A survey from the Pew Research Institute reports that 4 out of 10 people in the United States believe that the institution of marriage is obsolete. Are they right? How important is marriage anyway?
As a pastor I've listened to many couples explain why they got married and why they're having marriage difficulties. Marriage counselors have compiled lists of what couples say before and after marriage. They all go something like this:
"Before marriage I was attracted to him because he was so fun to be with, but now he's never serious, and all he wants to do is party."
"Before marriage I was attracted to her because she was so close to her family, but now her mother is more important to her than me."
"Before marriage I was attracted to him because he was his own man, but now he's always in trouble with his boss and he won't listen to anything I say."
And the sad comment heard from so many women: "I married him because I thought I could change him."
No one gets married planning to divorce. Every bride and groom believes that their relationship is different and destined to create a lifetime of happiness. Inevitably, it's not long after the wedding that they face their first difficulties over money, family, friends, intimacy or personality issues.
The reasons people marry are varied—need for security, sexual desire, pressure from friends and family, financial stability, the yearning to have children. Most people say that they marry for love. Everyone hopes that he or she can find the perfect "soul mate" and experience life together fulfilling a deep need to feel loved.
Is this becoming outmoded and obsolete? Just where did the marriage institution come from, and why should it be maintained?
Skepticism over traditional marriage
Most marriages begin with enormous promise. The bridesmaids cry, everyone enjoys the reception, and everyone thinks the bride and groom make a beautiful couple. In the end, many couples split in failure, hurt and bitterness. Because of a high failure rate, more and more people are voicing skepticism over the traditional idea of marriage.
The Pew Research Institute reports that in the United States barely half of adults over the age of 18 are married. (Contrast that with 1960, when 72 percent were married.) In the United Kingdom, only 48 percent, less than half, of adults are married.
These statistics show a growing trend to either postpone marriage or avoid marriage altogether. Young couples don't want to suffer the heartache they saw their parents go through because of a divorce. The argument "We don't need a piece of paper to declare our love" becomes acceptable in the minds of many when marriage is so devalued that in some states a couple can divorce just by filling out a form online.
The reality remains that the desire to have an intimate friendship, with partners committed to each other in a lifelong union, is a deep longing at the psychological and emotional core of almost all of us.
So why do so many marriages fail? Reasons given include personality issues, lack of conflict resolution, finances, loss of sex appeal, communication problems, differences over friends and family, even matters of religion.
Let's face it: Marriage is a complex relationship. Successful marriages take work—sometimes a lot of work. The institution of marriage should be more than an economic-legal-social agreement made by two people who are in an exaggerated state of physical attraction.
Intrinsic reasons for marriage
To build a healthy marriage you must begin by understanding the intrinsic reasons for marriage. Those reasons are given to us by the Creator of marriage. Marriage is more than a legal or social arrangement. It is a divine institution, created by God.
If you are confused over the definition of marriage, if you want to save your marriage, or if you are single and would like to experience a blessed married, then you need to understand why God created marriage in the first place.
These reasons are stated at the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 1:27-28: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"
We see three important points in these verses.
Human beings are made in the image of God. Notice the phrase "male and female He created them." It's a sad commentary on our secular society that many opponents of marriage argue that the differences between male and female are only biological.
"Male and female" also describes deep psychological differences created by God, though both are in His image. Male and female traits reveal different aspects of God's nature. Understanding and appreciating these differences is important in creating a divorce-proof marriage.
Many marriages end up with the spouses competing with each other. The man has his own agenda and desires, the woman her own ideas and needs, and they just can't seem to find the "Rosetta Stone" that translates their situation into happiness. To understand the intrinsic reasons and value of marriage, the male-female differences need to be understood and embraced as created by God. These differences weren't created to cause competition but to form a complementary relationship.
God created biological and psychological differences between male and female so that we can complement each other as two halves of a whole. This is why we long for a "soul mate."
God blessed the male-female union and told the first husband and wife to multiply. One of the primary reasons God created marriage is to provide the nurturing environment for raising children. God created marriage as the incubator for children to be taught and nurtured. Marriage and family are vital elements in God's purpose in creating His eternal family.
According to America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2011, published by the U.S. government's Forum for Child and Family Statistics, the number-one indicator that a child will end up in poverty is living in a single-mother household. God-ordained marriage between a man and a woman, committed to His marriage instructions, is the best environment for preparing children for a lifetime of proper moral decisions, economic stability and happiness.
God gave human beings dominion over the earth. We are the proprietors of the surroundings God has given to us. God-ordained marriage supplies strength to society that helps combat poverty, crime and immorality. It helps support a safer environment for all members of society.
Your marriage is worth saving
If your marriage is based only on social norms, feelings of attraction, the need to feel loved or financial security, then your relationship has been built on shaky ground. Sadly, you and I were born into a world far removed from the Garden of Eden. It can feel like you have little influence in the workplace or political wasteland, but you can have dominion over your own home.
You can build a marriage and family where God's Kingdom reigns. Putting effort into building a marriage centered on God will bring stability to your life even in the face of a confusing and increasingly unstable society.
When we marry, we are participating in an institution created by God. In a Christian marriage, a man and woman are committed to love each other in the good times and the difficult times. Made in the image of God, they commit to creating an environment where children are nurtured and loved.
Marriage is worth saving. It isn't obsolete. It remains a marvelous gift from the Creator of life!