Someone who’s theological musings I have admired in the past recently announced on Facebook that he and his wife have decided to have an “open marriage.” That is, although they consider each other’s relationship as “primary,” they are open to new relationships outside their own marriage.
I was very disappointed to hear this, not because I am an arbitrator or authority on human sexual relationships, but because I believe it will diminish their own relationship and stymie the personal growth that occurs in a healthy, loving and respectful marriage.
Looking outside one’s own marriage for fulfillment or to make up for some kind of perceived lack in one’s spouse, sidesteps the healthy process of communication, compromise and problem solving that eventually ends up with an immensely satisfying relationship. In addition, the problem, or portion thereof, may be the one staring back at oneself in the mirror.
50% of all marriages end in divorce, that includes those in the church. Among Christians, progressive and conservative alike, are subtle (sometimes not so subtle), unrealistic expectations for marriage. In this consumer driven society, we often make bad decisions, then we decide we can’t live with those decisions, so we buy a new, better car, phone, job or a new spouse.
For many Christians the concept of marriage is drawn from the hodgepodge of examples given in scripture as to what marriage looks like. The problem is that those examples are drawn from foreign societies thousands of years ago. The Bible is not a particularly good marriage manual. It is outdated, at times misogynistic and simply did not deal with the same social pressures that a 21st century world places on relationships.
The trouble I see with the conservative view that there are Biblical “rules” to follow: headship, husband priest of the home, women subordinate to husband, etc., is that following those rules don’t seem to have any measurable success in avoiding divorce. The usual scapegoat is to blame the lure of modernism and sexual hedonism they see as prevalent in society. This is only partially true; the descriptives given in scripture were never meant to be applied to 21st century marriages. They are culturally bound.
Among progressives, the freedom from the Bible as a rule book, will, inevitably lead to experimentation, which can be a two-edged sword. If there is to be a “rule,” let it be that of love. Not the mushy, sentimental kind, or the seeking mutual satisfaction kind, but the true, Christ-like sacrificial kind.