We are called as Christians to honour marriage: Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4). In the last decade the church has been vigorously defending the institution of marriage. However, the institution of marriage has already been under attack over the last hundred years through our boyfriend/girlfriend culture. I believe that the boyfriend/girlfriend status dishonours marriage. Below are 7 reasons why:
1. The boyfriend/girlfriend status is an alternative to marriage
The boyfriend/girlfriend status is an alternative to marriage. Put another way, it is a copy of marriage without the commitment. It is a marriage-like relationship. When two people are in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship there are unspoken vows, such as ‘I am your partner’, ‘I belong to you’ and ‘I will be there for you’. However, there is no vow of lifelong commitment and the vows are not made before God. Boyfriend/girlfriend relationships are very appealing to human nature because they involve marital pleasures from a young age but without the commitment of lifelong marriage. In past ages where there was a biblical courtship culture, people had a choice of being married or being single. However, in modern society people have an additional choice of having a boyfriend/girlfriend. As the relationship culture becomes more popular, so the institution of marriage becomes less special and less honoured. Whereas in past societies most people aspired to getting married as young adults, now most people aspire to being in relationships as young adults. In past ages living together was frowned upon and called ‘living in sin’. However, in modern times living together is seen as a legitimate alternative to setting up a marital home. The practice of living together means that marriage is no longer seen as necessary but simply as an optional extra. In fact, marriage is now often seen as an inconvenient optional extra. People today say they cannot get married because it is too expensive or because they would rather spend money on a holiday or a house. Ironically, the reason why marriage is often expensive is because people are living together before marriage and so marriage only seems worthwhile if there is an elaborate wedding. As marriage gets replaced by an alternative, the girlfriend/boyfriend relationship, so is marriage dishonoured.
2. The boyfriend/girlfriend status has caused a decline in the number of people getting married.
The boyfriend/girlfriend culture has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of people getting married. Since boyfriend/girlfriend relationships are seen as equivalent to marriage, it should not be surprising that many people see cohabiting as an alternative to marriage. The proportion of the population getting married today is only about half of that in 1900 because many people now choose to cohabit rather than get married. In 2008 there were around 233,000 weddings in England and Wales, but that figure would have been over 400,000 if the same proportion of society was getting married as in 1900. When you take into account that many modern marriages are actually remarriages following divorce, the actual decline is even greater. As marriage declines in society and its importance lessened, so is marriage dishonoured.
3. The boyfriend/girlfriend status has raised the average age at which people get married
When society has a boyfriend/girlfriend culture, this always increases the average age at which people get married. One reason is that people want to have the fun of several relationships before settling down. Another reason for the delay in marriage is that the relationship culture makes cohabiting acceptable before marriage. The increase in the average age at which people marry can be clearly seen over the last hundred years as the relationship culture has become stronger in Western society. The average age at which women get married (for the first time) in the UK has risen from around twenty-three in 1900 to around twenty-nine in 2004. The average age for men has risen from around twenty-five in 1900 to around thirty-one in 2004. When you consider that a person’s healthiest and most vigorous years are their twenties, these increases are very significant. The delay in getting married is a self-reinforcing problem because when people see that the average age for getting married is thirty-one, they are much less prepared to save themselves for marriage than if the average age was twenty-five. In contrast, when society has a courtship culture, people tend to get married young because there is no alternative to marriage. And when people can see that there is a tendency to marry young, they do not mind saving themselves for marriage—and so there is a virtuous cycle that ensures marriage is honoured. In areas where there is a strong Bible culture, such as Bible Belt areas in the USA, there is still a trend for men and women to marry in their early to mid-twenties. In contrast, when there is a tendency to marry at an older age, people struggle to save themselves for marriage —and so there is a sinful cycle that ensures marriage is dishonoured.
4. The boyfriend/girlfriend status has been a key reason for the rise in divorce rates
In the last hundred years in the West the number of divorces has increased enormously by a factor of something like 100. I think the relationship culture is the primary reason for this ungodly trend because the relationship culture makes it sociably acceptable to go through divorce-like splits again and again. Breaking-up has become a normal part of life. Unsurprisingly as breaking up before marriage has become the norm, so has breaking up after marriage. The great rise in divorce has resulted in the institution of marriage being greatly undermined.
5. The terminology of the boyfriend/girlfriend status is damaging to marriage
Relationships dishonour marriage because they copy the language of marriage. We say “He’s mine”, “I am his”, “He’s my other half”, “We’re a couple” etc. When a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship fails we say “We broke-up, we split-up” etc. At the same time in modern society marital terms like ‘spouse’, ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are discouraged or even banned in order to prevent marriage being seen as superior to relationships. The media tries to use the term ‘partner’ whether someone is married or not in order to give equal status to people in boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. On 8 April 2011 a man wrote a letter to The Daily Telegraph expressing his surprise and sorrow that he was not allowed to refer to his wife as his ‘wife’ when he was at the dental surgery. This particular dental practice insisted that everyone refer to spouses as partners, not as husbands or wives. By giving equal status to relationships through the language we use, the institution of marriage is greatly devalued.
6. Boyfriend/girlfriend culture has elevated the “soulmate” status above the marriage status.
The modern world does not recognize marriage as the ideal place for a romantic relationship. Instead the world judges a relationship in terms of whether two people are ‘soulmates’. People now say things like, ‘I have found my soulmate’ or ‘I am looking for my soulmate’. If two unmarried people are soulmates, their relationship is said to be as good as it can be. Many celebrities and films are now promoting the stereotype that soulmate status is the ultimate criterion for successful romance, rather than marriage. People sometimes use the concept of soulmate to justify past failed relationships by saying that those past relationships failed because they had not found their soulmate. Sadly, many people do not realize that the whole point of marriage is to ensure that two people do actually become soulmates. Only with the lifelong commitment of marriage and biblical vows can two people actually become soulmates. As the relationships culture elevates the soulmate status over the marriage status, so is marriage undermined.
7. The boyfriend/girlfriend status has devalued purity
The boyfriend/girlfriend status has made it socially acceptable to have romantic intimacy outside of marriage. Even most Christians believe a degree of sexual intimacy such as passionate, intimate kissing is fine once you are “in a relationship”. Thus the intimacy that belongs in marriage has been taken outside of marriage and marriage has been dishonoured.
Stuart Burgess (Stuart Burgess is the author of our book of the month, God’s way for romance: Getting back to Biblical courtship). WE HAVE 10 SIGNED COPIES TO GIVEAWAY. JUST LIKE THIS ARTICLE AND WRITE A COMMENT BELOW TO BE IN FOR A CHANCE OF WINNING!
If you want to read more on this topic,
- ‘Boyfriends vs Courtship (What’s the difference)‘ explains how people can pursue marriage without having a boyfriend/girlfriend.