Monday, June 06, 2005

Marriage: Dad’s “Throwback”[1] Attitude

Dad has a “throwback” [1] attitude toward marriage. He is hopelessly lost in the 3,000 years of history during which time marriage has been a sacred tradition between a man and a woman. Poor dad. Things have changed so, and he doesn’t “get it.”

Isn’t it ironic …

  • That homosexual couples want to marry but they can’t; heterosexual couples don’t want to marry, but they should;
  • When two people raised in a faith that holds marriage as a central tenet believe the institution of marriage is not applicable to their circumstances.
  • How the moral principles that were respected for 3,000 years (of which marriage is a central component) can be discarded in just one generation and labeled as old fashioned and confining.
  • That we hear so much about the challenges of marriage, how to fix a marriage, what to do about a bad marriage, how to avoid divorce, how to get a divorce – all the negatives about marriage, but we hear so little about why people should be married, the purpose and benefits of marriage – the positives of marriage, the deeply spiritual purposes of marriage. It’s no wonder why marriage is out of favor.
  • That there used to be “marriage of convenience”[2]; now we have “living together for convenience.”

I am not saying all of the above ironies apply to any particular couple. But the culture, generally, increasingly highlights these ironies.

What are the reasons why couples today avoid marriage? Here are a few reasons from the “All About Cohabiting Before Marriage” web page accessed by clicking on the title of this blog.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, the small numbers of cohabiting couples in America could be fairly described as "anti-marriage" (part of the anti-establishment movement). They were deliberately seeking an alternative to traditional marriage, an institution they viewed as "repressive" or "irrelevant." Today, however, many cohabiting couples have a different outlook. Rather than "anti-marriage," it is more accurate to say that many (though certainly not all) of these couples are "anti-divorce." That is, they are so fearful of a marital breakup that they are looking to cohabitation as a "trial marriage" that will protect them from entering into a marriage that will end up in divorce just as their parents (Mattox 1997). According to the National Marriage Project of Rutgers University, young people today are more concerned with having fun and making money and less focused on forming lasting relationships that lead to marriage and raising family (Popenoe & Whitehead 1999). The report says that the young are in favor of living together as a try-out for marriage or as an alternative to marriage, believe sex is for fun and has no string attached, have a fear of divorce and see marriage (and divorce) as a potential economic liability. Although, oddly, most expect some day to meet and marry somebody who can fulfill their emotional and spiritual needs.”

In short, fear of failure, fear of commitment, and lack of understanding of the purposes and benefits of marriage all seem to be the primary underlying reasons to live together without marriage.

One might ask “what are the reasons for or benefits of marriage compared to simply living together?” There are both practical and spiritual (religious) reasons for marriage. A few of the practical reasons include:

  • Marriage demonstrates trust and commitment. This makes sense because a reason not to be married is that one or both parties currently don’t trust a marriage to last or aren’t sure they want to make a commitment. Conversely, marriage overcomes these negatives.
  • Marriage develops the personal disciplines of trust and commitment. The marriage vows place a higher level of expectation of commitment beyond a simple agreement to live together. (Although I must add, so does a joint mortgage!) Yes, it is true marriages fail. People mess up. People get off track from their commitments for a variety of reasons, usually selfish. It does not follow that therefore people should live together without being married. It means that individuals should take greater care in finding the right person in terms of character, faith, likes and dislikes, and complimentary personalities.
  • Marriage enhances the stability of our society. “If the family trends of recent decades are extended into the future, the result will not only be a growing uncertainty within marriage, but the gradual elimination of marriage in favor of casual liaisons, oriented to adult expressiveness and self-fulfillment. The problem with this scenario is that children will be harmed, adults probably no happier, and the social order could collapse." (from David Popenoe in Promises to Keep). As can be seen from the phenomena of gay marriage, the moral, spiritual, legal, financial, and governmental systems of centuries relating to the institution of marriage are being stretched and distorted to the point of corrupting and rendering the entire institution as meaningless.
  • Other practical reasons that may or may not apply to most couples are listed on this website: http://members.aol.com/cohabiting/marriage.htm

Those are several of the practical aspects of marriage. Now here are some of the spiritual reasons for the institution.

Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Latter Day Saints, and most non-liberal protestant religions share the same understanding of God’s standards for a man and woman living together and His purpose for marriage. I won’t go into quoting Bible verses or other sacred literature, but here is the essence:

  • God is our Father. He instituted the human “family”;
  • His reason in bringing men and women together is to “fill the earth”, to expand His family for his glorious purpose;
  • He created the institution of marriage as a means of maintaining order among his many offspring and families;
  • He set forth rules for the relationship between unmarried men and women for our ultimate good and happiness, as well as the maintenance of order among His families;
  • He has offered covenants for His people regarding these “rules” or principles of happiness; and
  • He is pleased when His people honor these covenants because He knows His people will be blessed (happier) when they do.

Marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament is a spiritual covenant between God and man.

Those who do not believe or practice the above understanding may identify with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, an atheist who taught that selfishness and individual fulfillment are the highest ideals of humanity. Further, she taught that all organizations, including governmental and religious, were encumbrances to individual self interest and ought to be done away with. Carrying this one step further, “marriage” itself is a partnership beyond the individual. That partnership, too, encumbers the individual. That partnership, too, ought to be avoided.

Conversely, the Judeo-Christian faith teaches that ones’ marriage is greater than the individual. The interests of the marriage should come first. The selfish (self) interests of the individual should give way to the interests of the marriage. We have strayed far from that ideal – we’ve come a long way, baby! Cohabitation; personal interest above the interests of the couple; avoidance of commitment; the floundering institution of marriage… How far do you think this trend will go?

Here is a site, neither Greek Orthodox, nor LDS, nor Presbyterian, nor Catholic, that presents a commonly accepted “Christian” perspective of the purpose of marriage: http://www.thercg.org/books/tpomeo.html I picked this summary only out of convenience – it is the first resource I happened upon that provided a concise summary from a Christian perspective. Other doctrine promoted by this site is not being endorsed or disputed.

How unmarried couples choose to live is certainly a choice they have a right to make. They and their heirs are the ones who will experience the consequences of their actions. My hope is that a clear understanding of the opposing world views on this issue will result in decisions that lead to a happier, more fulfilling, and joyous life for those struggling with the question "to marry or not to marry."

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[1] A “throwback” (a term first introduced to me by one of my daughters when she was 13) is typically a derogatory term indicating a reversion to a former type or ancestral characteristic. Counter throwback (a term I made up) is one who dismisses the value of the traditions, habits, or life patterns of the past; a social liberal as opposed to a social conservative.
[2] A marriage of convenience is a marriage contracted for reasons other than the traditional reasons of love or family, that is, for a different perceived benefit, such as financial or social. Living together without marriage serves the same purpose.

2 comments:

Mindy Moochie said...

Just FYI -- I LOVE the idea of marriage and definitely plan on experiencing it someday soon. Some people move in together before marriage as a test of their relationship to see if they should get married; others as an unambiguous antecedent to marriage. I fall in the latter category. Our "trial period" preceeded our moving in together. We're in it for the long-term now. We just don't have a certificate and haven't had a ceremony before the eyes of God. But when (not if) we do, you will be the first (or one of the first three) person I tell, okay?

Anonymous said...

If living together is an "unambiguous antecedent" to marriage and not a "test of their relationship" which occurred before living together, what is the purpose of this unambiguous antecedent, aka "deferral of marriage?"