Sadly, marriage has lost much of its meaning in today's society. Growing up in a household where my parents have been together over 35 years and my grandparents over 60 years, I was always under the impression that marriage meant forever. It is a pledge, a promise, a commitment to another human being to be there for them and with them through thick and thin. To be their teammate and their partner in love and in life.
Unfortunately these days, "Until death do us part" has become "until I get bored of you," or "until times get rough."
With celebrities spending millions on marriages that last 72 days, over 50 percent of American adults being single and a higher-than-comfortable divorce rate, one may begin to ask themselves what exactly is going haywire.
I think a big part of this problem is that people are not fully aware of what it really takes to commit to a marriage. They are rushing love, getting engaged (or pregnant) before they really know someone, and before you know it, a few years have gone by and the divorce lawyers are collecting another pay day.
So, if and when we are going to make this important commitment to the person we love, what exactly is it that we need to be able to promise them for the future?
"I promise to stick by you through tough times."
I'm starting off with an important one. I have said it before and I'll say it again -- anyone can stand by your side during the sunny days. The real test of character is whether or not they will hold the umbrella over you during the stormy days.
When making a lifelong commitment to someone, you are committing to being there for them "in sickness and in health." Sickness may not be a common cold. It may be a large, life-altering challenge. It may be the sickness of a family member. Maybe your own sickness. It may not necessarily be a literal health challenge, but perhaps a rough patch in life that tests your commitment and love. You are not pledging to be a fair weather spouse and only be there when times are good. You are pledging to be there always.
"I promise to always make us a priority."
Yes, strive for success. Yes, go for that promotion at work. Yes, hustle to take your business to the next level. But be very careful not to destroy your relationship through neglect in the process. Before you were a CEO or a high-powered attorney or a doctor, you were a man or woman who fell in love. You are a human being who is intimately and emotionally connected to another human being.
Even the greatest accomplishments in life lose their meaning when we have lost the person we always wanted to share them with. The key is to find a balance. To build off of your relationship as a foundation. To appreciate your teammate as part of your success as he or she supports you along the way. Letting the scales tip too far in either direction will only lead to disaster.
"I promise will never let you forget how much I love you."
As an extension of the previous point, sometimes life gets crazy and we lose sight of things by accident. One of these things can easily be letting our significant other know how much he or she means to us, daily. One of the biggest problems in long term relationships is lack of gratitude. When someone feels taken for granted it can easily breed resentment and a whole slew of other problems that will eat away at your foundation.
You'll know you've found the right partner when they keep showing you how much you mean to them, long after they've already committed to you.
"I promise I will not lose my identity."
In any happy, healthy relationship, it is important that the two individuals who are together still remain two individuals. Of course your lives are combined into one and you have become "us," but if either partner begins to lose sight of their hopes, dreams, hobbies, or whatever makes them them, it can bring about a deep dissatisfaction that could be projected onto the relationship.
This is another reason why self development is so important, as well as personal growth. We need to be sure to not only grow as a couple, but also as individuals alongside each other.
"I promise to keep things exciting."
A step beyond consistently reminding someone you love them is literally taking action to keep the spark alive. Spontaneous candle-lit dinners. A bath running when they get home from work. A weekend getaway for no reason.
When we start a fire, we cannot walk out of the room and expect it to keep burning forever. We need to continue to add logs to it and to stoke it. If we keep doing that, it will never go out. The problems arise when we stop giving it the attention it requires in order to continue burning.
Always keep stoking your fire.
"I promise I will do my best for our children."
I don't have kids, so I can't speak to the obviously large challenges that come along with it. But what I can do is appreciate the importance of making them a priority in your life and doing everything you can to love, teach, and raise them into adults you can be proud of.
You can read all of the books you want, talk to all of the parents you want, and be as prepared as anyone could be -- but one can imagine that there are endless unique challenges that every set of parents face. When you make the promise to your husband or wife that you will do the best you can and figure it out together along the way, that's exactly what happens.
"I promise I will accept and love you fully."
We all have flaws. We all have insecurities. We all have things we want to change about ourselves. We cannot expect to like every single little thing about our spouse, but what we need to do is promise that we accept all of their traits and love them to their very core, just the same.
"I promise I do not love you for your beauty."
Yes, of course you should love someone's beauty. Yes, of course you should be physically attracted to the person you are with. Yes, of course you should love making love to them. But all of these things are very different than loving someone for their beauty.
My mother and grandmother always said to never fall in love with someone for their hair, teeth, looks, or money because they can lose all of it. When marriage is part of the conversation, when true love is part of the conversation, all of these things take a back seat to who this person is at their very center. In their heart. Who they would be if everything that made them beautiful got taken away. If it did, would you still love the person underneath it all?
"I promise I will not let myself go."
Is this a contradiction to the previous point? I think not. There is an important distinction to be made between someone who reaches old age and someone who figures, "Hey, I'm married now, I can stop trying." Of course bodies and appearance change as we age, but the point here is to not become a giant lump on the couch just because you've gotten yourself a husband or wife.
It is important we continue to live a healthy lifestyle. To eat right. To take care of the only body we have in this life. To show the man or woman you love that you will still put in effort for them and not become too comfortable. Just because you are in a long term, committed relationship, does not mean that your partner deserves a lesser version of you.
"I promise I am in this until the end."
Scary, isn't it? The rest of your life. Death. Possible illness. Forever. Hell yes, it's scary. It scares the living daylights out of me, to be honest. I don't want to get old, ever. I am watching my grandparents age and it kills me to think that we are all looking out into the same future. It is not romantic or glamorous or beautiful. And for them, they still have each other.
But it is reality. It is love. It is commitment. And it is marriage.
When you pledge the rest of your life to someone, that is exactly what you're doing. I think this is so far outside of our realities that it's almost not an actual promise we feel like we are making. Fifty, 60, 70 years down the road? Who knows what the future will bring, anyway? We'll cross that bridge when we come to it...
When you marry someone, though, you are making the promise that you will be crossing any bridges you reach together. You will do it whether you are walking side by side holding hands, or whether one of you is pushing the other in a wheelchair. You will cross each bridge you find along your journey with the quiet confidence that your partner is going to be stepping onto the other side with you.
How can you be sure they will be there?
Because they promised you.
This article originally appeared on JamesMSama.com.
You can follow James on Twitter at @JamesMSama
James Michael Sama is an award winning Boston based blogger on the topics of dating and relationships, having amassed over 30 million readers in just a year and a half. He writes and speaks on the topics of chivalry, romance, and happiness throughout the country and has been featured repeatedly in news segments, talk shows, and mainstream radio.
James' mission is to bring dignity back to dating and relationships by reinstilling these values that are sorely lacking in modern times. James is also currently working on his first book.