Valentine’s Day is only ten days away. That means “Marriage Week” starts this week on Thursday, February 7. For those fortunate enough to be married, or even for those in non-committed relationships, this is a good time to evaluate the health of our relationships and their likelihood of lasting.
For while ‘sustainability’ seems to be a concept everybody accepts as necessary for the future of society and our planet, paradoxically few seem to care about relational sustainability. Serial or even simultaneous relationships appear quite acceptable in our society today.
Dr John Gottman, in his book ‘What makes love last?’, refers to extensive research in the US showing that couples who cohabit without engagement usually have a low-trust relationship. While the researchers expected to discover that the longer a couple lived together, the more their level of trust would mirror a married couple’s, their research actually showed the opposite.
When you think about it, that makes sense. The reason you don’t make a commitment is that you want to keep your options open. Maybe someone more attractive will come along one day. You see few lasting marriages around you among your parents, your friends, your work colleagues or your relatives. In our ‘selfie’ society, fewer seem ready to make the sacrifice necessary for a long-term committed relationship which takes priority over other goals and dreams, such as career, sexual excitement or ‘self-authentication’.
Marriage is not exclusively a biblical concept. Societies and cultures practised expressions of marriages long before the Bible came into existence. Marriage has been widely recognised as part of the natural order, affirmed by God’s revealed will, as in the Genesis record of the creation of man and woman as complementary beings together constituting ‘one flesh’. Here is the basic building block of the human race, the smallest necessary unit enabling the future of humanity.
Biblical marriage is based on covenant, or unconditional commitment, of the sort God first initiated towards humans. Many today think more in terms of contract – so long as things go well, until someone more attractive appears, we’ll share our lives together. But covenant is for keeps: ‘from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part’.
Covenant is in turn based on the Biblical concept of hesed, a Hebrew word translated variously as lovingkindness, kindness, faithfulness, mercy, goodness, loyalty and steadfast love. Hesed is an attribute of God’s character (Exodus 34:6-7). The prophet Micah articulated the duty of God’s people to do justly, to love hesed, and to walk humbly with their God (Mic. 6:8).
‘Marriage Week’, which has caught on in numerous countries in Europe and worldwide, is an opportunity for us to evaluate the hesed factor, our trustworthiness, in our relationships.
Gottman has developed a scientific method of measuring a couple’s trust factor, something he calls the Trust Metric. Why not go through this straightforward test online together and discuss the results over a candle-light meal this coming week?
Gottman’s book also suggests the following ten ways we can betray our lover:
- Conditional commitment: “I’m here for you .. until someone better comes along.”
- A non-sexual affair: Having a ‘work-wife’ or ‘work-husband’ may seem innocent but if we think our partner would be uncomfortable watching our interactions with our colleague, there’s danger ahead.
- Lying: Lies that are uttered to maintain the peace are a breach of trust and hesed.
- Forming a coalition against the partner: Wife and her mother against husband; or husband and his mother against wife.
- Absenteeism or Coldness: Our absence at vital times of emotional need can contribute to a downward relational spiral.
- Withdrawal of sexual interest: Whatever the reason – ageing, weight-gain, negative comparisons, if this withdrawal is not addressed honestly and lovingly, hurt and rejection can undermine the relationship.
- Disrespect: a contemptuous and superior attitude is emotional abuse whether expressed through frequent name-calling or subtle slights.
- Unfairness: Life is not always fair, but a loving, long-term relationship should be a haven from injustice. Common sources of conflict concerning unfairness are housework, finances and children.
- Selfishness: Sustainability means partners need to forfeit their own needs for the common good.
- Breaking promises: broken vow or agreement is as perilous to love as an intentional lie. Unfulfilled promises jeopardize mutual trust.
If every couple would discuss this list at least once a year, identifying areas of vulnerability, there would be a lot more hesed and relational sustainability in our world.
Till next week,