When reading about marriage or hearing others discuss this subject it is amazing to note how much of the information on this important topic is false or misguided. In our day and age, marriage, especially the Christian concept of marriage, is greatly misunderstood.
In this chapter, therefore, we will examine a few of the more common misconceptions about marriage, and then review the original and correct description of this relationship contained in the Bible.
Our society has come up with many strange ideas about marriage. In her book entitled, "Married People: Staying Together in the Age of Divorce", Francine Klagsbrun outlines ten of the worst myths that many people accept as true concerning marriage. Of course, her myths are found among mostly non-Christian couples, but these ideas, nevertheless, influence a majority of people in our society.
#10 - Living Together Before Marriage Helps the Relationship
Now remember, Francine Klagsbrun is not a Christian writer, and yet in her research she sees this common, seemingly harmless argument as a myth and ultimately dangerous for the good health of a marriage. She comments that the living together experience does not improve the chances of a successful relationship. Oh, some of these relationships succeed to a point, or they succeed in spite of this arrangement, but not because of it. The easy attitude of temporary commitment is often transferred to the marriage itself, when or if this actually occurs. The author claims that couples who live together before marriage are at a greater risk of divorce than those who wait to be married before living together.
We can quote Scriptures (I Corinthians 6:9) that condemn this practice, but it is a real eye-opener when even non-Christian counsellors warn of the negative impact that these type of living arrangements can have on a long term relationship.
#9 - Have an Affair in Order to Breathe New Life into Your Marriage
How many times have you seen this as a theme in a movie or book? "I'll cause my partner to be jealous and hurt, and this will make them love me more." Of course, in marriage, solutions to problems never come from outside the relationship, especially immoral and hurtful solutions. No one is ever provoked to love more by being hurt and humiliated.
Christians would not consider this for obvious reasons, but many others do and suffer for it.
#8 - Be Prepared for Sex to Get Boring
It is ironic to note that people actually believe this about sex in marriage but manage to enjoy their bowling hobby for forty years. This myth promotes the fear of commitment among men and discouragement for women. People think, "Why get married if sex will get boring? Why do my best if my sex life will not be fulfilling in the end?" This attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in a couple's marriage if they maintain this type of faulty thinking about sex.
The truth is that when you work at it you can expect sex to become more exciting, fulfilling and creative as the partners become comfortable and confident of each other's love and loyalty. Sex remains a vital part of a couple's marriage if they are determined to keep their romance and sex lives active and renewed.
#7 - Keep Your Independence
This idea is especially popular today among both men and women who do not want to lose their sense of independence, even if they are married. However, becoming dependent is an important component of a successful marriage. Too much independence in a marriage leaves one feeling unneeded or unimportant. The goal is to become lovingly dependent without becoming co-dependent, which is a form of slavery.
#6 - If Your Spouse Really Loves You, He/She Will Know What You Want/Need
This idea is true for those who are mind readers. Too many people see the test of true love as their partner's ability to discern what they want or need. This is unrealistic and unfair. In successful marriages the partners usually take great care in patiently explaining and reinforcing what they want and need to feel loved and happy.
#5 - Keep Peace at All Costs
There are many who spend most of their married lives avoiding an argument or a "scene." They would rather live quietly than honestly. Such an approach is basically dishonest and produces resentment. A willingness to acknowledge conflict, failure or unhappiness is the first step to improving a relationship.
This next myth is the opposite...
#4 - Always Say What is on Your Mind
It is good to be honest but not when your frankness or openness is simply an excuse for destructive criticism. In any relationship tenderness and tact should always accompany openness and honesty.
#3 - You can Change Your Partner
You can, if they want to change. When I am doing a marriage-prep course with engaged couples I tell them to turn and look at their partners. While they are looking at each other I say, "You better be happy and love what you are now looking at because this is pretty much what you are going to end up with." An angry, jealous boyfriend will become and angry, jealous husband. A lazy and dishonest girlfriend will have the same faults as a wife. Marriage challenges you to change and grow but does not automatically make you a better person or turn your partner into the person you want them to be.
#2 - A Baby will Bring You Closer
Here is a rule of thumb about babies: having children will magnify everything good or bad about your relationship. Babies create stress on the happiest of marriages and usually cause casual relationships to end. You cannot always plan for babies but you can prepare for them by cultivating strong and committed relationships.
#1 - Love is All You Need
Love is important. However, sensual type love is only one of the many ingredients needed to have a happy marriage. In order to create a marriage where the partners will love one another for life you also need a strong dose of commitment, maturity and sacrifice. Being attracted to one another is easy; creating a lifetime bond is what requires effort.
Now that we have dealt with the myths, let us examine God's original plan for marriage. This design is the oldest and most successful, and is described in several passages throughout the Bible. For Christians, therefore, this biblical design is the blueprint they can use to both build a successful marriage and troubleshoot their relationship when there are problems.
Elements of the Original Design - Genesis 2:18-24
When examining God's plan for marriage contained in the Bible, you will notice that there are two elements or features in His basic design:
The People Involved - Genesis 2:18-22
18Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 19Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.
Notice that after man was created he realized from his understanding of the world around him that he was different in nature to the animals he shared the earth with; he was not an animal. He also noted that he was unique and alone.
21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
God creates another human being suitable for partnership with Adam. God purposefully fashions a person like Adam in nature but different in composition: Woman. The term used to describe her is "help meet" which comes from two words; "help/Azar" (to surround, protect) and "meet" (corresponding to man).
Man is created in the image and glory of God; woman is created in the image and glory of man (I Corinthians 11:7). In the pre-sin world of Adam and Eve there was no conflict or misunderstanding of God's order of creation. Both Adam and Eve were glorious in the eyes of one another.
After the advent of sin, however, God had to impose order to avoid sexual anarchy and destruction. Because of sinfulness, the unregenerated man and woman saw only weakness in one another, not glory. In sinful man and woman there would now be the effort to exploit and dominate each other rather than cleave and unite as per God's original command.
For this reason, we go back to God's original design for marriage in order to establish the framework that will support a lifetime loving relationship. This requires that we form a marriage unit with only one man and one woman. There are many marriage styles permitted and promoted in this world. For example, group marriages (one man and many women), open marriages (each partner free to form sexual unions with others), same-sex marriages (two men or two women), common-law marriages (no marriage contract recognized by law). All of these styles may be permitted in one society or another, but they do not conform to God's original design for marriage described in the Bible.
The first element or feature in God's design for marriage, therefore, is one man and one woman who are legally committed to live as husband and wife for life.
The Covenant - Genesis 2:23-24
The other feature in God's design for marriage is that it always contains a covenant. Verses 23-24 provide the details contained in the original marriage covenant/contract.
23The man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man."
Respect and honor. A woman is equal in nature and value to man.
24aFor this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife;
A change in priorities and responsibilities which will lead to a new commitment agreed upon by both parties.
24band they shall become one flesh.
The marriage union is exclusive.
In this way Adam and Eve expressed their marriage vows to the only "legal authority" possible at that time, God Himself. God and the angels were also the witnesses of this contract/covenant between Adam and Eve.
What constitutes a marriage between a man and a woman is the covenant/contract/promise that they have made to one another. Therefore, what makes a man and woman married is not sex, it is the covenant. Otherwise, you would be married to everyone you have ever had sex with. For Adam and Eve it was a spoken covenant before God. In our society it is the exchange of vows and a written contract before a representative of the government (clergyman, judge, etc.). Every society has some form of this covenant-making that seals a marriage commitment between a man and woman.
A couple can share a house, sexual intimacy and a joint bank account, but if there is no covenant, there is no marriage according to God's design. In His plan for marriage set forth in the Bible there are two basic elements:
- A man and a woman who freely choose to enter into marriage with one another.
- A legal covenant/contract laying out the terms of their agreement to marry.
Why this Design?
Aside from the fact that this is God's design, the plan is fairly simple to understand, but in its simplicity it manages to serve all of our complex needs.
The Design Serves Us Emotionally
Man needs companionship (Genesis 2:18). Men and women were not created to be alone. This was not God's purpose. The Bible says that those who live the single life and do so without problems are able to accomplish this because God has given them a special gift (I Corinthians 7:7), and you do not need to believe in God to have this. Even though the single life is possible, since many live and honor God with their single life, married life is the one we are designed for and encouraged to pursue whenever possible.
He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.
- Proverbs 18:22
The Design Serves Us Physically
Within marriage the powerful human sex drive is channeled into a wonderful and meaningful experience. We share love, given and received in the most dynamic and mysteriously wonderful way possible. We are comforted without words. We enjoy pleasure without guilt. While alone, the sex drive within us remains unfulfilled. When expressed within marriage, however, it has the ability to build our relationship and create something healthy and meaningful.
Sex within marriage creates family which serves not only ourselves but society as well. Family fulfills our need to belong, our need to be with others. All of these things are provided within marriage without guilt or shame because the covenant that created the commitment for life came before the sexual intimacy. People's sex lives within marriage are often in trouble because they violate this principle. Not only preachers, but many counsellors tell us that the biggest problem with sex inside of marriage is that there was and continues to be sex outside of marriage.
The Design Serves Us Spiritually
Marriage serves us spiritually by helping us to carry out various ministries given to us by God. In Genesis 1:28a, Adam and Eve served God by managing the Garden. The true objective of marriage is not simply paying off the mortgage, educating the kids or retiring in security. God created marriage so that men and women within this union could render honor and service to Him while accomplishing these other things.