Transcript below from Marriage Steps Podcast Episode 19 on the "Top Three Benefits Of A Covenant vs A Contract Marriage"
Today I'm going to talk about three benefits of having a covenant marriage versus a contract marriage. To define my terms, a contract marriage is what the majority of couples have today without realizing it. In a contract marriage, your commitment is contingent entirely upon your feelings. It says "I am committed to you as long as my needs are met and I'm in love but the moment my needs are not met and I don't feel in love with you, divorce becomes a viable option." That's the contract mindset and is heard often when people get divorced because they say "I didn't love them anymore" or "my needs weren't being met." The risk with the contract approach is that feelings ebb and flow. If you've read my post on the four seasons of marriage, you know all couples go through summer, fall, winter, and spring. So the contract approach has a higher risk for divorce because it's based on how you feel and feelings are feeble and fragile. In contrast, the covenant approach sees marriage as a lifelong commitment, regardless of emotional fluctuations. Even if you go through dry spells and seasons of winter, you're still devoted. To clarify, this approach isn't underestimating the importance of having your needs met and feeling in love. Quite the contrary. Having your needs met and feeling in love is one of the top goals for happy marriages and it's what I help couples with all the time in my practice. The three exceptions where divorce is permissible in the covenant marriage is adultery, abuse, and abandonment. However, even if one of those occur, recovery is still possible if there's full repentance and change. As a side note, dismissing your partner's top needs repeatedly and refusing to change could be considered neglect and fall under the abuse umbrella and be grounds for divorce. Here are the top three benefits of choosing the covenant approach to marriage.
The first benefit of the covenant approach to marriage is it promotes security. If you and your partner both know you're in it for the long haul and you're going to stick through the highs and lows, it will produce security. When we feel secure, we become more authentic and transparent because we feel safe. Greater transparency and safety leads to closer emotional intimacy, which leads to greater sexual activity. Talk about a powerful benefit!
A second benefit to the covenant approach is you're going to handle conflicts much better compared to if you're in a contract marriage. If you're in a contract marriage and go through a winter season where you're unhappy, you're going to already have one foot out the door thinking of divorce. If one foot is already out the door, the motivation to work through marital problems decreases because divorce is right there tapping you on the shoulder. In contrast, if you're in a covenant marriage and go through a winter season where you're unhappy, you'll ask yourself if what they're doing is adultery, abuse, or abandonment and if it's not then divorce is not an option for you. Therefore, your only option is to dig deeper and work harder to resolve the problems. You may need outside help and resources to help you through because divorce is not an option. As you can see, the contract and covenant approach to marriage greatly impacts how couples react to problems. I've experienced this firsthand. My marriage has gone through several seasons of winter since getting married in 1999 and I can remember thinking "is this adultery, abuse, or abandonment?" The answer was no so even though everything inside of me wanted to get a divorce because I was unhappy, I knew that wasn't an option because I was choosing the covenant approach. Because of that conviction, I had no choice but to work harder and dig deeper to get our marriage to a better place, which it did! If I would have been approaching marriage as a contract, I'd be divorced right now.
The third benefit to a covenant marriage is personal growth. When you're going through hard times in a covenant marriage, they become opportunities to grow your character. For example, maybe you're going through some problems in your marriage because you haven't learned how to share power yet. You like to do things your way and that's creating conflict in your marriage. Learning how to share power is refining your character and making you a better partner and a better person. If you were in a contract marriage, you'd probably just get a divorce from all the conflict and take your pattern of not sharing power to your next relationship. Another example is perhaps your marriage is going through a winter season because you're not very empathetic so your partner is frequently upset with you. If you were in a contract marriage, you might be considering divorce because you're tired of your partner always being angry with you. However, since you're in a covenant marriage it's giving you the opportunity to refine your character by becoming more sensitive to your partner's feelings and how to be empathetic. If you were in a contract marriage you'd probably get divorced because you would be fed up with your partner always getting upset with you and you'd take your insensitive bent to your next relationship.
One cautionary is even if you're in a covenant marriage, don't take your partner's commitment for granted and become complacent. We don't tolerate distress very well in our culture because it's obsessed with being happy and feeling good. So, when we hit a rough spot in our marriage, we don't handle it well. Our ancestors could handle tough times. They went through all sorts of adversity we'll probably never even come close to experiencing. They were very hardy compared to most of us. A lot of us are soft and cannot handle feeling unhappy for very long. So, if your partner is unhappy and you're in a covenant marriage, don't get lazy and think they'll never leave you. When under distress long enough, we all desire escape. So, if your partner is unhappy, pay attention and do something about it!
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What are the top benefits of a covenant vs a contract marriage in your opinion?