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Asking the clergy: How can faith make your marriage last?

Danny Burkeman

Danny Burkeman Credit: The Community Synagogue

Although the number of divorces is declining in the United States from a high of 50 percent, a significant percentage of marriages break up every year. On the day before Valentine’s Day, this week’s clergy discuss how to keep your love alive according to the famous phrase from the Book of Common Prayer: “til death do us part.”

Rabbi Danny Burkeman

The Community Synagogue, Port Washington

At the very beginning of our Torah, when we are introduced to Adam and Eve as partners, or possibly as a married couple, we gain two important insights that can be helpful as a foundation for marriage today. The first is the recognition that human beings are created in the image of God. This foundational belief is important in all of our relationships, but it is especially significant in marriage. When things get tough or when there is tension, it is important to remember that our partner is created in God’s image and possesses the divine spark within them. Seeing our partner in this way should inform how we speak to, treat and love one another. The second insight comes as God searches for the right partner for Adam. The Hebrew in Genesis 2:20, “ezer kenegdo,” possesses a dual meaning; Eve is to be both a helpmate and also one who is against or in opposition. This reminds us that successful marriages are built around helping one another, but this is not done by always agreeing; often this is done by bringing a different, or even opposing, perspective. What is important is that it comes from a place of love and of wanting to help your partner. Judaism emphasizes the importance of relationships as a way of bringing God into this world. As the great Jewish theologian Martin Buber wrote: “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” It is this simultaneously human and divine connection that helps a marriage, or any relationship, strengthen and endure.

The Rev. Michael Sniffen

Dean, Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City

Marriage is a living thing and a gift, but it is not easy. It requires care and attention to remain vibrant and healthy. Having faith in God and each other strengthens marriage. Faith roots marriage in a community of support and encouragement. Christianity (along with other faith traditions) teaches that marriage exists for a couple’s mutual joy and for the exchange of loving care in times of prosperity and adversity. A faithful marriage is built upon respect, humility and self-sacrificing love. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” That’s beautiful and it’s a tall order most days. Married couples are not called to be perfect, but they are charged to love, comfort, honor and keep each other in sickness and health and to be faithful to the end. Faith strengthens marriage, but sometimes it cannot make it last. When marriage ceases to be a gift, when it is abusive or broken beyond repair; divorce may be the most faithful response. This is not a failure, but a commitment to the truth. If a marriage ends, faith sustains in ways that little else can, and faith communities are there to offer grace and hope.

Arthur Dobrin

Leader emeritus, Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, Garden City

What makes any marriage work? In no particular order I think it comes down to three things: a mutual respect for each other; a genuine caring for each other; and facing the world in the same direction. For many, a shared worldview is rooted in faith that is religion and for others something spiritual that is independent of institutions or tradition. Basically, sharing a set of values that makes life meaningful. A shared faith in ethical values helps solidify a way of being that is, one hopes, mutually satisfying and beneficial. This kind of faith is a commitment to a journey through life together that makes both partners better for the going and brings deep satisfaction and a happiness that transcends material pleasures. Albert Einstein once said that there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is that everything is a miracle. The second approach is a matter of faith, the unproven belief that life is worth living and that when we approach all that is before us with an open heart, wonderful things can happen. Does this guarantee a happy marriage? Of course not. But this is the foundation upon which good marriages are built. It is the faith that makes the world a better place. And in that framework, faith helps make a marriage work.

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