The attraction of a man to a woman and a woman to a man has long been the inspiration for poems, novels, chivalrous deeds and much consternation. The ancient sage Agur the son of Jakeh said, "There are three things which are too wonderful for me, four which I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the middle of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid" (Proverbs 30:18-20, New American Standard Bible).
The fact that almost everyone has an attraction to the opposite sex has served mankind well. This special relationship between a man and a woman has been the building block of society—the basis for the development of the human race. And in addition to producing children to populate the earth, traditional marriage has contributed greatly to societal stability as well as our overall happiness and well-being.
As most of us grow up, we dream of finding someone with whom we can share our lives, our hopes and our dreams. Young men look for that special princess, and young women for that special man. Yet in spite of this obvious tendency, the percentage of those married is not as high as one might assume.
According to Sheila Weber, executive director of National Marriage Week USA, "A new Marriage Index released in October, 2009 reports that in 1970 nearly 80 percent of all adult Americans were married; today that has dropped to 57 percent" ("Why You Should Care About Marriage in America," FoxNews.com, Feb. 5, 2010).
A number of factors account for why so many Americans are single. Some haven't found a person to marry, some are widows or widowers, some have no interest in marrying and, sadly, some marriages end in divorce.
Divorce has become a worldwide problem. Sweden leads the world with almost 55 percent of marriages ending in divorce. It's followed in this dubious ranking by Belarus, Finland, Luxembourg, Estonia, Australia and then the United States. Being married and remaining happily married is becoming increasingly difficult no matter where one lives.
So what are the pressures causing so many marital unions to end? Is traditional marriage worth keeping?
What are the leading causes of divorce?
The primary reasons given for the dissolution of marriages include the lack of a proper foundation for marriage, finances, substance abuse, addictions, gambling, physical abuse, mental abuse, infidelity, immaturity, jealousy, meddling in-laws and irresponsibility. Many of these human failings have a striking correlation to a prophecy of what conditions will be like just prior to Jesus Christ's return to the earth.
The apostle Paul wrote: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:1-4).
These all reflect an overall attitude of selfishness that is particularly hard on marriages. It's difficult for people to remain in relationships with spouses who are selfish, unthankful, unholy, unloving and unforgiving. And sadly, many people in our world today are focusing solely on themselves to the exclusion of others.
In this time of worldwide economic difficulty, finances have also added stress to many marriages. But contrary to what many assume, a little less income doesn't automatically doom your marriage (see "Finances and Marriage" on page 11).
As we all know, those with good marriages seem to easily handle whatever difficulty arises, while every challenge seems particularly difficult for couples whose relationships are already on shaky ground.
Gay marriage enters the picture
As traditional marriages between man and woman have struggled to survive in recent decades, homosexuals have campaigned for equal-status relationships commonly referred to as gay or same-sex marriage. Pressure for gay marriage began to mount in the 1980s as gay rights activists in Denmark began urging a change in the definition of marriage from being only between a man and a woman to a relationship between two adults regardless of gender.
In the 1990s similar efforts took root in the United States and other nations. Lawsuits and the actions of a few churches performing same-sex ceremonies fueled public awareness. At first, same-sex couples were allowed to have civil unions. Then in 2001 the Netherlands became the first country to legally sanction gay marriage. Other European nations and Canada soon followed the Netherlands' lead. In South Africa, gay rights were included in the post-apartheid constitution.
In spite of the initial success of gay marriage proponents, strong opposition supporting the traditional definition of marriage remains in many parts of the world. In most of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Arab nations, criminal penalties still exist for homosexual acts. And in the United States, when it's been put to a public vote, citizens of several states have rejected efforts to legalize gay marriage—sometimes to then be overruled by unelected judges.
One of the arguments for same-sex marriage is that this is a matter of fairness—that everyone has a right to call his or her relationship a marriage. They say to married people, "We want what you have." Many people, wishing to be fair and open-minded, have been persuaded that this is a civil right. But what, we should all ask, is the opinion of the One from whom rights truly come—the One who instituted marriage in the first place?
What is God's perspective as the creator of marriage?
When God made human beings, He designed us for a relationship with the opposite sex. After creating Adam, God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him" (Genesis 2:18). God then formed a woman from Adam's body to be his female complement. Together, they were a unit—the first family.
Immediately following His creation of this first union of male and female, God established a precedent for the human race, stating, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (verse 24).
All those who would come after Adam and Eve were to follow this pattern of one male together with one female becoming "one flesh." This meant that the two were to become one in the sexual sense and also, in a more figurative sense, that they were to share their lives and work together in a close personal relationship that would last a lifetime. They were to be "one" physically, mentally and in their sociological relationship to others.
What we can determine from this beginning is that God is definitely in favor of traditional marriage. From His beginning pronouncement that a man was to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6), He has consistently upheld His position.
Proverbs 18:22 explains, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord." Here we see that not only is traditional marriage something "good," it is also a way to obtain God's "favor." God sanctions no other kind of marriage relationship between human beings. And why is He so set on this institution? Because "He seeks godly offspring" (Malachi 2:15).
The whole plan and purpose of God is to have human beings become His spiritual children (John 1:12). Although we are all children of God in a physical sense because God created us, God also wants us to mature and become spiritual members of His family with His same spiritual composition (1 John 3:1-2). The birth of children in a godly home is the starting point for future members of the God family. This is why God favors traditional marriage and why He "hates divorce" (Malachi 2:16).
Another reason God is pro-marriage is that through such marriages we learn about the relationship between Christ and the spiritual body of believers who are His followers. After a discussion of the roles of husbands and wives within marriage, the apostle Paul noted, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:22-32). It is within this one-man-with-one-woman relationship that we can glimpse the special love Christ has for the Church.
What are some of the benefits of traditional marriage?
Numerous studies have confirmed that being married helps us live healthier, happier and longer lives.
While God noted that it wasn't good for a man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), it also turns out that it isn't good for a woman either. As the National Marriage Week USA Web site notes: "There is a growing body of research which suggests 'Not being married can be hazardous to your health'...Compared to married people, the nonmarried ... have higher rates of mortality than the married: about 50 percent higher among women and 250 percent higher among men...
"Being unmarried can actually be a greater risk to one's life than having heart disease or cancer. For example, having heart disease shortens the average man's life span by slightly less than six years. But being unmarried chops almost ten years off a man's life."
On average, married cancer patients survive 10 years longer than those who are single. A recent study of outcomes for hospitalized patients found that married surgical patients are far less likely to die in the hospital than those who are single. Furthermore, "the risk of being discharged to a nursing home was 2.5 times greater for unmarried than for married patients, even after taking into account the severity of illness, age, gender, race and diagnosis" (ibid.).
While the advantages of being married are clearly evident in health and a willingness to reduce unhealthy behavior, young men and women who live together without getting married do not experience the same benefits. Instead, these young people have high rates of behaviors that are hazardous to their health.
In addition to enjoying better physical health, married men and women report better mental health—less depression and anxiety—than those not married. They also report greater happiness, and it's been documented that married couples accumulate greater wealth than those divorced or single.
Summarizing why we should care about marriage, Sheila Weber wrote: "Marriage is the best way to overcome poverty, and it is proven as the best circumstance for raising children. Research overwhelmingly shows that lack of marriage or divorce impoverishes women and children.
"In addition, boys reared apart from their father are twice as more likely to spend time in prison by age 32 as those who were raised in a married home headed by their own mother and father.
"Teenage girls who are raised by their own father are much more likely to resist the advances of boys or young men who do not have their best interests at heart. In fact, 35 percent of adolescent girls whose father left before the age of six became pregnant, compared to just 5 percent of girls who were raised by their mother and father.
"Research also overwhelmingly makes the case that married folks live longer, enjoy better health, greater personal happiness, more well adjusted children, and greater financial stability" (Weber, FoxNews.com). In encouraging mankind to marry, God was giving advice that would lead to better, happier, more fulfilling lives.
The institution of marriage has stood the test of time. As Winston Churchill said: "Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl—no superior alternative has yet been found."
Good news for traditional marriages
While traditional marriages clearly face pressures in our modern world, there is good news to report. In the United States the rate of divorce has actually been declining. In 2005 the U.S. divorce rate was 3.6 per 1,000 people—the lowest rate since 1970, and substantially down from the peak rate of 5.3 per 1,000 in 1981. (Of course, a significant factor in this decline is that fewer people are getting married in the first place.)
A growing number of churches in the United States require couples to undergo premarital counseling prior to the wedding ceremony. Approximately 28 percent of U.S. churches now offer at least one marriage class to build, mend and deepen marriages.
Some states are doing their part to encourage couples to undergo counseling in preparation for marriage. For example, in Florida if a couple completes a premarital counseling course, the marriage license fee is discounted. Why do states do this? Because it's in their financial interest to do so. Divorce is costly—both for the people involved and for the state, which often ends up providing benefits to those partners and children impoverished by divorce.
Counseling programs to support couples and offer training in life skills likewise exist in many other countries. Healthy, happy marriages are beneficial to the individuals and the community at large.
While it's encouraging to see churches and communities working together to support marriage, individuals must also do their part. With God's help, and with the instructions He gives in His Word, you can do a great deal to strengthen your own marriage—or, if you're not married, to prepare for possible future marriage. GN