Commitment Makes a Difference
About the Guest
A promise is a powerful thing. Research professor Scott Stanley, talks about the transforming power of commitment.
Scott StanleyScott Stanley, Ph.D., is a research professor and co‑director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. He has published widely with research interests including commitment, communication, conflict, confidence, risk factors for divorce, the prevention of marital distress, and couple development. Along with Dr. Howard Markman and colleagues, he has been involved in the research, development, and refinement of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (...more
A promise is a powerful thing. Research professor Scott Stanley, talks about the transforming power of commitment.
Commitment Makes a Difference
Bob: The Bible describes husbands and wives coming together in marriage as two becoming one. Researcher Scott Stanley says, “In the best marriages, husbands and wives realize that’s more than just a metaphor.”
Scott: You have to re-orient yourself to: “This is a team. We make decisions together. It’s not just about me, and it’s not just about you.” So, as things come up with a child: “What are we going to do?” “What are we going to do about work—career / work-life balance?” You start making decisions together because you believe you have a future together. It’s not just about “what I’m going to do” or “what you’re going to do.” You have to start talking about what “we’re going to do.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What are the characteristics of couples who get to the finish line with a smile on their face in marriage? We’re going to talk with Scott Stanley about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Back last spring, my wife and I started watching the British television show, Sherlock. Have you ever watched any Sherlock?
Dennis: Oh, I thought you were going to talk about—
Bob: Downton Abbey.
Dennis: Yes; Downton Abbey.
Bob: We’ve watched Downton Abbey too, but we watch Sherlock.
Dennis: There are some marriage themes in Downton Abbey.
Bob: Well—and here’s the thing—
Dennis: I’m wondering where you’re going with Sherlock.
Bob: Okay, you know, it’s a modern-day telling of Sherlock Holmes.
Bob: In season three, episode two, John Watson, who has been living with his girlfriend, is getting married. It turns out that on the day of their wedding, there’s a crime being committed. Sherlock needs Watson’s help. Watson is protesting, “Sherlock, I’m getting married today.” You know—“It’s my wedding. It’s the biggest day of my life.” Sherlock says to him: “All that’s going to happen is—you’re going to meet up with some friends and have a party, and then go home and do the same thing you were doing before.”
When they said that on TV, I looked at Mary Ann and I thought, “Hmm.”
Dennis: That’s kind of how they view it.
Bob: I wonder—I wonder what they’re thinking!
Dennis: Yes; exactly. But there is something that happens when you make a promise to another person. We have someone here who has proven that, statistically. Scott Stanley joins us again on FamilyLife Today, after a long absence. He’s been away for 15 years.
Dennis: It’s been too long, Scott. Welcome back.
Scott: Thank you very much. It’s great to be back.
Dennis: Scott’s written a book called A Lasting Promise. He’s kept his promise to his wife Nancy since 1982. They have two sons; and he is the Co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Relationships at the University of Denver—on the Front Range—out there with a bunch of my grandkids.
Dennis: What Bob’s talking about—you have proven, statistically, that commitment makes a difference; doesn’t it?
Scott: Commitment is the most important variable of all, I think, in how marriages turn out. Why it’s so important—I know it would seem obvious to a lot of people, but commitment’s not just about what you do on your wedding day. It’s about what you do every day thereafter. It’s about the follow-through. It’s about how you are changed in terms of how you think—in terms of “us”—in terms of “me” versus “you.”
When things are really well set-up and people are entering marriage well—what they’re doing on that wedding day, in front of witnesses—is they’re promising—promise is a great word—they are promising to make this work, without really knowing what’s ahead on the flight, without really knowing all of the ups and downs that they’re going to face. There’s that sense that: “I’m anchoring, right now, my resolution to make this work and to do what I can to love you the best I can.”
Bob: And Scott, as you describe that, I’m remembering the day I got married—when I thought to myself, right before I’m supposed to go out and say, “I do,”—I thought, “How does anybody ever do this?”
Bob: Because I don’t know what’s coming up: “What if, five years from now, she’s different?” And you know what? Five years later, she was different; and so was I.
Scott: And so were you.
Bob: But how do you sign up for a lifetime when you don’t know what’s coming?
Scott: Two things I would say on that—one is—we all know that there are a lot of people who could be more thoughtful, initially. People would be more careful, and go more slowly to begin with, and make a good choice—that makes some of that equation a little less intimidating.
But the real power of commitment is the walking by faith thing. You don’t know what life’s going to throw at you. You don’t know how you’re going to age, what illness is going to come up, what challenge with a child. You don’t know this.
But what you’re agreeing to do is to be determined to get through it together and to be there for each other. What happens in the best marriages, over time, is they’re not always happy. They’re not perfect.
But what they begin to develop—and a lot of couples never get this / never see this—they begin to develop this sense of, “We can get through stuff.” You know: “We have this, and this, and this is great,” and “This isn’t so great,” and “I don’t like this part about you, but I love this part about you; but we get through stuff. We’re making life work.” That’s powerful.
Dennis: I was speaking at the Hershey Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway—Bob was there as well. I did some live polls among the attendees, just about where they had difficulty leaving and cleaving—
Dennis: —because when you leave, you’re not just leaving father and mother, although that’s the command of Scripture there in Genesis, Chapter 2. There’s a command to leave the single lifestyle.
Scott: That’s right.
Dennis: And to leave your friends, and the activities, and perhaps the parties, and all the interests that occur around that. You’re to say, “I’m re-focused around you, my bride, because I just made a commitment to you.”
Scott: This is such a great point because I actually think—Nancy and I got married quite a long while ago with the expectations that, “I think we’re a little clearer and a little stronger about what this means.” Today, we see this problem all the time. You see young couples, where they have gone through this transition—so there is this declaration of commitment and marriage—but one or both don’t seem to have really absorbed the message that “This should re-orient my life.” Where you might see one as still wanting to go out with their friends and do whatever they do with their friends—spending just as much time with the same friends they had before marriage.
What commitment does—and the strongest form of it, of course, is that promise in marriage. What commitment does—a researcher called it this way, “40 years ago / 50 years ago, it’s a transformation of motivation,”—when you make it a really clear commitment—your motivation is transformed from “all about me” to “all about us.” “Us with a future” is the way I like to say it.
A couple that doesn’t experience that transformation is going to be much more vulnerable to all of what life throws at them.
Dennis: When the statistics came back—live, at the Weekend to Remember, where I asked the question—I was actually astounded that a lot of young couples today, to your point, are struggling with someone other than their parents—and leaving mother and father.
Dennis: They’re struggling with leaving—maybe, hobbies—they’re maybe not working as long, or as hard, or as focused as they have been in the past. It was healthy for me, as an older guy, because we’ve been married 41 years. You forget what it’s like to make that transformational commitment that you’re talking about.
Scott: That’s right. I thought one of places you might go in that example—because it was embedded in everything you just said—it’s a big deal now for couples to decide “Which friends are we going to keep, and are we okay with keeping?” Because some of the friends might be people we used to date. This is where technology comes in and makes it so much more complicated for couples these days because it is so easy to keep tabs on your whole world that existed as a single.
Some of those people are not people you should be keeping tabs with, now that your whole world should be transformed into an “us.” Some of those people are not people that are going to help you maintain the “us.”
Dennis: And to your point, Scott, if there are couples listening to us right now and they’re going: “You know what? Maybe we haven’t left.”
Dennis: Because the Scripture’s clear—in order to cleave, you have to leave. A lot of problems in marriage can be traced back to an impartial commitment because there wasn’t a total leaving and abandonment of loyalty—back to friends, parties, hobbies, etc. I just want to challenge couples: “Don’t just listen to us, here on the broadcast. This is a good one to be not just merely a hearer, but also a doer.”
Scott: Yes. Let me back that up a little bit.
One of my favorite one-liners about commitment is: “If you’re making a commitment,”—marriage—pre-eminent example—but in any major commitment in life—“If you’re really making a commitment, you are making a choice to give up other choices.” That’s the deal. That’s what you’re doing.
Our culture fights that. We fight that, as individuals. We’re sort of encouraged to hang on to everything. You cannot hang on to everything. You have to leave things, or you’re not making a commitment because commitment is: “I am choosing to go deeper and fuller on this path, and I’m cutting some paths loose.” That’s what commitment’s about.
Dennis: And until a single man or woman is willing to say “no” to those points of self-interest, don’t talk about tying the knot.
Bob: I want to talk about this idea of living as “we” in an “I” world, because I think it’s very important. I was on the phone with a young man recently. He was frustrated that he and his wife were not making as many decisions together as he felt they ought to be making. He said, “I think, as husband and wife, every decision should be a mutual decision.”
I said, “So, if she wants to stop and get a cup of coffee on the way home from work, she should call you and say, ‘Is that okay?’ Is that really what you’re asking?” He said, “Well, no, we’d have a budget that would allow for some flexibility.” But what I heard him describing, in this “we”-ness he was describing, was an unhealthy dependence / an unhealthy bonding together. Can you go too far, as a “we”?
Scott: Yes. As Christians, we have some of the best imagery, and thought, and teaching possible on “What is a healthy model of oneness?” It turns out—I think most people are comfortable with the concept of oneness and really want that, whether they use the word or not; but people are pretty comfortable with the word.
But some people have a sense that “one” is really meaning: “We’re mushed together. Your identity is absorbed into mine,” or, “My identity is absorbed into you.” In a healthy oneness in marriage, there are still two individuals.
You can see these two individuals; but what emerges, in this transformation of motivation—what emerges is a third identity of “us.” You can see the “us.” The “us” is walking and talking—it’s reflected—but the individuals—the “me” and “you”—doesn’t leave.
That’s healthy. You see that in what we’re told about the Trinity. You see that in what we’re told about the body of Christ—in different forms, and functions, and gifts. This kind of message is deeply embedded in our theology, as Christians. It’s a healthy depiction of what oneness in marriage would actually be.
Dennis: You’re really touching on one of the teachings of Scripture about Christian marriage, which is that there is a transcendent purpose for your marriage.
Dennis: It’s not just about your needs, her needs, or our needs. It’s that we’ve been put here by God to reflect who He is, what His love is all about, how we forgive one another in an imperfect relationship. It’s not just about us. God’s not on trial, by the way, in our marriages, but He is on display.
Scott: That’s beautifully-said. A lot of Christians, I think, don’t know this or are taught this, these days. Marriage is throughout the Bible. It’s in the first chapter, and it goes all the way through the end, and everywhere in between. It is very clear—starting in Genesis 1:27—that God’s idea about marriage was to portray something about the nature of Him / about the character of Him.
What that means is—not only is marriage not just about my own happiness, or how I can be fulfilled by you in life, or something like that—if we really see it fully, and grasp this in our marriage, and in other ways in the Christian life—in terms of depicting oneness—we’re participating in God’s way of communicating to the world who He is and that He loves us.
Dennis: And we’re teaching our kids what love looks like too.
Scott: Yes. That’s right.
Dennis: Love’s a commitment. Meanwhile, if you look at how Hollywood and media portrays love, it’s a feeling.
Scott: Absolutely right.
Dennis: And it’s no wonder people get tired of loving because it’s hard work.
Comment on what Jesus said about the power of commitment.
Scott: When He talks about “the two shall be united,” in Matthew 19, the word “united” there is the word for “glue.” I think it is , or kollao. I don’t know how to pronounce the Greek anymore. What Jesus is really talking about is that the two of you are going to be—not become like the same individuals—we touched on that—but you’re going to really be glued together in life. You’re sticking together. One of the ways you can think about what Jesus is really talking about—He wants us to stick and not be stuck.
A lot of couples are living through a stuck life. They feel obligated / they feel constrained—and that’s an important part of commitment in marriage. A lot of marriages wouldn’t make it if you didn’t have that constraint. But the way I think about commitment—the New Testament describes a godly love. That’s really what I, as a researcher, would call dedication. That’s what I think Jesus is really reflecting, in His teaching on marriage, when He’s trying to correct the guys that are sort of trying to trip Him up: “Is it okay to divorce your wife for any and every reason?”
He goes right to God’s heart of the matter. He talks about permanence. He talks about glue; and He talks about, what I’d say is dedication, which is this sense that: “I will try for you. I will sacrifice for you. I will do things that are needed for you. I will put aside my own interest for you.” That’s the power of what’s implied there in everything Jesus is saying.
Bob: And when you sense that that’s true in a relationship with somebody else, it enables that relationship to go places it can’t go without that sense of commitment.
Scott: I’m really glad you said that. When you see a great marriage—walking, talking, however you see it—and there are a lot of different kinds of great marriages. It’s nice that Paul talks about oneness is a mystery because different people can really work this out in different ways—you see it with couples—but one of the things you see in every great marriage is emotional safety.
You see a sense that: “I can be who I am; you can be who you are. We’ll change in terms of this transformation, but it is safe to be with you. It is safe to open up with you.”
You cannot get emotional safety in a relationship with a weak commitment because part of where the safety comes from is the sense that: “I’m here for you, no matter what,” and, “I will pick you up when you fall. I will help keep you warm,” coming from Ecclesiastes, which is a great concept. “I will do these things with you in life,”—that makes it safe to open up, to be frail, to struggle, and know that it’s okay. “We’re going to do this together.”
Bob: Yes; if some portion of my emotional make-up, as a person—if some portion is always asking the question: “Am I safe?” and “Are you going to be here?”—whatever portion that is—is going to keep the rest of me locked up at some level.
Scott: That’s right.
Bob: But as soon as I can say: “You know what? I am safe,”—
—it’s kind of like—if you’ve ever been on a zip line and you’re going across the forest on the zip line, the first few minutes on the zip line, you’re thinking, “Am I safe?”
Bob: You can’t really look around and see what you’re looking at because all you’re thinking about is, “Is this line going to hold?” As soon as you realize, “This line’s going to hold,” you can kind of lay back and go, “This is spectacular!”
Scott: This is a beautiful example because you don’t know it’s going to hold until you have the potential to fall—
Scott: —until you step off there and let it go.
Dennis: You tell a story in your book about a man named Ethan and his wife Madison, who’d been married for about 13 years. You were talking about how they felt trapped.
Scott: So, Ethan and Madison have a kind of marriage that is really common. It’s what people fear—where they’re really the “stuck” relationship. They’re together, but there’s not a lot of connection / there’s not a lot of life. Madison is starting to think about bailing out.
It’s an example of constraint commitment without dedication in the relationship. Dedication is the part of commitment that fuels the good stuff. Constraint is the stuff that will keep you there whether or not you’re dedicated. Madison is starting to work through, “Well, how constrained am I?”—which, by the way, is a sign that you’re in trouble in your marriage.
But she’s starting to think about, “What’s keeping me here?”—which means she can end up in one of three places. She can either decide, “There’s not enough keeping me here,” and she could leave. Or she could decide, “I’m just going to stay here and be stuck and miserable.” Or she can do the most powerful thing—which is decide: “I’m here, and I’m staying. I’m in this boat with Ethan. Let me figure how to row the boat better with him. Maybe we can even figure out how to sail together and get somewhere in life because I’m staying; but do I want to just stay and be miserable for the rest of my life?”
Bob: Yes; the illustration I’ve used with people, over the years, is: “If I gave you a car and said: ‘Here’s a new car. The issue is—this is the only one you’ll ever get for the rest of your life. You have this one car.’ Will you take better care of the car? And anytime something’s wrong with it, you wouldn’t have an option—you’d just go get if fixed—so that you could keep driving; right?”
Scott: Exactly right. When people know they’re all-in with this choice, they do better all along because they’ve decided the other options are off the table. They invest more every day. When people are more dedicated—what the research shows is—not only do they do these different kinds of positive investments you can imagine / and I think more of “us” and the “team”—they also do a better job inhibiting nastiness.
Dennis: Holding back.
Scott: Yes. That’s—
Dennis: Biting their tongues.
Scott: I’m using research-y terms! [Laughter]
Scott: You know—when you’re more dedicated—now think about this—think about this car because the car’s a beautiful metaphor. If you’ve decided, “This is my car for life,” you kind of don’t just throw as much trash around in the car. You start to take better care of it because I want it to stay nice. You take better care of it.
You’re not so nasty to it; right? [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, exactly. I’m back to the car again. I’m thinking what Bob just said—we talk about something goes wrong with a car, we fix it. We’re not talking about going and fixing your spouse—say, “You know, we need to go fix him/—
Dennis: —“We need to go fix her.”
Dennis: No, it’s about “us.”
Bob: We need to fix us.
Dennis: It’s where we started this conversation—the marriage promise is a promise between two imperfect people. They don’t have any idea—back to what Bob said, at the beginning of the broadcast—they don’t have any idea what’s going to come their way. But if you say: “You know what? You’re mine, and I am yours, and we’re going to make it. We’re going to go the distance, for a lifetime,”—there’s just not enough media today, truthfully, with that kind of message.
Scott: There’s not enough imagery for people about that, in a way, to see that. Here’s one of the things I like to say to young people. I hope this doesn’t turn them off. I hope it gets their attention in a positive way: “If you do really well, as a couple, you’re going to watch each other decay.
You’re going to watch each other fall apart. Isn’t that a wonderful promise?” [Laughter]
Dennis: First it’s holding back, then nastiness, and now, Barbara and I are decaying!
Bob: “Watch each other decay.”
Dennis: Sitting by the fire—listening to the laughter in the walls / watching each other disintegrate! [Laughter] Scott, you’re a researcher par-excellent!
Scott: I’m a funny guy.
Dennis: I love it!
Bob: You cast quite a vision for marriage. [Laughter]
Scott: This is romantic too. But here is the power—where else can you find a relationship where you can expect to have that going?—where you’re going through stuff like that in life because it’s guaranteed—you know, either fast or slow, it’s guaranteed—but what you have together is the hope of showing each other you can be imperfect: “You can get less perfect over time, and I will love you through it all.”
Dennis: Yes. And I was just thinking of—where can you find that?—road-kill. [Laughter] That’s where you can watch something decay! [Laughter]
Bob: But you know what? You talked about these positive images for folks. Honestly, when we get together with thousands of couples at one of these I Still Do™ one-day events that we have coming to Chicago, and Portland, and Washington, DC, here in the next couple of months—just the fact that we’re all gathered together / standing
together / affirming together that marriage is important and we’re going to make it a priority—going to make it the priority it ought to be—and if we have issues, we’re going to work on them / and we’re going to press other people to do the same thing—there’s something about being in that environment that I think it gives us all a perspective that we’re not alone in what we’re going through. There are other people who believe that marriage is important, as well.
Saturday, August 2nd, we’re going to be at the Allstate Arena in Chicago—Saturday, August 23rd, we’re going to be at the Moda Center in Portland—and Saturday,
October 4th, we’re going to be at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. I just want to urge listeners—go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the “GO DEEPER” tab in the upper left-hand corner of the page. Get more information or order tickets from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
There’s also information available about Scott Stanley’s book, A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click, again, the tab that says, “GO DEEPER.” That’ll take you right to the area where you can order a copy of Scott’s book, online. You can also order by phone—call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY”—1-800-358-6329.
I think it’s obvious for our listeners that this topic is right at the heart of what we’re all about, as a ministry. At FamilyLife, our desire is to see every home become a godly home.
We want to effectively develop godly marriages and godly families because we believe those homes—those marriages / those families—are going to change the world, one home at a time.
I know those of you who help support FamilyLife Today—you share that vision. You share that passion. We’re really heartened by the fact that you join with us and help support this ministry. In fact, today, if you’re able to help with a donation, we’d like to send you a copy of a CD—a message from Dennis all about marriages that get to the finish line. Why it’s important and why that ought to be our objective in marriage.
So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. In the upper right-hand corner of the home page, click the link that says, “I CARE”; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and make a donation over the phone. Ask for the CD from Dennis Rainey on commitment in marriage when you get in touch with us. Or you can write a check and mail it to FamilyLife Today.
Our mailing address is Post Office box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation with Scott Stanley about the characteristics of couples who are thriving in their marriage relationship. They don’t have it all figured out, but they have the basics down. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?
Copyright © 2014 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.