I originally posted this in May of 2011. I'm reposting it, as my son, Levi, will marry his beautiful fiance, Amanda, in two days. The points are still relevant.
Tomorrow afternoon I get to perform the marriage ceremony for my niece and her fiance. I do a few weddings a year, and every time I do I am acutely aware that there is a lot of disagreement about the very institution of marriage. I've met - and heard - a lot of people who have a very dim view indeed of matrimony.
There are varying reasons for this, some valid, some not so much. The rise in feminism and the resulting cries for sexual "liberation" from marriage resulted, at least for a time, in a great many young women rejecting marriage altogether. This cry for freedom came as the result of the historic patriarchal nature of marriage.
Another obvious reason is the dysfunction of many marriages. When children grow up seeing their parents constantly fighting and maybe even divorcing, their logical conclusion is that all marriage is like this, so why bother? One reason that's not spoken of often is the increase in sexual promiscuity. In other eras, men married in order to have sex; that is no longer necessary, and men are quite happy to take advantage of the situation. This change in behaviour has resulted in the rapid growth of co-habitation, a couple living together with no formal commitment. In today's social climate it is very rare to see a couple come to the marriage altar with their virginity.
The main question coming out of the changes we've seen is this: are we better off now that marriage has fallen out of favour? I, for one, would respond forcefully in the negative. Here are some of the reasons why:
We are not happier! According to a recent study, "researchers have concluded that although (Westerners) are rich compared with most other countries, many suffer from an emotional poverty caused by consumerism and the breakdown of family life. 'We are being seduced by an economic juggernaut and our personal needs are not being met,' said Nic Marks, a social sciences researcher at Surrey University who also worked on the report."
Non-traditional arrangements are less stable than marriages. (See article.) "A recent General Social Survey performed by Statistics Canada reported that in Canada, couples who choose a common-law relationship as their first conjugal union have a greater probability of this first union ending in separation, regardless of whether the common-law partners eventually married... Common-law unions are generally less stable than marriages: more than 60% of people who choose common-law unions as their first conjugal relationship are expected to separate."
Children are generally safer and happier when raised in a married home with both mother and father. (See study.) This is a particularly important issue because it points to what I believe is one of the underlying reasons that many have rejected marriage - selfishness.
We live in a culture that is incredibly narcissistic, and we've been convinced somehow that life revolves around us. This has resulted in the breakdown of community and a growing isolation. People who live like this see others as simply a means to their own happiness, but, as studies show, it's not working. We're not happier as a culture, that's why anti-depressant meds are a multi-billion dollar industry.
Here's what I've learned about happiness: it is not an end in itself, but is the product of consistently doing the right thing. It is not met by external things, but is realized by an inner fulfilment, a realization of a greater purpose.
All that being said, finding happiness in marriage is not an easy thing, it is difficult, as with almost anything worthwhile. I believe that part of the reason for the high failure rate in marriage is completely unrealistic expectations. As Sidney Harris writes: "Almost no-one is foolish enough to imagine that he automatically deserves great success in any field of activity, yet almost everyone believes that he automatically deserves success in marriage."
Marriage is first a covenant, then it is a commitment. This was how God, who created us for each other, designed marriage. Counselor Gary Chapman tells us that "Something in our nature cries out to be loved by another. Isolation is devastating to the human psyche." We need each other, and we need to know that we can rely on each other. So God made marriage to last for a lifetime. One man, one woman, until death.
The challenge in marriage is working out the commitment. It's putting the same energy into preserving the relationship as we did in its establishment. I heard a wonderful lady say something in a talk years ago that has always stuck with me. She said that there may not always be red-hot passion in a marriage, but there should always be red-hot commitment. So how does this work? What are the keys? As someone who's done his share of pre-marital counseling over the years, here are some of the keys that I've learned.
Get pre-marital counseling before marriage. It's amazing how many people don't feel like this is necessary. They would agree that deciding to marry is likely one of the most life-changing points in their lives yet not feel it is necessary to prepare. When faced with this mentality I usually ask if they have a driver's license. If so, did they study for the test? Is marriage more or less important than a driver's license. That's usually the end of the conversation.
Deal with your personal baggage. Everyone carries emotional baggage. There are incidents and issues in our lives that we carry with us that can affect our relationships. They're easily overlooked when a couple is dating and each is trying to put their best foot forward. But unresolved issues, like low self-esteem, an abusive background, anger issues, etc., will almost certainly jump up and bite you in the relationship later. Deal with them beforehand, and be honest. If your relationship can't handle the pressure of premarital counseling, you are not ready to marry!
Learn how to communicate effectively. In many surveys, the number one complaint of wives is that their husband will not communicate. In my experience, it's often because they don't really know how. Communication is complicated, and men and women obviously think very differently. We need to understand that communication is "a meeting of meanings" and not a battle we must win. We need to learn how to lay down our weapons of self-defense and get to know what makes our spouse tick. For a message on this, go here.
Be sure you're on the same page. This speaks to the question of worldview. I've had couples come to me, one an atheist and one a Christian, who wanted to be married. They didn't see that this was a problem. So I began to ask questions like, are you planning children? Will you raise the children in church or not? The more we talked, the more the potential problems became apparent, and the wedding was soon cancelled, and that was a good thing. For an article on worldview, go here.
Get a handle on your finances. Disagreement here is one of the top reasons for marriage breakup. Even if you think you've got it all together, I highly recommend that every couple take a course such as Dave Ramsey's "Financial Peace University." You'll be thankful later. Every married couple, like it or not, become financial partners in a new enterprise.
Talk about roles. Many marriages fail because of unmet expectations. Just because your mother was a stay-at-home Mom and loved it, doesn't mean your bride-to-be will be the same. Talk about division of labour. Who will clean the house, mow the lawn, do small repairs, wash the dishes, cook the meals, do the laundry, pick up the kids, etc... Trust me, it matters.
Share your dreams. In my Christian worldview, I firmly believe that God has a plan for each of us, and therefore a plan for each couple. God implants visions and dreams in our hearts as we follow Him. Why did God bring you together as a couple? How can you help one another to be the people that God called you to be? Where do you envision yourselves in 5, 10, 20 years? Are your dreams compatible?
Build on a solid foundation. Many couples will invite God to the wedding but not the marriage. They want the church wedding with all the props but are more than happy to leave God behind to clean up the confetti. The problem is, marriage was God's idea and was only designed to work with Him in the middle. As we love God He enables us to love each other.
The picture painted for us in the New Testament is one that is often missed and misinterpreted. Jesus used the analogy of marriage when He talked about His supreme sacrifice. He loved the church, His Bride, so much that He willingly laid down His life for her redemption. Paul tells us in Ephesians that men ought to love their wives in this way. A deep emotional need in every woman is to be treasured in such a way. Wives are taught to respect their husbands. This is probably the greatest emotional need for men, to be believed in and to be respected .
As we love each other, we give each other what we need, and we create a healthy environment in which to raise children. The Bible teaches us that love is not a feeling, but a choice and an action. As a husband, I can choose to love even when I might not be feeling like it's getting me anywhere. When I consistently serve my wife and sincerely try to meet her needs it makes her want to do the same.
Most of the above lessons I've learned the hard way, after almost 29 years of marriage. Are there lousy marriages? Absolutely. And marriage isn't for everyone, but it is a very good thing. I believe in marriage and family because it is the glue that holds society together. It's all wrapped up in the very large concept of "home." Home may be a place, but it is primarily about the people, people you love and with whom you can build a life. I'm thankful that God has allowed me to experience the joys and the pain of family life; they have made me what I am.
What is your advice for a happy marriage?
I hope you love this video below as much as I do. Enjoy!
Worldview - Part 1 - Origin
Worldview: Part 2 - Meaning
Worldview - Part 3 - Morality
Worldview - Part 4 - Destiny