What does it take to have a healthy marriage relationship? What does it take for a man and a woman to make sure that their marriage is all that it is meant to be? Well, to start, we need to address an aspect that is too easily discarded by far too many people, and it’s the fact that marriage is meant to last a lifetime.
When I counsel couples looking to get married, this is one of the truths that I cover early on. I’ll often ask them about those five powerful words that you hear in classic wedding vows. You know what I am referring to, right? It’s the phrase, “till death do us part.”
I’ll ask them if they think that those words are just a nice sentiment, an admirable goal or an actual commitment. If they don’t mutually agree that those words reflect God’s standard that they are to commit to, I know that they are already headed for trouble. They have work to do, and often, they aren’t ready to get married.
The reason I know that “till death do us part” is God’s standard is because this is what we are taught in the Bible. Back when Jesus walked the face of this earth, some Pharisees challenged the expectation of marriage lasting a lifetime. Here is what happened:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. – Matthew 19:3-8
Marriage is meant to last a lifetime. What God has joined together, nobody is to separate. This is what Jesus taught. A reality of life though, is that often people don’t follow God’s plan. So, through Moses, God gave some guidelines and regulations for how to conduct oneself when someone’s spouse chooses not to follow God’s standard. Yet, giving these guidelines were never meant to change the standard. The standard is to be “till death do us part.” What’s interesting is that the disciples got this message. Take a look at their reaction:
The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. – Matthew 19:10-11
Basically, their initial reaction was, “A lifetime! It’s better not to get married then!”
They reacted this way because they didn’t understand the blessing that this level of commitment is meant to bring. So Jesus tells them that not everyone can accept it, meaning, not everyone should get married. Only those who can accept the standard should. Plus, not being married is OK. People can choose to remain single, but singleness is not for everyone. Listen to what God had the apostle Paul, a man who remained single, write:
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
So not everyone has to or will get married. For those who do, they need to know that marriage is meant to be a lifelong commitment to fulfill the “till death do us part” standard.
You see, when you don’t have this perspective, there is an unspoken escape clause. “For as long as we both shall live” shifts to becoming “for as long as I feel like it” or “for as long as you make me happy or provide me with the standard of living I want.” This undermines the trust and true intimacy needed for a marriage relationship to work. To have a genuinely fulfilling and strong marriage, the commitment to make marriage last a lifetime needs to be there.
Unfortunately, what we know is that this is not always the case. Divorce does happen, and what we need to know is that the Bible doesn’t just acknowledge that it happens, but it also teaches us that there are situations where divorce is acceptable in God’s eyes. In cases of physical abuse, abandonment and unfaithfulness, for example, people are not obligated to remain married. When these situations occur, it doesn’t automatically mean that the marriage should be over and God has worked powerfully to preserve and restore marriages where these injustices have occurred.
These tragedies can be overcome, and if it’s possible, the standard should always seek to be maintained. At times, though, divorce cannot be averted and contrary to how some people treat those who have gone through this, whether someone has suffered an injustice or simply didn’t maintain the standard out of ignorance, divorce is not an unpardonable sin, and people who have experienced divorce shouldn’t be treated as second class citizens. With God, there is always hope and a person’s past does not preclude them from a positive future.
For a marriage to be strong, the commitment needed is “till death do us part.”
Along with this, though, there is more that’s required, and this is what we will cover in Part 2.