But, in this post, I will put forth why I think being married, especially before God, enables a couple to achieve greater intimacy and growth. Whether or not you agree with me, I hope that you will be drawn to consider how you can further strengthen your relationship.
So, what difference does it make as to the nature of the tie that binds a couple? Loren Fox, in the March 20, 2014 issue of The Atlantic, described a very interesting study by Ariella Kuperberg of the University of Pennsylvania who analyzed whether living together before marriage made a significant difference in rates of relationship break up. Looking at Data for U.S. government National Surveys of Family and Growth, but controlling for age at time of commitment, resulted in the following conclusion:
"Moving in together without a diamond ring involved didn’t, on its own, lead to divorce. Instead, she found that the longer couples waited to make that first serious commitment, the better their chances for marital success."
There are other studies that report contradictory findings. Jeanna Bryner, Managing Editor at Live Science on July 14, 2009 cited a study by Galena Rhoades of the University of Denver that couples who live together before marriage reported "significantly lower quality marriages and a greater potential for split-ups." Whether they controlled for age at time of commitment wasn't stated.
But let's assume that an official marriage ceremony makes no difference to the odds of an exclusive relationship breaking up. Even so, I will repeat my claim that I think that the institution of marriage provides for a better environment for developing intimacy and growth. Why?
Yes, it would be much simpler to save all of the costs of a caterer, hall and invitations and instead simply post that you have found a friend with such great benefits that you’re not "befriending" anyone new. There you go. Two people, one rent, shared expenses. Sexual chemistry. What more could you want? Hopefully, a lot.
First of all, I would think that anything that easy to get into is easier to get out of. But, as social norms have changed and the concept of marriage loses its "before God" commitment, the whole concept of marriage is taken less seriously than it used to be. So, as a result, divorce, although traumatic, especially if there are children, becomes more doable.
What if we took the concept of marriage out of the realm of a business relationship? Instead consider marriage from a spiritual perspective: the story of Adam and Eve highlights how different the foundation of a marriage could be.
When Adam and Eve were created, regardless of how you understand the story, they were initially a single united being that was a hermaphrodite with all components to it. This was unlike the animals that were created as separate male and female. Humans were created as one being. The being 'Adam and Eve' were of one soul. When God separated Adam and Eve into physically separated individuals, their soul was separated as well. They then longed to reconnect on both a physical and spiritual level.
How does a friend with benefits compare to the reuniting of two souls? Beyond the poetic feel, I think that a relationship based on this goal of reunion takes on a new depth. However, you can counter that as long as two people find each other, then the legality of their union is irrelevant. I would agree with you if you were merely speaking about forms to fill out and tax categories to enter. So let's go further.
The commandments that were given by God to the children of Israel fall into two categories. The Dos and the Don'ts. There are certain actions you are required to do. There are more actions that you are not supposed to do. Furthermore, regardless of which category a particular commandment belongs to, many of them make sense in terms of building social bonds and producing a law abiding society. Other commandments, however, would not seem to fit into these categories. What does shaking 4 bound plant species accomplish (Leviticus 23:40)? Why not mix meat and milk (Exodus 23:19, Ex 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21)? Why not mix wool and linen in an article of clothing (Leviticus 19:19, Deuteronomy 22:11)?
Can we understand the rationale behind the commandments? We certainly can. Sometimes. Yes, the commandment of "do not murder" is understandable. But, what about the ones mentioned above? What if they weren't designed to meet our limited understanding? Perhaps, observing a commandment because God said to do so has merit. What if there are consequences to our actions that are beyond our understanding?
Here is analogy: imagine going to heaven after you pass away. As you are judged for your actions, you are told that you will be given credit for the healing that Dr. X will accomplish. While you are happy and appreciate this news, you are confused because you don't even recognize the person's name.
You inquire and are told that you once briefly befriended a sad, young man and, as a result, he developed a much more positive attitude. Years later, he used the confidence that he gained from you to apply himself and become a physician. As a result of your caring, many lives will be improved and even saved.
Who would have thought that small actions can have such powerful effects? If you think more mystically, then our actions in this world have effects in higher worlds that we have no idea about.
So, let's bring this back to the realm of marriage. You are very angry with something that your spouse did. You are really triggered and want to say something very condescending. But, as you look at your partner, you think, "I was given this person as my soulmate. They were created in the image of God as I was." So, instead of starting an argument, you tell your spouse that you love them. Yes, you are upset, but that doesn't change the fact that they deserve to be treated with kindness.
On a practical level this is wise. On a higher level, you overcome your nature and transform yourself into a more caring individual. Actions create reality and your actions become holy as does your home. A sanctuary of love is being created in a world that is so filled with negativity. Can this be achieved without the marriage bond? Perhaps. But, I imagine that it is less likely. If you truly cherish the opportunity that God has given you, then I think that you are more likely to stick with things even when they get difficult.
I am hoping that as you keep reading these postings that you will gain hope that change is possible. After all, maybe you just need a reminder that your spouse is more than a tax shelter or even a great friend. You share the same soul and if truly dedicated, can grow tremendously together.
Best wishes for a wonderful, committed marriage,