In a recent New York Times Opinion Piece, Professor of Clinical Psychology Meg Jay observes that, “[a] majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation.”
Most of us know people who live and sleep together before marriage. Cohabitation has become a cultural norm that dominates the dating to marriage landscape.
The truth is insecurity dominates all of our significant relationships. We have a need to be in relationship with others, and, yet many of our closest relationships remain in flux. Knowing this, many of us hope to game the system when it comes to marriage. We want to find a way around the inevitable pain and disappointment that comes from relating to others; the same disappointment and bitterness that many of us have experienced through the divorce of parents. We think cohabiting will help us get to know the person better before we move on to marriage or another relationship. Maybe with enough experience we’ll be able to come up with the right dynamic that helps us with long term success in marriage. Many women see cohabitation as a step to marriage, while men can view it as a way to delay commitment and marriage.
In short, our vision of marriage and living together has become too small.
If we want to avoid the messy divorces of our parents’ generation we have to find a surer way forward. We can’t run away from insecurity and pain in relating but we can help live into the dynamics that these relationships present to us.
Marriage is designed to help both couples grow in wholeness and mutual enjoyment through love, commitment, sacrifice, and service. I take the words of Jesus to heart, “there is no greater love than giving your life for your friend.” I think that’s a pretty apt metaphor for marriage. I don’t have any greater love to give than to look to my wife’s interests before mine.
I don’t do this to be taken advantage of, but out of the need to lay aside my own worries and insecurities in simple acts of service. This sort of disposition helps me to act in a loving way that is good for my wife yes, but more importantly is good for the health of the marriage itself. There will be times when I need to rely on the love and service of my spouse to get me through the day. By modeling that love I can find a dynamic way forward for the marriage.
Many of us need tools to be able to adequately handle the strain and inevitable sin that comes in marriage. There are acts that separate us from God and each other, these acts manifest themselves in sin most often in the form of pride and a rush to hurt those who have caused us pain.
To deal with sin we have to learn about the sin in our own lives and the need to pursue forgiveness with our significant other. I say pursue because too many of us fail to live out the practices of forgiveness. Forgiveness involves confronting the other person with our pain and emotions and choosing, with God’s help, to release them from the retribution we think they rightly deserve. We forgive our spouse because we know that we ourselves will need forgiveness in the relationship if the relationship is to have the short of staying dynamics needed to last.
We have forgotten what it means to be the sort of people who forgive and are forgiven by others. Too often our relationships end in deep mistrust and pain, the only sure antidote to that sort of relational transience is an active willingness to love and forgive, a willingness that comes from living out authentic faith.