“In a time when nothing is more certain than change, the commitment of two people to one another has become difficult and rare. Yet, by its scarcity, the beauty and value of this exchange have only been enhanced.” – Robert Sexton
“The man who finds a wife finds a treasure and gains favor with the Lord.” – Bible
Recently I met with a couple who wanted to get married. Both the man and the woman had been in previous relationships but had never been married before. They both had children from these previous relationships.
Given their history of relationships without marriage, I was interested in knowing what their reason was for getting married this time. Neither had a clear answer; they just kind of felt it was the right thing to do.
I believe this bottom line feeling of “it's the right thing to do” is instilled in us by God. He created man and woman to unite and become as one through a covenant relationship we call marriage.
Unfortunately many people today do not give the marriage relationship the divine connection that it deserves.
In a recent article in The New York Times, Eli Finkel, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, summarizes the results of a number of studies researching the quality of marriages and whether it has changed over the years.
His conclusion is that some marriages are better and some are worse. His explanation for this ambiguous conclusion is that “the average marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore, in terms of both satisfaction and divorce rate, but the best marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being, than the best marriages of yore.”
According to Finkel, sociologists have defined three distinct models of marriage throughout America's history. It's beneficial to look at those three models and evaluate what that's telling us today.
The first model occurred from the nation's founding until around 1850. Because of the prevalent agrarian society the main requirements for marriage revolved around things like food production, shelter and protection. The emotional connections of marriage were a happy by-product and not the primary purpose of marriage.
The second model was from roughly 1850 until 1965 as society became more urban and “civilized.” Men increasing worked outside the home, and husband and wife occupied distinct and different social spheres.
Quoting Finkel: “American marriage increasingly centered around intimate needs such as to love, to be loved and to experience a fulfilling sex life. As the nation became wealthier and its social institutions became stronger, Americans had the luxury of looking to marriage primarily for love and companionship.”
The third model, from around 1965 to today, is the era of the “self-expressive marriage.” We look to marriage as something that will give us personal benefit: self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth. Again quoting Finkel: “… Marriage [is seen] less as an essential institution and more as an elective means of achieving personal fulfillment.”
As sociologist Robert N. Bellah, put it, love has become, in good part, “the mutual exploration of infinitely rich, complex and exciting selves.”
Now back to Finkel's original conclusion: Because of this focus on self-fulfillment, expectations for marriage are much higher, and such elevated expectations require much time and energy, more than many people are able or willing to invest.
Those couples today who take the time and effort to work on their relationships, the way God has ordained it (my observation, not Finkel's), will have a highly satisfying marriage. Because of the predominant “selfish” idea about marriage, the struggle to overcome and live in accordance with God's design is very challenging – and very rewarding, well worth the effort.
Couples who succumb to the current marriage model of “what's in it for me” have very little incentive to follow God's design of submitting to one another, and they fail.
Quoting Finkel one last time: “The good news is that our marriages can flourish today like never before. They just can't do it on their own.”
The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, Executive Director, FAMCO, 803-640-4689, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.aikenfamco.com.