To Marry, or not to Marry: That is the RIGHT question!

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To Marry, or not to Marry: That is the RIGHT question!

Do you want to get married? Let me give you some reasons to say no to that question.

 

Marriage, in a majority of cases, is a most galling yoke. There are thousands that are mated but not matched. The books of heaven are burdened with the woes, the wickedness, and the abuse that lie hidden under the marriage mantle.[1]

 

Okay, maybe I had a rough week with too many bickering couples in my office, but I can’t deny the facts. Marriage is hard.

 

It’s also beautiful and blessed. God established marriage in Eden, at the very genesis of life on earth. In marriage, we see two become one, male and female blending to become the image of God.[2] Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding, serving to bless and sacralize the institution.[3]

 

Paul uses the marriage relationship as a metaphor for the love of Christ for His church:

 

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. (Ephesians 5:25).

 

Some research says marriage enhances health. In particular, men benefit, engaging in fewer risk behaviors such as smoking, and enjoying overall better health, well-being and longevity.[4]

 

Marriage can be powerfully evangelistic. It forms the basis of a family, and “one well-ordered, well-disciplined family tells more in behalf of Christianity than all the sermons that can be preached.”[5]

 

Ultimately, we can’t make an absolute out of the marriage question. Is it right? Is it wrong? Well, yes, depending upon your calling. According to Paul, celibacy is a gift:

 

For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. (1 Corinthians 7:7, italics supplied).

 

God calls individuals differently, such that our effort should be to discern our gift and calling, not pass a universal dictum. The church has inadvertently created a culture of marriage idolatry, with the unfortunate effect of abnormalizing singleness.

 

This plays out rather awkwardly: As soon as a marriageable-aged person appears in church circles, the matchmakers scramble about for a partner as if finding a cure for a terminal disease.

 

The irony deepens when we realize that many matchmakers’ marriages resemble hell on earth. One wonders if their efforts to create a happy romance is compensatory. In any case, if we want to follow the Word of God, we need to embrace and normalize both singleness and marriage.

 

“Should I marry?”

 

So, our first question is not: “Who should I marry?” but: “Should I marry?”

 

We discover the answer to that question through the still, small voice of God speaking to our hearts individually. The biblical passage that most directly addresses this question is in Paul’s first letter to Corinth, one of the most debauched cities of ancient times, a populous that worshipped pleasure and sported a temple with 1000 prostitutes[6]:

 

It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.

The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.

For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:1-9).

 

It seems pretty clear that the writer thinks along these lines: Singleness is ideal, but considering sex drive to be the ferocious force it is, some should marry. Notice that partners who withhold sex “deprive” the other, indicating that sex comes close to being a need, at least in the context of marriage.

 

Some would accuse Paul of having a very animalistic view of human nature as if marriage centers on sex. But then perhaps he’s just being practical. Sex is hard to resist! Rather than set an inflamed person up to fail, he reasons, channel their drive into a place where it can do good, fostering a bond of life-long, godly love.

 

Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? (Proverbs 5:15-16).

 

Before you dismiss sex drive being part of the marriage question, realize that some research indicates that high sex drive may be inherited. In one study, higher interest in sex was present in people who had a gene called dopamine D4.[7]

 

In addition, certain disorders such as dementia and bipolar can cause hypersexuality. The point is that not all come to the sex drive table with the same lunch. Plus, some of us have forms of sexual brokenness, such as same-sex attraction or transgenderism, that make creation-based, biblical marriage difficult.

 

And not all possess the same level of desire or ability to emotionally bond as closely as is necessary in a marriage.[8] Prayer, counsel, and careful consideration can help us come to terms with whether or not marriage or singleness will work better for us.

 

“Who should I marry?”

 

If the answer to the “Should I marry?” question is a resounding “Yes!” then put the “Who” back in place and start doing the hard work of choosing a life partner. But I say “hard work” realizing that God has created us with natural eroticism that blossoms like a flower in springtime. Not everything about partnership requires effort. First and foremost, God wants us to actually like our partner.

 

I heard the story of a young couple who checked out all the questions about career, how their lives could join in ministry, their values, and principles, and check, check, check, they decided to get married. As they drove off into the sunset, he put his arm around her and she thought, “He won’t want to have sex with me, will he?”

 

They’d become so involved in the “right” way to form a partnership, they’d forgotten about the very natural, beautiful, flowering of romance. A warm, bright springtime softens the soil of the garden of lifelong love and allows the roots to go deep. Don’t be afraid of those powerful, sensuous, rich feelings. They benefit us in the long haul.

 

One man courted a woman who all “the brethren” thought perfect for him. Both leaders in ministry, they’d form the perfect Christian power couple. But something was off. Their conversations didn’t really flow; in fact, they couldn’t even carry on a conversation. He decided against the relationship when he read the following statement:

 

We are not to please ourselves, for Christ pleased not Himself. I would not be understood to mean that anyone is to marry one whom he does not love. This would be sin. But fancy and the emotional nature must not be allowed to lead on to ruin. God requires the whole heart, the supreme affections.[9]

 

I’ve too often seen consecrated young people approach the question of who to marry as if God could care less how they feel. But what kind of God would ask someone to form the closest, most enduring of human relationships with someone they don’t like? It’s wonderful when we allow divine love to flow in where natural affection fails; but God gave us those natural affections, including romantic love, for a purpose.

 

When people ask God, “Is this the one?” I tend to see Him coming alongside them, saying, “What do you think?” I shy away from God dictating to a person who they will marry without engaging with them in the development of the relationship.

 

I bought a house a while ago after considering several options, some of which were better buys than the one I settled with. But I didn’t like those houses. I fell in love with a little farm on a lake in a low-income neighborhood.

 

I could see myself waking up every day with birds singing, sun reflecting off the water, saying, “I’m so glad I live here” even if some days of the year I heard loud music over the fence. I liked the place enough to put up with the flaws. If we can possibly wake up every day glad we live somewhere, with someone, let’s do it.

 

But let’s include some practical considerations, too. The best three process-guiding questions I know are:

 

  1. Am I ready?
  2. Are they ready?
  3. Are we compatible?

 

Readiness

 

In answering the readiness question, let’s first rule out the deal-breakers. To put it bluntly, these situations constitute a “no.”

 

If either person has unresolved addiction to substances, pornography, food, media, gambling, relationships, or shopping for hats at Filene’s Bargain Basement, make it your first effort to resolve the addiction.

 

Yes, the dopamine/adrenaline high of a romance can act like methadone to a heroin addict, so you may feel as if the romance is curing you. But unless you deal with the underlying cognitive and behavioral habits, your addiction will return once your brain chemicals return to normal, usually within a year or two of marriage.

 

Unresolved relationship baggage constitutes another red flag because it imposes drama from the outside. For instance, a relationship with someone in the throes of a bitter divorce and or custody battle may turn a suitor into an instant white-knight hero, but it will be difficult to know if the damsel in distress loves him for him, or for saving her.

 

Consider also that it’s very difficult to say whether bitter angst over a breakup is a state or a trait. If a state, the person will forgive, move on, and be able to bond with someone else. If a trait, they won’t, and they will likely become bitter toward any partner.

 

Financial and legal encumbrances must also be carefully considered. A person with a criminal charge who may have to serve jail time could be your own sentence of separation. Once you cross the altar, money they owe becomes money you owe. Make sure you know all the relevant details about one another’s backgrounds, including serious mistakes and whether repentance and amend-making have repaired them as far as possible.

 

A person considering marriage needs basic relational maturity. This includes the ability to make and keep a bond. The best way to determine this is the quality of existing family and friendship bonds. God arranged our bonding journey into stages from mother/child, to father/child, to sibling, to friends, and then life partners. Each stage builds upon the last.

 

The trust, conflict resolution, and communication skills learned in friendship prepare us for (hopefully) the best friend we’ll ever have—our spouse. Ask: “Does my lover have good friends? Are they healthy relationships, or just fun-time camaraderie? Does he or she resolve conflict well?”

 

In addition, pay attention to family relationships. While it’s unfair to blame a person for a chaotic family, we must be realistic about the effect of poor relationship history. Unless a person proactively works to relearn how to love, those early experiences will continue to influence. Cycles can be broken, but they don’t break themselves.

 

Sister Ellen asked this question about a man:

 

If he does not respect and honor his mother, will he manifest respect and love, kindness and attention, toward his wife?[10]

 

True, this question somewhat assumes the mother to be a mother; some mothers don’t deserve the title. Likewise, with fathers: child-abandoners or abusers aren’t fathers in the true sense of the term.

 

But the point Ellen makes here is that regardless of the worthiness of our parents, we have a choice as to whether or not to apply the principle of “render therefore to all their due: honor to whom honor.”[11] Based on the principle of giving honor to those who have sacrificed for us, most of us can honor our parents, who at least clothed and fed us as we grew.

 

Compatibility

 

If you see a clear path forward so far, consider the issue of compatibility. Now, this is a hard one given the spiritual dimension of life. God works with our humanity, but can also stretch us beyond our humanity. We can be, humanly speaking, incompatible with someone and yet still learn to love them.

But from what I understand about how God blends the practical and the spiritual in a life partner decision, we should be as considerate of our humanity as possible, given that even the best matches require us to sacrifice and grow. Compatibility arenas include religious beliefs, basic life plan, social network, and temperament.

 

We’re told not to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”[12] We should have the same basic religious convictions, including denominational membership, with our partner. This isn’t God being a buzzkill, it’s God preserving us from heartache. Even within the same denomination, huge variances exist, so we will leave ourselves plenty to negotiate even as believers.

 

Beyond religious beliefs and memberships, make sure your devotion to Jesus precedes your devotion to one another. “A genuine conversion changes hereditary and cultivated tendencies to wrong.”[13] Your ability to love one another as Jesus loves means everything to the success or failure of your marriage; your conversion means everything to your ability to love.

 

Life-purpose considerations also come into play in the compatibility question. If one person feels called to become a brain surgeon for the Mayo Clinic and the other wants to live in the 10-40 window as a bush missionary, that would be a mismatch. Make sure your respective life plans coordinate well.

 

Consider also who the two of you are, socially-speaking. Do you like each other’s friends? Do you feel good about the other’s social presence, or are there shame moments? Choosing someone from your own social circle, or at least your extended social circle is a safer bet than a total stranger because you have a built-in background check.

 

If Denise meets Tony and Denise’s friend’s cousin knows that Tony gave his two previous wives bruises and broken hearts, Denise needs to know that. Conveyance of insignificant personal mistakes is gossip; honest warnings about danger is not.

 

In closing, let me put my grumpy marriage counselor hat back on. Keep your life simple and don’t do it. But if you must, if you feel called, and if you want the adventure of a lifetime, pray and move forward trembling at every step.

Click here to read the rest of Jennifer’s series on Adventist Sexuality

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Notes.

[1] Ellen White, Adventist Home (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1952), p. 44.

[2] Genesis 1:27.

[3] John 2:1-11.

[4] Harvard Men’s Health Watch, “Marriage and men’s health,” Harvard Health Publishing, July 2010.

[5] Ellen White, Adventist Home (1952), p. 32.

[6] Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, p. 1507.

[7] Helen Pearson, “Differences in sexual appetite might be partly determined by our genes,” Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science, May 2006.

[8] Chris Matyszczyk, “Is There a Gene that Keeps You Single?” CNet, November 21, 2016.

[9] Ellen White, Adventist Home (1952), p. 43; italics supplied.

[10] Ellen White, Adventist Home (1952), p. 47.

[11] Romans 13:7.

[12] 2 Corinthians 6:14

[13] Ellen White, Mind, Character, and Personality, v. 1 (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1977), p. 145.

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About the author

Jennifer Schwirzer

Jennifer Schwirzer is an author, musician, and counselor. She blogs at jenniferjill.org.