That Influence Our Views on Marriage
Topics That Interchurch Couples Should Explore
A Process for Exploring Your Level of Compatibility
That Influence Our Views on Marriage
Individuals develop their views and values about marriage from
a variety of sources. Below are four important sources of information
about marriage. As you read each section, consider the ways in
which your views or values regarding marriage have been influenced
by each of these sources.
Church Different denominations
can have somewhat different attitudes or beliefs about marriage.
Catholics, for example, define marriage as one of the seven sacraments.
In contrast, many Protestant denominations believe only baptism
and communion are sacraments. Rather than define marriage as
a sacrament, many Protestant denominations view marriage as a
covenant. Churches or denominations can also have different positions
on other issues related to marriage, such as birth control, or
the acceptability divorce and remarriage.
of Origin) Our
views of marriage can also be shaped by our childhood experiences,
particularly in what we have seen modeled about marriage by our
parents. Ted, for example, saw his mother have nine different
marriages, which made him question the permanence of marriage.
His partner, Samantha, in contrast, saw her parents stay together
for life despite a difficult illness that her mother experienced.
This couple struggled with a shared meaning of marriage. Samantha
wanted assurance that Ted would love her in the future, an assurance
that Ted was unwilling to give because he doubted the long-term
viability of marriage.
Circle of Friends A pastor
once said that there are two important decisions that a couple
will make that will impact the success of their marriage. Who
they choose to marry is the most important decision they make.
The second most important decision was whom the couple chose
as their circle of friends. He went on to say that if the couple
had a network of friends who saw divorce as a viable solution
to marital difficulties, then they would be much more susceptible
to similar thinking. If a couple chose a circle of friends committed
to making marriages work even in difficult times, then they would
be more likely to do the same. Thus, he urged couples to carefully
consider their circle of friends in light of their potential
influence. This advice illustrates how important an influence
our peers or friends can have in our lives.
Culture Our culture is another
powerful source of information about marriage. Our American culture
both values and devalues marriage in a variety of ways. The fact
that the vast majority of Americans will marry at some point
in time illustrates the value that society places on marriage.
At the same time, however, the number of couples who choose to
cohabitate as an alternative to marriage has grown dramatically
in recent time. In addition, ending a marriage through divorce
has been become quite common. Current estimates are that nearly
half of all marriages today will eventually end in divorce.
also influence our views on what it takes to have a successful
marriage. A common belief in our society is that
love conquers all, ignoring the fact that certain skills are necessary
for many couples to sustain a healthy relationship. The high divorce
rate today highlights the challenge that many couples face in building
a satisfying and enduring marriage. Despite this fact, it is far
more difficult to get a driver's license than a marriage license
in most states. It has also been observed that couples will often
spend thousands of dollars on a wedding, but will spend far less
time, money, or effort preparing for their actual marriage.
An individual's racial/ethnic culture can also influence the views
or values surrounding marriage. Some cultures, for example, put
primary emphasis on the marital bond, while other cultures put
primary emphasis on the parent-child bond. Different cultures may
also vary on the stigma attached to divorce. Racial/ethnic messages
about marriage are often intimately intertwined with family and
religious rituals or customs.
Topics That Interchurch Couples Should Explore
It is important that both you and your partner evaluate your views
and values regarding marriage to ensure you are sufficiently compatible
with one another. Being compatible does not necessarily mean that
you agree on each and every item. There should always be room for
individual differences. On major issues or values, however, there
should be more similarity than differences. This section explores
possible topics that may be particularly important for interchurch
couples to explore because of the potential for differences due
to different religious backgrounds.
The role of God in the relationship Research
shows that interchurch couples are more likely than same-church couples
to differ in the importance that each partner gives to religion.
Therefore, you might explore how important God is to each of
you, and how differences, if they exist, may impact your relationship.
Does one of you, for example, see marriage as primarily as a
legal arrangement, while the other sees it as primarily a religious
union? What role, if any, does each of you see God playing in
your relationship? Do you see God having little or no influence
on your relationship, or do you believe God should play a central
or key role in your relationship? Will you and your partner,
for example, pray together to God about your relationship? What
spiritual principles or values, if any, will guide you as you
face the inevitable challenges of marriage?
Divorce and commitment Different
denominations differ in their acceptance of divorce and remarriage.
Although couples in love often do not think about divorce, it
is recommended that you explore with one another your views on
commitment and divorce. Under what circumstances, for example,
would divorce be acceptable to you or your partner? What actions
will you and your partner take if you encounter difficulties
in the future? Would you both be willing, for example, to seek
help from a therapist or clergy person if problems arose in the
Gender roles Different denominations can also vary on the
roles that are prescribed or allowed for men and women. In a letter
to the Ephesians (Chapter 6, verses 22-23), Paul states, Wives
should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord because
the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of his body
the church, as well as its savior. This controversial passage
has been interpreted in different ways. Based on this passage,
some believe the husband is in a leadership position, and that
the wife should submit to his authority in all matters. Others
believe that Paul's subsequent statements to husbands in Ephesians,
Chapter 6 (verses 25-30) are evidence that both men and women are
equally called to love and submit to the other's needs. Paul states,
for example, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church
(verse 25). Regardless of one's position, it is prudent that a
couple share a common view of gender roles. Do both you and your
partner, for example, favor equal or egalitarian roles for men
and women? Or, do you both view the husband in a leadership position,
with the wife submitting to his authority? To avoid serious conflict,
it is important that each of you be clear with one another regarding
your expectations in this critical area.
Children and religion Couples
generally recognize the wisdom of exploring with one another
whether or not to have children, and how many children are desired.
For interchurch couples, it is also wise to explore the importance
that religion will play in the upbringing of children. What role,
if any, will God play in the family life? Are both partners equally
committed to providing a religious upbringing for their children,
or is one person more committed to this than the other? Have
you and your partner discussed the core values or teachings that
you want instilled in your children? What are your expectations
about which church or churches, if any, the child will be raised?
This can be a difficult topic for many interchurch couples, and
will be discussed in more detail in a separate unit.
Family planning/contraception Different denominations have different
teachings regarding the acceptability of various forms of birth
control. The Catholic Church, for example, forbids the use of any
artificial form of contraception. Other denominations, in contrast,
do not necessarily prohibit couples using artificial means of contraception.
Given these potential differences, it would be helpful for couples
to discuss what forms of family planning will be acceptable to
both parties. The couple should also discuss what they would do
in the event an unplanned pregnancy did occur. Would they decide
to raise the child, or consider another alternative such as placing
the child for adoption? To what extent does each partner see abortion
as a morally acceptable or unacceptable alternative? The answers
to these questions can significantly impact a relationship. One
woman stated to her fiancé that she would rather divorce
than consider an abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy.
Other Areas These
topics or questions do not address all the areas that a couple
can or should explore in assessing the compatibility of their
values or expectations. Ideally, you would also explore your
attitudes and beliefs on other topics such as how to handle finances,
dealing with extended family or friends, sexuality, leisure activities,
or career decisions. The topics that have been discussed here,
however, are the areas that may be particularly important for
interchurch couples to address. If you are interested in exploring
your relationship in other areas, you may want to take a relationship
inventory such as FOCCUS/REFOCCUS, PREPARE/ENRICH, or RELATE.
These inventories are commonly used in premarital counseling
or marriage enrichment to help couples explore their relationship
in more depth on a wide range of topics. These inventories are
intended to provide couples a springboard for exploring their
relationship through discussion.
See the Supplemental
Resources section for
more information about the various relationship inventories.
A Process for Exploring Your Level of Compatibility
This section outlines steps that you and your partner can take
to evaluate how compatible your views of marriage are with one
another. These steps, used in conjunction with the topics or questions
suggested in the previous section, will help you develop a shared
understanding of where you and your partner are similar or different
in regards to key values and beliefs.
Step One: Know Thyself A
recommended first step is to clarify what are the key beliefs
and attitudes about marriage that you possess. Hopefully, the
questions that have been raised in the previous section have
begun to facilitate this process for you. In reality, learning
about ourselves (or our partners) is an on-going process.
Step Two: Critically Examine Your Beliefs In
addition to identifying your beliefs, it is often helpful to
critically examine the validity of those beliefs or attitudes.
As children, it is often difficult to assess the validity of
the values or beliefs passed on to us by our parents or other
authorities. As result, we adopt and live by a number of beliefs
or attitudes that have never been closely examined. Beliefs or
attitudes about marriage are no exception. It can be helpful,
therefore, to carefully consider where and when you learned certain
beliefs about marriage as a starting point in evaluating their
validity. An individual who came from a family with multiple
divorces may have internalized a very different set of beliefs
about marriage than an individual raised in an intact family.
Step Three: Know Thy Partner The
third step in the process is to learn all that you can about
your partner's beliefs about marriage. During this step, it is
important to be curious rather than judgmental. Your partner
no doubt considers his or her views to be valid based on what
he or she was taught or experienced in life. To help maintain
this sense of curiosity, you may want to pay attention to factors
that have shaped and influenced your partner's beliefs or attitudes
about marriage. Did your partner, for example, have a much different
family experience growing up in comparison to you? To what extent
has different cultural or religious experiences shaped your partner's
beliefs to be different from your own.
Step Four: Mapping Areas of Differences
and Similarities In
the fourth step, you and your partner can try to develop some understanding
of where there are differences and similarities in your values
or beliefs regarding marriage. It is not only important to map
out your differences, but also your similarities. It may also be
necessary to look carefully at your differences to see how much
of a difference really exists. This last point cannot be emphasized
enough. Two things may look different on the surface, but in reality
may be more similar than different if one digs a little deeper.
Many individuals, for example, believe that they are baptized into
a particular church or denomination. In reality, Christians are
baptized into Christ's church, which is broader and more inclusive
than just one denomination. That is why, for example, a Lutheran
who later becomes Catholic does not get baptized again. The Catholic
Church recognizes the individual's original baptism into the Christian
community as valid. In a similar manner, interchurch couples could
focus on the fact that Catholics see marriage as a sacrament while
Protestants define it as a covenant. What both beliefs share, however,
is an understanding that God is an intimate part of the marriage
Step Five: Assessing Compatibility At
some point, consciously or unconsciously, each individual assesses
the couple's level of compatibility. The values surrounding marriage
are no exception. No couple will have perfectly similar values
or expectations in all areas. For all couples, there are areas
of agreement and areas of disagreement. Individuals must consider
their compatibility in many areas, and weigh the personal importance
of each area. Is the area of disagreement a minor area of concern,
or is it of sufficient concern that it threatens the viability
of the relationship? Each individual must also consider the extent
to which the value, belief, or attitude is negotiable. For some
issues, the individual may feel that the value or belief is non-negotiable,
and that to change or give in would seriously challenge his or
her personal integrity. Other beliefs or attitudes are less central
to our personal identity, and may simply challenge us to adopt
a different, but perhaps equally valid perspective.
Although developing a shared meaning
around marriage has been outlined in five sequential steps, in
reality the process is not always as straightforward. It can be
difficult, for example, to get in touch with our own values regarding
marriage until we are exposed to someone whose beliefs are different
from our own. Therefore, learning more about our partner's beliefs
may help us get in touch with our own beliefs as we compare and
contrast our beliefs. Likewise, assessing compatibility and possibly
negotiating a common ground may lead us to challenge some of our
own beliefs, forcing us to examine their validity. You may find,
therefore, that you recycle through some of the steps as you progress.