In essence, these relationships are built upon the personal desire for a need to be met.
This need could be monetary, for community, security, intimacy or even to have children. When these needs are not met the very fabric of the relationship is at risk. The felt purpose of the union is no longer valid, and many see the contract underlying the union of their marriage as null and void.
This train of events makes sense if you see a marriage as existing for the purpose of fulfilling an internal need, to quench a thirst. I believe however the way to look at the purpose of a marriage is quite the opposite.
Ephesians 5 verses 22-30
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.
When you look at common wedding vows they have a regular theme, which is service to your future spouse. In wedding vows it is clear that it is your vow to serve the other, it is not dependent on what you expect to receive. You do not vow to accept undying love and care, you vow to give it. You do not vow to accept protection, but to give it. Marriage is a covenant; our promise is not conditional on the other fulfilling theirs.
As a Christian I find it important to remember what I have vowed to give, not what I expect to receive. I also acknowledge that my partner, no matter how hard they ever try, will not be perfect.
We are to model our marriages and relationships on Jesus and the Church. Jesus offered himself unconditionally to the Church through his crucifixion.
The purpose of Jesus' death was precisely because the Church was incapable of perfection and of keeping its vows and promises to God. Jesus' vow to the Church can be simply put as, "I will love you unconditionally despite your flaws and brokenness".
Certainly this is how we should treat our spouses, and it is the true spirit of our vows.
Christians should never treat marriage as a contract dependent on our partners' performance. Instead we should strive to keep our vows to love and care for our spouse regardless of how broken we are, just like Christ has done for us.
Nathanael Yates from Perth, Western Australia, is an award winning young scientist completing a PhD in the neurobiology of schizophrenia
Nathanael Yates' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/nathanael-yates.html