What’s so special about marriage? Is it really just an unnecessary formality, or is there something significantly more to this God-given institution?
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:31)
There’s no denying it; the simple act of physical intimacy does something to a woman’s heart–it creates a strong bond which is emotionally difficult to break. Yet it is equally true that this act does not necessarily achieve the same effect in men, creating a dilemma for multitudes of women who falsely hope they have “caught their man.”
Studies are actually showing that rather than being a step towards marriage, couples who live together before marriage decrease their chances of a more permanent union–an observation dubbed “the cohabitation effect.” According to an article in The New York Times, “Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not.”
The article explains that, “…partners often have different, unspoken — even unconscious — agendas. Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.”
It also finds that, “Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love. A life built on top of ‘maybe you’ll do’ [as opposed to someone else] simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the ‘we do’ of commitment…” Thus we see that research confirms what God has revealed.
When a man and woman marry something unique happens: in a very real sense, they become “one flesh.” Not only do they commit to each other emotionally and financially, and unite their bodies physically; they also begin a completely new entity–the marriage. And just as a corporation is legally considered separate from the individuals who run it, a completely new entity is formed when two individuals wed. Indeed, from a superficial perspective it may initially appear indistinguishable from a cohabitation, yet time reveals its true nature–a new family unit previously not existing.
Clearly, children are the most obvious illustration of this: where there were only two individuals, there are now others who possess both father and mother’s genetic make-up. As they grow, parents share the common goal of their children’s best interests; eventually grandchildren add even more to the tapestry of a couple’s life.
Yet even in the absence of children, a marriage is more than the two separate individuals who comprise it. The permanence of marriage encourages openness and confidentiality; it provides fertile soil for the partners to grow and mature in a more secure environment. Even though they are imperfect participants in this great privilege instituted by God, if they allow Him to, in time He will use it to mold their characters and turn their hearts more fully toward not only Himself but also each other. It will, in fact, become difficult to imagine life alone.
Thank You for giving us the institution of marriage, and for the many blessings we receive when we obey You. Give us Your wisdom always. Amen.
For more information on the “cohabitation effect” see: