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What Does It Take To Make A Marriage Survive?

Recently, the NY Times revealed it had devised a mathematical formula that could predict the longevity of celebrity marriages. It claims that it had accurately predicted the demise of the union of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline as well as Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher way back in 2006.

Shockingly, it also predicts the demise of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith‘s marriage, before their upcoming 15th anniversary. Khloe Kardashian Odom and Lamar Odom, as well as Jessica Simpson and her beau, they claim, will share the same fate. They did predict a 60% chance of success for Beyonce and JayZ, Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford, and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The royal couple, Will and Kate, they predict, have a marriage built to last.

Celebrity Marriages Are Known For Their Lack of Longevity

We all know celebrity marriages are notorious for being short-term projects, much like the movies they star in. But its not just celebrity marriages that have been dissolving as rapidly as sugar in water. Increasingly, marriages between heterosexual and homosexual couples are failing. There’s now a 50/50 chance that, within 5 years after someone says “I do”, they’ll say “I don’t” (Five years is not a given either as illustrated by the coupling of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, which lasted a total of 72 days.)

This bothersome trend, and the fact that it seems to cross all ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic boundaries, raises the question: just what does it take to make a marriage survive? And the related question: Is monogamy unnatural?

Warning: The Following Views Are Counter-Cultural!

Let me begin by saying the views I am about to express are mine. I am a heterosexual, Christian female who believes that monogamy and marriage are not only natural, but desirable and that there are several important ingredients that contribute to their longevity and survival.

Christian vs. Non-Christian Marriage

First, let me address Christian couples for whom the Bible is the first and last word on the subject. For Christian couples, five ingredients are essential to the survival of any marriage relationship:

1. Jesus Christ: He is at the center of the marital union. His sacrificial love for His people is the model for all Christian marriages. A husband is to love his wife the way Christ loves His people: selflessly and sacrificially. And the wife submits to her husband’s final decision-making authority, not because he is superior in any way, but out of love.

2. Purpose: The original purpose of marriage as defined by God was to populate the earth and to be stewards of earth’s resources. Bringing little souls into the world and training them to be good stewards of those resources has always been the goal and objective of Christian marriage.

3. Relational intimacy: God is a God of relationship and in His essential being, He reflects the idea of connectedness. Having been made in His image, we are hardwired with a deep need for intimacy. Marriage and monogamy are uniquely designed to fulfill this need. Logically, intimacy is greatly reduced the more one spreads oneself among various partners.

4. Commitment: Marriage is a covenant. Although this word has gone out of use and fashion, its modern equivalent, commitment, is very clear, despite people’s issues with it. A covenant is a contract, an agreement that binds one by word and deed to the terms of the agreement. When two Christians marry ( and that by the way, is also the Christian model, for two people who both believe in Jesus Christ to marry), they are agreeing to follow Jesus, to love God, each other and themselves and to support one another in their joint mission as stewards of God’s resources. As C.H. Spurgeon said, “Wholeheartedness is demonstrated by perseverance.” If your heart is in it, you will stick it out through the inevitable ups and downs that come with such a significant mission.

5. Love: Love is absolutely a critical ingredient in any marriage. The fact that it is last on this list is no indicator of its importance. Christian love is not the flimsy, fickle, little word used to describe our feelings toward everything from french fries to a pair of shoes. No. Love, as it is used in a Christian context, is a verb. It is an action; specifically, a commitment to do no violence or harm to another creature, but to treat others with the same respect, concern and care we would like to receive ourselves.

With these five ingredients, the grace of God is available to Christian couples to face the challenges of life in this fallen, sin-ridden world.

Non-Christian Marriages

Now, for non-Christian couples, true Christian marriage is the ideal, the highest and best model, but the reality of modern day American society is that more and more people are choosing to avoid organized religion of any denomination. They are devising their own models for what a happy, successful marriage looks like. The problem is non-Christian marriages fall apart at about the same rate as their Christian counterparts. So what does it take for their marriages to survive?

I submit that the ingredients a Christian marriage needs to survive are the same ones a non-Christian marriage needs:

1. Jesus Christ: to take away their sins; to teach them their purpose, how to commit to one another; to nurture and protect the relational intimacy they both crave and how to love

2. A purpose, not just passion, or more accurately, lust

3. Commitment to the growth and development of the relationship and each other

4. Relational intimacy: Monogamy provides the space each person needs to grow and develop by establishing a nurturing and emotionally safe environment

5. Love: the decision to do no violence or harm to the person we are married to.

In The End, It’s All About Survival

While the NY Times formula claims to have accurately predicted the demise of various celebrity unions, it offers no guidance or assistance to couples who are either already married or contemplating entering into the marital state, as to what it takes for a marriage to survive.

Survival is all about overcoming obstacles. It’s about facing challenges head on and making the decision to fight with everything you have to stay true to your purpose. It’s about doing the work that comes with that decision: the work of continually examining and evaluating yourself to be sure you’re living intentionally and with honesty and integrity. That’s the kind of work too many people don’t want to do.

In marriage, ( as with anything that challenges our natural desire to do whatever we want, whenever and with whomever we want), survival demands a choice, a decision for the marriage. A marriage cannot survive if each person doesn’t choose to nourish it with what it needs to survive.

It’s not easy but in the end, it’s worth the hassle.

(c) 2012 V. Stanley

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