the long term, you decide whether to marry an ambitious, hard-working woman, who thinks for herself, is her own person or a shallow, less significant woman who will always smile, say “yes”, but not assure you hold yourself accountable in life and career.”
“Choosing to accept their love means you assume the responsibility to return that love unconditionally.”
Over a decade later, Kathy and I had been dating for a while. She had spent time with my parents in Brush where we worked and in Wyoming where I grew up. It must have become apparent that Kathy was more than just another acquaintance. Driving back from the ranch one day, Dad asked if I remembered our marriage discussion years earlier. “Yes,” I said. “Well,” he responded, “Kathy’s obviously a keeper, but the real question is whether she thinks you are.”
In the 40 years since, Kathy and I have had our moments, but each moment made us stronger because every time we did or said something regrettable, we realized the harm it caused to each of us, our relationship, our family. But this eliminated repeat occurrence; taking it off the table.
One technique we have used is to write the perceived transgression on a piece of paper, hand it to the other, they would read it, say “I’m sorry” and throw the paper in the trash: forever gone from our lives. Marriage can be a series of large and small transgressions. Recognizing and communicating them to each other will enable both to go forward.
My 6,000 students taught me that divorce is catastrophic for kids, regardless of age. Some never recover. They can feel jilted, disregarded, and tend to blame themselves. It affects them forever; often negatively affecting their future relationships. It can become an ever-repeating cycle. Kids need stability provided by parents and home.
Another thing I learned is to not let the past control the future. The past is just that; it’s history. We can’t control it or change it, so time and effort spent there is wasted. That’s the power of forgiveness. It releases all the hurt and negativity. We can only control today and tomorrow, so focus there. It also enables us to forgive ourselves, so we’re no longer focused on what we did wrong; allowing us to learn and move on.
If you want to get beyond issues and regrettable actions, continue to be effective parents, and avoid divorce, you must start back at zero. When couples contemplate marriage, they share their single-life experiences with their future spouse. Upon marriage they start back at zero. Any negative occurrences prior to marriage can’t be held against them. They’re no longer relevant. The same is true now. Both must start back at zero; clear the slate.
It may sound corny, but “Love conquers all.” If love is present it can overcome anything because it overpowers any occurrence.
Before I met Kathy, I often wondered what love really was. When I met someone I liked, was this love? Given I was 32 when I met Kathy, I had met a few women. What I learned was I could feel in love for the wrong reason. If it were because of what the other person could do or provide for me, it wasn’t love. It was convenience. I found real love, for me, meant I wanted to be with them because of what I could do for them. What they provided for me was nice, was great, but wasn’t the foundation. The foundation was what I could do for them and more importantly what we could make happen together.
Working to maintain and grow our relationships with spouse, significant other, kids, friends and colleagues can require heroic action, but it’s our personal responsibility to try.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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