Let me just start by saying this one phrase that will be the guiding point of the whole article. Marriage is for life. It’s interesting thing to note that many people don’t fully grasp that. We see no fault divorce, we see the ravage of families, and a whole host of other things fall apart when the family breaks down. This is not the post to explicate all of the reasons why things fall apart but what I do want to do is express some grief over what I think are some of the causes. I see three rudimentary reasons for why marriages seem to fall apart. One of them is empty rhetoric, the second one is misunderstood theology, and the final one is sociological. Let’s evaluate them one at a time.
The first reason I think marriages fall apart is empty rhetoric. This is what I mean. When we look at the standard confessions of a marriage like, “in sickness and in health” or “for better or for worse” or “till death do us part” we don’t seem to grasp what does phrases actually mean. When you’re talking about being with somebody in those terms that means whether things are great or horrible. You have pledged and vowed to love and care for this person for life. You didn’t pledge to love and care for this person when things were going great, you didn’t pledge to love and care for this person when you guys were always happy, and you didn’t pledge to love and care for this person only when it was convenient. No. You confessed publicly and vowed to each other to care for each other no matter what came. Period. (Now I will say that on the grounds of abuse or adultery someone can file for divorce rightly. This also shows however that the person abusing or who is the adulterer is violating the confessions of their marriage vows).
The reason this is an empty rhetorical concern is that it seems that people don’t actually understand what the words ‘for life’ mean. Also we don’t seem to understand that there is a contrast between good and bad, and regardless of where you sit, you vowed to be committed wholeheartedly to this person. I think that the present generation and up-and-coming generation have lost that ethic. We’ve moved from an actual commitment to a lackadaisical association. A kind of usefulness contract as opposed to a marriage covenant.
The second reason I think marriage falls apart is a misunderstood theology. When we look at the world that God created, he instituted marriage as the means for building families, developing civilizations, and governance of his world. We find that when we don’t have our marriage ideology rooted in did the Judeo Christian theology things can get a little awkward. Let me explain, but before I do I want to address very briefly what some objections may be to this claim. First of all, yes, there are cases of aberrant marriages in the Bible but this does not mean that this is what marriage actually is or that this is an approval of that practice. Second, the fact that we can point out things that are wrong or shameful gives us a reference to what is correct and beautiful. We can’t call a line crooked unless we know what it is to be straight.
Now I want to use something from the New Testament, but can make the same case in the Old Testament as well. Ephesians 5:22-33 gives a formulation of how wives should submit to their husbands and how husband should love their wives. A lot of times we push back against the admonition for women to submit to their husbands because we think it is degrading to women, but I don’t think it is intended that way. If you continue reading past that part you find the heavy admonition on man to love and care for their wives. What I think we have here is something much more beautiful. What I think Paul is trying to get at is putting on the shoulder of men the responsibility of providing for and taking care of their wives, and by extension their children as well. That’s a man’s responsibility. When it says that wives submit to the husbands, I take this to be a matter of respect from women to know that their husbands love them and care for them, not as a means of subjugation and silencing.
Indeed, if you look at Ephesians 5:33 you see that the man is to love his wife and the wife is to respect her husband. This is a mutually accommodating relationship in which no one is actually in subjection under the other one. The woman submits to her husband grateful for his provision and love while the husband serves and loves his wife by providing for her. Within this concise biblical model for marriage we find what is designed to be a life long and beautiful institution between a man and a woman. When I think about how we in the modern-day view marriage, this is not the way we look at it. It becomes a kind of marriage for me, which each person aiming to get what they can get out of the relationship, and not a relationship built around serving love & grateful respect.
The last way I think we can look and see where marriage falls apart is sociologically. In the modern society we see people getting married later and later, and in some instances referring to it as an archaic institution. An idea being propagated and that I think is gaining significant traction is this idea that humans are not intended to be faithful or monogamous. What happens when you don’t believe in being faithful, committed, or monogamous? What you get is a society where sexual licentiousness and promiscuity are the norm. You get a society where pornography is no longer taboo, and in some senses becoming socially acceptable as a means of sexual liberation. To quote philosopher Aldous Huxley on this point,
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.”
This seems to be the driving philosophy in modern society when it comes to why marriage is seen as a sociological archaic institution. When you remove sexual exploration from the confines of covenantal, and committed relationship that is vowed for life (for better or worse), it becomes practically meaningless. You are using another person for your sexual needs, as you would use any other product, and not paying any respect or love to the reality that this is in fact a person.
To wrap this up let’s recap what’s been said about the three rudimentary reasons why marriages fall apart, or in some sense is completely ignored. The first one is an empty rhetoric, the second one is a misunderstood theology, and the third one is sociological. The empty rhetoric reason is that we don’t seem to fully grasp and apprehend what it means to be in a committed relationship with somebody under the vows that we vowed at marriage. Namely to be committed to this person for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, and for life (till death do you part). The misunderstood theology reason is that as the Judeo Christian worldview maintains, marriage is between a man and a woman for life. It’s a mutually accommodating relationship where the husband loves his wife and the wife respects her husband, and neither one of those things are a matter of subjugation. The sociological reason is that society just doesn’t understand what marriage is. It’s become a socially frivolous institution that means anything so therefore means absolutely nothing. Sometimes when we hear a story of a couple that stayed together for life we think, “That’s so beautiful” without stopping to reflect that a lifelong marriage, for better or for worse, should be the standard. In fact, it is the standard.