One of the reasons for the abuse crisis in the church is that we have often emphasized the longevity of marriage while ignoring the quality of marriage. God designed marriage to be for life; but He also intended for marriage to be a loving, healthy, and godly relationship. Abuse corrupts the marriage covenant, making it anything but the kind of relationship that God intended. We must aim not simply to keep couples together at all costs, regardless of chronic abuse, lying, and infidelity. We must seek for marriage relationships that are built on strong foundations of love and truth, and that are healthy and safe for both spouses.
What are the characteristics that make for a healthy marriage? Many could be mentioned, but below is a list of some good starting points:
In addition to the above list, one of the essential qualities of a healthy marriage is for their to be healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are a key ingredient to all healthy relationships, including marriage. Boundaries mean that there is a distinction and separation between you and your spouse. They mean that you have freedom of choice and are able to say no, without manipulation, coercion, punishment, or control. There is respect for each other’s personhood and voice, and each spouse takes responsibility for their attitudes and behaviors.
In the covenant of marriage the “two become one” (see Genesis 2:24). However, a husband and wife becoming one does not mean that there are no boundaries in the marriage relationship. Each spouse is still a unique person, and their will, voice, and personhood must be respected. One of the signs of an abusive spouse is that they will not show respect for your boundaries. To an abusive husband, for example, two becoming one means that the wife is essentially absorbed into him. She becomes an extension of himself, there to meet his demands and wishes. Her will or voice doesn’t matter.
The biblical teaching of the Trinity is a good illustration of how there can be oneness and distinction at the same time. The Bible is clear that there is only one true living God. When the Scripture says that “The Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), the Hebrew word for one is the same word used to describe the two becoming one in marriage. While God is one, He is revealed in three distinct persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each of these three is unique in function and purpose, while being one in nature and essence. There is one God, but in three persons.
In the same way, oneness in marriage does not erase the personhood of either spouse. God created Eve out of Adam’s side (see Genesis 2:21-22) and made her into a distinct person with her own will, mind, emotions, desires, etc. Eve was not to be absorbed back into Adam, but to be a partner alongside of him, made one through intimacy and covenant.
Marriage is the joining together of two unique individuals. One spouse is not to dominate or control the other. Personhood is not meant to be erased, the will is not meant to be dominated, and the voice is not meant to be oppressed. There is a yielding to each other, a growing together, a learning how to walk together in partnership, and a healthy working through of differences and conflict. It takes intentionality and work to create a healthy, loving, and godly marriage. And learning to maintain healthy boundaries is a key part of this process. Make no mistake–a healthy marriage requires healthy boundaries!