“May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer– may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love” – Proverbs 5:18-19. Many people yearn to get married. Under the protection of the law and the blessings of God, they want to have that special someone with whom they can share the intimate details of their lives; with whom they are the most important person in the whole world. They want a safe space in which they can deeply love and be loved in return. In marriage you get to be the A-lister or megastar on the red carpet of you and your spouse’s lives. Of all the relationships out there, it really doesn’t get any better than being married, ideally.
This perspective of marriage can oftentimes seem to be out of touch with reality however. Most of us can attest to knowing married folks who don’t have a shadow of that type of life or love. Many marriages out there are sad, loveless, dishonest, lonely, painful, life-threatening and downright toxic. Moreover the ones that appear to be great are few and some are secretly skeptical about their endurance. Still this doesn’t deter the wave of newlyweds who march down the aisle, bright-eyed about the future; beaming with undying love and passion. But how is this voluntary ‘confinement’ of two people who must love each other forever, regardless of all the curves and turns of life, expected to play out? Or worst yet, what can they do to preserve happiness ‘until death do us part’?
A very important part of the emotional/spiritual mechanic of the marriage design is oneness; something that seems to be a lost art in marriages today. “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘ for she was taken out of man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” – Genesis 2:22-24. ‘One flesh’ suggests a uniformity of perspectives, values and vision and it makes sense for this uniformity to be confirmed before going down the aisle and not wishfully hoping for it after vows have been made and etched on binding contracts.
The application of this ideology of oneness is easily understood and agreed when it comes to living together, enjoying sexual relations, building a family unit and so on. However if the two have truly become one – does this apply to all areas of their lives? How are money, phones and friendships with the opposite sex treated for example? Even if there are separate bank accounts with separate debit and credit cards for each spouse, is there an understanding that the aggregate of all monies and assets are mutually owned by them both? If that is not the understanding but rather that the man owns what he earns and the woman owns what she earns, is there truly oneness in the marriage? Also, can you have a best friend (particularly of the opposite sex) who is closer to you than your spouse? This is dangerous and should be discouraged if oneness is truly the aim. If we accept that a marriage is the cleaving together of a man and his wife, then there really ought not to be a third party that causes discomfort. On the other hand if the spouse is nonsensically and consistently jealous then maybe pastoral counselling should be sought.
An area that is increasingly touchy among some married couples is the privacy of their electronics; indeed gadgets have become a key part of how we individually express ourselves and connect with the world. But if the thought of having your spouse look at any of your personal emails, texts or Whatsapp makes you uncomfortable then something is not quite right. Either there is a secrecy/trust issue or who you are being in your messages is different from who you are being in your marriage. The truth is that the phone or tablet should not be treated any differently from your bed or your bodies that lie together on it. ‘If your body is not your own’, meaning your spouse has access to you, to share your thoughts, to observe and admire you, to take care of you in sickness and in health, to behold your unclothed loveliness and to engage in lovemaking with you, then they should have uninhibited access to all of you and your other accoutrements such as bank accounts, tablets etc.
Cultivating intimacy however is more than just sharing openly and planning and plotting your lives, it is also about being deliberately vulnerable and spending time together. “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” (Deuteronomy 24:5) Many life coaches teach that you should already be happy as an individual before going into a relationship, which is true. Depressed broken people should get it together before becoming one with someone else. However the verse reminds us that we should also proactively “bring happiness” to our spouses. So there should be a clear focus on pleasing your partner (whether sexually, emotionally or physically) rather than merely facilitating or enduring each other.
So what if you didn’t take the time out to build that nest of togetherness in the first year? Start somewhere. Already 2 years, 5 years, 10 years or more into the marriage? It doesn’t matter – plan a period of investing in your marriage for however long you can afford. Learn about your wife’s love language again and figure out what makes your husband feel like the hero he hopes he can be for you. And feel free to repeat that period of focused attention on your spouse as often as possible.
Another obvious key to keeping marriages merry is fidelity. Of course this goes without saying but still needs to be said if you take a careful look around. Faithfulness in a marriage is critical to maintaining oneness, trust and peace. Faithfulness without genuine efforts to love and care for each other is not enough, but is vital nonetheless. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” – Hebrews 13:4. Furthermore as god-fearing people, it is interesting to note that treating your spouse poorly or unfaithfully can cause the universe to frown on your life; bad Karma some may call it. Here is what Malachi 2: 13-15 says: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant…So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.”
So let both the husband and wife guard their marriage dearly; being careful to live a life of oneness, dedication and faithfulness ‘until death do us part’. And let them embrace the powers of forgiveness everyday knowing just how imperfect we all are. Certainly of all the relationships out there, it really doesn’t get any better than being married, ideally. Moreover, a great marriage makes for a great family and great families make better communities and a happier place for us all to live.
Married with 3 children, Shelly-Ann Harris is a blogger, communication specialist and women’s empowerment advocate who sits on the board of a local women’s development organisation. @harrisshellyann firstname.lastname@example.org