Wednesday, September 05, 2007

(II) Marriage Outside the Garden of Eden: Thistles and thorns

Consequences of the fall. To recap: The first marriage is set in paradise, before the fall, with Adam and Eve at their newly minted best.

But soon after in chapter three, Adam and Eve fell into sin. Rapidly we see the consequences of the fall on their relationship.

Thistles and thorns

Gardening – finished work is lovely – think of the ideal garden - manicured lawns, nicely trimmed hedges, lovely landscaped greenery from well pruned clumps of bamboo, to the giant rain tree providing shade. The greenery cleverly contrasted with flowers, of every hue and colour and to top it off, luscious fruit trees – providing fruit seasonally throughout the year.

What we do not see are the endless weeding, the battle with bugs, and disease (fungi growth), thistles flourish and grow green fat and healthy without any need of care while roses, daffodils, orchids, Taiwanese carpet grass requires endless care, watering, fertilisers, insecticides…….

After the wedding and the honeymoon, comes the business of building a home and the drudgery of maintaining the home – cleaning, dusting, washing, sweeping. Dirty dishes and greasy woks and sauce pans….. this is when the going gets tough for our married couples.

What happens when Marriage Gets Tough? Two stories.

(I) Marriage Martyr

“I remembered our courtship years and the excitement I felt when I'd get ready for one of our dates. I'd spend hours thinking about it and preparing for it. What should I wear? I'd think. Something he hasn't seen me in before. Where's my good perfume? Does my hair look okay?

I wondered how a relationship once so carefree had turned into a competition dominated by one-upmanship. I was having difficulty transitioning from the fun-exciting-butterflies-in-the-stomach stage of dating to the mundane, everyday frustrations and hectic pace of modern married life. Though I'd been blissfully happy while we were dating, once the honeymoon was over, I felt increasingly dissatisfied. I focused constantly on the things my husband used to do for me but now neglected. I was alert to any discrepancies in our workloads, and determined to maintain equality. I was playing to win, and I was keeping score!

While my lifestyle and responsibilities changed after marriage, my expectations remained the same. As a girlfriend, I could pick and choose the parts of his life I wanted to share. This freed me to come and go when things got bad. I enjoyed low investment and high returns. But as a wife, I found myself committed to endure both the pleasant and unpleasant sides of life with my husband.

Over the years, as my expectations gave way to reality, I compensated with self-pity. This also gave me a great excuse not to work on my marriage. After all, as the mistreated wife, I never had to acknowledge my husband's good points or understand his feelings. I couldn't be expected to praise his moments of better judgment or take responsibility for overcoming the lack of romance in our relationship (one more task for my mammoth to-do list!)”. Marriage Martyr Renata Waldrop, a freelance author, lives in Tennessee.

(II) Married the wrong person?

“Kevin and I met at a Christian singles retreat. By the end of the retreat, I'd made a new friend—but assured myself that was all. We were just too different to be more.

Kevin talked little, but when he did, it was often about the Bible. He was refreshingly genuine.

We began to pray and attend Bible study together. After a few months, he proposed. Despite all the good memories we were making, we were also beginning to disagree often. I assured myself, however, that marriage would make us "one" on issues of childrearing, spending, and the many other annoying differences we faced.

As any married person could have told me, that was an erroneous assumption. Marriage only magnified our differences. We fought regularly, and our life together hurt. Soon I found myself pondering my friend's advice. After all, I reasoned, Christians aren't perfect. What if I married the wrong person? Why stay married if it's all about fighting? Why be unhappy”?

Marital expectations and marital suffering

The experience of marital suffering is linked to marital expectations or desires. Short of objective physical or emotional violence, we suffer in marriage when the experience we are having falls short of our Expectations.

The question then that must be asked is this: what kinds of expectations of marriage are appropriate to the covenant promises actually exchanged? Excessive desires set the spouses up for the perception of suffering, in situations that would not have been perceived this way in earlier eras.

Covenantal nature of marriage

Marriage was designed by God in creation to meet certain fundamental needs of the human being. When those needs are richly met, we flourish. Covenant is the structural principle of marriage, holding weak and fickle human beings to the promises they have made. When the marriage covenant is sturdy, it provides a stable and enduring context for the pursuit of the creational blessings of companionship, sex, and family partnership. Strong skill and virtue development in meeting creation-related needs and fidelity to covenant promises can lead to genuinely joyful marital partnerships. Such relationships reach near the pinnacle of what God created humans to be.

Covenantal vow to keep needs and obligations

The success of any marriage depends on meeting the creation-based needs of the spouse in at least a minimally satisfactory fashion and on maintaining faithfulness to the marriage covenant. These basics of marriage are not merely cultural but "covenantal," that is, suffering comes in marriage when aspects of companionship, sex, or family partnership fall far enough short of expectations as to create the experience of pain.

However due to our fallen and sinful nature, failure to meet valid expectations is inevitable and disappointment, pain or suffering is experienced.

Outside Garden of Eden : Suffering is an inevitable feature of marriage

People need to be taught, as they were in more sober times, that a measure of suffering is an inevitable feature of marriage. Not only does marriage fail to mitigate the struggles of life … it actually deepens them, rendering them even more poignant, because more personal. (David P. Gushee)

Causes of suffering

From without – better for worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health

The traditional wedding vows reflect the awareness that every marriage is threatened by external enemies. Two types of enemies are named in the vows: poverty and illness. When the couple says "for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health," they are promising to remain loyal to their marriage covenant regardless of the trials created by poverty or illness.

Unemployment and financial pressures remain a major source of difficulty in marriage even today. Illness or incapacitation of a spouse or child likewise creates one of the major forms of marital suffering. Most will know of a marriage that did not prove capable of enduring such afflictions.

Numerous other factors extraneous to the marriage itself can create marital suffering. These can include illness or bereavement in the family or extended family. Job stresses that threaten to grind up the human spirit of one of the spouses are a major issue. A move demanded by school or work can be quite stressful. This list could be extended. Suffice it to say that most marriages will face such external sources of suffering at one time or another.

Within –

But improved economic and physical conditions in contemporary society mean that the internal sources of marital suffering are by now more significant. This is not a coincidence. Little irritations in the marital relationship don't matter when the Nazis might land on Long Island any day, or when we're not sure where the next meal is coming from. Lacking such pressures and fears, we have the tragic liberty to turn on each other or self-destruct.

Internal sources of suffering in marriage come in three primary forms. They may have to do with my partner, with me, or with the dynamics of our relationship.

Suffering comes in marriage when aspects of companionship, sex, or family partnership fall far enough short of expectations as to create the experience of pain. Perhaps there is a failure to share adequately in the labour of running a household or meeting its expenses. Maybe there is a lack of time spent together in leisure. Perhaps the sexual relationship lacks passion or mutual satisfaction. The friendship dimension of marriage may have eroded. Or maybe chronic conflicts arise over how the children should be disciplined or educated. Marriage was created to meet very basic human needs in these areas, and such failures will elicit suffering. If spouses work together in the same business, stress and strains of normal everyday running of the business can cause enormous stress and strains on the marriage. The tensions of the work is carried forward into the domestic arena.

Many marriages fail because of the moral, psychological, or spiritual problems of just one of the spouses. It is extraordinarily tragic, but all too common—a promising marriage between two people who love each other deeply is brought down not by any external stress but by the immoral or irresponsible behaviour of one of the partners. Gambling addictions and other kinds of addictions.

Individual response to suffering differs

· Shouting – nothing to husband, but may be a great deal to the spouse

What Shall We Do with Our Suffering?

· First determine realistically and accurately what is the present state of your marriage.

1. Ecstatic Union

2. Intimate Partnership

3. Cordial Friendship

4. Peaceful coexistence

5. Tense silence

6. Active hostility

7. Full-scale belligerence

8. Irreconcilable brokenness

· Take covenantal obligations seriously. We don't keep vows; the vows keep us. (Mike Mason)

· Seek or grant forgiveness

· Attempt to seek root cause of conflict and discord

· Seek counsel

· Be assured of support

Suffering comes in marriage, but if we endure, if we hold true, it does not necessarily stay. Darkness may come with the night, but joy comes in the morning.

David P. Gushee

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