The Status of Marriage in America
According to the new census data, the median duration of current marriages in the U.S. has increased an exciting eight months in the last decade. It jumped from 19 years in 2010 to 19.8 years in 2019. That is the good news of a recent analysis of the census bureau data. After a mix of somewhat hopeful data and discouraging data, here is the bottom line.
“This sobering news about marriage puts a damper on our hope for the future of American families. With the rates of both divorce and marriage dropping in America, we expect to see the marriage divide deepen and poor and working-class Americans increasingly disconnected from the institution of marriage.”
Other significant markers were these; sixty-four percent of college-educated professional people managed to keep their marriages reasonably stable. The problem with that statistic is that thirty-six percent did not. Working-class folks fared less well at 24% maintaining their marriages.
The Status of Marriage in the Evangelical Church
The antidotal observation is that those who take their faith seriously enough to attend church regularly and read the Bible and related materials, divorce significantly less than the general population. W. Bradford Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist concludes that “active conservative Protestants” who are regular pew dwellers divorce at a rate of 35% below the divorce rate of those who do not affiliate with a conservative church.
While these stats are worthy of note and we should rejoice comparatively speaking, they paint a picture of a Christian population who fails to hear God and appropriate the resources He provides.
The general statistic is alarming. The divorce occurred four times more often in 2018 than in 1900.
Here Is the Good News
Regular church attendees who are also Bible readers and prayers fair much better at maintaining a stable marriage. However, their lack of implementing the many resources that God provides in the Scriptures impairs their ability to grow in intimacy. Intimacy is a major source of comfort and confidence that yields joy even in difficult times. The Family Institute study cited above found that there was a significant number of couples who indicated that their marriages were strengthened under the pressure of the recent pandemic, for example. I would venture a professionally educated guess that the reason this occurred is that these couples engaged in respectful caring problem-solving in the course of everyday living.
Here Are the Key Resources God Provides
Touched upon above was regular attendance at worship, regular engagement in praying individually and as couples, and regular engagement in the community.
While these are obvious, they are also the means to a treasure chest of others that, if both spouses are committed to a vital spiritual reality, can virtually prevent divorce, and foster growing intimacy, and joy. There are thirty-seven keys embedded in the Scriptures which to unlock the joy and lockout the disappointment and disillusionment that lead to a hurtful and eventually fractured relationship. There is no space in this blog to list all thirty-seven, however, you can find them rather easily by just putting a query in Google: One Another Passages in New Testament.
While these tools are addressed to the church to foster unity and joy in the church, they are directly applicable to the marriage which is the smallest unit within the church, if you please, the church in miniature. These tools are the “one another” commands of our Lord.
The first one another we committed to in covenant with God in that first marriage vow. It is this. Be devoted to one another (Rom 12:10). That commitment, made to God to be wholly devoted to our spouse, is foundational to all the others.
The second is a pledge to prefer one another (Rom 12:10). This commitment is made in that second marriage vow when we covenant to each other in the presence of God and before the congregation of witnesses to keep ourselves wholly for our mate. This is the very pinnacle of preferring one another and setting it in the context of a covenant made before God.
The third, be of the same mind toward one another, we sometimes colloquially express as putting this way, “Be on the same page with each other, or have the same vision. (Rom 12:16)
The fourth addresses the common problem in the marriage of operating on assumptions that lead to making judgment calls about the motives of our mate. It is this; accept one another by refraining from judgment (Rom 14:1). Whether reading a novel, watching a movie, or engaging in counseling with a couple, this is one of the commonly violated one- another instruction. It always leads to hurt, disappointment, and wrong conclusions producing wrong actions.
The fifth is to accept one another by showing deference. This is the knockout punch for our self-centerness and arrogant judgment (Rom 14:1-5, 15:7). This principle can have a variety of application in marriage. A husband may find a pink living room intolerable. A wife may be very comfortable wearing feminine slacks for Sunday morning worship while her husband is convinced that it is inappropriate. A wife may feel unsafe driving anything but an SUV. The list of possible conflicts is endless. The principle here is the responsibility of deference. While the context has reference to a weaker conscience, the principle is important in the broader application.
The sixth is the opposite of self-esteem. The command is to esteem one another in love. There is no competition allowed (Rom 14:5, Phil 2:3). We can put it another way. Think more highly of your spouse than yourself. Seeing him or her is more important than you see yourself. A very practical rule is this. Never speak negatively about your spouse. Rather, esteem the spouse in love by appropriately speaking to him/her about the matter of concern.
The seventh builds upon another conveying the imperative of seeking to enable your mate to grow (Rom 14:9, I Thess 5:11). Most couples come to marriage with a fantasy view of their mate. The reality is both spiritually and humanly, progressing in maturity is the reality of being human. Tracing the three years of the relationship of Christ with his disciples is to trace the growth and development of these men. When Christ chose them, they had not arrived. When a man and a woman choose a mate, that person has not arrived. As Christ built up these disciples, so the couple should build up one another. He commanded them, He corrected them, He taught them, and He sought them out when they sinned and He forgave them.
The eight one another, counsel one another, is possible because as believers we are on common ground, and we have the Holy Spirit and the Word of God as our resource. As believers, we are capable of counseling one another (Rom 15:14). Each must listen to the other, each must seek to guide the other for this mutuality to occur.
Number nine is to serve one another. That means we do whatever is needed to help the other (Gal 5:13). The whole Christian enterprise operates by servant leadership. A husband serving his wife does not violate his role as being the head of the wife. Neither does the wife serving her husband encompass her role as a helpmate. For example, when our children were toddlers, on Friday or Saturday evening (which one depended upon a variety of factors) it was my custom to thoroughly clean the kitchen floor—whatever it took. Over the years the demands of my ministry periodically kept me from attending to the lawn moving schedule. My wife served me by cranking the mower and cutting the lawn.
Number ten says to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). Different types of people need different types of help. This means that each mate needs to be attentive to the other and learn the areas of weakness (burdens) that require help. It also suggests being attentive to undulating requirements and taking the initiative to step in and bear a burden. For example, a wife who occasionally has a migraine will certainly need help bearing the burden of childcare.
A Challenge for My Married Readers
Today is mid-way through April. Let me challenge you to commit to studying, understanding, and then implementing these tools throughout 2022. As you do, keep a journal of how your intentional practice of using God’s tools. Log how doing so yields improvements, deepens intimacy, and increases joy. As you do, recognize that an even far greater goal is being achieved. You are glorifying God which is your (plural here) chief end.
If you will put my name in the Amazon search, a list of books will appear. Order a copy of Route 37 to Martial Enjoyment. In this book, you will find clear and practical help to implement all thirty-seven of these one another passages in your marriage. Or, if you are a counselor, keep a supply on hand and assign this book as reading homework for all your marriage counseling couples.