Marriage As Therapy or Covenant?

Last week, another prominent couple made headlines by announcing the end of their marriage. It was former vice president Al Gore and his wife. I know both of them and always thought they were a perfect couple.

I am disappointed for them and saddened. Indeed, that seems to be the overwhelming reaction from the public and the media. Many, who saw the Gores as an ideal, loving couple who enjoyed and endured the ups and downs of public life together, wondered aloud if the Gore’s couldn’t keep going after 40 years, who can?

Well, that depends, as does so much, on your worldview.

And a perfect case in point is an article from last Friday’s New York Times entitled, “What Brain Scans Tell Us About Marriage.”

Author Tara Parker-Pope reported on recent research into the neuroscience of happy marriages. She cites one study in which 17 madly-in-love couples underwent a brain scan. When an individual was shown a picture of his or her spouse—ta-da!—the scan showed activity in that part of the brain associated with romance. In older couples, Parker-Pope writes, “researchers spotted something extra: parts of the brain associated with deep attachment were also activated.”

The researcher, Dr. Bianca Acevedo explained, “They have the feelings of euphoria, but also the feelings of calm and security that we feel when we’re attached to somebody.”

Dr Acevedo added, “I think it’s wonderful news.”

And I do, too. Parker-Pope, after highlighting the key to a happy marriage, asks two questions that highlighted for me exactly why marriages today are crumbling. One, “how much does your partner provide a source of exciting experiences?” And two, “how much has knowing your partner made you a better person?”

What do these two questions have in common? They are the epitome of the postmodern, therapeutic worldview—the worldview that asks one and only one question: What’s In It For Me?

Thus Parker-Pope can end her article on a happy postmodern note, quoting a Wharton School Economist: The Gores “had 40 years of marriage . . . The fact that they both can look forward and see a promising future by not being married [is] a celebration about how much optimism they have for the rest of their lives.”

Well, I cannot put such a happy face on divorce, nor do I mean to single out the Gores for criticism. Far from it, because I know all too well the pain divorce creates.

But I can’t stop from noticing how far our culture has drifted from the faith that founded it. Even 40 years ago, marriage was seen as a covenant, a sacrament in some traditions—a promise before God between a man and a woman to be faithful to one another until death did them part. Not seeking the good for one’s self, but the good of the other.

But in our therapeutic culture, as Parker-Pope’s questions illuminate so brilliantly, this has been turned 180 degrees. Marriage is now just another path, or obstacle, to self-fulfillment.

Please don’t tell me worldviews don’t matter. Or that they can’t shape a culture. We’ve gone in 40 years from the Christian belief in a lifelong commitment to seeing divorce as the start of a promising future. Please.

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