When we think of betraying our wedding vows, we usually think of something sexual or romantic. But there’s a far more common betrayal that isn’t about romance or sex; it’s about emotional connection or relational dependence.
The reality is that if you are closer to anyone other than your spouse, you are maintaining an immature marriage and are at least in danger of betraying your vows. The object of your affection might be a child, a parent, or a best friend for whom there is no romantic connection at all — but if there is more intentional and invested intimacy in that relationship above your relationship with your spouse, that crosses the line into betrayal.
One of the big challenges with driverless cars is determining what the car will decide if, for instance, it has the option of driving into a wall, perhaps killing the passenger, or driving into a group of people. That’s a value decision that’s horrendous to contemplate, much less program. When it comes to an intimate and cherishing marriage the “auto default” always has to be in favour of our spouse over everyone else. On the day we got married, we already decided and declared to everyone, including our God, that our spouse comes first.
Remember, we promised to “forsake all others and keep myself only unto you.” If we fail at “forsaking” we’ll necessarily fail at “keeping.”
There is one exception: if you are in an abusive relationship you need to realize that abuse thrives in secrecy. Isolation becomes a weapon. You, above all people, need wise counsel and support, and should feel no guilt in pursuing both. What we’re talking about here is dealing with apathy, not an enemy.
Having said that, every marriage that wants to mature must move toward holding each other dearer than all others. That means occasionally risking and even enduring a short season of loneliness until the relationship is restored. If I experience a painful distance from my spouse and immediately jump ship to find intimacy with a friend, child, or hobby, that substitute takes away my need to do the work to become closer to my spouse — cementing me in a sub-par marriage. After a while, the “temporary crutch” becomes my permanent reality and the marriage never gets fixed.
If you’re still in the marriage, you’re still under your vows, so your call is to fight to be closer to your spouse than anyone else in the world.
Being married to a relationally immature husband or wife isn’t biblical grounds for a divorce, so you’ll have to endure being a little “relationally hungry” for a while so that you will stay motivated to help your spouse grow. Don’t just say, “Fine; he has his hobbies and I have my mine. He can go out drinking and golfing with his friends, I’ll go exercise with my friends, and we’ll make sure the bills get paid.” Accepting such a low status quo is a betrayal of your vows.
This may sound stark, but I believe it’s the pathway to marital healing: “I will be a little lonely or in an intimate marriage. For the foreseeable future, I’m going to accept only one or the other.”
As a pastor who works with premarital couples, part of my job is to protect both the future husband and wife. If I see something that could be disastrous to intimacy in a marriage, I’m going to point it out. I may (and have) even suggest that they postpone the wedding or call it off entirely, because entering marriage is to enter extreme vulnerability. Younger couples don’t always get how vulnerable they become to each other. There’s no getting around this vulnerability, any more than you can jump into a pool without getting wet. So you make sure it’s a clean pool before you jump.
Which is why, singles, you need to ask yourselves: Will this person keep working on the marriage? Will they pull back into an addiction or hobby or other friendship when things get difficult (things always get difficult)? Do they have the spiritual, relational, and emotional maturity to the extent that making myself vulnerable to them above all others is a wise decision?
If you want your marriage to work, you necessarily have to forsake all others in order to “keep” yourself only unto your spouse. This is not a quick fix, but the Bible speaks highly of perseverance: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).