Focus on the Family

Marriage: God's Idea

by Focus on the Family

Where there is anything that's designed, there is a designer. Whether it's a truck, building or train — or even marriage — there is always a mastermind behind the masterpiece. God, the mastermind of marriage, also has a plan for how marriage works best.

It can be overwhelming to try and understand God's design and plan for marital love because contradicting and varying messages are everywhere: in books, magazines, movies and music. As a result, many couples fall into the trap of looking everywhere but to the Designer to find out what God intended for marriage. If you've tried understanding marriage through the world, there's a better way.

With help, you can tap into the design that God has for marriage here in this series of articles. We can show you how marriage is created out of divine order, is based on a covenant relationship, reflects our relationship with God and truly has a greater impact in our lives than many have assumed.

Hopefully, these realizations can help you to experience a greater sense of fulfillment and a lifelong perspective for your marriage relationship.

The Divine Order to Marriage

Marriage is the full expression and design of God's image in human beings.

by Dr. David Kyle Foster

In Genesis we read:

And the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." . . . So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib (side) he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Gen 2:18, 21 22)

Why did God do it that way? Why create one being and then take a part of that being and create a second, differentiated yet complementary being who is "bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh," a being who is sexually, emotionally and in other ways different, yet of his own substance? Upon seeing her, Adam could have observed, "It's me . . . but not me." Well, if you think about it, it does sound like the kind of thing you might expect a Trinity to do.

The Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is a family, and thus man in God's image must be made a family as well. Therefore, a man cannot completely realize the essence of his existence until he learns to exist with someone and for someone. Both relationship and communion are crucial to this process.

And so we see from Genesis 1 and 2 that God created woman from the side of man so that the man would not be alone. From the teaching of the New Testament, saints have since discovered that He also created the Church from the side of the second Adam—Christ—for the same reason—for intimate fellowship.

Back in the Genesis account, we note that the newly created Eve was Adam — his very flesh and bone, and for that reason, the Bible says, Adam called her woman, and, for that reason a man is to leave mother and father and be united to his wife to become one flesh (v24).

For what reason is man to marry a wife? Because woman was originally a constituent part of man, she must return to become one with him again, so that the full expression and design of God's image in human beings can be revealed.

Here we have another parallel between the Old Testament type and the New Testament fulfillment. Eve was to reunite with her source and become one with him—just as we are with Christ, as He prayed in John 17. Sexuality, therefore, is a prefigurement of the intimate relationship that God desires to have with man. In fact, the marital union and covenant, in all its dimensions, is meant to gloriously reveal the very image of God in ways that we can only begin to understand.

Ah, but there's more to this mystery than can be seen on the surface. The union of a man and a woman in Holy Matrimony is not literally the permanent recombining of two bodies into one. This is mystery that reaches depths of meaning beyond what our present intellectual capacity can grasp.

Clearly however, what woman is as a part of man is not tied to individuated pieces of flesh and bone, but is far broader and more profound than that. She is the necessary compliment to him that together reveals the glory of the image of God in humanity. Her parts and his parts each have their own order and function. Together and rightly ordered, their united differences ignite the power and glory of creation itself, which is the consummate activity of God from the beginning.

So God does a two stage creation of man. First he makes the full orbed being (Adam, which in the Hebrew means, mankind). Then in phase two, God removes woman from Adam's side and makes Eve a separate being, though of Adam's substance, designed to ultimately reunite to her source through the mystery of Holy Matrimony.

And the spark, the power of that union is meant to gloriously reveal the very image of God to angels and archangels and all the company of heaven and earth. That is why Satan fights tooth and nail to pervert and distort rightly ordered human sexuality, holy matrimony, the family, and fatherhood in particular.

In fact, the amount of time and effort that Satan expends to destroy the image of God reflected in marriage, fatherhood and human sexuality is a barometer of just how incredibly important it is to God's plan and the expression of His glory.

Beloved, there is a profound and awesome reason for the way God ordered the creation of man—one that is commented on throughout Scripture, and one that we must observe if we are to find the fulfillment of our very being as humans. It is ordered as the union of a man and a woman in marriage—heterosexual and monogamous—an order that Jesus unambiguously reaffirmed in Matthew.

Covenant: The Heart of the Marriage Mystery

Covenant is the fundamental tool that God has designed to order His relationship with mankind.

by Dr. David Kyle Foster

Part of the understanding of the "Why?" of this mystery can be found in the understanding of covenant, which is the vehicle by which a man and a woman are to establish the lifelong, faithful relationship in which physical sexual interaction is meant to operate.

Covenant is also the fundamental tool that God has designed to construct and order His relationship with man.

Dr. Scott Hahn (whose research I will be sharing with you in this article) notes that a covenant is an exchange of persons, as opposed to a contract, which is an exchange of promises.

Covenants are established by making an oath—an oath that creates kinship between the two who are making the covenant.

Christ strikes a covenant with us at our baptism—one that is stronger than blood, one that establishes a divine, everlasting kinship bond. In making covenant with Him, God adopts us into His family and treats us as heirs to the family fortune.

The Hebrew word for "oath" is "shevah," meaning "to seven oneself" (In Gen 21:27 31, Abraham makes a treaty with Abimelech using seven ewe lambs, and they called the place "Beersheva," which means, "the place of the oath" or "the well of the sevens.")

If you don't have an oath, you don't have a covenant.

Another Hebrew word for oath is "I raise my hand" (See Deut 32:40ff). When we raise our hands in worship, for example, we are swearing an oath. We lift up God's name when we invoke God's name in an oath.

Making an oath is to call upon the power of God to bind Satan and evil. It is a mystery of drawing down the presence of God, of engaging God for help and power so that we can do whatever it is we are pledging to do.

Hahn quotes Old Testament Prof. Barker, who noted:

The cosmic order is restored by means of the oath and the name of the Son of Man. The oath is the means of creating order. It is the means of binding the fallen spirits who operate through nature in order to make them serve a higher purpose. To be initiated into the oath, according to the Jewish outlook, gives great power. It enables the initiate to summon and bind the spirits in his service by means of the even greater name whose authority he uses. When the great oath was broken [referring to Adam's sin and the Fall] the system began to collapse. The name of the Son of Man is the most powerful means of restoring order to a broken world.

Scott Hahn concludes Prof. Barker's thought by saying: "Whenever you invoke the name of Jesus, you tap the power of God's oath." That is why God gave saints the power to bind evil and release or loose righteousness in this world.

Another Hebrew term is "to put oneself under a curse" in order to receive God's blessing. We are therefore placing ourselves under a curse, to be damned if we don't keep our part of the oath.

Only in Christianity does God bind Himself to man by swearing an oath. God put Himself under a curse if He didn't keep the terms of the covenant to Abraham and his seed. Since we did not keep our part of the covenant, God became man and became a curse for us in order to make us His covenant family.

Hahn concludes:

We are sitting on a stockpile of spiritual power that we have barely begun to tap. Do not be stingy with your blessings. Do not withhold from your [loved ones] the invocation of God's name. Whenever you give the benediction; every time you make the sign of the Cross; every time you invoke the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; every time you do anything in the name of God, you are tapping the power of creation and the great oaths that God swore when He fashioned the world; but even more, you are tapping the greater power of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, who has brought about a new creation, having sworn a new covenant oath, having taken upon Himself the curse for our sin.

Let's bring the concept of swearing an oath into our New Testament understanding. Guess what the Greek word for oath is? The Greek word for "oath" is "mysterion"—mystery—a concept which is found throughout the New Testament—a concept used in Eph 5:32 that describes the marital relationship between a man and woman as a type of the marriage between Christ and the Church.

When we ask for God's blessing and submit ourselves to His curse by oath, God comes down and empowers us to do what we would otherwise not be capable of doing.

Another Greek word for "oath" is "horkia" or "horkos"—the English term "exorcism," or "to oath out" When you exorcise demonic spirits in ministry to someone, you literally "oath out" evil. Dr. Hahn notes that "Cross my heart and hope to die" is a medieval oath formula. The martyrs in heaven before the throne with raised hands are bearing witness under oath to Christ's faithfulness. As a result, the accuser of the brethren is cast out.

When we assemble at the Lord's Table or Eucharist, we are engaging in spiritual warfare.

The word "sacrament" comes from the Latin word for "oath"—"sacramentum." And so, the sacraments of the church are oaths set in symbolic form which Christ has left us to conquer powers that exceed our meager strength. Our faith, our testimony, binds evil and conquers Satan.

It is a real war on a real battlefield, a real trial in a real courtroom. It's also a clan struggle, a family united against forces that are determined to deface and destroy all that is good and pure and holy.

In having made our eternal covenant with God through Christ, we have united ourselves with Him and become one flesh. And because His name is now attached to our lives, to our ministries, to our words, He can use us to bind evil. We are now extensions of His very body through which He can continue to physically touch the world with His healing power.

Just as your offspring will carry on your name and legacy, so we carry on His name and legacy.

The power of Almighty God is not being released in many of our lives because we have never embraced this high calling. We have married Christ in word but have never consummated the marriage by giving ourselves to Him with the trust and abandon that we were designed to give. Rather than giving our all to Him, rather than submitting to the source of our life with joyful obedience, we have grumbled and complained and questioned Him at every turn in the road.

We have rejected the call to love, which is a call to sacrificially give ourselves to Him just as He has sacrificially given Himself to us. We have defiled the marriage bed with other gods, with other idols. We have remained fixed on ourselves, offering only periodic, emotion laden gestures of love that only tease but never deliver.

The Lord might well think some of the same thoughts as Romeo as he waited outside Juliet's bedroom balcony for the slightest glimmer of hope that she shared in his love for her. God may see us at a worship service, erupting with a sudden burst of romantic sentiment as we sing our love songs to Him.

"But soft, what light through yonder window breaks," He might exclaim. "It is my lady. Oh, it is my love. Oh, that she knew she were."

But so often, His hope is dashed as we leave the service and return to our self involved lives without putting any of those sentiments into practice—without any change in our lives, without any deepening of our pursuit of Him, without any reality beyond the sentimental notions of those love songs that we mouthed.

Christ has made promises and sworn and faithfully executed oaths to bind Himself to us and to bind evil and cast it off, if we will simply be true to Him in ways that are real.

Reflecting Our Relationship With God

We need to live our lives knowing that we have been created for intimate union with God.

by Dr. David Kyle Foster

We, as born again believers, need to live our lives in the knowledge of the fact that God has married us, both corporately, as the Body of Christ, and individually, as sons and daughters who He loves with such intensity that He was willing to let evil men torture Him on a Cross in order to win our hearts.

We need to live our lives in the knowledge that, in fact, the end for which we have been created is just such an intimate union with God—that our marriage with God is designed to kick in with all cylinders when we give our lives in covenant commitment to Him at the point of our new birth – and that what God hath joined to Himself, no man can put asunder. This is one of the great mysteries of God. It is for this that we were born and that Christ died and rose again.

The final text for our study is the primary one from which such a claim is derived – Eph 5:21-32:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Three observations can be made in regard to our text:

  1. It is a logical conclusion that what is true of the whole (Christ the Bridegroom marrying His Bride, the Church) can legitimately be seen as true for the parts of that whole (that each individual member of the Bride can be seen as marrying the Bridegroom).
  2. In the Eph 5 passage, Paul uses Gen 2:24 as his proof text, which uses the idiom "two becoming one flesh" for which The MacArthur Study Bible footnote reads: "One flesh speaks of a complete unity of parts making a whole."
  3. It is common to find multiple levels of meaning in biblical texts, especially metaphorical ones.

There has been a tradition throughout the Christian era, especially in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, of seeing an individual "mystical marriage" as part of the greater corporate marriage between God and man. I am not suggesting, as pagan religions have done, that we are to unite sexually with God. God is a spirit and the realms of heaven transcend earthly sexual need or behavior. What I am suggesting is that the metaphor of Christ marrying the Church can be taken individually by believers as well as the more common understanding of it being a corporate union.

This explains why in heaven we are no longer married or given in marriage. The final and eternal wedding has occurred and there is only one Bridegroom—Christ Himself. My contention is that what is true of the whole body of Christ (we are His bride) is also true of the individuals that make up that body—that we can individually experience a oneness with Him that is only dimly prefigured in human sexuality and which transcends it.

In Eph 5:32, in speaking of a man and woman becoming one flesh, Paul says:

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the Church.

In this verse, Paul delivers the coup de grâce, the final brilliant stroke and focal point of the epistle, whose thematic roots go all the way back to the first chapter. Like a swordsman making a final flourish before dispatching his foe, Paul shockingly and brilliantly rips the veil that had hidden the answer to the mystery of the supreme purpose and end for God having saved us, as well as the mysteries behind God having made us male and female, sexual beings, called into faithful, monogamous, heterosexual relationships that were to personify the virtue of sacrificial love.

This is the overarching theme and teaching of the Book of Ephesians—the great and high calling of the believer, the primary reason for creating and redeeming mankind.

He wants to marry us!

He wants us to be His lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward and forever more. And in the Upper Room, with a towel wrapped around Him and a basin of water in front of Him, God incarnate knelt down to propose marriage. And what God hath brought together, let no one put asunder!

Throughout the ages, many Christian leaders have understood from Genesis and Ephesians that there is both a corporate and individual "mystical marriage "between Christ and believers. In fact, many believers have claimed to have had a direct experience of just such a reality through dreams and visions.

And so we see why Satan is so intent in defacing and destroying human sexuality and marriage. He is trying to mock God. He is trying to mar the very image of God expressed on this earth through the marital bond, sexual and otherwise. He is trying to rob God of His deepest and most passionate intention—that of marital union with man—because if he can destroy the beauty of the earthly bond, he can destroy in us any desire for the heavenly bond.

You and I, and every believer, were created to live in marital union with God, both now and in the age to come. Everything about a healthy marital union on this earthly plane has been designed by God to be a reflection of the interaction that we are meant to have with God Himself:

Marriage's Meaning for Believers

God desires that we develop and nurture a personal, interactive relationship with Him.

by Dr. David Kyle Foster

God desires that we develop and nurture a personal, interactive relationship with Him.

When you marry someone, you don't go live in separate houses and never talk to each other from that day forward, do you? That's not the way it's supposed to happen!

It's the same with the Church. A lot of people think that they're just suppose to say the marriage vows, ("I accept Jesus as my Savior"), get born again and then go about their merry way. They've got their ticket to heaven, but have every intention of continuing to live their life the way they want to, (albeit cleaned up a bit more), without any serious effort at having intimacy with the one to whom they've just given their life.

Perhaps that's the problem. Perhaps most Christians don't realize that getting born again is just the starting point of a rich and deeply intimate life in union with God. And so they miss out on the very heart of what they've been given. They remain focused on themselves and the things of this world and lose the very purpose of their life!

God has set His affection and love on us for all eternity. He wants us to gleefully pursue Him with the ardor and fervor of a new bride, embrace Him, and share intimate moments of deep unity with Him.

I'll never forget the day – it was the first time that the Lord had told me to give my full testimony in public. It was excruciatingly difficult because I was convinced that if people knew what I had been in my past, they would reject me. But I did it because I knew God was asking me to. And at the end, as I awaited the final verdict of the crowd, (which turned out to be very positive and supportive), I felt God inside of me jumping up and down and clapping His hands as a child would, going, "Yeah! You did it! You did it!" I felt the pleasure of God responding to my sacrificial act of love for Him—and I will never forget that moment as long as I live. We had an altar call and they flooded to the front to be cleansed from their sin. New life was born!

The mystery of Christ and the Church is the mystery of God bearing new life through intimate communion with man. You have the husband, Christ, becoming one with His wife in an act of covenant making, and we become born again. The marriage is then consummated and in the act of sowing spiritual seeds within us, new life is born around us. People see our passion for God and turn to Him. They hear the word of our testimony and learn how to overcome the enemy. They experience the life of God in us being expressed through unconditional love and sacrificial action, which kindles a flame for God within them.

There's personal growth happening, as well. We are transformed into His image, with ever increasing glory. In fact, there's so much spiritual fruit being born from our intimacy with God that half the time we don't even know it's happening.

It is so very important that we not stop with the initial moment of salvation, but that we go on to the exchange of selfless love and service, to the giving of ourselves to God. We, the Bride, must bear and nurture that new life into fullness. If we don't nurture it by taking a daily swim in the Scriptures, by singing love songs to the Lover of our souls, if we don't pursue Him with all our heart, mind and soul, the great harvest of spiritual fruit that God wants to produce with us will never come to life. There's mutual responsibility involved in our marriage with God just as there is with any marriage.

Consider this. The image of both husband and wife is passed on to the life that they create together. When a man and a woman come together and a baby is formed, the image of that man and woman is in that baby. It looks like one of them and acts like the other! The same thing happens spiritually. When Christ plants His spiritual seeds in us and we give birth to new life, the spiritual children that we have are going to look like us. This is why it is so important for us to remain faithful in our walk with the Lord and to be conformed to His image through our own intimate relationship with Him.

The people that are born to new life from our love relationship with Christ are in many ways going to look like us. Why? Because we are the enfleshed model that they will see, day in and day out. They may never attain to a greater image of God than the one you and I reflect to them. Thus, the image of both husband and wife gets passed on to the new life.

We have been designed to reflect the image of another. If God isn't the love of our life, we will reflect what is.

Some ten years ago now, I had a vision while in worship. Suddenly, in the midst of my singing, I found myself in heaven in the presence of God. An instant later, I realized that I was in the middle of a wedding ceremony and that I was the one getting married—to God! A jolt of joy and wonder shot through my heart.

Several years later, I asked Leanne Payne what she thought the vision had meant. She told me that it was important for everyone to marry God, even those who marry someone here on earth. In fact, she said, they should enter into a marital union with God first, so that their earthly marriage doesn't become an attempt to get something from a person that they can only get from God. Only then will they be adequately prepared to be the spouse of another.

Christopher West has written a wonderful book called The Good News About Sex & Marriage. In it, he describes how earthly marital unions were established by God to be a type and shadow of the greater marriage between God and man.

But first, we must marry God – not just legally and judicially, but in truth. This is the sacred mystery of the ages! As Leanne Payne says – all of us should marry God, for it is from that foundational relationship that the power and inspiration for all other relationships is to flow.

Let's not waste or in any way disregard this precious inheritance.

God's Design for Marriage

Find the key to making your marriage flourish — just as God designed.

by Carol Heffernan

It's easy to think that only "other people" get divorced. That your own marriage is somehow immune to heartache, infidelity and fights over who gets the house, the car, the dog. After all, how many of us would walk down the aisle if we believed our relationships would end up in divorce court?

Truth is, no relationship comes with a lifetime guarantee. Even men and women who grew up in stable homes, who attend church and consider themselves Christians, who promise "until death do us part," can have it all fall apart.

As Christians, we know that applying biblical principles to marriage will give us a stronger foundation than those of our unbelieving friends and neighbors. We know this, but what are we doing about it? In other words, what makes a marriage "Christian"?

According to author Gary Thomas, we're not asking the right questions. What if your relationship isn't as much about you and your spouse as it is about you and God?

Instead of asking why we have struggles in the first place, the more important issue is how we deal with them.

In Sacred Marriage, Thomas has not written your typical "how to have a happier relationship" book. Rather, he asks: How can we use the challenges, joys, struggles and celebrations of marriage to draw closer to God? What if God designed marriage to make us both happy and holy?

Viewing Marriage Realistically

"We have to stop asking of marriage what God never designed it to give — perfect happiness, conflict-free living, and idolatrous obsession," Thomas explains.

Instead, he says, we can appreciate what God designed marriage to provide: partnership, spiritual intimacy and the ability to pursue God — together. So, what does Thomas think is the most common misconception Christians have about marriage?

"Finding a 'soul mate' — someone who will complete us," he says. "The problem with looking to another human to complete us is that, spiritually speaking, it's idolatry. We are to find our fulfillment and purpose in God . . . and if we expect our spouse to be 'God' to us, he or she will fail every day. No person can live up to such expectations."

Everyone has bad days, yells at his or her spouse, or is downright selfish. Despite these imperfections, God created the husband and wife to steer each other in His direction.

Thomas offers an example: "When my wife forgives me . . . and accepts me, I learn to receive God's forgiveness and acceptance as well. In that moment, she is modeling God to me, revealing God's mercy to me, and helping me to see with my own eyes a very real spiritual reality."

While it's easy to see why God designed an other-centered union for a me-centered world, living that way is a challenge. So when bills pile up, communication breaks down and you're just plain irritated with your husband or wife, Thomas offers these reminders to help ease the tension:

We see this last parallel throughout the Bible. For instance, Jesus refers to Himself as the "bridegroom" and to the kingdom of heaven as a "wedding banquet."

These points demonstrate that God's purposes for marriage extend far beyond personal happiness. Thomas is quick to clarify that God isn't against happiness per se, but that marriage promotes even higher values.

"God did not create marriage just to give us a pleasant means of repopulating the world and providing a steady societal institution to raise children. He planted marriage among humans as yet another signpost pointing to His own eternal, spiritual existence."

Serving Our Spouse

He spends the entire evening at the office — again. She spends money without entering it in the checkbook. He goes golfing instead of spending time with the kids. From irritating habits to weighty issues that seem impossible to resolve, loving one's spouse through the tough times isn't easy. But the same struggles that drive us apart also shed light on what we value in marriage.

"If happiness is our primary goal, we'll get a divorce as soon as happiness seems to wane," Thomas says. "If receiving love is our primary goal, we'll dump our spouse as soon as they seem to be less attentive. But if we marry for the glory of God, to model His love and commitment to our children, and to reveal His witness to the world, divorce makes no sense."

Couples who've survived a potentially marriage-ending situation, such as infidelity or a life-threatening disease, may continue to battle years of built-up resentment, anger or bitterness. So, what are some ways to strengthen a floundering relationship — or even encourage a healthy one? Thomas offers these practical tips:

Young couples in particular can benefit from this advice. After all, many newlyweds aren't adequately prepared to make the transition from seeing one another several times a week to suddenly sharing everything. Odds are, annoying habits and less-than-appealing behaviors will surface. Yet as Christians, we are called to respect everyone — including our spouse.

Thomas adds, "The image I use in Sacred Marriage is that we need to learn how to 'fall forward.' That is, when we are frustrated or angry, instead of pulling back, we must still pursue our partner under God's mercy and grace."

Lastly, Thomas suggests praying this helpful prayer: Lord, how can I love my spouse today like (s)he's never been loved and never will be loved?

"I can't tell you how many times God has given me very practical advice — from taking over some driving trips to doing a few loads of laundry," Thomas says. "It's one prayer that I find gets answered just about every time."

While other marriage books may leave us feeling overwhelmed, spotlighting our shortcomings and providing pages of "relationship homework," Sacred Marriage makes it clear that any couple can have a successful, happy and holy marriage.

With a Christ-centered relationship, an other-centered attitude and an unwavering commitment to making it work, your marriage can flourish — just as God designed.

Scripture teaches that marriage is ordained by God and part of His original design for us as well as a foreshadowing of our eternal relationship with Him. Helping families thrive with the support of friends like you.

Why Marriage Matters for Adults

Is marriage an old-fashioned, outmoded institution? Is it merely a piece of paper, having no real impact on our lives?

by Glenn Stanton

Researchers are finding that marriage has a much greater impact in our lives than many have assumed. This is especially true in the area of adult health and well-being. Sociologist Linda Waite and researcher Maggie Gallagher explain, "The evidence from four decades of research is surprisingly clear: a good marriage is both men's and women's best bet for living a long and healthy life."1 Men and women who are in their first marriages, on average, enjoy significantly higher levels of physical and mental health than those who are either single, divorced or living together. The research on this is very strong.

Leading social scientist, James Q. Wilson, explains:

"Married people are happier than unmarried ones of the same age, not only in the United States, but in at least seventeen other countries where similar inquiries have been made. And there seems to be good reasons for that happiness. People who are married not only have higher incomes and enjoy greater emotional support, they tend to be healthier. Married people live longer than unmarried ones, not only in the United States but abroad."2

Research conducted at the University of Massachusetts concludes,

"One of the most consistent observations in health research is that the married enjoy better health than those of other [relational] statuses."3

Dr. Robert Coombs of UCLA reviewed more than 130 empirical studies published in this century on how marriage impacts well-being. He found that these studies indicate "an intimate link between marital status and personal well-being."4


Coombs, in his review, found that 70 percent of chronic problem drinkers were either divorced or separated, and only 15 percent were married. Single men are more than three times as likely to die of cirrhosis of the liver.5

Long and Healthy Life

Unmarried people spend twice as much time as patients in hospitals as their married peers and have lower activity levels.6

Research conducted at Erasmus University in Rotterdam reports that "married people have the lowest morbidity [illness] rates, while the divorced show the highest." Professor Linda Waite of the University of Chicago finds that the "relationship between marriage and death rates has now reached the status of a truism, having been observed across numerous societies and among various social and demographic groups."7

In Waites' 1995 presidential address to the Population Association of America, she explained that the health benefits of marriage are so strong that a married man with heart disease can be expected to live, on average, 1400 days longer (nearly four years!) than an unmarried man with a healthy heart. This longer life expectancy is even greater for a married man who has cancer or is 20 pounds overweight compared to his healthy, but unmarried, counterpart. The advantages for women are similar.8

Additional research from Yale University indicates that a married man who smokes more than a pack a day can be expected to live as long as a divorced man who does not smoke. This researcher explains with a touch of humor, "If a man's marriage is driving him to heavy smoking, he has a delicate statistical decision to make."9

Dr. Coombs' research agrees with these findings: "Virtually every study of mortality and marital status shows the unmarried of both sexes have higher death rates, whether by accident, disease, or self-inflicted wounds, and this is found in every country that maintains accurate health statistics."10

Research published in JAMA finds that cures for cancer are significantly more successful (eight to 17 percent) when a patient is married and being married was comparable to being in an age category 10 years younger.11

Mental Health

Research dating back to 1936 shows that first-time psychiatric admission rates for males suffering from schizophrenia were 5.4 times greater for unmarried men than for married men. Dr. Benjamin Malzberg, the author of this study, concludes, "The evidence seems clear that the married population had, in general, much lower rates of mental disease than any of the other marital groups."12

More recent research conducted jointly at Yale University and UCLA reports:

One of the most consistent findings in psychiatric epidemiology is that married persons enjoy better health than the unmarried. Researchers have consistently found the highest rates of mental disorder among the divorced and separated, the lowest rates among the married and intermediate rates among the single and widowed. They also found that a cohabiting partner could not replicate these benefits of marriage.13

General Happiness

A study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family examined the link between personal happiness and marital status in 17 industrialized nations that had "diverse social and institutional frameworks." This study found:

"married persons have a significantly higher level of happiness than persons who are not married. This effect was independent of financial and heath-oriented protections offered by marriage and was also independent of other control variables including ones for sociodemographic conditions and national character."14

Increased levels of happiness among the married was found in other studies as well.15


Additional research shows that marriage:

Research conducted at the University of Colorado indicates why marriage is so beneficial to adults:

Generally, compared with those who are not married, married individuals eat better, take better care of themselves, and live a more stable, secure and scheduled lifestyle.22

Clearly, married men and women provide better things for society than their unmarried peers. Husbands and wives are not as likely to be a burden to the health care system or be a drain on a company's health insurance benefits because of their better health and increased ability to recover from illness quicker and more successfully. They are less likely to miss work because of illness. They are not likely to jump from job to job. They are less likely to suffer from alcoholism and other substance abuse and less likely to engage in other risk behaviors. Married women are significantly less likely to be victims of any kind of violence, either by her spouse or by a stranger. They are less lonely and happier. Happier people make better citizens, employees and neighbors. Married people earn and invest more money. They report enjoying the job of parenting better and they are more successful at it. This mountain of social science research tells us marriage is a serious and valuable community treasure.

1Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, (New York Doubleday, 2000), p. 64.
2James Q. Wilson, The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p. 16.
3Katherine Reissman and Naomi Gerstel, "Marital Dissolution and Health: Do Males or Females Have Greater Risk?" Social Science and Medicine 20 (1985): 627-635.
4Robert Coombs, "Marital Status and Personal Well-Being: A Literature Review," Family Relations 40 (1991) 97-102.
5Coombs, 1991, p. 97.
6Lois Verbrugge and Donald Balaban, "Patterns of Change, Disability and Well-Being," Medical Care 27 (1989): S128-S147.
7I.M. Joung, et al., "Differences in Self-Reported Morbidity by Marital Status and by Living Arrangement," International Journal of Epidemiology 23 (1994): 91-97.
8Linda J. Waite, "Does Marriage Matter?" Presidential Address to the American Population Association of America, April 8, 1995; Linda Waite, "Does Marriage Matter?" Demography 32 (1995): 483-507.
9Harold Morowitz, "Hiding in the Hammond Report," Hospital Practice (August 1975), p. 39.
10Coombs, 1991, p. 98.
11James Goodwin, et al., "The Effect of Marital Status on Stage, Treatment, and Survival of Cancer Patients," Journal of the American Medical Association, 258 (1987): 3152-3130.
12Benjamin Malzberg, "Marital Status in Relation to the Prevalence of Mental Disease," Psychiatric Quarterly 10 (1936): 245-261.
13David Williams, et al., "Marital Status and Psychiatric Disorders Among Blacks and Whites," Journal of Health and Social Behavior 33 (1992): 140-157.
14Steven Stack and J. Ross Eshleman, "Marital Status and Happiness: A 17-Nation Study," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60 (1998): 527-536.
15Coombs, 1991, p. 100.
16Robert T. Michael, et al., Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1994), p. 124-129; Edward O. Laumann, et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 364, table 10.5; Andrew Greeley, Faithful Attraction: Discovering Intimacy, Love and Fidelity in American Marriage, (New York: Tom Doherty Association, 1991), see chapter 6.
17Randy Page and Galen Cole, "Demographic Predictors of Self-Reported Loneliness in Adults," Psychological Reports 68 (1991): 939-945.
18Jan Stets, "Cohabiting and Marital Aggression: The Role of Social Isolation," Journal of Marriage and the Family 53 (1991): 669-680; Criminal Victimization in the United States, 1992," U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, (March 1994), p. 31, NCJ-145125.
19Ronald Angel and Jacqueline Angel, Painful Inheritance: Health and the New Generation of Fatherless Families (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), pp. 139, 148.
20Janet Wilmoth and Gregor Koso, "Does Marital History Matter? Marital Status and Wealth Outcomes Among Pre-retirement Adults," Journal of Marriage and Family, 64 (2002): 743-754.
21Waite, 1995, p. 483-507; Waite and Gallagher, 2000, see chapter 8; Wilmoth and Koso, 2002, p. 743-754.
22Richard Rogers, "Marriage, Sex, and Mortality," Journal of Marriage and the Family 57 (1995): 515-526.

Reclaiming the Heart of Marriage

God calls us to a renewed life, but it still takes patience, sacrifice, discipline and compassion.

by Daniel L. Weiss

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…"

These words are as familiar to us as "Once upon a time ..."— and, unfortunately, sometimes as insignificant. Many—including some Christians—consider the Bible's creation to be a children's story or a fairy tale. We rush past the foundation and go straight to the punch line—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, the beginning of human history holds far more significance for our lives today than many realize.

Jesus thought it important. When grilled about the relations between husbands and wives—specifically divorce—Christ subverted the petty selfishness and encrusted legalism that had sprung up around marriage by returning to this ancient truth:

"Haven't you read ... that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate" (Matthew 19:4-6, NIV).

But Jesus' questioners persisted:

"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" (Matthew 19:7, NIV)

His reply illuminates that old creation story with a power and life. He said:

"Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way in the beginning" (Matthew 19:8, NIV)

Jesus wasn't making a casual statement about the fallen world. He was directing us to meditate on God's design for humanity in the beginning—the design that was twisted and shattered when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden.

God said:

Let us make man in our image, in our likeness ...

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

Male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26,27, NIV)

How often have husbands and wives considered the truth that each bears the image and likeness of God? More important, how many realize they reflect God's image and likeness at least as much, if not more in their one-flesh union than each does separately?

By pointing us back to the beginning, Jesus wanted us to understand this vital revelation: God created humans for intimate unions that model the intimate union shared by members of the Triune God. He said, "Let US make man in OUR image and likeness." God's great gift to His children was the ability to share in the divine love existing before time.

Perhaps this is not the character of your marriage. Your one-flesh union may have been ravaged by infidelity, pornography use, illness, bitterness, selfishness, neglect, or abuse. You may love your spouse but also feel, at times, like strangling him. Separation may seem like the only available option. Or, maybe the kids are gone and you find an empty marriage to match your empty house.

Life is hard. Some have called it a "vale of tears." When Adam and Eve sinned, they endured "painful toil" working the cursed ground of "thorns and thistles" (Genesis 3:17-19, NIV). Our hearts have also suffered the devastation of the Fall. We daily battle the thorns and thistles—pride, bitterness, lust, greed, envy—that threaten to choke our fragile stirrings of love.

This makes marriage difficult. We often see our spouse as the enemy, rather than an extension of ourselves. Our one-flesh union may be lacking all emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects and be relegated to quick couplings born of frustration or desperation. And we wonder where God is in all of this.

After directing us back to the beginning, Jesus provided a way for us to return to God's design for our lives and marriages. He finished His atonement for our sins on the cross and promised a new life in Him. The Bible teaches that if we have been baptized into His death, we are also baptized into His new life (Romans 6:3-4, NIV). This is our hope and His promise. The life God gives is one restored, redeemed, and transformed.

This is not some hyper-spiritualized pipe dream. God calls us to a renewed life, but it still takes patience, sacrifice, discipline, and compassion. But God is with us every step of the way, working through His Spirit to restore everything that has been damaged. Listen for God's call to this transformed life and hold tight to the promise of the One who said, "Behold, I am making all things new."

Next Steps and Related Information

Additional resources addressing the foundations of marriage

Popular questions on this topic: