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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Marriage Secrets

You know, a whole industry seems to have evolved in the last 50 years around the institution of marriage. Seriously, the kids and toddlers have their industries (toys and learning). The teen-agers have their industries (clothes and entertainment). So the marriage industry has come to play the game as well.

Players from psychology, religion, and other professions have produced a plethora of books, tapes, CD's, seminars, etc. All are aimed at making your marriage better. We have "love languages," dichotomies like (the planets of) Venus and Mars, and even magazines. We hear about better sex, better communications, vacations together, vacations apart and even instrustions on writing love letters.

Why do these businesses (often packaged as ministries) find such a hungry market for what they have to sell? Why do people find marriage to be such a challenging proposition? Has it always been that way?

Did Adam and Eve struggle in their marriage? Did Joseph and Mary struggle in their marriage (when they were raising the Christ child)? Even in later generations, did our great grandparents and other ancestors in the last century or two find marriage to be the challenging proposition that we apparently find it to be? Somehow --- I suspect not.

The Bible says that the marriage partners are to leave their families and their homes --- and become one unit. That would be of one mind, one spirit, one set of (common) goals, etc. Each sets aside his or her own interests for the sake of this new union. They come ready to make sacrifices and concessions, to offer forgiveness and compromise, and to truly love and support each other in that union. It's clear that God's view of the marriage is that the union of the two takes priority over the individuals that comprise the union.

What's so hard about this? Is it possible that people are coming into marriage without this realization? I've counseled several married couples who find their marriage is a painful place to be. And they want God to fix it. Invariably, when I ask about how and when they consulted God before entering into this marriage --- I get blank stares. Not once has one of these couples who are coming in for counseling been able to say that they had consulted God before entering into their present marriage.

Why would we make a decision to jump into a marriage based on our own understanding, our own intuition, our own feelings and our own knowledge ... and then blame it on God when it doesn't work out? If I were God, I'd be really peeved about this! But that's exactly what people do!

The marriage vows say, "... what God has joined together ..." But the problem is that most of the marriages we have in our country (the U.S.) today are not unions that God created of the heart. Quite truthfully, they are legal unions created with a religious ritual. In most cases, God wasn't even invited to the wedding! And it's clear that neither party was focused on God when they made this deal amongst themselves.

The University of Virginia has begun a rather comprehensive project to study marriage in America. It's simply called "The National Marriage Project" ( The dimensions of the initiative include trends, dynamics, and of course lots of so-called "findings." I expect that the end game is to produce some conventional and practical wisdom about this institution of marriage.

So far, an interesting observation is emerging from this study. It is that Americans are doing a better job of staying married. The divorce rate in America - for the first time in decades - is falling. Now researchers say that it could be because of economic pressures. They believe that people will tolerate a bad marriage or postpone a divorce for economic reasons. And they've got some case examples to illustrate that notion.

But I wonder how much attention they've paid to the possibility that American men and women are getting better at marriage. Is it possible, for example, that we're finally overcoming the scars of the industrial revolution - which fractured the traditional family dynamics - and learning how to be a true family again? Could it be that spouses are learning the value of forgiveness in a marriage? Might there be any chance that selfishness is beginning to take a back seat to the value of this union?

I'm under no illusion that spouses are better husbands and wives. My own marriage would be a good example of that. We still have our flaws and have to offer each other grace at times. But we're working on 26 years now, and are more committed to this union than we were in the beginning. (Somehow that comes as a bit of a surprise.) But we're making it. And I know people who are staying married longer, divorcing less, and learning to work through their issues. That their marriages are intact is a victory.

I don't know what the ultimate outcome of The National Marriage Project will be. And you may call me a dreamer - but I'd like to believe that whether or not people are turning to God in their marriages ... they are at least turning to each other. And that, folks, is a victory in the fabric of American society!

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