Today, for various reasons, most marriages are undergoing some degree of stress. All human relationships experience strain due to the realities of life. Marriage represents the most intimate human relationship of all, and is probably affected more than any other by those very realities. Consequently, every marriage undergoes degrees of stress.
However, there is a more specific reason all marriages experience stress. Our present-day societal structures are groaning and creaking from various changes that are continually bombarding our cultural foundations. Since every marriage is an integral part of the total culture, these changes—philosophical, moral, economic and technological—all affect society in general and marriages in particular.
Dr. Allan Bloom, speaking of marriage in his blockbuster volume entitled The Closing of the American Mind, states that "the decomposition of this bond is surely America's most urgent social problem. But," he continues, "nobody ever tries to do anything about it. The tide seems irreversible. Among the many items on the agenda of those promoting America's moral regeneration, I never find marriage and divorce."
Writing from both a semi-religious and secular perspective, Bloom hit the nail on the head. But, thank God, as Christians, we can do something about this trend in our society—beginning with our own marriages. And this, perhaps, will be our greatest gift to our children, who face deteriorating marital structures in our society, which Bloom considers an irreversible trend. As believers, we can be "in the world," and yet "not part of it"—providing we look at God's guidelines and principles for marriage and, with God's help, commit ourselves to applying these principles day by day.
In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he quoted both Moses and Jesus when he stated, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh" (Eph. 5:31; see also Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:5, 6). F. Foulkes has written that "this statement from the creation story is the most profound and fundamental statement in the whole of Scripture concerning God's plan for marriage."
How was "oneness" illustrated in the original creation? When God first created Adam, there was no one with whom he could truly become "one flesh." There was no other human being with whom he could share his life. The implication is clear. It would take another person created in God's image—and Adam's image—to fill that unique role. This is what God meant when He said that He would make a "helper suitable" (Gen. 2:18). This literally means "a help of his life," that is, "a helping being, which, as soon as he sees it, he may recognize himself."This is why Adam exclaimed when he first saw Eve, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man" (Gen. 2:23).
Adam recognized that Eve was like him. Though she was uniquely female, she looked like him, talked like him, walked like him and smiled like him. She was his complement. He could relate to her as to no other living creature. She was another human being.
Eve was indeed one with Adam because she was literally taken from his side. Part of his very physical body became part of Eve's physical body. And before they were ever joined together sexually, they were already, in God's eyes, one flesh.
On the other hand, what caused a man and woman to become one flesh in God's eyes after the original creation? First, we must understand that there is a unique relationship between all men and women. Ever since God created the first man and woman, every male and female reflect the same unity. Together, both men and women are made in God's image (see Gen. 1:27). And together we reflect His image and His creative handiwork.
God's perfect will is that it be a permanent relationship, involving one man and one woman, reflecting the original creation.
But, as we all know, there is an even more unique relationship that God intended. Though He certainly planned for all human beings (both male and female) to fellowship with one another and to relate to one another because of the ongoing oneness inherent in the original creation, there is yet another oneness referred to in Scripture—the oneness that exists between a husband and a wife who join together in sexual intercourse. In this God-created consummation, the original creation is illustrated again and again throughout history. In God's eyes, a man and woman become one flesh and continue to reflect this one flesh relationship in this God-ordained experience.
Part of the great mystery of marriage is that oneness involves more than physical unity. True, in God's eyes, a unique unity takes place when a man and woman join in sexual relationship, whether it be a permanent or a promiscuous relationship (see 1 Cor. 6:15, 16). But God's perfect will is that it be a permanent relationship, involving one man and one woman, reflecting the original creation. This is also why Jesus said to the religious philosophers of His day, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt. 19:6).
It is also true that sexual intercourse was designed by God to be simply the beginning of a growing oneness and unity in marriage—-a unity and oneness that is far more than physical.
Perhaps this can best be illustrated with the way the Bible describes Christian conversion. A person becomes a Christian by placing his faith in Jesus Christ for personal salvation. At that moment, he becomes one with Christ. In this sense, each of us individually, and all Christians collectively, are "married" to Christ. Obviously, this is figurative language, but it is the very picture Paul painted in his Ephesian letter when discussing the relationship that exists between a husband and wife (see Eph. 5:22, 23, 32), as well as between Christ and His followers.
However, becoming one with Christ at conversion—when we personally receive Christ as Savior (see John 1:12)—does not mean that our unity with Christ is experi-entially complete. It is true that God views us as one with Christ the moment we become true believers. But to experience that unity in all of its fullness is yet another matter. As long as Christians are on earth, we have the potential to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ, both personally and corporately. The Bible teaches that someday we will be one with Him in heaven; the process will then be complete. In the book of Revelation, this ultimate experience is called the "marriage supper."
To a certain extent, this process should also be true in a literal marriage, although this human relationship, according to Jesus, will terminate once we leave this earth. We will no longer need this kind of human relationship to be fulfilled and happy. Jesus Christ will be all we need. But, while on earth, our spiritual relationship with Christ illustrates our relationship with our marital partner. The act of sexual intercourse, in God's eyes, indeed makes a man and woman one flesh. But it is designed to be only a beginning point in a great adventure in getting to know each other, not only physically but psychologically and spiritually. True experiential unity and oneness are yet future for a newly married couple. Like our total relationship with Christ, our total relationship with our marital partner must be carefully nurtured and developed. Only then will we begin to experience true oneness.
In God's sight, when a man and woman are joined in a sexual union, they become one, whether or not it is personally or mutually satisfying. But marital unity that is total—physical, psychological and spiritual—involves a process that takes time, insight, sensitivity and effort. Furthermore, it is in this larger context of unity that sexual oneness, which is mutually satisfying, also takes place. Without this broader setting, even sexual satisfaction can become rather meaningless and even boring. All the sexual techniques in the world, without developing total unity, can leave a marriage in shambles. This is one reason why the divorce rate is increasing in our society at a time when we've known more about male and female sexuality than at any other moment in history.
Because it is true that total unity is God's plan for a man and woman, the major part of this study together is designed to help you, as a couple, develop this total unity in marriage. So, let's get started!
As a couple, spend a few minutes discussing with each other a time when you can get together each week to work through this material. Find a place where you will be uninterrupted for a couple of hours.
For example, when we, as a couple, first worked through this process, we found a quiet place in a local park. Weather permitting, we met together, seated at a picnic table, working through personal projects.
The following is a simple contract. As a couple, sign it, agreeing to commit yourself to work through the projects together in this book. Though it may appear an unnecessary request, a contractual commitment of this nature is very helpful when the pressures of other things threaten to sidetrack us from our initial commitments.
As a couple, and with God's help, we covenant together to complete the assignments in this study entitled Partners for Life.