I vow to love you every day of our lives together.
I am certain that our love is from God. Because of this, I want to be your wife so that we might serve Christ together whatever path He will take us.
I promise to guide and protect you as Christ does his church, as long as we both shall live. Through all of the uncertainties and trials of the present and future, I promise to cherish you and love you.
I vow to honour you and put you above all others.
God's Word gives us the perfect example of this love in Christ's death for the Church. I shall try always, with God's help, to show you this same kind of love, for I know that in His sight we will both be one.
I love you Chris.
For all of us, there are days that change are lives forever. On 8 September 2012, I made my wedding vows to my boyfriend of six years, Chris. As we proclaimed these words to each other in a beautiful ceremony in Northern Ireland, we were both very aware that we were making a covenant not only to each other but to God. For Chris and I, fidelity to each other is an unbreakable promise.
I vow to honour you and put you above all others.
So are Chris and I naïve newly-weds? Apparently so according to a new wave of academic literature from sociologists, scientists and anthropologists. Recent research suggests that monogamy is not a natural state for humans. A new book published by sociologist Dr Catherine Hakim argues that ‘a sour and rigid view’ of fidelity in our ‘puritanical’ culture is causing us to be condemned as ‘caged animals’ in ‘frustrated marriages’ thus resulting in the UK’s high divorce rate. The New Rules: Internet, Playfairs and Erotic Power argues that we should be more like our European counterparts who have stronger marriages as a result of their permissive view on ‘parallel’ relationships (adulterous relationships in our language!) In fact Hakim states in France and Italy, ‘there is no assumption that spouses must fulfil all of each other’s needs, all of the time, exclusively.’ The book reveals Hakim’s mission to rebrand language by referring to ‘playfairs’ as completely discreet affairs while preserving a valued marriage (the paradox of this definition seems to elude Hakim).
So what are the benefits of having a ‘playfair?’ In her own words, Hakim asserts:
‘The main impact of a good affair is that people become more contented in their marriages, and with life in general, as any sexual needs not fully satisfied in their primary relationship are satisfied elsewhere… Affairs are exciting, add a new buzz to life... An affair can be part of a work-life rebalancing process.’
Her argument is based on the frank confessions of people who use websites dedicated to facilitating affairs between married people; unfortunately a plethora of such websites do exist. Hakim embraces a new kind of morality declaring that ‘sex is not of itself a moral issue any more than is eating a good meal.’
There is no doubt that this piece of literature is meant to be provocative. Hakim courts controversy; her
last book proclaimed that women should use their ‘erotic power’ to succeed in business. However Hakim’s thesis is undermined by a sloppy methodology. She consistently uses flowery and antidotal language to convey the stories of the individuals who indulge in ‘playfairs’. For my own PhD study on girls' education, I collected over seventy oral testimonies; I know that this methodology requires a cautious approach. Hakim’s research begs the ethical question: how did she obtain these oral testimonies? Did Hakim herself create an online account on one of these websites and pose as a willing participant? Did she post an advert online seeking people who wished to share their story? No matter, her thesis is based on a self-selecting group of people; hardly the foundation of a good scientific research. More worryingly, Hakim makes outrageous statements which her research simply cannot qualify with evidence. For example, she asserts: ‘… people having an affair are generally nicer at home
in consequence, so their family benefit as well, indirectly.’ Really? How can you qualify that statement with scientific evidence? You can’t! More worryingly, her argument is completely one-sided. Yes, she alludes to the positive effect of discreet affairs but she never balances it with recognition of the negative effect. Anxiety? Deception? Constant lying? Exhaustion from juggling two lives?
The premise of this book is worrying, but it should not be dismissed as ludicrous. The facts speak for themselves: one-third of marriages are now ending in divorce. We as a church need to respond to some of the issues that new research raises about marriage, sex and relationships. Hakim chastises the ‘sex-negativity’ of Christianity; I do agree with her. We need to continue to speak about the wonderful gift of sex within the context which God intended it to be. Some newly-wed Christian couples have trouble embracing sex because of feelings of guilt, shame and fear; often unwelcome remnants of their religious upbringing. Instead of remaining silent on sexual matters, we need to be more open about the joys of making love and building intimacy with one partner for life, especially to the generations below us. Why? The world is clearly speaking louder on the issue. TV shows, magazines, movies and adverts are communicating the message that sex is a commodity, meaningless and something to be giving away on a whim to anyone which a five metre radius. Just watch a Rihanna music video or even an episode of Eastenders...
I also agree with Hakim on another issue; the internet HAS revolutionised sex and relationships... but in my eyes, for the worst. Pornography has introduced a new god; recreational sex. Plethoras of dating websites now enable married people to form new sexual relationships away from their partner. One of the most prominent of these websites, Marital Affair, has the tagline ‘the grass is always greener’ and teases:
Does it really follow that a sexual appetite for variety dilutes your long-term love for your partner? In our culture, the only definitive way to express true love is through fidelity. Isn’t that a bit narrow-minded and inexpressive... many of our members tell us that it is unrealistic, or even unnecessary, to remain sexually monogamous.... We know the importance of building and keeping a stable and secure family unit – of making your bed and sleeping in it. But we also know the challenges of keeping raw romance and passion alive in an environment which inevitably becomes centred on familiarity and domestic duties... we believe we each have a need for physical intimacy, fun and romance as much as we have a need for a long-term stable bond. We don’t think they threaten each other. And that’s why we want to help you have both.
Worryingly, Hakim and dating websites for married people are calling for a whole redefinition of marriage. How can an individual really value and respect their husband or wife if they are willingly deceiving them for their own selfish needs? What is becoming certain is that the Christian definition and
contemporary culture’s definition of marriage are no longer aligned. Instead of Christ-centred marriages, consumer-driven marriages are now the norm. This is symptomatic of the wider twenty-first century culture. Everything is disposable; there is always the next best thing. If your car/phone/computer is no longer fulfilling your needs, you can dump it and get the next model. Is it a surprise that people are abandoning marriages because their needs – sexual, emotional, practical, intellectual – are not being met? When I said my vows to Chris, I was committed to putting his needs first as he was committed to surrendering himself to me. The last seven weeks have shown me how selfish I really am but there is such an amazing joy to intimacy built on surrender to each other. Unfortunately, the essence of Ephesians 5 is becoming counter-cultural; people no longer view marriage as sacrificing themselves to each other’s needs. Now as The New Rules demonstrates, society asserts that marriage should be less about ‘us’ and more about ‘me, me, me!’
Christian married couples have an important ministry. We are called to be counter-cultural and the best
way we can do this is by strengthening and preserving our marriages. Our marriage should come before everything, even our ministry. The last word goes to Terry Jones who has been married to Ann for nearly fifty years. His top tips? ‘ Maintaining a vibrant and ongoing faith, redeeming the tough times so forging character out of pain, saying sorry first, building up the other with positive words, keeping romance and passion alive… and as for the benefits of extra-marital stuff ... There aren't any!’
Dr Claire Rush is the Esther Generation Project Co-ordinator for Girls’ Brigade England & Wales (www.girlsb.org.uk). She would like to thank everyone who helped her research this article.