This is a question I have been wrestling with for some time now. There is such a disconnect from what people say they believe and follow and how they actually live. Just recently I heard of two more (seems to be rampant as of late) marriages that have ended in divorce because of infidelity. And I wouldn't be surprised if most pastors are dealing with at least one if not more couples in the church who are struggling in their marriage. I currently am seeing two couples who are struggling. I'd like to blame it on a lot of factors including the Devil's ploys. But the truth is the problems in any marriage lie primarily if not solely between two people, the husband and the wife.
Each individual brings many things to a marriage including their personalities and any unresolved issues from their past. Everyone grows up in a different environment where healthy communication was modeled or not, where good parenting was modeled or not. These things and so much more play a key role in whether or not a relationship grows into a healthy supportive marriage. I am convinced that marriages fall apart mainly by pure selfishness especially ones that end with infidelity. Somewhere along the line committed love was short-circuited and relationship building stopped and expectations, often unsaid, grew and were unfulfilled. And of course, the Lord's guidance was left out by either both or one of the partners.
We know that marriage is God's idea and is supported by the church. I believe God uses community to undergird marriage as we support one another. In most of our marriage formularies we commit to supporting the new couple in their marriage and helping them to make it work.
Small groups can play a pivotal role in this support. I've seen a number of small groups willing to tackle tough marital situations and the struggling couple come through the experience in a much healthier place.
There are different ways this can be done. One is that the group regularly holds one another accountable in their relationships through prayer and open sharing. That would be ideal, but it doesn't always work for every group and depends on how connected and open you are. Another option is to go on a marriage retreat together. There are a number of good ones out there to choose from and worth the weekend away. And I know that many groups have singles included, but it has been my experience that the singles would gladly support healthy marriages and encourage couples in their group to pursue healthy relationships.
Another option is to use marriage enrichment curriculum over a six week period as one of the studies. This may not be an option if you have singles in your group. However I would encourage churches then to host a special short-term small group study using this curriculum. I've found that to be very effective too. You may have to intentionally invite couples to participate rather than just a bulletin announcement. Perhaps you can kick it off around a sermon series on the family or relationships. Have the pastor announce it often from the pulpit. And of course if you've offered the group before, have a couple or two share about their experience.
Here are some great resources that I know are very solid and have either read, lead or participated in.
These guys put some really great stuff and host marriage getaways. My wife and I have attended one and loved every minute of it. More recently they have introduced a new type of video series for your church and community called "the art of Marriage"
Let's do whatever we can to support healthy relationships and healthy families.
Great post Allen, and certainly a topic highly deserving of our communal attention. If married couples who attend church divorce at rates similar to the general population, our witness to the world is badly damaged. And has been.
My wife and I attended "Reformed Marriage Encounter" in Oregon decades ago. Was great. I don't know if that is done anymore. I've been involved in divorces over the years from the lawyer side of things. That, plus my own marriage of course, produces this two cents.
Every bit of help couples can get with "how to live together as husband and wife" is helpful. And to that extent, seminars, studies, etc. are all worth it. Still, at the end of the day, the key to keeping married couples married (and married well) is that both of them take seriously their vows to remain married, no matter what. Our nation is now a "no-fault" divorce nation. Thus, it only takes one to divorce, and that means one of the two can divorce for whatever reason. Were I making the laws, I'd go back to a "fault divorce" system (which has its own difficulties, and that's a big subject of its own), but I'm not and so we live with the no-fault system which allows one marriage partner to unilaterally demand and receive divorce (and half the assets, etc).
Beyond that, I think it's helpful for couples to distinguish between "liking each other" and "loving each other." "Liking each other" refers to the feelings couples have that gave cause for them to marry in the first place.These feelings will come and go, sometimes because of "internal" things we can do something about (just not doing the many things a good spouse should do), and sometime because of external things (financial, health -- stuff that happens to couples that are largely unavoidable).
To "love each other" means to commit to what is best for the other (your spouse in marriage), regardless of what you feel. And in the marriage, it also means to stick with the marriage, regardless of whether you "like" your spouse or not.
Certainly, "liking" your spouse makes it more easy to "love" your spouse, but "liking" doesn't guarantee "loving." The converse is also true: "loving" your spouse will make increase the odds you will "like" your spouse (and eventually almost always does in the long run) but again, "loving" doesn't guarantee (at least in the short run) "liking."
Were a poll taken (and honestly answered) of all married couples who "made it," I doubt even 1% would say (honestly at least) that there weren't times when they disliked their spouse. What carried them through, I would suggest, is that they both were so committed, had so meant the vows they said, that their dislike for eachother was simply trumped by their "love," that is, their commitment. To express it in a cliche, "divorce wasn't an option." In time, that commitment (unconditional decision to "love") was again rewarded because they found themselves "liking each other" again (what the world calls "falling in love").
This is one of those places where our society's morphing of the meaning of words does us harm. If new couples regard the words "like" and "love" the way our population uses them, the trouble starts immediately because those words will be repeated far more often than the wedding vows. 1 Corinthians 13 is a fantastic dictionary for the word "love." It never mentions feelings.
Perhaps also marriages often fall apart because of a lack of understanding of sacrifice and love in general. If sacrifice and committment are not modelled by parents and the church, then we should not be surprised that children will not learn what those things are. Our society, including christian society is often more influenced by a humanistic (self-directed) attitude towards marriage, as towards life in general. In fact, this humanistic philosophy tells us that sacrifice is absurd and ridiculous, and that self-fulfillment is the answer. We demand to be happy; it is our right, or so we say. If we are not "happy" then we start to look for a way out. A way towards happiness of our own making. Self-fulfillment. Which at a certain level is not much different than selfishness. The irony is that in our search for happiness, we usually lose it. Even if we were to sacrifice for others, merely to make ourselves happy, we would still not find happiness. Only our pleasure in serving the God who made us, the God who redeemed us, can really be lasting and whole.
The other influence or accompanying factor with so many failed marriages is the lack of respect for "marital relations". By stealing these relations from the institution of marriage, and treating them as mere experiments and trials and testing periods, we have created an atmosphere of trialling that carries over into marriage itself. Here the irony is that premarital sex is a really good indicator of failed marriages (although there are exceptions). Premarital sex, including cohabitation prior to marriage was supposed to reduce divorce, but it seems to actually increase the level of divorce and marital insecurity. Of course, it does not do this by itself; it is really the attitude that permits stealing sexual activity out of marriage, which continues its battle against marriage later for those who do get married.
God is greater than the mistakes we make before marriage, and in our time of marriage. Therefore these trends and our mistakes do not have to determine our future behaviour, provided we understand forgiveness, sacrifice, and committment.
While it is true that we are not perfect as our Father in Heaven, yet God asks us to be holy (every Christian), and so we are to try to model our marriages after the love and grace that God shows to us sinners through his mercy, love and forgiveness through Christ. If we did that, our rate of successful marriages would be much higher than the present rate. And it starts with us, with me, not with the "other". And when we pursue obedience, we will often find unexpected happiness.
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