When I shared this observation with my single friend Howard, he looked at me as though I had taken permanent leave of my senses. I don’t blame him for his reaction. It hadn’t been that long ago that I had the same association with the dreaded “C word.” It wasn’t until after Linda and I had been together for several years that I stopped feeling like I was stuck in a trap and began to experience the liberating nature of true commitment.
Prior to that time, the problem was that I was not really committed to the marriage. Sure, I tried to keep the promises and vows that we agreed would define our relationship, but it was more a matter of honoring the word than understanding the spirit of our agreements. Most of the time, it felt more like going through the motions than really embracing the essence of the covenant. I hadn’t surrendered my resistance, which came in the form of second guessing my decision to marry, envying other men who weren’t “tied down,” and feeling resentful for having missed out on more time to sow my wild oats. These thoughts often left me feeling sorry for myself. Small wonder that in those days I often found myself criticizing Linda and picking arguments to blow off my self-created dissatisfaction. Doubting that “being myself” would be sufficient to elicit the acceptance that I desired from others, I was enslaved by a need for approval that was the real source of my feeling that I was living in a prison.
Thanks to a combination of perseverance, self-acceptance, supportive friends, understanding from Linda, and the maturity that comes from staying with something long enough, I eventually grew beyond my feelings of being a trapped hostage in my marriage. I began to appreciate the many blessings and benefits of sharing a relationship with a loving, supportive partner. I came to value the security that comes from sharing a life with someone who knows you at your best and worst and whose support will not be withdrawn when you’re having a bad day. I came to trust that I could not do anything to jeopardize Linda’s love. This freed up vast amounts of energy that had formerly been locked into patterns of approval-seeking that showed up not only in my primary relationship, but with others as well.
As the capacity to love one another grows, we become increasingly more able to rest in the knowledge that we are loved for who we are, not what we do. Over time, we may come to experience a previously unknown well of self-love. Feeling loved and really letting that in, provides a fantastic sense of freedom: freedom from fear of loss and freedom to be ourselves fully. If that’s not true liberation, I don’t know what is!