Over the past week in my weekly devotions, I’ve been reading about the benefits and commands the Bible gives us in taking steps to protect marriages. Some of the statistics that were given were expected; others were sad, and a little bit shocking.
For example, couples who live together before marriage are twice as likely to divorce in the first ten years of marriage than couples who did not live together before tying the knot. With the divorce rate as high as it is, this statistic suggests to me that couples who live together before marriage are more likely to not make it at all. At the last U.S. census (held in 2005), the divorce rate did show a decline over the previous year (2000), however, the marriage rate has also followed suit. The fact is, more and more couples are choosing to live together instead of getting married.
The cynic/realist in me can understand why people are choosing this just live together and not get married. With divorce an easy choice for so many people, why bother to set your expectations at a level where they can so easily be destroyed? Why risk tying up all your assets in divorce court, or be forced to split your personal property with someone you can no longer stand the sight of, or spend countless hours and dollars dealing with a never-ending legal custody battle if there are any children involved, or live with the social stigma of the “divorced” label. Or worse yet, why risk having your heart broken by someone you love. In my own selfish mind, all these reasons seem logical enough to keep people from jumping into the water with both feet.
But the Christian in me says these are just excuses that are born out of the common misconception that marriage is all about “me.” Marriage has never been about me, it’s about both people and the life they choose to build together. It’s about choosing to love your spouse, even when you don’t feel like it. Love is not an emotion, although it can make us feel a wide range of emotions. But emotions are just a bi-product of the action of love (and I’m not talking about the physical action of love, although that does play into marriage). We choose to love our spouse, our children, our grandchildren, our in-laws, our siblings, our extended family, our friends, our neighbors, etc.
If we based our love for others on the way that person makes us feel, we would fall in and out of love all the time, which is not natural, because love is not an emotion. If you think about it, love doesn’t always feel good.
Sometimes love hurts – when you’re disciplining your children.
Sometimes love is frustrating – when you’re picking up your spouses dirty socks and underwear for the umpteenth time.
Sometimes love is exciting – when you’ve just learned you’re expecting a child.
Sometimes love is fragile – when you’ve just lost a loved one.
Sometimes love is passionate – newly weds know exactly how this feels.
Sometimes love is comfortable – older couples know how this feels.
Sometimes love is hard – when you’ve just learned your spouse is having an affair.
And there are a million other feelings that come along with choosing to love another person. The point is, love is the choice and the emotions are determined by the situations. The Bible tells us to guard our marriages:
”Catch all the foxes, those little foxes, before they ruin the vineyard of love, for the grapevines are blossoming!” Song of Solomon 2:15
Sam and I are going to be celebrating our twelfth anniversary this fall. I find it hard to believe that it’s been twelve years – sometimes I feel like we’ve only been married a few years, and other times it feels like we’ve always been married…and I love both of those feelings. As newly weds, we sat down and set some boundaries in our marriage – a system of checks and balances if you will; and we’ve worked hard to make sure that we didn’t step over the lines we drew.
Because of our boundaries, we are comfortable with each other. We trust each other. We enjoy spending time with each other. We talk to each other. We laugh and cry together. We pray together. We read together. We still hold hands and send each other little love notes. We take time to hug each other. We compliment each other. We teach each other. We hold each other accountable. We have complete intimacy (emotionally and physically). We don’t make life-decisions without the other’s input or prayer.
Our life is not perfect by any means. We still have disagreements and differences of opinions, and we can get on each other’s nerves and cause major frustration, but we don’t let those little things become splinters that are left to fester just under the surface. We talk them through. We compromise our position in an effort to meet each other half way on issues. We choose to love each other even when we don’t get our own way. Just as the verse from Song of Solomon suggests, we work hard to “catch the little foxes” that have entered our marriage – selfishness, anger, bitterness, frustration, fear, aggravation, greed, materialism, pride, just to name a few. Had we not decided early on to protect our marriage, I believe we would have fallen prey to these things and we would have divorced within the first couple of years.
If you’re a newly wed, I encourage you to sit down with your spouse and set some boundaries. Make a pact with together to love each other no matter what. I know as a newly wed, right now you can’t imagine love ever being hard, but believe me, there will come a time when you’ll look at your spouse and think, “why did I marry you?….” Don’t let those seeds of resentment and doubt live in your mind or heart. Choose to love your spouse, even when they’re not being very loving in return.
If you’ve been married for a while, take a look back on your marriage and cherish the good times you’ve shared with your spouse. Forget and forgive the heartaches, the frustrations, the grief that your spouse has caused you. Oh I know it’s easier said than done, but make it a matter of prayer – for with God all things are possible. Also it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your marital boundaries. Over the years, have you allowed them to break down? Have you stepped over them a few times and you need to reconcile the situation with your spouse? Don’t be fooled into thinking that a marriage of 15, 20, 25, 35 or even 50 years is not in danger of falling apart.
If you’ve never been married, don’t forget that marriage is a beautiful and rewarding choice. It was designed and ordained by God, and he is the ultimate when it comes to creating good things (he created you, didn’t he!). Don’t buy into the hype and propaganda that says marriage is an archaic institution that takes away your freedom and should be done away with. Don’t fall prey to the cynics and realists of the world that believe marriage is a recipe for disaster. Remember that marriage gives us freedom to really be ourselves with the one we love. It gives of the freedom to love without reservations.