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Counter-cultural truths about marriage

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Photographer Captures Tornado in Couple's Wedding Pictures, a tornado touches in the distant background while a bride and groom walk down a country road in Saskatchewan, Canada, July 5, 2014 (Credit: Colleen Niska Photography via Facebook)

In a recent article for Relevant, Debra K. Fileta discussed some concerning findings about the way that almost half of millennials view marriage. Fileta cites a survey in Time that showed that 43% of millennials (18-34 years of age) stated that they would be in favor of a marriage model that was essentially a two-year trial run. After that two year period, the marriage could either be made official or ended without the messy process of divorce. The writer referred to the model as “beta-marriages.” While there is much that could be said about this model for marriage, Fileta chose instead to discuss the deeper issue of why this sort of approach is legitimately appealing to so many and what can be done about it. To that end, she shares three “counter-cultural-truths” that help to shine the light on some of the common misconceptions about marriage in today’s society.   

She begins by arguing that “marriage is not about lifelong happiness and fulfillment.” The search for those qualities places the focus on you, as an individual, when a marriage should be about loving another person so much that you prioritize your spouse over yourself. In giving that kind of love, we grow closer to the kind of people that God created us to be. Fileta concludes that “marriage isn’t about becoming happier. It’s about becoming better. But ironically, in becoming better, we often find that we’ve also become happier.”

The second truth is that “a healthy form of beta-testing does exist.” That beta-testing should take place over the course of dating, but unfortunately that is not often the case. Fileta argues that dating has become so focused on feelings and emotions that “logic, truth, and compatibility” have little place in deciding whether or not a relationship will work. That is not to say that every question can be answered before marriage or that emotions have no place. However, feelings should not be the sole guiding force in making what should be one of the most important and lasting decisions of your life.

To her list, I would also add a healthy dose of prayer and a willingness to allow God to take the lead in guiding your relationship. No one wants you to find the right relationship more than your perfect heavenly Father and, if you’ll let him, he will guide you as you walk through that process.

The final truth Fileta addresses is her belief that, contrary to how it may seem at times, “relationships can be done right.” However, for that to happen you have to know yourself first. She argues that we “get so caught up in trying to find the right one that we lose ourselves and our God-given identity in the process.” Her basic warning is that if you don’t know who you are, you can’t know who would be the right person with whom to be in a relationship. Again, God can guide you in this process but not if you are trying to find your identity in another person rather than in him.

Ultimately, even the best marriage advice is likely to fall short if God is not a central part of your relationship. God designed us to need him in order to have the kind of abundant life he longs to give (John 10:10). When we try and replace him with a spouse, a friend, or any other kind of relationship, we are accepting less than his perfect will for us. For many people, marriage is meant to be a part of that perfect will and a source of encouragement, peace, and joy as we go through life. However, marriage, or any relationship, can only accomplish that purpose when God is a vital part of it.

So what role does God have in your relationships today? God will not bless what he is not a part of and he will not force his way into your relationships any more than he would force his way into your heart. If invited though, he will fill your life and your relationships with his presence and in his presence there is peace, order, and joy. Would that characterize your relationships today?