Rethinking Friendships and “Romance”: Marriage

By | April 22, 2011

This seems to be in part continuing from the previous post regarding exclusivity. Presently, I’m exploring the questions: What is marriage? What makes marriage marriage and not something else? Or another way of putting it, What is exclusive to marriage? I explore these questions with some trepidation. I am not married, nor have I been married, so I can’t say anything about what being married is like from personal experience. Nevertheless, one must be able to form ideas about marriage from the outside, else how would anyone enter into marriage?

  1. While “romantic” feelings have been around forever, marriage in most cultures has been more of a practical arrangement. It is not until modern western culture that “romance” has been viewed as the normative basis for marriage, or at least for selecting a marriage partner (two concepts which probably ought to be better differentiated). Also, it seems that dating and other casual exclusive/semi-exclusive relationships are somewhat unique to modern culture. This complicates the task of attempting to determine their appropriate place and boundaries. (This is my impression, though I can’t claim to have done in depth study on these postulations.)
  2. Is the sharing of our financial resources a romantic marker? It seems the New Testament would call this koinonia—whether in friendship, community, or marriage. Are we only limited to public vows of love in romantic relationships? The Bible and the history of nonromantic friendships suggest a place for vows outside of marriage. Is holding hands or other close physical affection an exclusive romantic marker? Again the Bible and the history of deep friendships suggest a robust spirituality of mutual lingering affection toward beloved friends. What about physical attraction? Does this have to be present only in romance? Can there be physical attraction towards the same-sex without it being lust? What about between those who are married but not to each other? Even physical beauty and awareness emerges in deep friendships.
  3. What is marriage then? I believe it defines a certain, specific relationship, much the way “parent” or “sibling” do. It is a family relation, but unlike most other family relationships, isn’t entered into through biological birth. Essentially, marriage is the relationship whereby two families ‘birth’ a new one. This can be compared with adoption. In both cases, the people involved make a commitment to a certain specific family relationship. The scripture “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” (Genesis 2:24, NLT) makes sense in this context.
  4. Many different relational dynamics can be present in family relationships. Sometimes certain members of a family are very close, even considering one another best friends. While the qualities of of close friendship may be present, these family relationships are not defined by those qualities. It is the same with marriage. All aspects of friendship and love can exists in marriage, but are not exclusive to it, just as is the case with other family relationships. What sets marriage apart from friendship is a special covenant commitment creating a new family.
  5. “Romantic” desire can be present in marriage, but it also can’t be defined by it. Excited romantic passion fades eventually (it can wax and wane over time), but a person isn’t more or less married depending on how strongly they feel toward their spouse. Additionally, people will likely feel some degree of attraction or “falling in love” feelings toward someone other than their spouse at some point in their marriage. Emotions are notoriously hard to control, and won’t necessarily feel the need to be limited to one’s spouse. This in and of itself need not be reason for breaking apart a marriage. While we may have difficulty with controlling our feelings, we should have much more control over how we respond and what we do with them.
  6. A marriage relationship can be complicated, because partners change over time, and don’t always grow in the same direction. And people don’t ever fully know each other; a spouse may turn out to be somewhat of a different person that what their partner originally believed. However these things do not need to be cause for divorce.
  7. Friendship and marriage need not be at odds. Friendships generally aren’t seen as a threat to other family relationships. Because marriage need not be defined by “romantic” passion or even as “best friends”, people should be able to have close friendships along side being married. If these friendships are based on true love (and not “romantic” passion / “being in love”), then the people ought to desire to support their friend’s marriage and other important relationships, not threaten them. In this way, true friendship has a built in defense against damaging other relationships.
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