Lasting Commitment in an Age of Divorce
When it comes to love and commitment the message we get from society is clear –nothing lasts forever.
Love, as presented in films, novels, and music, is a powerful emotion that ebbs and flows and eventually flames out. Sometimes this flameout is staggeringly short. From Letterman to Fallon to TMZ we are brought up to date on short lived celebrity marriages: pop princess Britney Spears and actor Jason Alexander (55 hours), model Carmen Electra and ex-pro basketball player Dennis Rodman (9 days), Drew Barrymore and Jeremy Thomas (19 days), singer/actress Jennifer Lopez and former backup dancer Cris Judd (8 months), tennis great Chris Evert and professional golfer Greg Norman (15 months), and so on. After separating from his wife after eight days actor Dennis Hopper commented, “Seven of the days were pretty good. It was the eighth day that was the bad one.” Every day we inhale the cultural message that love is ambiguous, flimsy, and unstable.
Every day we inhale the cultural message that love is ambiguous, flimsy, and unstable.
High school students apparently have been deeply influenced by the Britney Spears of the world as evidenced in how they now refer to marriage. A first marriage is often described as a starter marriage. Just as you buy a starter house with the idea of moving on to something bigger and better, teens view a first marriage as a learning experience. While not planning to divorce, nevertheless they view it as a stepping-stone to a hopefully more lasting marriage.
Can we blame them?
Divorce has become a tragically common occurrence. On my son’s soccer team three couples divorced in the space of one year. Half the kids in the church Bible study I lead come from broken families. A whole niche industry has even sprung up celebrating the act of divorce. A friend of mind recently mentioned a website that sells miniature coffins for a person desiring to not only bury a failing relationship, but his or her wedding ring as well. The site reads: “Give a dead marriage its proper, final resting place. The Wedding Ring Coffin is the perfect gift for yourself.”
How the divorce culture affects our marital climate:
The fear that your marriage may not make it poses the greatest threat to your marital climate. While all couples experience struggles during marriage, there’s a significant difference between being secure in the relationship as you face struggles and being worried that difficulties could end the marriage. In light of today’s sober statistics concerning divorce many couples live with the unspoken fear that their marriage will not make it.
The fear that your marriage may not make it poses the greatest threat to your marital climate.
Tragically, many couples within the Christian community also live with the fear that their marriage may not make it. According to research from The Barna Group, Christians are less likely to live together before marriage but just as likely to divorce as non-Christians. The study reports that 33% of all born again Christians have gone through a divorce, which is statistically identical to the divorce rate among non-born again adults (34%). The Barna Group concludes that in America the institution of marriage is not as stable as it once was. Unfortunately, that appears to apply equally for both those inside and outside the walls of the Christian community.
The Scriptures take a dramatically different view of love and commitment and call us to a higher standard. In the Song of Solomon, Solomon’s bride exclaims: “Love is stronger than death” (8:6). Her point is simple: only physical death can end my commitment to you. In a time when many American couples call it quits in less than five years, we need to adopt this biblical perspective. The first step to cultivating a lasting marriage is to verbalize, like this young bride, a life-long commitment to each other.
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. His most recent publication, Defending Your Marriage, speaks to spiritual warfare in marriage and how to equip yourself to defend your relationship. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.