What in your view is the main difference between marriage and cohabitation?
The big difference is there’s been a point of commitment. When my husband proposed to me, we had conversations about ‘forever’ – what we were hoping for in the future, that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. Once we made that decision and married, we stood in front of friends and family and made those promises to one another. We knew that our intention was to spend the rest of our lives together. I say intention because obviously there will some marriages that don’t always work.
Typically, when couples cohabit the attitude can be, let’s see where this goes. This is often referred to as ‘sliding and not deciding’ and that commitment is so important and so obvious in marriage.
Some people would argue that the Bible’s view of sex and marriage is outdated. What would you say to that?
I think that sometimes we look at the Bible and think it’s going to have every last detail mapped out about sex and relationships. God has given the Bible to embrace and to pray through and understand in our context and in our time.
The thing that I would say is, we’re taught to save sex until marriage. I think as churches, youth leaders and parents, we have a responsibility not just to tell our children to not have sex before marriage but explain why that’s such a good thing. We know that sexually transmitted diseases aren’t going to happen if you are with one person that you choose to be with forever (presuming they choose the same).
I think that conversation is missing within churches. I’m a parent of a 16 and a 14-year-old. My son was talking to me about this very thing and he brought it up. I nearly fell over! I’m so glad he did. I was able to describe that actually the reason why God says to do this is because he knows that when two people come together there’s a connection, a bond and it’s a very special thing (nothing against those who haven’t). For me this was the most precious thing I could give my husband.
This is a mirror of what the Bible teaches us about Christ and the Church, as the Church is the bride of Christ. That’s what marriage is about.
When young people talk about sex they’re talking about the physical but not thinking about the emotional ramifications. I want my children to understand that intimacy is a beautiful word because it talks about something far more than just an act. Intimacy can be sex but it can also be an emotional connection. Praying as a couple can also be very intimate.
Is there one thing that you wish you knew about marriage before you got married?
In some ways, I was really blessed. My husband and I both come from families where our parents marriages have survived and they are still going strong. In fact, my in laws have their 60-year anniversary next year and my parents will be celebrating 50 years. We went in with an expectation that it would last and had seen that modelled.
To be completely honest I was quite naïve in terms of understanding about intimacy. Perhaps that’s why I’m passionate about it. I think it is something that needs to be talked about more.
We sometimes expect relationships to always have that Disney-esque feeling but marriage can grow and strengthen through difficult times. I think that the moment of ‘for better or for worse’ of our wedding vows is important as tough times will come. That’s not being negative because there will also be great times, that’s life.
Be open, honest vulnerable and don’t assume they understand what they’re saying. Understanding you’re both different and keep investing in those qualities.
How does the health of a marriage affect children?
We can think when children come along they need to be prioritised. Of course they are a priority but actually as a couple, by keeping your marriage strong and healthy, we end up giving the best to our children.
We will inevitably be a better version of ourselves by championing each other. Children want stability in a safe happy family environment. By happy I don’t mean all the time, life isn’t like that. Kids want an environment where they are loved and secure. If we look after our marriage we’re able to be a better version of ourselves for our children.
We don’t realise the impact our behaviours can have on our children. Even just the way we connect with our partner will be speaking volumes about how you behave towards other people and how you work through arguments.
You have two teenage children. How do you do faith at home?
There are a couple of things I learned along the way and I’m still learning. I keep wanting to learn because my passion for my children is that they know and love Jesus 100 per cent.
We did bedtime prayers and we formed a habit of when things came up, especially as they get older and had SATs etc, we would pray about that together. I think its just modelling faith as parents. My kids see me in the morning doing my Bible reading each day. We make a point of it being normal.
As a mum I’ve tried to encourage Bible readings and when they were younger they were more up for that, but as they got older they’re not always keen.
We do have a family Whatsapp group where we’ll put up prayer requests. I will sometimes put something from my Bible reading or reflection. Not every day but as and when.
We went to a Sticky Faith event, which highlighted the importance of the people around them that are encouraging my children in their faith. I love the idea of having other adults who are speaking positive things into the life of each of my children. As parents we can want them to feel they can tell us every detail about their lives – and my kids do offload a lot of stuff to me – but I want to encourage them to speak to other people that we trust as parents as well who can be another voice into their lives.
To be honest I don’t find it easy at times. You want to do the best for your children and the teenage years are tough for them. Hormones are impacting how they feel about things, they don’t necessarily answer in a rational way and I think we come back to prayer because you can’t always get it right. We’re doing our best.
Find out more about the Marriage Foundation and Marriage Week.
Michaela Hyde is national coordinator for Marriage Week and project director for the Marriage Foundation.