I have just been through the heart-rending experience of discovering that a married couple - for whom I have enormous love and respect - are actors in a marriage of convenience.
Such reality is not easy to face. I think so much of the couple that I wept! Humanly speaking though, it was naive of me to expect otherwise. Their backgrounds were far from ideal. One partner is the child of a marriage of convenience - the other's parents are divorced. I make no judgment on which is the most harmful. Both backgrounds are very tragic.
This couple has small children. What is to happen to them? What did they do to deserve this state of affairs? Children know when their parents are living separate lives and no longer sleep in the same bedroom. As children grow older, they understand the significance. Children also sense when one partner is unfaithful to the other. They feel incredible guilt if parents are staying together only for their sakes. Parents may deceive other people, but not their own children. They know.
... UNTO THE FOURTH GENERATION
Persevere with your love. A bad marriage need not remain bad forever.
So many people struggle with marriage today; and it is no wonder. Generations of unhappiness hound the human family. We pass such unhappiness from father to son and mother to daughter - and from father to daughter and mother to son. Somebody simply has to break the cycle.
Countless adults have been unloved in childhood and bereft of good parental examples; men and women who have not been taught how to love - how to comfort - how to effectively help other human beings. How would they know? They never saw much love between their own father and mother.
If they do learn later from a stepmother or step-father, their own husband or wife, or from a constant struggle to fulfill the teaching of God's Word, the change will require great effort. As Zelda West-Meads of the British Marriage Guidance Council, RELATE, recently stated: "The risk of breakdown heightens with multiple divorce as a family pattern... Such people have to work harder at having an adult, trusting relationship."
To put it another way, how our parents treated one another is not unrelated to our own situation. What is the one thing parents can do to help the future happiness of their children? In three words, love one another!
SOUND ADVICE ABOUT LOVE
The Bible is filled with advice about relationships. The apostle Paul told husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and willingly died for it (Ephesians 5:25). This is the love of sacrifice, protection and concern.
However, something more is required of a man. A husband also has to love his wife as an equal human being - just for her being her. This is the love of acceptance, of active tolerance. He has to be concerned for her as another human being. Not solely in the way he thinks she could be or the way he would like her to be, but in the way she is in her activities, hopes and dreams, and certainly not just as an extension of himself. The same principle applies to the wife.
Even a husband's love of sacrifice, protection and concern falls somewhat short of the ideal. A special, individual, highly-focused marital love is essential for each to be really fulfilled.
My wife loves gardening. I, unfortunately, dislike it! My involvement is, at best, gathering leaves for compost. I recognize my attitude has not been right, but being human gives one the power to change and improve. I should be making more of an effort to share her interest in gardening. I can do better and so can you - whatever your case.
Very few couples are perfectly suited for each other. However, when wooden joints do not fit, a carpenter keeps planing them down until they do. Likewise, a married couple have to soften the rough edges of their relationship. This involves time and hard work. You try it and if the rough edges still do not fit, you keep on until they do. Persevere. A bad match need not remain bad forever.
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE
Of course, the ideal place to begin a good marriage is long before the wedding ceremony. Background is very important. However, perhaps you have not been fortunate enough to see a good example with your own parents. If so, you have to strive to be of good character, honest, loyal, trustworthy and a good communicator long before you get married and then continuing into marriage. It is too much to expect all these qualities to appear overnight.
Also, carefully consider, with advice from those close to you and whose own marriages you respect, whether this person is really suited for you and you for him or her. There is no replacement for time spent together in different circumstances. Doubts or areas of concern which must be faced will not come to light over candle-lit dinners alone.
Honest communication is very important. Talk about your beliefs, your attitude toward life, the way you feel about all sorts of day-to-day things. Do you share the same values, priorities, opinions on family and life-style? To rush into marriage without careful forethought is a huge gamble - it may pay off for some, but for others it does not.
In a world where extended families and communities are separated, it can be difficult to meet the right person. (Remember, not everyone is necessarily suited for marriage or has met someone they would be fully suited to yet. There is nothing wrong with staying single!) What is most important is to be living a positive life with a wide group of friends. By bringing all our heartfelt desires to God, yet not moping or unnecessarily burdening others, we can make the most of our "unmarried" time.
ONCE YOU ARE MARRIED
Once you are married (whether for six months or sixty years), the challenge to love is yours. However, do not deceive one another. Some have been known to express love verbally at the same time as being unfaithful! This is the harsh reality of many modern marriages. Approximately 80 percent of those going into marriage expect total faithfulness, but less than 40 percent will actually have it. Roughly 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women in Western societies are unfaithful. This behavior - so common, yet so destructive - is an insult to the very words and actions meant to express love.
If you sincerely give to one another in words and actions, love will continue to grow. Do not let your marriage drift. You cannot afford to wait until you "feel right."
Love is an art. A few wrong brushstrokes need not ruin the canvas, though. Love can be regenerated. If you have never seen an example of this, spiritual resources are available to you. King David of Israel said: "Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me" (Psalm 27:10). God is always there. He is still on his throne. His very nature is perfect love. He can impart some of this love to you.
GIFTS OF LOVE
The apostle Peter told husbands to be considerate of their wives (1 Peter 3:7). To do this properly, they have to get to know their wives. "Knowing" is a good way of depicting what marriages should be. To know. To understand. Not to know is to court marital danger. To know manifests itself in unexpected ways. As in giving a gift, the better you know a person, the more suitable your gift will be.
The real beneficiary of gifts given in marriage (directly or otherwise) will not only be one another but also the generation to come. If you really love your husband or wife, if you show deep and appropriate affection based on intimate personal knowledge, your children will also be infused with a happiness hard to come by in any other way. Break the mold. Bring love into your marriage. Work at it. Do it for yourselves - and your children!