By Sharon Barrett, Intern
I love having theological discussions with a particular friend of mine. One topic we explore frequently is the nature of human relationships, particularly marriage. Why does the Creator place such a premium on marriage? Why does He insist that a man and woman make a public commitment to each other before they live together as husband and wife? What is so special about declaring, “I do”?
Of course, social science research supports the importance of faithful married love. Couples who are married rather than single or cohabiting report better health, less stress and depression, and more positive family relationships; they are less likely to suffer or commit domestic violence; and they are more likely to pursue a regular spiritual life. Married couples even enjoy greater sexual fulfillment than cohabiting couples.
One might think a cohabiting relationship would carry benefits similar to marriage, if the partners are committed to each other; but the truth is that most couples who cohabit are notfully committed. This type of relationship tends to value independence more than interdependence; for instance, cohabiting partners often have separate bank accounts. As these couples proceed toward marriage, only 60% end up at the altar, and they are 46% more likely to divorce than those who marry without cohabiting first.
Those who do not meet at the altar have only a ten percent chance of staying together longer than five years. This statistic reflects the fact that most couples who cohabit do so to “test their compatibility” before they commit for life. In the words of one young woman,
“We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”
In fact, nearly half of 20-somethings surveyed in 2001 by the National Marriage Project agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” Clinical psychologist Meg Jay concludes,
A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment [of] marriage.
Commitment is a key ingredient of marriage that cohabiting relationships often cannot achieve. Standing before the altar to say “I do” has a profound effect on how partners approach a relationship; it takes courage to make one’s commitment public and, by implication, invite other members of the community to hold one accountable. It takes courage to offer one’s whole life to a partner, with no guarantee other than that person’s word that he or she will be faithful. Most of all, it takes courage for a fallible human being to make a vow in God’s hearing, trusting in His saving help to fulfill it.
But that is the nature of marriage, this most intimate of human relationships. Partaking in a commitment that transcends our natural abilities, while it may seem intimidating, is actually designed to strengthen our faith. According to the Bible, faith is a decision to be confident in God’s promises (Heb. 10:35-11:6); and the promises of the Great I AM are never “yes and no,” but always “yes” (2 Cor. 1:20) –never “maybe,” but always “I do.”