Choosing A Partner, Choosing A Life

Dr. Larry Cohen (856) 352-5428

Choosing to be together forever is one of life’s greatest joys. It is life-changing, and is one of the most valuable choices you will make during your lifetime. Yet, it is essential to recognize that this choice - a choice that will change your life forever – was powerfully influenced by ‘feelings of true love’, and the rapture of sex. Choosing to commit to your partner may have seemed so obvious that you didn’t really realize that you were making a choice at all. You are in love, and you can’t imagine being apart.

Commitment vows, the promises made in the very first moments of a union, exist to remind us of the choice we are making, and to remind us of the responsibilities that come along with that choice. You commit - and promise - that you will both love and support each other no matter what. You have chosen to live with this person forever - to care for them, and stand together with them, whatever may come. In doing this, you have also made another choice. This choice may not have been obvious, or even recognized at all: in committing to each other, you have also chosen to accept each other ABSOLUTELY and WITHOUT CONDITION. Full commitment expects that you love and accept each other - always. Annoying habits and selfish acts by your partner don’t excuse you from accepting them for who they are. You may snore, she may hide chocolate where you can’t find it. Believe me, I have been married for over ten years, and when I look back to our beginnings, I didn’t fully understand that choosing to commit demands choosing to accept. It does, and it is essential. 

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This is an example of how we sometimes make choices for ourselves without knowing all that there is to know. As humans we tend to be optimistic – we believe that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. As such, certain choices we make may look unshakable at the time we make them. Yet, not having the ability to know what the future may bring, we cannot predict what will happen. That same choice, thought to be correct when we made it, may end up being completely wrong. As humans, we do our best to make informed choices. But history proves again and again that there is no such thing as a sure thing. However, if we live with integrity, commit to our partner and to accepting he or she for who they are – not who we wish they would become - mutual respect, happiness, and joy will not be lost. Even when bad choices lead to horrific life problems, the waters do not drown us. Having a relational foundation built of mutual commitment and true acceptance will provide the buoyancy needed to stay afloat.

Every day I help people navigate life’s challenges. Most every week, my clients and I face and resolve a myriad of everyday life challenges. More often than I care to recall, we also face sad, painful, and extremely difficult situations. My own life experience testifies that a few unimaginable challenges may lie ahead. When the going gets tough, it is essential that you and your partner stay close, accept difficult situations as they come, and treat each other with kindness and respect. I have witnessed partnerships collapse because the partners turned on each other, each blaming the other for their difficulties. In each case, these couples could not or would not grasp the power inherent in the commitment they once made to love and accept one another. This combative relational dyad splinters the relationship; the initial commitment collapses, and, as each blames the other, all sense of love vanishes.

Hint: No one is to blame when challenges arise. Face them together and support each other.

It’s natural to wonder if you made the right choice to marry. “Did I spend proper time reflecting on whether I could spend the rest of your life with this person?” These questions can never be answered with any certainty. Life is unpredictable, bad things happen, and, regardless of who you may think may have been a better match, remember that this person would eventually disappoint you in some fashion or another. Never forget that we’re all human, and all humans, by design, are imperfect.

This Is Us

When my partner and I chose to get married, I thought I had seen and heard it all, and that our marriage would be continual bliss and roses. I was wrong of course, and a fool at that. My marriage did reveal an essential truth to me, one that defines what CHOICE and commitment are all about.

Accept Your Partner Wholly and Without Reservation

Our first date was scheduled for brunch at Philadelphia’s incredible Sabrina’s Café. It was a Sunday morning, and the line to get into this place ran down the block. I patiently waited, waiting for my date, who I had never met. While still in line, my phone rang - 15 minutes past our agreed upon meeting time. “Sorry, I’m running late. I’m driving over the bridge now.” Ok, 15 minutes is within normal parameters. And another 15 minutes passes. I’m still waiting, inching terribly close to the front of the line. Another call: “I’m almost there. See you soon.” Minutes pass, and I’m now at the front of the line – in this busy place, and my date has still not arrived. I explain this to the hostess, and she seats me alone, right in the middle of the restaurant. I order some fruit. And I wait. I see people in line giving me the evil eye, wondering why I’m dawdling with a bowl of fruit when they’re waiting to gobble up some delicious stuffed French toast. She finally arrives! We smile at each other as she sits down. “Sorry I’m late! Oooooooo! Fruit!” And suddenly, a forked hand reaches across the table, snatching fruit from my bowl. Suddenly, I felt like we had known each other since birth.

Later I discover a house cluttered with piles of this and that, and a few dust balls dancing in the corners. I couldn’t help but recall ‘Pig Pen’ from the Peanuts cartoons. It seemed like a dust cloud moved from room to room. But soon, I fell deeply in love. This was the most wonderful person I had ever met.

It didn't take her too long to realize what I had realized the night we had first met: that our being together was “bashert” - Yiddish for ‘meant to be”. It was then that I stumbled upon a great truth: if I CHOSE to marry this person, I would have to ACCEPT everything. I realized that if I chose to marry this person, I would not have the right to yell if we were late for, well, everything, and I would have to accept her organizationally-challenged nature, and I would have to live my life in an EXTREMELY disorganized household. To marry this person, I would need to accept all of who she was and never expect her to be who she was not - EVER. And, I would have to live with my CHOICE forever.

The day prior to our wedding, I came home and discovered that our electricity had been shut off. Although we had plenty of money to pay the electric bill, the bride had forgotten to pay the bill. I suspected that this was not the first time that this had happened. So, I fumbled around in the dark - without complaint – and asked “OK, what do we have to do to get the electricity back on?” She said, “this is why I’m marrying you. You love me just the way I am.”

Accepting and Living with Our Choices

We make CHOICES every day of our lives. If they are good ones, be grateful. If they are bad ones, expect a messy clean-up on aisle 3. But we alone make our choices, and we must own what choices we make. Incredibly, CHOICE equals FREEDOM. When we accept responsibility for our choices, and do our best to choose wisely, we are free to live the life we imagine. However, beware of the biggest marital mistake around - blaming others for the choices we make. Yes, certain choices are incredibly difficult – such as choosing to relocate to an unknown area when your spouse is offered a promotion. But never forget that the choice is yours - choice a: separate from your spouse and let him or her move away, or choice b: choose to stay with your spouse, even though you absolutely don’t want to move. It may suck, but it’s still your choice. And if you do decide to uproot and move away, be careful not to blame your spouse for the move. You cannot blame your spouse for a choice you made.

We must all make difficult choices, but we must at the same time be grateful that we can make our own choices. When you make a choice, own that choice and blame no one. You alone are responsible for your life, and you alone are responsible for the choices you make.