This is an extract from dissertation on marriage:
One might ask themselves what the conditions of a good marriage are. The answer to this question depends on whether the person is looking at it from a secular or religious perspective. Those looking at it from the secular view would say that a good marriage is made up of love, trust, honesty, understanding, etc. but from the religious perspective there is an added element. This element is faith, whether it is put in God, Allah, Buddha or another deity. But it can be said that both the religious and secular views have something in common when it comes to the conditions of a good marriage: they believe that marriage is a commitment between two individuals in an intimate relationship who promise to care for each others human needs.
In Jerome Nathanson’s essay, “The Ethics of Marriage”, which outlines the conditions of a good marriage in a secular context, he names three needs that marriage fulfills: security, understanding, and genuine concern for your partner. The need for security can be satisfied if there is a “profound awareness that no matter what you are or do, you really matter to the other person and can always feel completely at home” (Nathanson 145). This means that no matter what the ups and downs of the world may be, or what your experiences may be outside the home, or even within the home, that you can really count on the other person. Another aspect of this sense of security is a mutual dependence in which each partner can rely on the other for support and give support in return.
Secondly, the need for understanding is both the sense of being understood by the other person and doing everything you can to understand that person. In other words, it involves a constant effort to get at what the other person genuinely means. It also involves good communication between the couple because without communication there can be no understanding. Such understanding as this is not something we are born with but, in the best sense, it is an extremely difficult thing to achieve through the sharing of experiences with another person (Nathanson 146).
Finally, a good marriage must be characterized by a feeling that each person is genuinely concerned with what happens to the other. As with the sense of security, this concern is an attitude rather than a specific act or expression. It is also affection, which would give a person the feeling of being cared about, of being loved for who you are above all else (Nathanson 147). More often these days, people identify love with sexual passion but this does not account for all the aspects of love such as a genuine concern for your partner. Also, people can have many different sexual passions which have nothing whatever to do with love. In this sense, those who equate sex with love do not truly love their partner for everything that they are; rather, it is based on their sexual passion for the other.
Marriage then is viewed as a maturing experience since it takes maturity to truly love someone. “Each partner is constantly pushed and pulled by the very nature of the relationship to grow up sufficiently to meet the needs of their mate” (Nathanson 151). This process is never finished, with a person reaching a point where he can say that he has finally achieved complete maturity. It is exactly for this reason that a good marriage is a relationship through which one can grow until the end of his days.
Finally, a good marriage should be the source of a couple making an increased contribution to the life of the larger community. The security, the understanding, and the affection, too, which characterize a good marriage relation, should be brought to bear in the larger areas of life (Nathanson 152). Such a relationship carries over into a community to make the lives of other people at least a little more secure. This secular view of marriage can be compared to a Protestant view and the similarities are very evident.
Yates’ essay, “The Protestant View of Marriage”, outlines six characteristics of marriage that illustrate it as a covenant between a couple that can be compared to their covenant with God. The first is a commitment by the partners to create a life of intimate companionship (Yates 446). A spiritual and ethical companionship is vital because it “lies at the heart of the marriage covenant” (Yates 446). Yet this companionship is also rooted in love, intimacy, romance, and emotion. In this aspect of marriage, the couple that is to be wed feels that they have found in their partner, a person whom they can share the rest of their lives with; a person who will be their life-long companion.
The second characteristic, a commitment to create and sustain a fabric of honesty, trust, openness, and acceptance is central to sustaining a life of intimate companionship. Honesty is especially important in a religious marriage because it has to do with ethics, a large part of Protestant view of marriage. Honesty is not only telling the truth but being sensitive to what effect that truth might have on the person you are telling it to. Trust is equally important because it reflects the covenant with God. “God is trustworthy, and persons are called to trust in God” (Yates 450). In the same way, married couples are called to trust each other in their relationship. In the covenant between the individual and God, the individual is open and free to express themselves and so in this manner, openness in a relationship with your spouse mirrors the covenant with God. This is also true for acceptance; God accepts all people and so the married couple must strive to accept their spouse for the good and bad.
The third element of the marriage is the “commitment to explore and respond to the religious and moral depths of human existence in light of the affirmations of the Christian faith” (Yates 451). This has to do with responsibilities to the community, such as bearing children and actively participating in the life of the church. Although it is not a mandatory result of a marriage, raising and nurturing children in the Christian faith is seen as a positive result of marriage for Protestants. It is also important that the married couple be active in the life of the church and contribute to the fulfillment of the common good. Again, this gives an element of ethics to the marriage.
The fourth aspect is a commitment to upholding all aspects of the covenant such as love and order. A “healthy marriage needs both romantic and companionate experiences of love” (Yates 452). Romantic love, or the desire for a bond with the other, needs to be balanced with companionate love, which is a nurturing kind of love. A married couple, although united, is still made up of two people who have freedom to act. In this way, each person in the relationship is free to “respond to that relationship, change it, shape it violate it, or destroy it” (Yates 454).
The fifth quality of the commitment is to create limitations and rules. This is important so that the couple can gain a better understanding of the expected roles and behaviors in the relationship. These rules have to do with most aspects of the married couple’s lives because an agreement needs to be reached such as in the case of how money will be spent and what values the family will hold.
Lastly, the sixth element has to do with when there are difficulties in the marriage. When conflicts arise, a couple must do everything in their power to try to fix them and only when all other possibilities have been attempted should divorce then be considered. It is important, if a couple is having marital problems that they seek help. A marriage will not end because of a single issue but there can be deeper issues which need to be dealt with.
In comparing these two views of a good marriage, we can see that there are definite similarities but also there is a difference. Those looking at marriage from a religious perspective see marriage in the context of faith and a relationship with God. This can bee seen in the Protestant view of marriage which can relate the covenant of marriage to the covenant with God. But this is not to say that marriages which are not deeply religious will not work; there is still love, trust, honesty and acceptance which can sustain the marriage and keep it alive.
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