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A man who would say, ‘I love you now, but how long it will last I cannot tell,’ does not truly love; he does not even suspect the very nature of love.

Interesting to read this from celebrated author and commentator David Brooks in his latest book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.” Interesting because Brooks divorced in 2013 from his wife of 27 years. In what sounds like a confession that he might not have truly loved, or even suspected the very nature of love – he clearly has learned hard lessons since then.

Brooks is an interesting figure; Oliver Burkeman with the Guardian wrote that he’s “the favoured punchbag of a generation of younger American journalists, to whom the New York Times columnist and television pundit is an insufferable scold – ‘the biggest windbag in the western hemisphere’, in the words of Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi.”

And yet, his reflections on commitment reveal a person who’s been listening to life: his life and others’. Despite being marginalized by modernity’s political correctness, Brooks speaks almost prophetically into the crisis of contemporary relationships.

The Most Complete Definition of Commitment:

Faithfulness is so essentially one with love, that everyone, at least as long as he loves, must consider his devotion an undying devotion… the deeper a love, the more it is pervaded by fidelity…

A commitment is a promise made from love… [it] is different from a contract… a person entering into a contract doesn’t really change… a commitment, on the other hand, changes who you are, or rather embeds who you are into a new relationship…

Thus, the most complete definition of a commitment is this: falling in love with something and then building a structure of behaviour around it for those moments when love falters.

So much wisdom here: love builds structures of behaviour around it for those moments when love falters. There is a secret in this that Brooks exposes for all its worth: love works at loving. Love creates and recreates the environment for love to grow. Love understands that sometimes love falters, therefore do all you can to build safety and solidity around it.

Anyone who’s been married for any length of time after the honeymoon will come to know there’s an ongoing cost to marriage: it is the cost of commitment, the price of fidelity, the expense of faithfulness. It is a hundred tiny threads that hold you together; it’s a thousand yes’s for your marriage, and ten thousand no’s against anything that assails it.

Build Scaffolding around your Marriage

Commitment is probably impossible on one’s own. Not only do you need your partner’s mutuality, but you need others around you for support:

If it takes a village to raise a child, surely it takes a community to raise a marriage.

But more; it takes a community with imagination; it takes the concerted input, surrounding, holding together, and support of family and friends who exist for the flourishing of this couple’s ongoing relationships. That’s plural “relationships“, for no couple can live in isolation; they (we) need our own network of committed thinkers, doers, and supporters who can offer hopeful imagination and faith.

Aleah Marsden uses a similar metaphor to Brooks when she writes about the imagination needed to build scaffolding around marriage (“Imagining a Better Marriage actually improved mine“):

“When my husband and I attended marital counseling, our counselor would ask a crucial question at the end of each session: How would I rate my level of hope for the relationship, on a scale of one to ten? This question propelled me in a new direction; it was a reinvigorating discipline for me to intentionally look at our relationship through the lens of hope. Rather than focusing on hurts or disappointments in our present, could I envision a future of mutual forgiveness and increasing intimacy? Or had I, in fact, become resigned to enduring apathy?

This was the important work of reframing our experience, using a better story to build a scaffolding from which we could assess our brokenness and make necessary repairs. Our discerning counselor knew that filling our heads with better interpersonal skills alone would not help us attain our intended outcome. My mindset—my imagination—needed to be reoriented first.”

The Story of Commitment

Please do not mis-hear this as any exhortation to stay in a relationship that is physically or emotionally abusive. This is not that.

Instead, pay attention to the subterranean streams of commitment we all need in relationships that matter. Listen for the encouragement: be not so quick to quit. Concentrate on building structures of behaviour around your love for those moments when love falters.

If this is a new idea, there’s no time like now to start.

What is Your Story of Commitment?

What have you learned about faithfulness and commitment in marriage?

For more see “What holds a marriage together?