THINGS THAT MOST IN THE MEDIA DON’T KNOW ABOUT MARRIAGE

WHAT PROPONENTS OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE WANT. . .

Proponents of Same Sex Marriage (“SSM”) are passionate about equality, tolerance and respect for all people. They are deeply hurt by the attitudes of others who are too often unkind toward them. Sometimes those who defend the institution of marriage as exclusively being the union of a man and woman, do so in an ungracious and aggressive manner.

Legislatively redefining marriage to encompass same-sex couples is also a powerful statement that is hoped to bring a sense of validation and endorsement to those who currently feel deprived of this. In this sense, SSM is as much a statement of our society’s value of equality, tolerance, fairness, non-discrimination, and inclusiveness. In fact, arguably, this is actually what SSM is fundamentally about. And because any decent, civilised society is so – because those values are at their core – it sounds hateful, intolerant, and bigoted, if anyone in that society opposes this highly symbolic legislative statement!

THE INTENT OF MARRIAGE. . .
But the Institution of Marriage was never intended to be a symbolic ambassador for any political agenda. Neither was it meant to be a government’s – or even a society’s – endorsement of a couple. The government has no interest in its citizens’ various social partnerships – none! You can form a partnership with a fishing buddy, a tennis doubles partner, a car-pooling colleague, and the government has no interest. But when two people intend to form an exclusive, life-long union with the aim of having and/or raising children, the government and society has learned that it must take an interest. This type of union must have individuals (not couples, for the Marriage Act can only apply to individuals) comply with the Act’s five criteria in order for the marriage to proceed (The five criteria necessary for proceeding with a marriage are summed up in the acronym, GRAPE -Gender, Relationship, Age, Person, Eligibility). This interest is designed to protect those who are historically the most vulnerable to abuse – women and children – and this is one of the two reasons why Governments have any interest in regulating marriage in the first place. And in doing so, Legislators did not have to define marriage – they simply described it and reflected what is the case in reality, that as a group, as a rule, and by nature, it requires the literal wedding (a biological term – not a ceremonial term) of a man and a woman for a child to result. And all the social data states that a child is raised best when raised in a loving home by their married mother and father (cf. Children In Three Contexts in the Journal: Australian Children Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 23–31).

THE NATURE OF MARRIAGE. . .
An essential social ingredient in this parenting union has long been observed: that this union provide that highest form of emotional security for each other and their children whom they birth and raise. This union derives its maximum effectiveness when the individuals entering into the marriage union do so voluntarily, to the exclusion of all others, for life, with a view to having and/or raising their children. This is not so much the definition of marriage as it is the description of marriage. Thus, marriage does not submit to redefinition – in much the same way that a shape doesn’t either. A circle is not a circle because it has been defined that way. Things like circles are best described rather than vainly attempting to arbitrarily define them. Any effort to redefine what a circle should now be is completely disregarded by the circle. Marriage is something. It does not invite redefining.

CONCERNS INDIVIDUALS NOT COUPLES. . .
Marriage doesn’t grant anything to couples – rather, it requires something of individuals and these requirements are applied equally, fairly, and justly, to every individual (irregardless of gender or orientation). Marriage is not the privilege granted to lovers. Two individuals can love each other without the regulatory consent of Government. In fact, there is no mention of love being a pre-requisite for marriage in the Marriage Act (although love is usually the vowed subsequent responsibility of those who marry). The idea that just because two people love each other they should be allowed to marry and similarly to forbid them this “right”, is to “treat certain people unfairly” is a furphy of enormous magnitude – because this is neither the criteria now, nor even the existing right of a man and woman who do. This argument for SSM is a classic ‘Straw-man’ argument.

We want everyone in our society to be treated fairly, equally, and appropriately and not to be subjected to hate or spiteful intolerance. But politicising marriage and treating it as political tokenism is not the means to this end. We do not need to endorse the politicising of marriage in this way for these values to be demonstrated in our society.

Dr. Andrew Corbett
Legana, Tasmania

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Pastoral Pre-Marital Counselling – Part 6

The last of the Pastoral pre-marital counselling sessions with a couple is left till last for a very good reason. This is usually and best left until the week of the wedding. By this stage the couple has gone through the first four levels of developing intimate communication (discussed in my previous posts). We now come to the fifth and the most intimate level of communicating.

The pastor will chat with the couple to disarm them before the final pre-marital session starts. He would do well to listen particularly for any stressors that the couple may be encountering. There is then some revision and a review of their homework from the previous session.

SEX WITHIN MARRIAGE
We live in a very sexualised culture. Despite this, we also live in a deeply lonely culture and one where relationships are increasingly shallow and unsatisfying. Our culture promotes relationships where lust and infatuation are confused for “love”. It celebrates sex without intimacy and connections without commitments. Marriage is now profoundly counter-cultural! 

Marriage is the solution to loneliness. Marriage provides the environment for an intensely deep connection with another person who is emotionally, biologically, and (somewhat) spiritually radically different. Rather than enabling a person to have their needs met, marriage provides the privilege of meeting another person’s needs. Lust takes while love gives. Lust demands while love surrenders. Lust is insatiable while love is satisfying. It is within marriage that sex becomes a physical expression of the deepest possible intimacy between a man and his bride.

Sex within marriage is not a side issue. It is, after all, why many people get married because they know that sexual activity outside of marriage is both immoral (against the Natural Law) and sin (against God’s Law). Sex has been described as the “glue” that binds a husband to his wife. We even use sexual language to describe the commencement of a marriage with the word – wedding.

Having shown a couple the difference between the world’s vision of sex and the God of the Bible’s view of His sacred gift to a couple, the pastor will then explain to a couple about the fifth and deepest level of (intimate) communication and its connection to sex. The pastor will explain that sexual intimacy is an expression of love, rather than lust, and he will give a couple some reasons to support this.

SEX AND MARRIAGE VOWS
In the previous session with the couple, the pastor went through the Marriage Vows. Now he will show and explain why aspects of these vows involve the couple’s sexual relationship. The Vows open with the question, “Will you take this woman to be your wedded wife”. To “wed” is to merge together. In the sense of a marriage it at least involves sexualising the relationship. The Vows contain the expression, “…to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of marriage…” Living together is not merely co-habiting. It is intimate sharing – of resources, time, social engagements, meals, goals, holidays, thoughts, a bed and their bodies. “…keeping yourself only unto her…” is a vow of not just sexual fidelity (to not commit adultery) but of sexual dedication

Every time a married couple makes love they are renewing their wedding vows. Sex between a man and his wife is a glue designed to knit them together physically – their bodies are perfectly designed for it – emotionally – relationship security is enhanced with the associated messages of desire and surrender – and, spiritually – God has designed men in a certain spiritual fashion and women in another spiritual fashion that is celebrated in the union of marital (“covenant”) sex.

THE BOUNDARIES OF MARITAL SEX
Some people state that whatever happens in the bedroom of a married couple is fine as long there is consent. Generally this is true. However, there must be boundaries. The marriage vows help to establish some. “Keep yourself only unto” not only precludes the involvement of a third party, but surely the virtual involvement of any other person or people. We live in a virtual world now of smart-phones, tablets, video-screens and home-theatres. Pornography is largely virtual today. Despite porn-peddlars promoting their wares as “marital aids” they rarely serve any interest other than a commercial one.

Our bodies are designed to be sexual – but not just sexual. That is, not every part, cavity, crease, or crevice, is designed for the purposes of sex. Some parts of our bodies are, to use the old King James language, “unseemly” (Romans 1:27; 1Corinthians 13:5). They are designed to perform a vital biological role that could be injured or damaged if used for another purpose.

SEX AND COMMUNICATION WITHIN A MARRIAGE
Intimacy is furthered by good communication. Over the past few months as the pastor has worked with the couple giving them ‘homework’ and communication exercises, it has been the goal of these sessions to help the couple to prepare for their marriage by helping them to communicate more effectively. I have discussed this in my previous posts. The most intimate form of communicating is when a married couple share and meet each other’s needs. It is from intimacy that sex is thrilling and deeply satisfying. Having helped a couple to understand that each other’s sexual needs are met differently (men are generally aroused visually while women are generally aroused audibly, followed by appropriate touch) the pastor can conclude by inviting questions and letting the couple know that they are just days away from opening God’s beautiful wedding gift of sex. After closing in prayer, their next appointment is the wedding rehearsal.

Andrew Corbett.
TWITTER  @DrAndrewC

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Pastoral Marriage Preparation – Part 5

The Pastor’s sixth meeting with the couple he is preparing for marriage will be the final one before the wedding rehearsal. At this meeting the pastor will engage the couple in light banter about their wedding day preparations. This meeting usually takes place one week or less prior to the wedding. At this stage of the couple’s preparation their stress levels could be higher than usual. It will be beneficial for the couple to find that the pastor is interested in what they are going through beyond the specifics of their marriage preparation.

As the couple shares about their stresses and challenges of preparing for their wedding, the pastor is inconspicuously modelling active and responsive listening. (This will be pointed out to the couple toward the end this session.) It may even be helpful for the pastor to specifically ask each person what their biggest challenge currently is. This should be noted by the pastor in his own words, to be repeated back to the couple later.

The pastor can then let the couple know what the objective of this meeting is – to learn what the final step in the progression to communication intimacy is; to understand the role of sexual intimacy in their marriage, how communication is linked to this sexual fulfilment; and to recap on all that they have learned.

The couple is informed that this particular session is left to last for several reasons which includes sexual purity, avoiding temptation, and avoiding over-familiarity. The couple then learns of the final  step in intimate communication. The previous four stages are recapped. The pastor explains how intimacy is developed through mutual understanding which demands deep listening. Deep listening results in ‘hearing’ what the other person is saying despite the words they use (or don’t use). By this time the couple has been shown how to ‘listen’ to the feelings of the other person. 

As the pastor shares these things with the couple he points out how he has been listening to each person by modelling the active and responsive listening he has been teaching. This involves hearing what each person has been expressing emotionally. This becomes a segue-way into discussing sexual intimacy.

Men and women find sexual fulfilment in different yet complementary ways. Marital intimacy provides the maximum potential for sexual fulfilment. The pastor explains to the couple why this is and how they can work toward achieving this.

The pastor then invites questions or feedback. Finally, he recommends medical checks if they have not already done so. It is recommended that they seek medical advise to consider their contraceptive options from a moral and biological point of view. 

The couple then submit their homework (a written prayer for each other) to the pastor who takes a copy of them. Arrangements are made for the wedding rehearsal time, venue and other details. Concluding this session with banter with the couple helps to finish on a lighter note for an already stressed couple. The session closes with each person praying.

 

 

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Pastoral Marriage Preparation – Part 4

The word pastor means shepherd. To shepherd involves comforting, guiding, leading, training, and teaching. Sometimes it is simply a pastor’s presence that gives comfort and hope to a person struggling with grief and tragedy. But such dark seasons in a person’s life do not last. But there are some seasons which do (or at least should) last for a long time. And there is no season in a person’s life when the guidance of a pastor is more necessary than when they are about to marry. Having already had four meetings with a couple preparing to marry, where he has shown a couple how to communicate and resolve conflicts, the pastor will now show them the correlation between their marriage vows and their journey to developing their intimacy.

 

THE FIFTH MEETING

The couple’s homework is reviewed where they share their individual goal, their couple goal, and their family goal. This exercise helps a couple to understand that they both maintain their individual identity and take on a new identity as a couple, then as a family.

During the wedding ceremony a couple will make two sets of vows. The first set of vows is made to God. Here is a typical set of vows made to God –

The Vows To God

[Hold right hands.]

Having a full understanding of the privileges and obligations of the Christian marriage, {Man’s First Name}, will you take this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the Holy estate of Matrimony? Will you promise to love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her, so long as you both shall live?

 

[The man shall answer:]

I will.

 It’s imperative that the couple understands each aspect of what they are vowing to God. It is critical that the couple understands the first two words of the vows they are making to God. “Will you…” Not – “Do you…” Even though Hollywood loves to build their big screen weddings around the exchange of “I do” – this response only answers the question Do you do this now? But a set of vows that asks Will you? is asking whether you will continue in these vows for the rest of your life. It is asking for a decision of the will that will last a life-time.

This act of the will is the source for –

(i) loving your spouse (not because you feel like you’re in love);

(ii) comforting your spouse (which involves being together, listening, understanding);

(iii) honouring your spouse (this is the most important aspect to understand as it means treating your spouse as more important than yourself);

(iv) keeping your spouse (this involves providing for and doing so even if your spouse is utterly unable to do anything for themselves);

(v) in sickness and in health (even if your spouse should develop a terminal illness or suffer a debilitating injury, you will love, comfort, honour and keep them);

(vi) for better or for worse (what does “worse” look like? Does worse look like betrayal, cheating, bankruptcy?);

(vii) forsaking all others (once you are married you are no longer free to be entangled emotionally let alone physically, with another person);

(viii) keeping yourself only unto… (pornography, inappropriate relationships that take pre-eminence over your marriage, have no place in your life when married);

(ix) so long as you both shall live (marriage is a covenant commitment for life – which means that divorce should never be seen as a “last resort” because marriage should be entered into with no hesitation);

The pastor will ask the couple if they have any questions or need anything clarified.

 

THE SECOND SET OF VOWS

I {Man’s Name} / take you {Woman’s Name} / according to God’s Holy Word/ to be my wife/ to have and to hold/ from this day forward/ to share my faith in Christ/ to guide you and make my home with you/ for better, for worse/ for richer, for poorer/ in sickness and in health/ to love and to cherish/ until we are parted by death/ before God/ I pledge you my faithfulness.

These vows are made to each other before God. Each aspect is discussed with the couple. They must understand the gravity of what they are about to do. The pastor would then conclude asking the couple for their thoughts and any feedback.

The pastor then gives the couple homework to write out a wedding prayer for their future spouse. They then arrange to meet for their final marriage preparation counselling session in a week.

Andrew.

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Pastoral Pre-Marital Counselling – Part 3

Helping a couple to recognize the difference between fighting and arguing is the pastor’s main task when dealing with the third stage of intimate communication. A fight is heated. But it is possible to help a couple to learn how to diffuse a fight by having one or both parties use a very simple technique.

THE FOURTH MEETING

The couple is asked to report back on their homework (which was to document a conflict and how they sought to resolve it). The pastor discusses this with them and uses it as a means to introduce conflict resolution strategies.

In my previous post I introduced the concept of active listening. When someone is fighting they are trying to win. But when someone is listening well and seeking to understand what they other person is trying to say, they are taking the heat out of the fight. In fact, their attempts to understand what the other person is trying to say will involve clarifying questions and “so what you’re saying is…” type statements which will actually help the angry party to better express themselves. When a person feels understood they are drawn to that person. Once clarity and understanding has been achieved, the other party can state and ask, “I understand that you’re saying [active listening]. I see things a little differently. Would you be interested to hear how I see it?

This is arguing. It is different to fighting (although most people call fighting ‘arguing’). An argument is the giving of reasons. Its goal is to understand. By understanding where each other are coming from, a couple can better arrive at a win-win solution. There will of course be times when this is not possible. That’s life. And it’s especially marriage! You don’t always get everything your way and it is unreasonable to think that you should.
In this session with a couple, the pastor can build on the concept of active listening and introduce responsive listening. This will involve teaching a couple that communication is not merely done with words. It’s body language, it’s active listening, it’s emotions, it’s facial expressions, it’s tone of voice, it’s use of time.

Responsive listening hears what is behind what is really being said and then responds lovingly. For example, a wife who asks her husband to not leave his dirty socks on the bedroom floor but to rather place them in the laundry basket, is not merely making a laundry request. She is asking for sensitivity. She is asking for respect. She is asking whether her husband really loves her. A husband who practises responsive listening will place his dirty socks in the laundry basket from that point on.  

The couple is then introduced to a copy of their marriage vows which has been printed out in preparation for them. The content of the vows will be the main topic of the fifth meeting. Their homework from this session is to develop 3 goals: a personal goal for when they are married; a goal as a couple; and a goal for their future family. When then arrange to meet again in 2-3 weeks.

[More to come]

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Pastoral Marriage Preparation – Part 2

Pastors have the privilege of helping couples to build strong marriages based on time-tested principles. The three common reasons why most marriages fail are: communication breakdown, infidelity (not just sexual), and lack of adequate preparation. By pastors addressing the last of these three they can actually diminish the chances of the first two happening. This is why pastors should not simply help a couple to wed, they should help them to marry. That is, the bulk of their time spent with a couple preparing for marriage should not be spent on helping the couple to have a wedding.

THE SECOND MEETING

The couple are given homework to take away with them from the second meeting. This includes developing a wish list of three things they would like from their partner. At the end of each session with a couple there is an opportunity to talk freely and invite them to ask questions. The session then finishes with each of us praying out loud.

THE THIRD MEETING

In our third I have the couple share the results of their homework. We then discuss this. During the discussion I am modelling active listening without the couple being aware of it. This will be highlighted later on in our session. I then remind them, usually by use of a whiteboard, that there are five stages to intimacy through healthy communication. The first stage is the sharing of cliches. “How are you?” “Good thanks.” The second stage is facts. “How are you?” “I have a terrible back-ache.”

The third stage is critical. It is in the third stage of communication where all conflicts between a couple begin. The third stage of communication toward intimacy is opinions. It is at this stage that a couple can clash. Dr Gary Smalley describes this as the “wall of conflict“. When opinions clash, conflict happens and when a couple is in conflict they generally use what I call ‘a road map’ to navigate their way through it. There are basically two road maps with which they can use. The first road map is called: “Argue”. When I mention this couple initially, I also mention that I am going to teach them to argue. They nearly always laugh at me and say that they argue all the time! I then assure them that they have probably never argued in their life. The other possible road map is called: “Fight”. This is the most commonly used road map by couples.

The pastor can help a couple to understand that “the Fight road map” has one goal – to win. This is why conflict is inevitable at this stage unless the couple learns to argue. The Argue road map has a different goal.  Its goal is to understand. To argue well you must listen well. This is where we introduce “Active Listening”. Active listening involves listening and repeating back to the communicator what has been heard in order to gain clarity about what is being communicated. The pastor can introduce a maxim here: understand before being understood. After one partner feels they have been understood by giving their reasons for their opinions, and the other partner has demonstrated that they understand their partner’s opinion, they can now ask permission to share the reasons for their differing opinion. The other partner now also uses active listening to achieve understanding of what they are being told.

The couple is then given homework for our next session in four weeks which includes using these principles to resolve a current conflict they are having.

[More to come.]

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Pastoral Marriage Preparation – Part 1

There are three common reasons why marriages fail and Pastors have the privilege of helping to prevent or at least minimise their damage on a couple preparing for marriage. This year I am already marrying nine couples. With each couple I require at least six pre-marital counselling sessions, usually spread over 6 – 9 months. But I am aware that there are pastors who do no pre-marital preparation with the couples they marry. I would like to share the broad outline of the ‘road map’ which I use to prepare a couple for marriage.

FIRST MEETING

After a couple has asked me to marry them and I have explained that I only perform a wedding as a Christian Minister (not as a Civil Celebrant) we make an appointment for our first meeting. Ideally this first appointment is 9 months out from their wedding date – but we can squeeze the required sessions into a 6 month window of time. At the first meeting the couple supplies their full birth certificates which are used to complete the Notice of Intention (these provide the full names of their parents including maiden names). I then outline to the couple that we are going to be putting 90% of joint effort into preparing them for their marriage not their wedding. A wedding, as I explain to the couple, is under an hour. A marriage is meant to be for a life-time. I then quiz the couple on why they think most marriages fail. I generally have most couples get two out of the three top reasons why most marriages fail (communication breakdown / infidelity – breach of trust / lack of adequate preparation). I then give them their first set of homework exercises which includes purchasing 2 Gary Smalley books: For Better Or For Best for her to read; and, If Only He Knew for him to read. We then set the date of our next meeting which would be in another 6 weeks or so (if we are nine months out) or 4 weeks or so (if we are only 6 months out). They have to have their books read and be prepared to report on what they have read at our next meeting.

SECOND MEETING

At this second meeting the couple report back on their homework assignments. We then begin to outline what intimate communication looks like. I explain that there are five stages to the most intimate communication. The first stage is using cliches. At this stage of communication we are intentionally keeping our distance while being polite. The second stage of intimate communication is facts. At this stage we are showing some trust in the person we are sharing with. This is an important point because with each stage of communication we are communicating with increasing trust. But it is the third stage of communication where most couples end up in conflict. And it is at this stage where the hard work of real communication begins.

[More to come]

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