Recent data reveals that in the province of Quebec, Canada, where I was born and raised, there are more people who live together without being legally married than those who are married. In Quebec, one out of two legal marriages fail, and the number of children being raised by single parents is greater than the number who are being raised in a home with their own bio-parents. In Quebec, there are more children in daycare than there are in home care. I believe that a major reason for these statistics is the loss of respect for the role of sex and its exclusive presence only within marriage. I also believe that these numbers are fast becoming the norm for the broader society that we live in, so I would like to devote some time discussing the issue of fidelity in marriage.
I do not want to approach this from the usual negative perspective (i.e. no sex before marriage, do not cheat, do not divorce, etc.), since we have all heard these admonitions before. I prefer, instead, to focus on the wonderful blessings that come from remaining faithful to one's spouse.
Now, before I talk about the blessings that come from being faithful in marriage, I would like to describe more in detail this idea of faithfulness. The marital fidelity that I am referring to in this chapter has three basic components:
1. Complete Fidelity
To bear the kind of fruit I am going to describe later, the faithfulness one aspires to in marriage must be complete. This faithfulness includes your mind, body, words and intentions.
Fidelity is like a fragrant oil that is reserved only for your partner. No one else gets to experience it in any way. Complete fidelity means that no one but your partner receives your tenderest looks, thoughts or touches, because no person is due or experiences what your spouse receives or experiences from and with you.
It is interesting that Valentine's Day uses the heart as its symbol for love because Jesus says that this is where everything begins, good and bad (Matthew 5:8; 28). In complete fidelity, a person tunes their heart to their spouse so that only they can give and receive signals from this source. There is no daydreaming about what love would be like with another. There is no sexual pleasure with anyone else, whether it be a fictional character in a book, a picture or movie that gives vicarious sexual thrills, or that "harmless" flirting that often goes on at our workplace. Complete fidelity means that you are totally devoted to your spouse in mind and body wherever you are and with whomever you happen to be.
2. Lifetime Fidelity
There is a trick question on some premarital questionnaires that engaged couples fill out when they go for counseling. It asks, "After you have tried everything to resolve your conflict, what will you do: Divorce or Separate?" It is amazing how many pick one of these two options instead of the third option which is not given: Keep trying because divorce is not an option. Some people go into marriage thinking, of course I will be faithful; unless my partner cheats, unless I fall in love with someone else, unless there is a divorce. This attitude is often the seed that grows to spoil the rest.
Fidelity is not fidelity unless the "no matter what" factor is in the initial marital commitment. Even if you change, I will be faithful; even if there is heartache, I will be faithful; even if you are not able to meet my needs, I will be faithful. The thing I want and pray for the most is the ability and strength to be faithful, and to be faithful until the end.
Paul says (Ephesians 5:32) that the similarity between the marriage relationship and the relationship between Christ and the church is a mystery. One thing we do know about these two relationships that is not hidden in mystery is the fact that the rewards assigned for each only go to those who are faithful until death.
So, for marital fidelity to be produced, you must have complete fidelity, lifetime fidelity, and...
3. Growing Fidelity
The first two components are where you want to be, the ideal and the goal, complete lifetime fidelity. Growing fidelity, however, is where most of us are at. The key is to recognize where in the small nooks and crannies of our lives that we are still unfaithful or still not given over to our loved one. Growing fidelity is nurtured by trials and tests that challenge our commitment to remain faithful, no matter what.
In Genesis 2:24 the Bible says that a man and a woman are to cleave or be fastened to one another for life. The glue that holds you together in marriage is faithfulness, and each time you grow in that faithfulness, the more secure your bond becomes.
Growing in complete fidelity with a view of remaining that way opens the door to a host of marvelous blessings, a few I would like to share with you now.
The Blessings of Marital Fidelity
A - Peace of Mind
No matter how much money or power you have, no matter how blessed you are with health and success, if you do not have peace of mind you cannot enjoy any of your other blessings. Marital fidelity is one of the chief factors that contributes to this state of mind. What great peace you have when you have no ugly secret between you and your spouse! What great peace exists in a home and family where everyone from the youngest child to the in-laws know that this man and woman are completely devoted to each other!
Have you ever noticed how pleasant it is to be around people who have marital fidelity? Do you know why that is? It is because they enjoy peace between themselves and that peace is palpable, you can feel it when you are near them. Marital fidelity produces a clear and easy conscience, and that state of mind yields the wonderful spiritual fruit of peace.
B - Mature Love
Teenagers think they know about love because they see so much sex on TV, movies and in music. Young marrieds think they know about love because they have a frantic sex life. The only way to know about love, however, is to love somebody for a lifetime, then you will know about love, about its sexual excitement, about its sense of gratitude, about its humour and fun, about its tenderness and kindness and generosity and resiliency. Love someone for a lifetime and you will learn about sacrifice and forgiveness and yearning.
Marital fidelity creates an environment of security and trust which enables a person to be honest, transparent and vulnerable. There is no true love, no maturing love in a relationship without these things. I thought I loved my wife when I married her, I ached for her. But after 38 years that love has matured into a broad and beautiful life that envelops the two of us in a world that belongs exclusively to us and our family.
Today, people want love before they will commit to fidelity, and this is why they often fail. Love is born and nurtured within the boundaries of marital fidelity, and grows stronger only in proportion to the bonds that hold the couple within a faithful marriage.
Many years ago, on my birthday, Lise had to leave for Montreal to care for her ailing father. When I got home from the airport I found a card on my pillow. It read, "Someday, when we have been together for a very long time, we will turn out the lights and slow dance on the porch in our bathrobes. I will write you love notes in large print and tape them to the fridge. You will finish my stories, and I will borrow your glasses. We will wonder where the time went. And each night we will roll to the middle of our old bed, into one another's arms, where we will kiss and touch and dream the secret dreams that only lovers know." Only a faithful spouse can give and receive a card like this with joy.
C - Joy on Earth
I believe that God created marriage so we could taste the joys of heaven here on earth. Let's face it, no other state can make you feel so happy or so miserable. It can be heaven on earth or hell on earth, and the difference can usually be traced to fidelity and the degree of it you have and give.
Joy is that feeling of peaceful happiness that comes when you have what you want and you know that having it and enjoying it is right before God and man. Ever notice the happiness some older couples have? They may be past their childbearing years, there may be physical limitations, and yet there is joy in their voices and their eyes when they look and speak to each other. Have you ever wondered why that is? A lifetime of martial fidelity is certainly a basic component.
Of course, I do not mean perfect fidelity (although this is the goal). I'm referring to a lifetime of working at being faithful, this is the effort that brings the reward of freely experienced joy. I often work with couples who, for whatever reasons, have been through more than one marriage before persevering with one partner in a long term faithful marriage. They usually have many regrets, but the one that stands out the most is the regret of not having had the opportunity to give one's entire life to just this one person. Lifetime marital fidelity yields a shared joy that nothing can take away or diminish. Lifetime fidelity is a privilege and a joy, not a burden.
If I had the chance to speak to everyone in the nation about the subject of marriage, I would leave them with the following thoughts:
To the young I would say, "Remain sexually pure because this pleases God and remains the most precious gift you have to offer to your future spouse."
To the unmarried (for whatever reason) I would say, "Before you marry again, make sure that your future spouse loves God and is absolutely dedicated to the principle of marital fidelity."
Finally, to those who are married I would say, "Whatever state your marriage is in, and no matter how long you have been married, the first step in improving your relationship is by implementing and practicing the components of complete marital fidelity."