In an ever-changing world, it’s reasonable to expect that there are parts of our culture, language and communication that will become obsolete. When I was a teenager, I remember the joy with which I received a vhs of Beauty and the Beast, and yet now the vhs, along with its big chunky vhs player (which always made an annoying whirring sound when you wanted to rewind or fast forward your video), have all but disappeared.
Language too is ever-changing, youth culture has replaced ‘wicked’ (an outdated slang word for cool meaning awesome) with ‘sick’, although apparently ‘cool’ has stood the test of time…As for communication, technology has turned this on its head. When was the last time you hand wrote a letter? Have you ever? Why would you with the endless ways in which to communicate without the need for pen and paper?
So, given that cultural changes are unavoidable, what about the age-old institution of marriage? Is ‘I do’ to be ousted to make way for a modern alternative? Would that be wicked, sick, cool? I’ve come across an array of headlines about marriage and relationships, with some suggesting that marriage is old-fashioned and outdated. And while we may try to maintain objectivity when reading headlines, it’s easy for those seeds of uncertainty to be planted, and for our views to vacillate.
Still, while marriage rates have dropped over the last 20 years (due to less pressure from society to marry), it may surprise you to hear that today’s marriages are in fact very strong. Marriage is still one of our greatest aspirations in life and the most popular long-term relationship choice, as statistically it offers the best possible chance of success if you want a relationship that will last a lifetime. Whilst societal change marches on unabated, there are some human fundamentals which remain constant when it comes to emotional needs and how we relate to each other. These fundamentals are fulfilled in marriage, but how?
God is relational, and as such we have been created to be in relationship with Him and those around us. This means that we each have an instinctive need for reliable love. Reliable love is not flighty or based on a rush of feelings, instead it’s committed, trustworthy, kind, faithful, courageous and not dependent on moods and relationship fads. It’s worth pointing out that I’m not talking about finding (or being) a ‘perfect’ life partner – clearly perfection is only found in God and it is impossible for us to achieve, but reliable love does intentionally pursue a healthy and lasting relationship. The very essence of reliable love is commitment which is unequivocally expressed in marriage.
With all of that said, perhaps marriage still needs the language and expression of modernity to uproot the doubts planted by the headlines. Equality is a word that is frequently used in our modern world and the majority of people would agree that equal rights, equal pay, equal status etc. should be sought in all areas of human life. Yet, in relationships it seems that some are content to live with inequality.
For my husband and I, marriage was the natural choice after a period of us getting to know each other and falling in love, which in time led to what I refer to on the Marriage Week podcast, ‘The M Word’ as the forever conversation. We discussed the future and decided that we wanted to share the rest of our lives together. For us, marriage was a clear demonstration of our equal commitment to our relationship and our intention to be together forever. This equality of commitment provides the foundation for the vows we took on our wedding day, knowing that through the tough times we would work at our relationship ‘for better and for worse’.
But for unmarried couples who’ve not had the forever conversation, there can be an unspoken ambiguity over who is more committed to the relationship. Typically, one of the couple will be more committed, and this inequality is very likely to cause tension and difficulty when the challenges of life inevitably come.
But what about divorce, you may ask, surely this is evidence that commitment in marriage isn’t always equal? Of course, there will be some marriages that, for various reasons, need to come to an end. It is painful and never a decision taken lightly. But recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows that divorce rates continue to fall and are currently at the same level as they were in the 1970’s. In today’s society, there is now much less pressure to marry and so couples who choose to are doing so with intent and commitment and it is therefore reasonable to conclude that less divorce will occur as a result. If you want to read more about this, you can read the analysis of the data by Marriage Foundation here.
You may still be thinking that whilst you agree that the state of ‘being married’ is about equality, that it’s modern, positive and a great choice for this and future generations of couples, the ‘getting married’ or the wedding ceremony itself is old-fashioned – particularly the part of the ceremony where the woman is ‘given’ to her husband by her dad. When I got married, I didn’t see this as a one-way street, rather that both my husband and I were leaving our family unit that we’d grown up in and were now forming our own unit – we both chose to belong to each another. Maybe you could add a line in the service asking who gives this man to this woman to symbolise the equality of their union? At our reception, I felt that tradition had created a very male line-up for the speeches and so decided that I would also add my voice to the occasion! There’s always scope for couples to creatively express their relationship in wedding service and in the whole day.
For me, there is no question that marriage is modern, relevant, and even vital for couples, children and our society. This is why it deserves celebrating both personally and nationally. The UK National Marriage Week takes place annually and this year, from the 13th – 19th May, you can have fun and strengthen your relationship by joining in with the theme ‘Recipe for a Healthy Marriage’. Take a look at the key ‘ingredients’ (including commitment) on the website and follow us on social media. If you’re in a relationship but not married, join in too and if you’ve been wondering if marriage is for you, then keep up with the times and have that forever conversation!
Michaela Hyde co-ordinates UK National Marriage Week, as well as being a Project Director at the Marriage Foundation and a Presenter. You can listen to Michaela’s podcast, The M Word, here.