Does our view of marriage need to change?

Recently I (Rita) read an article titled Marriage Needs To Change If It’s Going to Survive, published on September 30, 2014 by Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W. in Contemplating Divorce.  While we don’t necessarily support some of the things she recommends she did make us once again revisit “Traditional Marriage.”  Statistics show that somewhere between 40 and 50% of marriages end in divorce and increasing numbers of people are never marrying.  So will our “view” of traditional marriage be the thing that saves it as some proclaim or do we need to take a look at marriage and where it might need to change if we want marriage to remain viable in our culture and in our world.

I began by looking at the Bible.  In Genesis 2:18, a woman is created from man’s rib. Depending on translation, she is to be a helper, helpmate or companion to man.  They are told two things; to “become two in one flesh”, and “be fruitful and multiply”.  Various men in the Bible had multiple wives, along with concubines.  We really know little about their marriages and the traditions that they lived as man and wife.

Divorce is only mentioned 4 times in Scripture.  It is first mentioned in the book of Leviticus. At the time of Jesus the concept of divorce was clearly under discussion. It would appear that while marriage being forever was an ideal, the reality said that it didn’t happen for everyone who entered into it.

It is believed that Mohammad the Prophet had 12 wives and Siddhatta, the Buddha, is recorded to have one and Confucius had one.  Some Native Americans practiced polygamy to help ensure male offspring.  A man and a woman joining together, usually to have children, seems to have been around since humans as we know them have existed.  Who doesn’t have the picture in mind of a cave man dragging a woman by the hair to his cave.  Even the popes in the middle 14th and 15th centuries had relationships with women.  While they didn’t marry because by that time celibacy had become a requirement, they still had intimate relationships with women who often lived in the Vatican with them.

Much is in the news today about gay and lesbian marriage.  It is currently presented by some as the greatest evil against traditional marriage between a man and a woman.  Perhaps this is just another example of sticking our heads in the sand rather than having a real discussion, examination or reality check about what marriage can and does do for us in the 21st century.  While statistics show that traditional marriage is on the decline the media focuses on it quite a lot.  Just tune in to TLC on Friday nights with multiple shows about getting married.  Nearly every day my web browser has an article about marriage relationships, how to have a better one, not always about sex.  While many young woman never marry, most appear to dream about living happily ever after with the man of their dreams who will love them and care for them.  It would appear that most are delaying marriage and many young married couples choose not to have children but instead build their lives around pets, especially dogs.

(Bob) Pope Francis has opened the door to consideration and discussion about many aspects of Church teaching and considerations of alternatives in some areas.  We have been listening to contentious discussions about how same-sex marriage is destroying conventional marriage while some people tell us that it is heterosexual behavior that has changed marriage and they don’t see that same-sex marriage is relevant to that discussion.

A high percentage of heterosexual couples have been involved in multiple sexual relationships and are living together as they approach the Church to be married.  We don’t hear much about that recently.  How are we going to deal with their relationship to the Church?  Are we just going to ignore it, as a battle that has been lost, or are we going to explore other possibilities?

There appears to be growing (some would say convincing) evidence that sexual orientations other than heterosexual are discovered by individuals and not chosen.  Even the American bishops accept this in their pastoral letter, Always Our Children. How, if at all, should that change our view of what is moral behavior for them?  Should they be allowed to marry?

The Church’s sexual teachings have stifled discussion about related issues addressed in Catholic social teaching, e.g. world population, immigration, the rights to work and have a minimum level of material comfort.  Perhaps we can now open some of these discussions as well.

(Bob and Rita) Where does all of this leave us in 2015?  We don’t have answers to the debate but we think perhaps it is time to look at “traditional” marriage and recognize that there is little traditional left if there ever was a single “tradition”  The role of both persons in a relationship have changed.  We only have to look at our children to see that.  They have all chosen what most would say is traditional marriage.  One of our sons currently stays home with their children, Some of the women make more money than the men.  They share chores and responsibilities in different ways than we did. They can be different, allow the other to grow as an individual while still grow together as a couple.

Perhaps it is time to stop talking about who should be allowed to marry, what form limiting children should take and even whether marriage should be forever.  Let us have a frank and honest discussion about what marriage can provide two people.  Some will find living in a publicly proclaimed commitment to relationship as desirable others will not.

We’re not sure there ever was a traditional marriage.  Perhaps it only existed on fifties and sixties TV in the United States.  Marriage in most parts of the world is quite different than what we think we should experience.  It you want to support marriage perhaps it is time for openness and real discussion of its benefits.  We think that discussion needs to cross all elements of society.  Persons engaging in that discussion need to have open ears and hearts.  Will we preserve marriage?  Perhaps.  It is evident that marriage will likely take on a different form for many that fills the spiritual, psychological, financial needs of the two individuals who are involved.

We haven’t tried to answer any of these questions, but would very much like to see them addressed and to be part of the discussion.

Please share your thoughts and ideas with us.

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Today’s scripture readings, reflection and prayer:
Living Together in the Word

Bob & Rita’s book:  Forever and Day:  An Invitation to Create a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com or by contacting us.  Also available for Kindle and Nook. Make a retreat with your spouse, at home, on your time.  Readings, relationship tips, questions for discussion.

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About Rita & Bob Boeke

Rita Boeke has experience teaching scripture and with her husband Bob has experience in enriching marriages through workshops and retreats. They post a weekly blog at thewonderofmarriage.com and co-authored Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
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