How Is My Lifestyle a Threat to Your Marriage?

“How is my lifestyle a threat to your marriage?” That is a question worth pondering, whether the alternatives are a same-sex marriage, a failed opposite-sex marriage, a couple who chooses to move in together outside of marriage, or a polygamous or polyamorous relationship.

It is a question that has been reawakened for me lately as I find myself encouraged by numerous couples celebrating milestones in their marriages, and as I consider how our own marriage might be an encouragement to others. It’s like the Oregon joke: “Why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the possum that it can be done!”

As I have argued numerous times elsewhere, the Bible teaches only two options: lifelong loving marriage between a man and a woman, or contented single life. Neither of them is easy, and both are under relentless attack in our personal experience. Many of those who are in some situation other than a happy marriage or happy celibacy are there through no wish or preference of their own. And the rest of us look around us and shudder: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

That’s where the alternatives to Biblical sexuality undermine our own marriage relationships (or our own commitment to waiting for such a relationship). “If that couple fell prey to infidelity, what keeps that from happening to us?” “If everyone I know is moving in together or sleeping around, why should I wait until marriage?”

And make no mistake, it’s our dearest friends who inspire our deepest inner turmoil. It’s easy to blow off some stranger out there who has little in common with us. It is far more challenging to our souls when someone who is far closer to us, whose opinion truly counts with us, makes a choice that rattles us to our foundation, which makes us wonder what we would do if we were in their shoes.

Yet knowing the hideous struggles that other couples go through could actually be an encouragement if we know that the couple was able to survive those struggles. A couple may feel very alone as they cope with serious conflict or with sexual malfunctions, but if they knew that other couples have been through those struggles and still turned out OK, that knowledge could strengthen their own ability to work through those problems.

Of course, in some times and cultures, marriages have stayed together simply through conformity. Couples may not have been happy, but staying together was better than shame. That danger (pure conformity) does not seem to exist for us at the moment, at least, not on a society-wide scale. Shame is not an inspiring motive. And yet even this phenomenon demonstrates the power of the example of those around us to reinforce healthy behavior as well as unhealthy behavior.

We can’t compel a meaningful Christian ethic by law: you can force them to do the right thing, but you can’t change their heart that way. But what we permit by law, and what we celebrate, has a profound impact on us all. Knocking down the railings on top of the Sears Tower in Chicago is not a good idea, even if we have no intention of going near the edge. It provokes unnecessary insecurity.

Yes, the question “How is my lifestyle a threat to your marriage?” is probably based at least partly on the insecurity of those who feel threatened by that lifestyle. But insecurity is sometimes good, if it keeps us from falling off a cliff. And staying away from the edge is good, even if a lot of people are standing near it.