Ideally, a marriage should be a lifetime relationship, through ups and downs, working through problems. It is also about getting priorities right – a marriage comes before a job. This may mean living a very simple life, not worrying about what others think.
But, not all marriages are stable, and hence a divorce takes place. Unfortunately, divorces are on the increase, most often because a couple do not listen to each other and realise it is hard work. The pace of live is so fast, that we often do not take time to be still and develop our marital relationships.
In the Bible, there are only a few reasons why someone can divorce.
- adultery – where one or both partners have a sexual relationship outside of the marriage. Part of the reason for this to be used as a reason for divorce is the high status sex has been given by society and the media. Sex is special and should only take place within a marriage and therefore having one night stands or even a short relationship based on sex, prior to a marriage, often means that one can easily get bored with having sex with one’s partner. Sex outside marriage cheapens the intimacy one needs within a marriage between a man and a woman.
- consummation of a marriage – if there is no sex within the marriage, one does not become one ‘entity’. That does not mean one can demand sex, but it should be seen as a normal part of the relationship within the marriage. Hence, the importance of also not having other sexual relationships before or during the marriage. I would hope if this is a problem that counselling is sought. Obviously, some people cannot have sex for physical reasons.
- violence – although there is no direct mention of this being a reason for a divorce, other teachings infer that if the perpetrator does not stop, even after counselling, then for their safety, the ‘victim’ should divorce. For the Bible says that we are to love one another, and within a marriage, we are to serve each other out of love also. Unfortunately, domestic abuse is on the increase, partly because of such things as unemployment and/or alcoholism, or a bad upbringing in childhood.
Hence, the importance of marriage preparation and, where necessary, counselling to deal with issues that prevent a successful marriage. In fact, I think it should be compulsory. And that is where the Church comes in, as it can teach the wisdom of the Scriptures on the subject. There are many good resources available these days, so even there is not anyone in a church suitable to lead couples in preparation for their marriage, it does not matter (http://themarriagecourses.org/; https://www.careforthefamily.org.uk/courses/marriage-preparation-prepare-for-marriage-engagement-couples-pre-marriage-day)
One issue that often starts the problems within the marriage is the cost and extravagance of the wedding. It should be a simple celebration, thus preventing there being debts to start the marriage. For, money is often the cause of strained relationships – maybe one should get counselling in managing your resources – there are organisations that specialise in this area (eg https://capuk.org/; http://themoneycharity.org.uk/).
And, finally, we need to find ways to ‘improve the image’ of marriage in the media and society in general. What about people coming up with great ‘scripts’ for television and radio and writing letters to the press, with an attitude of love and gentleness? And Governments can help through tax incentives.
In today’s society, there many types of relationships. Marriage between a man and a women tends to last the longest where it is worked on.
With there being many sexual scandals exposed recently that have involved ministers of religion, it shows that in many cases there has been a lack of balanced teaching about relationships, including sex within marriage, at theological colleges and in churches. Most of the people accused have been single, especially when it involves the Roman Catholic Church. It is interesting that in the Church of England, the so called ‘Anglo-Catholic’ wing, most ‘priests’ are married and often are more ‘Catholic’ than their counterparts in the Roman Catholic church. It is also noticeable that there are only rare cases of sexual misdemeanours. So,, I urge the Roman Catholic church to allow priests to marry, so that their sexual urges can be released within a loving and caring marriage. Apart from the sexual side of things, I also believe it would encourage more people to become priests if they can marry (the number of priests applying to join the Catholic church is slowly reducing each year). It is up to the Church to show the way and model relationships to the world. Sexual abuse continues to rise and is becoming more disgusting in its methods as people, mainly men, get bored with the old ways. But, teaching on sex needs to be done in the context of sex within marriage, self-identity (including being secure in their identity to say ‘no’) and seeing that relationships involve more than sex (there needs to be encouragement for depth in relationships). ‘Going out’ should be taught that they need to do enriching activities together with other people so that they have many different things to talk about, apart from, sport, soaps and sex. Young people need to be challenged about ideas they get from the media. The media also needs challenging about thinking that they know what is best , when they do not. They need encouraging to use writers who have a better imagining for exciting scripts that still stay with the boundaries of moral decency, including better use of language.
Marriage provides an ideal model in which to bring a balanced upbringing of children.
Marriage is a union of a man and a woman becoming one.
In Ephesians 5, there is much on the Church with the relationship between a husband and a wife as an illustration of what it should be like in terms of leadership.
The word ‘submission’ used in many translations has a very bad press and is a source of much disagreement between Christians.
These verses in Ephesians say that Jesus is ‘head of the body’. A ‘head’ seeks to serve the ‘body’ in making sure it functions properly. And for the ‘body’ to work together, it needs the ‘head’ to provide it with the information it needs. Therefore the husband should take the lead in bringing out the best in their relationships and the wife should allow him to do so. All this is based on love, not control.
Hence, the use of the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are two sides of the same coin. It is more about working together, rather than who is in charge. Jesus came to serve, not control. For elsewhere in Scripture, it says we are all equal under God, and we are His children. To me, that means a woman can be a leader in the Church, as much as a man. For we all can receive the Gifts of the Spirit. Our hang-up is because of the non-biblical division of priest and laity, and also over who can give communion. There is nothing in the New Testament limiting as to who can or cannot do things. It is all about character.
And that character should be reflected in a marriage. As we see from above, marriage is about bringing out the best in each other in the context of a loving relationship. But, it is also for the purpose of naturally creating children, and only a man and woman can do that within a loving, permanent relationship, sealed before God in a covenant before His people. Therefore, I don’t believe we can re-define marriage to include any other form of relationship. Children need to understand their sexuality and the limits of when sex can take place ie within a marriage of a man and a woman, for them to grow up as reasonably balanced adults.