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07 September 2011

Value added marriage

Value added marriage

by Lindsey Holley

What makes a good marriage? Is longevity alone a sign of a successful marriage or just a sign of perseverance… is perseverance the very reason for that success? Perseverance is certainly a value which the Bible encourages us to apply to our faith, a faith which is to pervade all areas of our lives.  So, it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to suggest that we should apply it to our marriages. Marriage is, after all, God's idea - a gift given to us not only for the well-being of the individuals involved but for society as a whole.

The riots in England over the summer led to a renewed call to fix our broken society.  The word on everyone's lips seems to be family. Politicians, journalists and public commentators, from across political and social divides, seemed to agree that the breakdown of the traditional family unit had played a major role. Why are so many families and marriages - even inside the Church - facing difficulties?

In the biggest survey of its kind, Marriage Week NI delved into the issues being faced by married couples and leaders in our churches. The research looked at their attitudes and behaviours as well as how churches are engaging, for example through teaching, marriage preparation and enrichment courses, pastoral care and referrals to trained counsellors etc.  There were more than 1,000 responses to the survey and a summary of the results was made available during Marriage Week in February 2011. Discussions on how best to respond to the findings with church and denominational leaders, those involved in delivering courses and support in this area, and the theological colleges, are still ongoing.

The most frequently reported issues faced by the married couples and church leaders responding to the survey included a lack of quality time spent together, difficulties with communication, finance or money worries, intimacy issues, responsibilities/roles in the home, unmet or mismatched expectations, and infidelity (emotional and physical).

These particular results were, in many ways, neither new nor surprising - similar issues have been present throughout the generations. The rapidly growing number viewing online pornography was the possible exception.

Are there then other values, in addition to perseverance, that can help address some of these issues and build strong and lasting marriages?

Paul, in a number of his letters, talks at length about the importance of values such as love, respect and faithfulness in marriage.  To stress these so specifically suggests that they don't come naturally - even to Christians.

The love Paul spoke of was a sacrificial love. One that is to reflect the love Jesus showed us by laying down his life for the Church - his bride.  This love requires a willingness to sacrifice 'me-time' so we can spend quality time with our spouse. It causes us to think of them before ourselves. And also seeks to approach intimacy with tenderness. Ultimately making us less selfish - something that a number of the church leaders responding to the survey raised as a major underlying problem.

Respect too is vital as it forces us to listen to our spouse even when we disagree with them or feel we've heard it all before.  This is such an important tool in good conflict resolution. It also challenges us to seek their opinion on the decisions we make in our lives regarding things such as money, parenting, career moves, or even the number of cushions allowed on the marital bed.

Most of us have a fair understanding of what is meant by love and respect - even if our application is a bit lacking. And on first glance we may say the same thing about faithfulness. Indeed, the number of married couples admitting to unfaithfulness in the survey was relatively low, so maybe our application in this area is possibly better. And yet, I wonder if we are ever truly honest with ourselves about what 'faithfulness' really means. For many the question will simply mean not having a physical relationship with someone other than our spouse. Some may believe that emotional relationships outside of the marriage are also out of bounds.  But what about allowing ourselves to day dream about someone else or carelessly talking about our spouse's weak points to friends? Are these betrayals of trust? This may well be a value many of us need to revisit and one on which the Church needs to better challenge and support its members.

A good marriage doesn't come easily. And when love seems lacking, respect long-gone and our desire to be faithful on shaky ground, perseverance may just be the ticket for getting us to a safe place (even if it takes a while) where we allow God to restore us.   Fundamentally, working on our relationship with God is the best 'value added' we can give to our marriages.

Strong and lasting marriages may not solve all the problems in society, or even all the problems in our daily lives, but when you see the good gift a marriage can be it's surely worth the persevering.