Your working definition for marriage will impact what you are building and how you deal with it. The way you see something impacts how you understand it, value it and treat it. Consequently definitions are very important.
In my book, Mending Marriages, I take a good look at people’s working definitions for marriage. The reason some people need their marriage mended is because they have built the wrong thing on the wrong definition in the first place.
Casual observers see marriage as a ‘relationship’. That’s probably the universal starting point. However the nature of that relationship is where marriages come unglued.
To some people the marriage relationship is a special and life-long bond. Others have a much more casual definition of that relationship, seeing it as a temporary linking which will be broken when better or different alternatives come along.
A good working definition of marriage must bring clarity about the nature of the ‘relationship’.
The next key consideration is the functional aspect of the relationship. How are the couple to maintain their life together? What is the nature of their cooperation? While this is an aspect of the definition of the relationship it bears specific attention as it gives the practical expression of that relationship.
As an initial definition we can thus say that marriage is “a special relationship that fits special structural requirements”.
And that’s where the fun begins. What is the ‘special relationship’ and what are the ‘special structural requirements’? Around the world and through history many variations of both those aspects have been explored. Currently there is a push to move away from the history-long model of a man and a woman in a unique relationship. While alternative relationships have existed they have not been recognised as ‘marriage’, which status is seen as Holy Grail by some people.
Throughout history the ubiquitous model of marriage has placed the main responsibility for the relationship and its maintenance with the man. While modern sensibilities try to demean this reality it remains the most enshrined working model for marriage. Historically, all around the world, the vast majority of marriages have been established on the responsibility of the male, who creates a place of nurture for his wife and children. The wife is thus able to concentrate on her nurture of the children and her husband, while the man deals with the outside world and brings provision for his family.
In view of that long tested model it could be argued that the best way to destroy marriage is to demean men, taking their leadership from them. This will break up the family unit, bring uncertainty and insecurity and rob the home of the stabilising nurture of the mother.
Sadly we see much of that outcome already at work in many western families. While the western family home was a model of mutual benefit for the majority just a century ago, it is now an empty place, devoid of much that is needed to grace the human soul.
The most eminently qualified person to provide a powerful working definition for marriage is God. God created marriage and gave it as a gift to mankind. So God knows how it was designed to work. God knows what both husband and wife must do in order to fulfil the marriage relationship and build an effective family unit.
The Bible gives the most valuable and comprehensive insights into how marriage was designed and what we must to do enjoy its fullest benefits. The marriage relationship is best defined as that bond between a man and a woman which unites them in the relationship which God created for them.
Through the pages of the Bible we discover many things which impact the definition of marriage. We discover that it is God’s creation, not man’s creation. It is a holy union, not a relationship of convenience. Its purposes are divine, not human. Its roles are prescribed by God, not dictated by the power players in any given culture.
The bond is created by God, not the couple. A couple cannot pronounce themselves to be ‘married’. God joins the couple together. It is therefore a ‘holy estate’, not a social construct. And since God joins them together man and woman do not have the power to revoke it. God makes it and man cannot ‘un-make’ it.
God has prescribed specific and unique responsibilities to the man and the woman in marriage. These are not a matter of negotiation by the couple. They are prescribed by God and we will each be judged by God on how well we fulfil His demands, despite what we or our spouse think of the arrangements we have come to between each other.
The ‘relationship’ that is created, therefore, is a moral bond, established by God. It is not principally a social union, but a moral one. Each marriage union is a unique bond, excluding all others. It has the quality of a legal bond, since all who violate it are breaking God’s law.
The marriage union allows the couple to enter a unique moral connection where intimacy between them is made perfectly legitimate and holy. It confers on the couple exclusive sexual privileges.
Altogether, then, marriage is an amazing and awesome divine gift to humanity. Sadly many people do not understand what it is and so they enter into it lightly and without respect for their responsibilities or the accountability they have before God for their handling of His created union.
That’s why I bring the subject up along the way, in various forms. People need their eyes opened to this amazing moral union and its implications. That’s not just for their own sake, but for the sake of their spouse, their descendents and the culture in which they live. When God’s Kingdom comes it must impact the domestic home as much as the global environment or governmental circles.
Now, having given you this lengthy explanation, have a look at the definition of marriage which I present in Mending Marriages.
“Marriage is a unique, irrevocable, legal and moral bond created by God between a man and a woman who commit themselves to each other for life-long union, conferring on them exclusive sexual privileges and offering them loving relationship, mutual co-operation and personal investment in each other, in a divinely ordained structure and process in which both fulfil their unique, divinely created responsibilities, which they are to follow in the fear of God, with God’s gracious endowment and for God’s glory, conferring on them God’s personal blessings through each other as they create an effective and meaningful social unit with unique, multi-generational significance.”
May this very relationship be yours.