Monday, March 13, 2006

You Mean Traditional (Biblically-Styled) Marriages Work? Shocking!

It's interesting how often I've seen this phenomenon: scientific studies that present themselves as amazing new revelation, but actually only confirm the ancient truth and wisdom that followers of Christ and of the Bible have known all along. For example, a Nestcape News article titled The No. 1 Way to Make Your Wife Happy reports on the results of a sociological study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia. Some of the "shocking" conclusions of the study, published in the journal Social Forces, include the following:

    The most important determinant of a woman's marital happiness is the emotional engagement of her husband. A wife cares most about how affectionate and understanding her husband is and how much quality time they spend together as a couple.

    Women who do not work outside the home report happier marriages and spend more quality time with their husbands.

    Women who have more traditional attitudes report more affection and understanding from their husbands. Such attitudes include the idea that women should take the lead in care of the home and family, while men take the lead in earning money.

    Commitment matters. Women who share with their husbands a strong commitment to a lifelong marriage are more likely to report that they are happy in their marriages and happy with the affection and understanding they receive from their husbands, compared with women who do not have such a commitment to marriage. Shared commitment seems to generate mutual trust and higher levels of emotional investment on the part of husbands, both of which are factors that promote marital happiness among women.

    Fairness also matters in shaping the quality and character of women's marriages. Married women are happier in their marriages when they think housework is divided fairly, and they perceive their marriage to be equitable. They also spend more quality time with their husbands when they think housework is divided fairly. What's fair? It's up to each couple, and it's not necessarily a 50-50 split.

The above conclusions seem consistent with the wisdom of the Bible on marriage. Our Lord Jesus re-affirmed the truth that marriage is God's invention, not man's:

"Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (Matthew 19: 4-6)"

The Apostle Paul's inspired and sublime teaching on marriage reveals God's plan-- a mystery of the highest order-- that the husband-wife relationship mirrors the relationship between Jesus and His bride, the church (Ephesians 5: 25-33). The biblical picture of marriage shows that husband and wife are designed by God to play different but complementary roles, and that rather than confine them, the fullest blessings in marriage come to those who fulfill those roles obediently and faithfully.

Some aspects of these biblical roles include the husband being head of his household (1 Cor 11:3, Eph 5:23), primary provider for his family (1 Timothy 5:8, 2 Cor 12:14), and the spiritual leader in his home (1 Tim 3: 4, 12), who sacrificially and unselfishly loves his wife. The Bible says to husbands, "Love your wives as Christ loved the church", and "love your wife as your own body." It says to wives, "respect your husbands" (Eph 5:33), which means, among other things, loving her husband and children by working hard (primarily in the home), being submissive to her husband's leadership, and being pure and self-controlled (Titus 2: 5).

Given the weakness of human nature, a marriage will not survive without strong commitment. Biblical marriage commitment is a covenant that views marriage as a sacred vocation, a promise made before God and witnesses to remain faithful to one's spouse. The traditional wedding vows that promise to stay together "for richer or for poorer, in sickness and health, as long as we both shall live", aptly reflect the nature of such a commitment.

So it is not surprising (certainly not "shocking") to find that marriages reported in this study that mimic the biblical pattern-- husbands who really love their wives and show it through emotional engagement and being fair about housework; husbands who are good providers; wives who make the home and children their primary focus; spouses with deep commitment to their marriages-- actually do work better and bring more joy and happiness to those in them. It would be interesting also to see whether the marriages in this study that followed more traditional (and seemingly more biblical) models were in fact consciously adhering to a Christian model. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that were the case.

Not that the biblical model is in need of confirmation by scientific studies in order to be proven true-- but perhaps a study like this can help influence some to consider that the biblical picture of marriage does indeed work-- not just by chance, but because it's based on true revelation from the One who invented marriage.

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