Marriage is not a Contract

Speaking to numerous couples of late and reading numerous books and blogs on the subject I have watched people’s marriages spiral out of control like an airplane in a spin.  Some have crashed, others barely survived, some I am not sure how long they have left.

Marriage, Christian marriage, is not a contract.  It’s a covenant.

A contract is an exchange.   A contract works when I do something and so you do something.  I pay money and you do the work, etc.  When one side of a contract breaks down (I don’t pay or you don’t do the work) then the other side no longer has a obligation to do anything.

A covenant is different.  It is an agreement that I will do something and you will do something.  No if’s, but’s or way’s out.

In a Christian marriage men promise to love their wives.  This is not a “I will love you if you respect me or if I feel like it or….anything”.  It is “I will love you in sickness, health, good, bad, whatever and however you treat me“.

Christian wives are commanded to love their husbands by “obeying” them, but I would substitute the word “respect” for the moment, since I think we are not using the word obey in the same way that the Bible does.  Matt Walsh has written an interesting piece on his blog about this.  But the point is that we tend to think of respect being something that is earned.  The Bible doesn’t give wives this option as it does not give men the option to withdraw love from their wives.

None of this is easy.  And when it goes wrong it, it really goes wrong.

He doesn’t feel respected and so ‘stonewalls’.  This where he withdraws his emotional support, sometimes out of protection of himself and sometimes just out of spite.  She now does not respect him because he is not helping her, fulfilling her needs, though really he is simply not doing what he promised to do.  Her respect goes down.  He withdraws more.  She disrespects more.  And the spiral out of control goes on.  It is amazing how quickly things can get out of control.

Matt Walsh points out where this can lead in some cases:

A few months ago I wrote a post about pornography. I stand by every word I typed, but I feel like I could add another couple thousand sentences to the end of it. Ever since I published that piece, I have heard from hundreds and hundreds of men and women on both sides of the porn problem.

Men emailed to tell me that they developed a porn habit and it did great damage to their marriage. But they told me that they resorted to porn after years of being disrespected, shunned and belittled by their wives. They weren’t making an excuse — only offering some perspective and context.

And hundreds of women told me that their husbands developed a porn habit and it caused them to lose all respect for them. This inability to respect their husbands nearly, or in some cases completely, wrecked their marriage.

Speaking to couples in this spiral they can see it but usually the response to looking at how they can change, is “I just don’t have the energy”.  This spiral is spinning them apart, it is out of control and people are often barely holding on by their fingertips.

But we need to stop and realise that all of this came about because we had a contract idea of marriage.   If you don’t fulfil your side, I don’t feel I should fulfil my side.

What do you do if you are already in the spiral?  I can only say what I did.  (Yep, we have been there!).  I focussed on fulfilling my promise.  I chose to love my wife, no matter what she did to me.  I stopped expecting her to fulfil her side of the contract and started to live my side of the covenant.

Was it easy?  No!

Did I get it right all the time?  No!

Did it take more time than I thought it would or even that I thought I had the energy to do it?  Yes!  (We are talking months and months to arrest the spiral).

Were there days I stonewalled for survival?  Yes!

But I prayed God would give me the strength and love to do what I could that day to love my wife.


3 thoughts on “Marriage is not a Contract

  1. Before we got married, an older married couple in ministry had taken us under their wing. I was a student pastor in the Church where he was Senior Pastor.
    One of the things he would constantly say to us: “Marriage cannot be 50/50. So long as it is, both of you are keeping something back. To make it work, you have to give 100/100. That’s the only way Christ loves the Church.”
    Imagine if Jesus stonewalled with the Church every time we failed to love, obey, honour, worship, etc him? Heaven would be very empty and Hell overflowing.
    Jesus loves the Church, not because of what he gets in return or what he expects to receive as a result of his perfect love. It’s an act of glorifying the Father.

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