What is marriage and what is its purpose? Broadly defined, marriage is the coming together of a man and woman to share their lives for their mutual benefit, the family and the larger society. From a Christian perspective, a marriage occurs when a free and mature man and a free and mature woman come together for the rest of their lives according God’s will as revealed in Scripture. It is not the coming together of two men or two women but a man and a woman, a husband and wife. The Bible teaches that it was God who offered marriage as a gift to our first human parents, Adam and Eve. So marriage originated with God and not man and woman, although it is for their welfare.
The purpose of marriage is to provide a man and woman with a constant, reliable, life-long companion. In a word marriage is intended for companionship. Companionship among other things means sharing all that can be shared, bodies (through sex), children (if any), emotions, joys, sorrows, finances, ideas, bad times and good times, work, families and friends. The writer of Ecclesiastes puts it humorously and vividly when he writes: “Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12a). Therefore marriage is intended to give each party of the union additional strength, a counselor for difficult moments, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion for all circumstances.
But many marriages in our world today are in trouble. Quite a substantial amount of them do break down completely and end in divorce. Many of them remain in name only (legally still married) but in reality the couples live as if complete strangers to each other. Resentment and rejection replace the earlier love and affection, mutual non-cooperation replaces the sharing that should be the hallmark of a good marriage, meaningful communication is replaced with belligerence (quarrels and fighting), and respect and care are replaced with great disrespect and despising of each other. The each one speaks so ill of the other that one wonders if any love ever exited in the relationship.
The root causes, in the writer’s experience, are: lack of preparation for entering into marriage, not understanding adequately what marriage really entails, marrying for the wrong reasons, unfaithfulness to the marital vows (interference), and children born out of wedlock.
Some enter marriage for the wrong reasons. They see their friends and neighbors get married and so they too rush into it. Others are more attracted by money and material benefits rather than genuine love and appreciation of the other. Still others marry in order to travel abroad. Still some permit physical beauty to override all of their other common senses and regret later. Marital unfaithfulness can take the form of cheating on one’s partner and abdicating one’s responsibility to the partner and the home as a whole.
In Liberian society in particular, having children out of wedlock is a major source of marital problems. Some step mothers and step children do not get along very well in many a Liberian marriage. Some former girl friends deliberately use their children as an excuse to make trouble for their former partners’ marriages. The list of the root causes of marital problems goes on and on; but chief among them are the misunderstanding of what marriage is and takes and inadequate preparation for it. The next article will suggest how some of these problems can be overcome.