Recently, a newly wed friend asked me this question. “What’s the purpose of marriage? Sometimes I think of it as free sex and housekeeping. Is marriage just an arrangement of living off my husband financially in exchange for taking care of a home and making meals?”
From a purely pragmatic perspective, my friend is right. Marriage is an arrangement of bartering goods and services. Even in a less traditional marriage, the husband may provide nurturing, sex and childcare while the wife “brings home the bacon.” Marriage also provides an exchange of less tangible goods, like companionship and emotional support.
If marriage is only a fair exchange of goods and services, then it makes perfect sense to live together without the paper making it legal. After all, a man and woman can exchange all of these things without being married. And if this is how we view marriage, we should dissolve marriages when the exchange between husband and wife is no longer fair. In reality, this is why most marriages fall apart. The “arrangement” is no longer working.
But marriage is much, much more. The true meaning of marriage has nothing to do with fairness or equity. Wedding vows have never said, “I promise to give you as much as you give me” or “I will love you as long as our relationship is equitable.” Marriage is not an agreement, but was designed from the beginning of time to be a covenant.
A Design Written Within Our Bodies
At its core, marriage is not a cultural invention to keep people civilized. Yes, the research has proven that cultures that affirm marriage are far more stable than those who do not. This is because we were designed for marriage, and life works better when we live according to God’s design.
The essence of marriage is written within our bodies.
I have three teenagers. Why around the age of puberty have all three boys become fascinated with girls? If you have girls, I’m certain you’ve seen the same “awakening” in them. Why in young adulthood is there a tension between choosing intimacy verses staying safe and isolated? Why is it only within the context of the promise of “till death do us part” do we finally have the freedom to stop performing for the person we love? And why is there no pain like the pain of sexual betrayal and exploitation?
These are not random evolutionary qualities within humanity. They speak to a design … a plan… a story written within our bodies. Within every one of us is a cry for intimacy, a longing to be known, and the drive to express fully the joy of love. Those urges can be squelched by fear and even rejected because of the pain we’ve experienced, but they will never completely go away.
A Story Written on Our Hearts
The drama of romantic love and the fulfillment of it within marriage speak of the story of God’s love for us. Every high and low, the pain of longing and the ecstasy of expressing love, and even the tedium of faithfulness during boring times are shadows of the universal drama of the Gospel.
So often in our relationship with God, we view Him as a transaction. We can think of religion as just another exchange of goods. If I please God and do what is right, than He owes me happiness, success, and health. When that “contract” seems to be broken, we may walk away from God to find another cosmic relationship with a god who will play fair. But God never offers you a contract. Instead, He extends a covenant…. a vow that can never be broken. “While you were yet a sinner, I died for you” and “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He asks for complete trust and fidelity, even during times when our relationship with Him makes no sense.
A Gospel Displayed Through our Lives
My friend’s new marriage has little to do with who cooks the meals and how often they have sex. These are the everyday expressions of the promise she and her husband made to live out the Gospel in front of a watching world. Through the disappointments and challenges, their love will be tested. Someday they will face a crossroads of truth: Have we simply agreed to a contract of fairness or have we committed to a vow of love?
The greatest impact of our culture’s rejection of marriage (and there are many!) is that the most tangible metaphor of the Gospel has all but disappeared. Rarely do you meet a couple that grasps that their vows are about more than their own personal happiness and fulfillment.
I have the privilege of having a mom and dad who are still married and loving each other after 55 years. They have faced illness, financial stress, sharp disagreements, successes and failures. The example they have lived before me not only gives me hope for my marriage, but also gives me a glimpse of what it means to make a covenant of love and keep it.
While our society preaches the supremacy of personal happiness and fulfillment above all else, the call to fidelity and commitment will never completely disappear from humanity. Why? Because the hope of all that marriage represents is written on our hearts with indelible marker.
Dr. Juli Slattery
(This blog has been re-posted from Authentic Intimacy. Used with permission. )
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
Don’t let your wedding day be the last day you truly appreciate your spouse.
When my wife and I got married, more than twelve years ago now, we were convinced that we would have a happy life together. Our courtship was exciting, and our wedding day was a dream. Little did we know that a switch flipped in both of our heads on the day we said “I do.” Indeed, the very next day—the first full day of our married life—my wife and I would begin taking each other for granted.
It’s only in looking back that I can understand what happened early in our marriage. At the time, the change was so gradual that we didn’t even notice it.
Before our wedding day, our focus was each other, having fun, and building our love. After our wedding day, our focus began to shift. Without realizing it, I viewed our wedding day as the finish line in the courtship race, and I had won the prize: my wife’s love.
It was about six months into our marriage when I discovered that we had actually lost something when we said our vows. As each month of marriage passed, the slow decline in our relationship continued. I still couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong, and though we weren’t yet at a terrible place, I looked to the future, and I did not like what I saw.
I called three friends of mine, all of whom had been married for more than twelve years. I thought they all had good marriages and would be good people to get advice from.
My first friend urged me to get over it. No one is happily married, he said. My second friend explained to me that this is what happens in marriage: The initial passion fades away, and you end up bickering for the rest of your lives. My third friend told me the key to surviving marriage was to have low expectations—very low expectations.
Devastated by my friends’ advice, I feared that I had ruined my life by getting married. But my marriage took a turn for the better when I was asked to teach Pre-Cana, a course of marriage consultation that couples must undergo before they can be married in a Catholic church. My initial reaction was: Are you crazy? I’m not suited to teach this. But in the end I accepted the challenge.
This was a game changer for our marriage. As we did our homework to prepare to teach the class, my wife and I felt the trend of our marriage shift in mere days.
Research by marriage specialists such as Dr. John Gottman, author of the book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, and Bill Doherty, professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota, provided practical suggestions for how to strengthen marriage, which were simple enough that we were able to easily apply them to our marriage.
In a life-changing talk, Doherty makes an important point about marriage. He explains that the natural trend of marriage is for romance, affection, appreciation, and communication to decline over time, not because couples start to dislike each other but because they become too comfortable together.
Doherty explained that it is important to choose the right person, but it is also important to have a strategy to stay happy. His big phrase is “the intentional couple,” by which he means you need to be aware of what you’re doing, and you need to have a plan to nurture the positive in your relationship.
Couples with marriages rich in habits, rituals, and traditions will be better suited to avoid the trap of taking each other for granted and will keep the positive side of the relationship nurtured over time.
Here are three important rituals that saved my wife and I from taking each other for granted and drifting apart.
01. Create a habit of reunion every day.
According to Doherty, the most important moment in your marriage is the moment of reunion—it’s how you greet each other. If you consistently greet each other well, you will look forward to seeing each other. If you are inconsistent about how you greet each other, you can lose that sense of excitement. If you criticize each other at the moment of reunion, you can become fearful of seeing each other.
In need of a daily ritual in my own marriage, I remembered something my parents did that had made a strong impression on me when I was a little boy. My parents did it very rarely, but occasionally after dinner my father would ask my mother to dance.
I made a commitment right then and there to dance with my wife whenever I greet her. Now the first thing I do when I get home is to find her, and tell her, “I have to dance with you.” On days when I work too late, or am traveling without her, I make up for the missed opportunity by sending my wife a video kiss from my iPhone. Once we even danced via Facetime.
The consistency of greeting each other well has completely transformed our marriage. Every day of our marriage has romance and affection in it, and my wife and I are always excited to see each other.
02. Set aside two minutes of undistracted communication every day.
Gottman has found that two minutes of undistracted communication can be more important than spending a whole unfocused week together as a couple. Even though I am not a morning person, I resolved to wake up a little earlier each day and have breakfast with my wife.
Having breakfast is not our morning ritual, as Gottman has found that even the food you’re eating is a distraction. It’s when we are finished eating that I slap my knee and invite my wife to sit on my lap. We then ask each other what our days will be like.
Right from the beginning of the day, we have a ritual to nurture the romance, affection, and connection in our marriage, and we have found that this feeling persists throughout the day. Two minutes of non-distracted communication, while dancing at the moment of reunion, serves to refresh this daily connection.
03. Practice an appreciation ritual every day.
Sadly, couples tend to take the good in each other for granted very quickly—and can even stop noticing the good that the other is doing—while focusing more and more on the petty failings of the other.
Inspired by the research of Gottman, we began to incorporate an appreciation ritual into our daily lives. We’ve learned to say thank you throughout the day. And we end each day before going to bed by sitting together, with the computers off, and thanking each other once again for all the big and small things we’ve done for each other that day.
When we first started this ritual, we were stunned to realize how much each of us was doing for the other during the day. I had become so focused on my petty complaints about my wife that I had forgotten what a good wife she was. Our thank you ritual to end the day has helped us become much more tolerant of each other’s failings.
Most couples allow their marriages to decay slowly over time, often without realizing it. But this wasn’t my marriage’s fate, and it doesn’t have to be yours. Daily rituals keep the sense of connection strong in marriage and assure that romance, affection, and appreciation are a part of your married life every day.
By Peter McFadden, Verily Magizine