MY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron
With our recent move, I’ve reviewed a lot of notes and records from weddings where I was the officiant. In the early days of ministry, I may have felt a level of expertise in helping couples plan their wedding and their future together. I do know for several years I took pride in knowing that all the marriages were still intact - but unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. In fact, two divorces have occurred in our immediate family, and the ripples from each break-up spread far.
A study of sociology reveals that the most intimate of relationships is a dyad, two people together. The benefits of legal marriage are tremendous, but a dyad is also the most stressful of all relationships, in part because of intimacy. First marriage advice – it’s not easy.
My wife and I at least had parents who modeled staying together, though in some situations the dedication and devotion of one parent seems to outweigh the other. In addition to typical human weaknesses, birth order also has played into our relationship. As oldest children accustomed to being in charge, we’ve each had to work at figuring out issues of equality, respect, control and dedication in a marriage setting.
While researching reasons for a successful marriage, it was interesting to find that lists of divorce causes are often included. Divorce reasons have changed – in former times, grounds included financial pressure and infidelity. A new study indicates that “lack of commitment” plays a part. Rates of divorce are actually declining, but that could be because many today are marrying older or avoiding marriage all together.
Looking at marriage problems, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between believers and non-believers. As a Christian pastor, though, I propose that spiritual discernment, teaching, faith and sincere seeking can bring transforming power to any relationship. So, another piece of advice would be for each person to first commit to the One who made us for love and who can fulfill our deepest needs.
Unrealistic expectations when we enter into marriage, thinking a person can satisfy our longings and desires, generally result in disappointment. God is the only person who can provide a true sense of self-worth; we cannot expect anyone else to meet our needs or make us happy.
A quote seen often is, “Everyday life wears away the ‘feel-good side of marriage’. Feelings, like happiness, will fluctuate.” The bottom line is that commitment in times of “for better, for worse” will carry a marriage forward. Love is more something we do, than anything we feel.
For a marriage to survive takes a lot of forgiveness, along with the recognition that neither spouse is perfect. We need to realize we cannot change another person - if anybody’s going to change, it will have to be me. What we can offer in a marriage setting are mercy, consideration, forgiveness, and respect.
As I was talking with one couple about their upcoming wedding, the bride asked about scriptures on marriage. I told her there are some, but that any Bible passage pertaining to interpersonal relationships would also be applicable to marriage. Paul wrote, “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12-13). Each of the reasons for divorce could be turned around into positive advice, and there are many scriptures that are helpful.
A disclaimer would be that, though my wife and I have been married 50 years, we don’t consider ourselves experts. We have three friends who’ve been through divorce and then became marriage counselors – not sure why, except they must have felt they learned something through their experiences.
Marriage is a topic I’d considered for several weeks and simply concluded it’s complicated. I’m not sure anyone could ever call themselves experts. But my advice is, whether or not you’re married, continue to cultivate those qualities Paul outlined above in Colossians. Believe that marriage is a sacred union, and in each relationship commit to “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2). It is a lifetime commitment to give oneself to another person.