Until our feelings do us part

As a pastor I have officiated at many funeral services as well as many wedding celebrations. To my knowledge, everyone I’ve ever buried has stayed buried, at least to the present time. It would be disturbing to find it otherwise. But not everyone I’ve married has stayed married. That is disturbing too.

Through the Old Testament prophet God said, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16). It’s not hard to understand why. Divorce destroys families and shatters individual’s identities. This is not only true of adults but also of children, since more than half of all divorces involve children under the age of 18.

Divorce negatively effects children. Children of divorce score lower in academic testing. They are less likely to succeed in school and more likely to live below the poverty level. They are also more likely to divorce when they get married. A study from the University of Toronto also suggests they are more likely to smoke, to drop out of school, to engage in criminal behavior, to suffer a stroke and to die an early death. No wonder God hates divorce.

Over the years I have repeatedly seen parents use their children as weapons to harry or intimidate their exes. Very often the children – especially when they reach teenage years – realize that they have been used as weapons. When, somewhere down the road, the weapon arms itself, everyone is going to get hurt.

Because I have seen this happen again and again, I try to help the couples whose wedding I officiate to divorce-proof their marriages. They take an assessment that helps them see where their relationship may need help. They meet four to six times with a mentor couple to discuss the results, talk through disagreements and come up with a plan on how to handle difficulty. We also plan a follow-up session to take place a few months after they are married.

I always ask couples to think through what steps they will take if their marriage becomes dissatisfying. Will they go to a pastor for advice? Will they seek counseling? If I think they’re unwilling to prevent divorce, I’m unwilling to officiate at their wedding ceremony.

Yet even with the premarital counseling, the mentoring and the follow-up, some couples still decide to get divorced – though in their wedding vows they sincerely promised to take each other no matter what might happen, until death parted them. What happened?

The usual answer is that one or the other (or both) spouses no longer feel the way they felt when they got married. They say things like, “I just don’t love him anymore.” And because their feelings have changed, they believe they are justified – and sometimes even obligated – to break their vows. Instead of “Until death do us part” it is “Until our feelings do us part.”

This is hardly surprising in a culture like ours that makes its decisions almost entirely on the basis of feelings. But someone should have told these folks that love is more than a feeling. Someone should have told them that feelings come and go and change and, as such, do not provide a stable foundation for marriage. Someone should have told them. Someone did.

Falling in love is a beautiful thing, but it simply cannot supply an adequate foundation for entering into marriage. According to researchers, the emotional experience of “being in love” has a lifespan of just six months to two years. For marriage to last, the feeling of “being in love” must give way (or better, flow into) a settled and intentional practice of love. The source of this more difficult (and more rewarding) kind of love is not found outside oneself in one’s lover, nor inside oneself in one’s willpower, but above, in the God from whom true love comes.

Published first in the Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8-3-13

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