As Long As We Both Shall Live - Part IIa (One Through Vows)

Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York City, explained in 2000 why his marriage was dissolving, by saying, “Over the course of some period of time in many ways, we’ve grown to live independent and separate lives.” Sadly, this kind of thinking is not limited to politicians and other celebrities. You’ve probably heard similar thoughts expressed by those you know. Others have told me they “fell out of love.”

How does it happen that two people who start marriage with such high expectations end up years later emotionally uninvolved, distant, and going their own ways?

I don’t think anyone sets out to “grow apart”, but it seems to happen all the time. You’ve seen couples that each spin in his or her own universe. She cares for the children, leads a ladies’ Bible study, directs a community homeschool group, and teaches an occasional scrapbooking class. He pours himself into his sales job and leads the church men’s breakfast, but still manages to play basketball regularly at the Y with his guy friends. Sure they meet for dinner, share a bed, and divvy up the soccer carpooling. But they are not really connecting, or, more biblically, becoming one. Then one day the children are grown and the common ground that most held them together no longer exists. They look at the other, wondering who this person is they have been married to, and what drew them together anyway, since he (or she) seems so boring these days. All too often, and not only in non-Christian homes, dissatisfied spouses start looking around.

When Tim and I married we had our wedding rings inscribed with the phrase, “One in Christ.” Looking at our once matching rings now, you’d think Tim has been married twice as long as I have. Because he works diligently with his hands, his ring is now much thinner than mine and has entirely lost the outer pattern and the inner inscription. Mine still shows dimly. But the thought remains fresh in our hearts. We became one flesh that warm summer day twenty-nine years ago, but it is also something that is an ongoing process. The actions we take each day help us grow closer together to one another through the Lord Jesus, or we pull further apart. As I’ve thought about this, I’ve identified three ways that couples can move toward oneness.

A. One Through Vows

First, we declare our oneness through the vows we make before our holy God and witnesses. This ought to be so obvious it doesn’t need saying, but it does. In the half century I’ve been alive, commitment to marriage has undergone a sea change.

In an article titled “Splitting Up”, Joseph Adelson, professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan writes this after citing statistics about divorce:
Commenting on these and many similar findings, Lawrence Stone, the eminent historian of the family, has written: “The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent, and seems unique. There has been nothing like this for the last 2,000 years and probably longer.” Like most good historians, Stone is not given to excess, and that statement is itself as startling as the findings he and others are addressing (Commentary, September 1996, pages 63-66).

This graph from the University of Maryland dramatically shows what’s been happening since the 1960s.

Because the ethos of marriage and divorce has changed so radically in our culture, it is all too easy for a couple to decide they need to split. In the past, “You would no more think of exchanging your spouse for another than you would think of trading in your ailing cardiovascular system for a better one,” according to Adelson.

This is not to say that there are not legitimate biblical grounds for divorce, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this article. And I am not in any way suggesting that all a troubled couple need do is grimly grit their teeth and hang on for the next fifty years. I’ve seen that and it wasn’t pretty. God wants more for our marriages. But there may be rough periods when the vows you made are the primary thing that sustain you.

In Rekindling the Romance Dennis and Barbara Rainey talk about seasons of a marriage. After new love comes disappointed love, and finally committed love. Mature and sustaining love comes about as we face the disappointments that hit every marriage, but choose to remain committed to our spouse. In one of her chapters, Barbara Rainey writes, “Commitment is choosing to take your husband’s hand and walk through the reality God has allowed in your life, believing that on the other side, you will find a deeper love and a healthier relationship than you had before.”

The Raineys go on to describe a personal crisis that hit them after six years of marriage. Having endured one difficulty and another, they were finally able to leave their young children for a few days and escape for a time alone. Dennis was ready for some romance, but Barbara needed time to talk and distress. They ended up having an ugly fight which ended with Dennis throwing a bottle of lotion and breaking a window pane in their hotel room. Dennis then gathered his young, pregnant wife in his arms and told her something she was not expecting. He said, “Barbara, I want you to know that I love you, and I am committed to you. I will love you for the rest of your life, even if we never, ever make love again.” Hearing her husband express his unconditional love for her melted her reserves, and within a day or so they were on the way to a deeper, richer love. Barbara writes:
That evening in Mazatlan was a make-it-or-break-it moment in our marriage. Either of us could have chosen to walk away because the disappointment and pain were too great. We alone knew how difficult life had been for us. We learned that sacrifice is the language of romance, and selfishness is the language of isolation and rejection. Commitment inspires one to sacrifice, and sacrifice makes commitment a rare jewel to be cherished.

Vows matter. Always, but especially in rough times, we need to remember and cling to the promises we made to one another before God. That commitment gives us strength to persevere and move through to sweeter days.

For the rest of this series check out:
As Long As We Both Shall Live - Part I

As Long As We Both Shall Live - Part IIb (One by Intention)

As Long As We Both Shall Live - Part IIc (One in Purpose)


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