Friday, December 11, 2009

What's in it for me?

MINISTER TO GROOM:
Do you GROOM'S NAME take BRIDE'S NAME to be your wife - to live together after God's ordinance - in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon her your heart's deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her as long as you both shall live?
GROOM:
I will.
MINISTER TO BRIDE:
Do you BRIDE'S NAME take GROOM'S NAME to be your husband - to live together after God's ordinance - in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon him your heart's deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him as long as you both shall live?
BRIDE:
I will.

Source : Traditional Wedding Vows

In spite of the altruistic (unselfish) nature of our marriage vows we tend to fall back into the sin (selfish) nature of asking "What is in it for me?"  When this becomes the focus then discontent and the other "d" word are not far behind. 

The success in marriage can be described in economic terms.  If you do not invest into a relationship it will eventually go bankrupt.  The selfish way is to take out more or only the same as you perceive has been invested by your spouse.  The successful way is to be diligent in always investing more regardless of what your spouse is putting in.  This is the realm of unconditional love. 

There is a concept in used marital therapy called social exchange theory.  A person will invest time effort energy into a relationship based on the perceived return.  The rewards and costs are considered and the decision to engage in the relationship is based on this evaluation.  This comparison also includes what a person believes is a realistic return on a healthy relationship as well as a perception of self-worthiness. 

Functionally social exchange states that a person will have high potential to invest into a relationship if it is perceived to have high reward, comparable to other healthy relationships, and/or the person does not believe they are worthy of better.  On the other hand a person will not invest into the relationship if the perceived cost is high, it compares unfavorably to other relationships, and/or the person believes they deserve better. 

There are two norms in this exchange Trust and Commitment.  Trust is the belief that the person will not use the relationship to exploit or take advantage of the other person.  Commitment is the willingness to work on the continuation of the relationship.  When these two are high then there is a stronger social exchange in the marital relationship.  When one or both of these are low then the social exchange is weakened. 

When the perceived benefit of the social exchange consistently outweighs the cost and/or the norms are violated then a person is much more likely to consider the alternatives of that relationship.  This can take many forms, but essentially a person looks to get their needs met in other relationships.  This is not always, but can include extramarital affairs.  At times the perceived benefit versus the cost of being divorced and single outweighs the perceived benefit versus the cost of being married.  When this happens then a person is likely to pursue divorce even though being alone is not desirable, it is better than what is going on at the moment. 

One of the criticisms of this approach is that it puts the relationship in purely economic terms.  It tends to ignore other aspects of the relationship.  That being said I have to say that the concept of social exchange is very useful in improving marriages even if it seems shallow (or selfish) in predicting marital commitment. 

If you do not invest time, energy, thought, trust, and commitment into a marriage then you are investing in the alternative by default.  The success in your marriage is directly related to the amount you invest in the marriage compared to the amount you invest in the alternative.  If a person starts down the road of investing time, energy, and thought into divorce they are by that very act making divorce a more likely outcome of his/her marriage. 

On the positive side if people want to restore and/or enhance their marriage relationship then the formula is quite simple.  Make the investment!  Commit to the social norms of trust and commitment.  If you have fallen down on these, restore trust and commitment and demonstrate trustworthiness and commitment to your spouse. 

There is a book recently that has been popular called "The Love Dare."  I like this book because it adds a spiritual dimension to the idea of investing in a relationship.  The idea of the book is that marriage is a covenant of unconditional love.  When we make the commitment to love in this way we express the value of our spouse from God's perspective.  It also changes our perceived value of the relationship from what is in it for me, to what can I do for you.  When we focus on what is in it for me we sow seeds of discontent.  When we focus on what can I do for you we sow seeds of love that if allowed to grow will blossom into a beautiful thing. 

Social exchange then becomes a tool for restoring and enhancing a relationship when you make a commitment to invest in the other person.  By making the investment God's way you unlock the potential and power for becoming the husband or wife the God desires you to be.  It will lead your spouse to have improved feelings of love, security, and commitment as you win his/her heart though unselfish unconditional acts of love, trust, and commitment. 

God bless you in your pursuit of investing in your marriage. 

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