Irish poet, Oscar Wilde, once said, “Men always want to be a woman’s first love and women always want to be a man’s last romance.” My first date with my wife was an absolute train wreck and something I have worked diligently to erase from my memory banks. As I recall, everything that could go wrong . . . and more . . . unfortunately did. I spilled popcorn and soda on her at the movie theater, accidently turned right into two lanes of oncoming traffic when we pulled out of the parking lot, and inadvertently left her standing in the rain after we finished having a bite to eat. Why? Because I lost the car keys. Yes, this all happened in one glorious evening, and that’s not even the whole story. Of course, my beloved maintains I was distracted and merely falling hopelessly in love with her, but I just didn’t realize it yet.
When we went on our second date—two years later (honest)—things went considerably better. We began to fall in love and I knew she was “the one.” I also remember our first kiss. I thought a gentleman would certainly ask, so I looked at her nervously and said, “May I kiss you?” This was followed by total silence. Ladies, this is definitely not playing fair. I waited a few seconds and then said somewhat haltingly, “May I please kiss you goodnight?” Again, nothing but complete silence. My graduate education had simply not prepared me for this critical relationship moment. What did I do? I responded a little tongue-in-cheek and said, “What’s the matter . . . are you deaf?” To which she immediately replied, “No . . . are you paralyzed?” The rest, as they say, is for marriage conferences and articles on romance. Our love grew, we eventually married, and this year we will celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary—still the best of friends, lovers, and soul mates.
Human beings were created in relationship, through relationship, and for relationship. Why? So God could reveal Himself and we could know Him. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes, “That which is known about God is evident within us; for God made it evident to us. For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (vv. 1:19-20). Later, Paul provides additional context in Ephesians 5:32 as a “mystery” which is revealed through the holiness of marriage—an institution representing a tangible metaphor regarding the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church.
Let’s pull the curtain back for a moment and go to the beginning of the story. Genesis opens with a palette of unlimited splendor, a breathtaking expression of the Creator and His nature. Much like an artist, God steps back and takes perspective—His passion and glory emerging on a canvas that was once empty and void. There are words of light and life spoken before the darkness. The design is good. The joy is definitive. This is followed by a crowning achievement: His image bearer formed out of the very dust of the earth, and behold, it is very good. He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
Then the determination is made that something is not good—man is alone and has no expression for the beauty and intimacy found in the Trinity. Imagine for a moment you are walking with the Lord in the Garden during the cool of the day, enjoying conversation and fellowship with your Creator, when He looks at you and comments it is not good for you to be alone. Had we been there, we may have wondered about the meaning of this peculiar statement. Surely, with God’s literal presence, we could never be or feel alone. Yet, He was speaking about our very nature. The truth is we were designed in such a manner that we also require human relationship along with the divine.
God was not done yet. Woman was fashioned out of Adam, “Male and female He created them” (vv. 1:27). Marriage is acknowledged as part of the heavenly blueprint, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (vv. 2:24). The stain of sin has yet to mar the finished work, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (vv. 2:25).
One flesh—the physical union between a man and a woman—is symbolic of our capacity for the koinonia demonstrated between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is a sacred intimacy at every level—full of unabashed pleasure, joyful celebration, total commitment, and mutual sacrifice, and devoid of all guilt, shame, self-centeredness, malice, jealousy, and unrighteousness. Here, within the sanctity of marriage, we can now see the image-bearers expressing the covenantal agape originating in and through the Image Giver. The relationship is to be held in honor and the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).
The intimacy of marital relationships is profound and holy from a Christian context. It can be viewed as the bringing together of all the attributes of God once again, into a place of perfect unity and love. No wonder Satan hates this imagery and will do anything he can to destroy the beauty of God’s design. Every marriage, especially those which honor the Lord, as well as every union between a believer and the Savior, are visible reminders God is One.
So what keeps a relationship and, more importantly, a marriage vibrant, healthy, and full of committed love? For many couples, the second half of their married life together is represented by what Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist, described in his seventh stage of psychosocial development: Generativity vs. Stagnation. Erikson stated, “A person does best at this time to put aside thoughts of death and balance its certainty with the only happiness that is lasting: to increase, by whatever is yours to give, the goodwill and higher order in your sector of the world.” Here, adults express the need to fashion or nurture things that will outlast them (e.g., by having children, creating a positive change to benefit other people, sustaining meaningful relationships, impacting the kingdom of God, etc.). Success in these endeavors can then lead to a sense of usefulness and fulfillment, while failure often results in a more superficial, and occasionally more destructive, involvement with the surrounding world.
Some of the primary questions related to this period of generativity are the following: Will we produce anything of real value? What will our legacy be? What can we do to establish and guide the next generation? Stagnation, on the other hand, is characterized by self-absorption and a dissatisfaction with one’s relative lack of accomplishment and productivity. Perhaps nothing relationally (apart from one’s faith walk) embraces more potential when it comes to these two constructs than the formation of an enduring marriage. There is a long history in the research literature base supporting the notion that the relationship between marital quality and global well-being differs between men and women, with men placing greater value on marital status (the content or individual components of the marriage), and women on marital quality (a sense of overall marital satisfaction). In many ways, marital happiness contributes more to global happiness than most other dynamics (e.g., work, friendships, leisure activities, etc.).
Building the right foundation during the first half of a marriage is a key factor when it comes to cultivating an environment for success in the later years. Many researchers and mental health experts assert that both intimacy and the ability to communicate well on an emotional level are critical to overall marital satisfaction. Kindness and generosity also show up as factors again and again. Love, passion, romance, commitment . . . these things are like fire and, if you think about it, the nature of fire is to go out. Fire consumes everything available and, once the source of fuel is exhausted, it will often die down and go out on its own. This is why firefighters go ahead of an advancing wildfire and start a controlled burn in what is referred to as a backfire. The theory suggests if the source of fuel is eliminated by the time the main fire arrives, it will be easier to extinguish, or perhaps even self-extinguish.
Marriages and marital dynamics can function exactly like fire. If a husband and wife—who have primary responsibility before God in this matter—are not separately and jointly putting the necessary “fuel” on the relationship (e.g., time, attention, kindness, a servant’s heart, date nights, patience, humor, friendship, joint decision-making, forgiveness, a sense of ownership, etc.), then there is a greater risk of love, as the primary fuel, running low or even running out. When differentiation (a healthy and balanced sense of self and personal identity), a lack of emotional cutoff (a willingness to engage with one’s partner), and reduced emotional reactivity exist between a husband and wife, marital satisfaction increases over time.
The broader conclusion from the research on marital stability and satisfaction demonstrates that religious practice and integration do play significant, positive roles between husbands and wives. The Psalmist calls people “blessed” if they “delight in the law of the Lord.” How true for any couple. Their marriage “will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in due season and its leaf does not whither” (Psalm 2:1-3). So too with second half romance. Rejoice in the wife (or husband) of your youth and you will never stop loving, serving, cherishing, laughing, and praying with your best friend (Proverbs 5:18). Christianity, often captured in the symbolism of marital union, is a wonderfully romantic love story about the passion and desire of God for relationship. “And now these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Eric Scalise, PhD, currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) with Hope for the Heart. He is also the President of LIV Consulting, LLC, the former Senior Vice President for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and former Department Chair for Counseling Programs at Regent University. Dr. Scalise is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with over 42 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field, and he served six years on the Virginia Board of Counseling under two governors. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, grief and loss, addictions and recovery, leadership development, and lay counselor training. He is a published author, adjunct professor at several Christian universities, conference speaker, and frequently works with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.