I have often heard it said by pastors, pastoral counselors, therapists, and everyday people that a couple is “in a dead marriage.”
Affection in Marriage
Marriage is a covenant or an agreement, a contract between a man and a woman originally established by God. The Bible says of marriage: “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:3)
Many in my care over the years have read this verse and seen only the physical aspect of the word “affection”. But in my understanding it’s more than just about sex: It’s also about true love and devotion to one another, under God!
Philippians 2:1-5 focuses on relationships in general (not just marriage), but can still be applied to marriages: Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
This passage teaches us the “unconditional love” concept that counters the selfish, self-centered, “what’s in it for me?” approach to marriage that can kill the physical as well as the spiritual devotion necessary for oneness. This unconditional love also wrecks the mindset that withholds loving the other person until they know what they will get back from the other partner. Instead, the cross of Christ is given as the example of how we love each other.
A Dead Marriage
Unfortunately, this Biblical plan doesn’t always play itself out in marriages.
Most surveys, including one in 2012 by the CDC, puts the divorce rate in America for first marriages between 40-50%. This tends to be true for Christians and non-Christians alike.
I wonder how many folks really didn’t fully understand the concept of Christ-like sacrifice and selflessness was what they were signing on for in marriage, the huge reality of the life-long commitment they were agreeing to. Maybe after finding out how much commitment was needed, they were not truly willing to do as they promised. I want to be clear I’m not just talking in the physical sense, e.g., sexuality, but also the responsibility to love and care and nurture one another in every way. In our marriages, do we care for each other, about each other, love each other?
Breathing Life into Marriages
The Apostle Paul clearly recognized that living souls are in need of true love and care. I believe he was alluding to various Old Testament statues (such as Exodus 21:7-11) when he wrote 1 Corinthians 7:5: Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Paul was answering questions about sexual relations in a godly marriage between husband and wife in the above passage. And while sexual relations are important to a healthy marriage, the bigger problem I find today is the condition of the heart of one living soul and their ability or reluctance to truly love their spouse. The Bible addresses this in 1 Peter 3:7-9:
Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
In marriage, you cannot have a vibrant physical relationship described in 1 Cor 7 and “be of one mind, having compassion for one another…as brothers [and sisters]” without having person-to-person oneness. The unconditional love taught in Philippians 2:1-5 kills the selfish, self-centered approach to marriage so that oneness can occur. So it comes down to truth, God’s love through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and with “one mind, having compassion one for another” we do the work which at times seems difficult and we do it out of love and for the life of our marriages.
Dr. Tom Miller, C.Ph.D.
Counselor, Day Seven Ministries