Love & Marriage
why the former is not enough for the
“To the unmarried and to the widows I say that it is
well for them to remain single as I do.”
(1 Corinthians 7:8)
The immortal words of St. Paul, who quite possibly had experienced the
pain of separation and divorce first hand prior to penning these words,
and who certainly dealt with relationship breakdowns in every church he
I seem to be at that stage of life now where all my friends are getting
divorced. I’ve long passed that stage where all my friends are having
their 21st’s. And I’ve passed the stage where they are all getting
married, and even the one where my friends are all having children. Now
I’m up to the ‘all my friends are getting divorced’ stage. I suppose the
only one left after this is the ‘all my friends are dying’ stage. Not much
to look forward to really.
Of course in terms of divorce I led the way. I managed to stuff up my
marriage long before almost any of my peers. It’s nothing to be proud of,
but at least it means that no one needs fear that I’m going to judge them.
Who me? I don’t think so.
The disturbing thing for me at the moment is that it seems to be all
the couples that I’ve most looked up to as couples that are now falling
apart as couples!
When it come to some of the couples I know – such as where the guy
deliberately gets the girl pregnant because he figures that having a child
will give him the motivation to give up is heroin habit – I sort of expect
those marriages to last only a couple of years at best. And yet it’s not
those couples that are falling apart. It’s the marriages made up of men I
admire for their integrity and courage, who are married to women who are
loyal, nurturing and understanding. And most of these people are good,
solid, church-going Christian folk. It’s not supposed to happen this
I was talking to a girl recently whose relationship had only just
broken up after some 20 years of marriage. She was not a part of the
church and said that she’d never be. For her the final proof of the
non-existence of God was the way in which men and women had evolved with
an in-built incompatibility. Her analysis was simple but profound. Men
have evolved as creatures that need only to eat and mate. Women have
evolved as creatures that need to nurture and nestle. Hence, not
surprisingly, we find that men can’t handle monogamy and that women can’t
live without it. Marriages are thus biologically doomed to failure from
the outset, and the statistics on modern marriages would seem to bear her
out. How could a loving God have created men and women in such a way that
they were genetically geared towards their mutual destruction?
It’s a good question. Every male knows that his biological drives are
not geared towards monogamy – not lifelong monogamy at any rate.
Conversely, it is unrealistic to expect women to settle for anything less
than monogamy in today’s society. Does this mean that God is cruel, or is
there something in the whole marriage concept that we’ve missed?
I wonder if at the heart of the problem is the assumption that we all
make – that marriage is supposed to make us happy. Indeed, I suspect that
most of us believe that the institution of marriage was brought into being
for the very purpose of making us happy.
Weren’t we all brought up to believe that love and marriage go together
like horse and carriage, and that the phrase ‘they got married’ should
generally be followed by the accompanying phrase ‘and they lived happily
ever after’? Perhaps that’s the problem. Perhaps we need to look beyond
musicals and fairy tales to find a basis for our adult relationships.
I don’t think any of us seriously imagines that our institution of
marriage came about because some individual had a ‘bright idea’ one day
about how he could make everybody happy. Marriage is a social institution,
and social institutions are developed because they serve a social purpose,
not because they bring personal fulfillment to certain individuals within
the community. Whether or not you believe God created marriage makes no
difference. If He did, God did it for the sake of the community as a whole
and not for the sake satisfying every individual’s social, emotional and
It makes sense when you think about it. What is the purpose of
marriage? To create a stronger society. Strong marriages create strong
families who build a stronger community. Marriages contribute stability.
They contribute structure. And most importantly, marriages contribute
Read through your Old Testament and you’ll get the feel for what
marriage is all about. Marriage is all-important because without marriages
there are no children and without children there is no army. This is why
baby boys are more valued than are baby girls. This is why gays get such a
hard time. This is why childlessness is such a curse, and why polygamy is
a far better alternative than singleness. It’s not because the individuals
involved prefer it that way. Marriages are there for the sake of the
community first and foremost. If an individual finds satisfaction in his
or her marriage, then that’s a bonus.
So how come every time someone says ‘I’m not happy in my marriage’
we treat it as if something is horribly wrong? If someone expresses
dissatisfaction with other social institutions, such as the government or
the taxation system – we don’t normally get too worked up. Maybe it should
be the other way round? Maybe when we hear someone speak of their joy in
marriage we should react as if they were speaking of their love of Queen
and country – giving them a sort of quizzical smile that expresses
admiration without empathy.
I suppose the truth is somewhere between these extremes. Nobody would
deny that the institution of marriage can be of some assistance in helping
us to satisfy our individual social, emotional, and sexual needs. The
truth is though that no marriage is ever going to satisfy all of those
needs and desires. We human beings just weren’t created to have all our
needs for companionship, security and intimacy met by one other solitary
individual. We need a community.
This brings us to the positive side of the marriage-community equation.
Marriages exist for the sake of the community as a whole. That’s the bad
news if you thought that your marriage existed for the sake of your
individual happiness. On the other hand though, the community exists to
meet those needs we all have as individuals. That’s the good news.
Our individual needs for companionship, security and intimacy can be
met. They just can’t be met by one solitary person. We have to learn to
draw upon the group for our sustenance, and find support and affection
from a variety of people within the community. I think that’s a large part
of what church is supposed to be about.
So where does this leave us? Is there any hope for the modern marriage?
Not so long as people look to marriage as a means to making all their
dreams come true. Not so long as individual men and women look to their
partners to satisfy all of their social, emotional and sexual needs. Not
so long as we demand that our marriages make us happy.
Yet what would happen if we all began to approach marriage in an
entirely different way. What if we began to look at our marriages as being
the most significant contribution we could make to the broader
What if we saw the importance of our roles as parents in terms of the
great good that could be achieved in the community if we bring up our
children to be strong and capable? What if we stopped assessing our
partners and our children in terms of the amount of satisfaction they
bring us, and were able to see those relationships as being our gifts to
humanity? Perhaps then we’d find ourselves saying things like ‘well, I
don’t get on brilliantly with my wife, but I think we’ve managed to
achieve some fine things together and that the world is a better place for
our union, and perhaps that’s more important than my individual
OK. That’s a long way from where we’re currently at in this society,
but I have a feeling that it would be a better place to be.
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from ' Sex, the Ring & the
a book by Father Dave, the