How long is a marriage? And I don’t mean how long do you hope a marriage lasts, or how long you hope your marriage lasts. I mean, by its own definition, how long is a marriage? When does it end?
There are two popular answers to this question.
1) Marriage lasts for as long as you both shall live.
2) Marriage lasts for as long as you both want it to.
The first, of course, is the traditional (and also Christian) understanding. It’s also the one many people say that they mean, while not really meaning what they say.
The second is the most common today. And while many people would insist that they believe the first, in practice, they actually believe the second. For instance, if you believe that it is possible (for anyone) to have a “divorce” and end a marriage, get “re-married”, etc. Then you can not possibly believe in the first definition. I’m not being harsh or judging anyone here, these are just the logical facts.
I point this out not to call anyone out on their divorce or anything like that. That’s not for me to judge. I point it out because it is one of the most important factors in the stability of our society. Which definition a family subscribes to changes the entire nature, foundation and stability of that family.
A relationship between a man and woman that is rooted in certainty – a certainty not that things will always be roses, but that you will stick it out no matter what – is entirely different than a relationship, or partnership, that can end at will.
The first breeds security and stability. And though perhaps sometimes still challenging and imperfect, it provides a safe and dependable foundation from which children can become healthy individuals and to learn to relate to others. It gives the couple some immovable walls they can safely bounce around within when life has its hiccups.
The second does none of that. It breeds insecurity and instability. And it is especially detrimental to children when the very relationship that literally created them is insecure or unstable.
(I want to make one important point clear, however. If being around your spouse is endangering you or your kids, you need to separate and work out the best solution. You’re still married, of course. But being married to somebody doesn’t mean you are forced to stay in a dangerous situation. So don’t. That is all.)
Some will say that they believe divorce is possible, but they wouldn’t personally consider it. But this, too, is unstable and undermines the integrity of a marriage because it is based on a personal, present day feeling about divorce. Sure, they would never consider leaving each other now. But there is a decent chance that will change. That’s where the first kind of marriage comes in. It offers a kind of stability that transcends our own weakness and instability by its very nature. It does not even offer the option to divorce. Which, contrary to how it seems, is actually what sets us free to love most deeply.
In marriage, there may only be a 1% difference between a 98% and 99% commitment. But there is a total difference between 99% and 100%. Because it’s not just a difference in level of commitment, but the kind of commitment. It’s an entirely different kind of relationship. That’s one of the things that makes marriage special. It’s not just a contract or a mutually beneficial partnership. It’s an “all in” kind of deal. Either you’re all in for the long haul no matter what, or you’re not. If you’re not, it ain’t marriage.
Just hoping you can make it work until “death do us part”, is not good enough. That’s not a marriage. A real marriage is a covenant. A commitment that goes beyond any promise to “feel” a certain way about somebody for any length of time. It’s a life-long bond we are bound to no matter what.
It is only in such a commitment that we are truly set free. Set free to be ourselves without fear of losing the other. Set free to depend on somebody despite their imperfections or our own. Set free to create new life – children – who have every right to be born into that kind of stability. Set free to commit 100% without fear of the other committing only 99%. Set free to fight it out knowing that there’s no way to get thrown out of the ring. This is where relationships thrive. This is where children thrive. This is what makes marriage an amazing adventure unlike any other kind of relationship. Do not accept anything less.
How long is a Marriage?
(PS – There are also other important aspects that make up a true marriage, but are issues for another post.)