In society today, we’re bombarded by various opinions, agendas, and worldviews. We’re constantly fed messages by social media, politics, the news, and the neighbors next door. Sometimes in the midst of the many voices, we lose sight of truth. Let’s take a few moments to get back to the basics, particularly pertaining to God’s view of marriage.
What Does the Bible Say About God’s View of Marriage?
In Mark 10:8, we read that a marriage means that two people have become united as one flesh. So in a Christian marriage, does this mean the spouses do not retain individual identities? Does the Creator of the universe ask us to sacrifice our individuality when we take our marriage vows?
The short answer is “no.” Marriages do not flourish when spouses become so enmeshed that their individual personalities are lost. Each one of us is a unique person with our own goals and desires and that doesn’t change we get married.
A healthy marriage requires two partners who experience personal growth along their growth as a couple in intimacy and love. This is a difficult task and requires a careful balance. There has to be individual development along with an increasing bond with one’s spouse.
Do we see this tension in Scripture? Let’s look at Paul’s metaphor of the body and apply it to the unity of a Christian marriage. In 1 Corinthians, Paul describes the fellowship of believers functioning together as one body made up of many individuals. A body made up of only one member, like a foot, wouldn’t function effectively.
Rather, the entire body must work in sync and each part has to have its own purpose and identity (1 Cor. 12:12-31). The body of Christ is made up of all of these different parts working together towards the same goal.
Differentiation and Christian Marriage
We can apply this principle not only to a church community but also to a married couple. This will help us understand Jesus’ teaching that “two become one” in the covenant of marriage. I believe this means that by cultivating intimacy with our spouse, we became more fully united to them, as opposed to being “blended” with them. The most fruitful, godly marriages are made up of two people who are committed to personal growth and growth as a couple.
In his marital help book Passionate Marriage, Dr. David Schnarch describes this process as differentiation. Differentiation is the process of becoming yourself more fully as you engage in relationships with others, and particularly with your spouse.
Differentiation is the balance between the drive for personal growth and the desire to fellowship with others (55). This process should not make anyone into a loner. Instead, it makes our emotional bonds deeper and helps us develop holistically and healthily as individuals. It gives us an integrated “self-in-relation” that is unaffected by our circumstances.
Ultimately, differentiation allows us to grind off our “rough edges” and be ourselves more fully while we learn to love our spouse more (51).
Schnarch also describes the background of the word differentiation. It’s rooted in biology and refers to the process by which cells develop. All living cells originate from the same matter. As time passes, the cells differentiate—meaning, they take on their own individual properties. At this point, each cell “performs separate but related functions.”
Does this remind you of how Paul describes the body in 1 Corinthians? Schnarch adds: “The greater the differentiation, the more sophisticated and adaptive the life form” (62)—in other words, the more well-differentiated a life form is, the more it can adjust to challenging circumstances.
In the same way, people who are well-differentiated are secure in their personal identity, instead of relying on others to define them. When they are in a relationship, well-differentiated people can navigate conflict effectively because they have a grounded sense of self (55).
On the other hand, people who lack differentiation draw their sense of identity from those around them. They require validation from others in order to feel at peace with themselves. This is called developing a “contingent identity” (59).
People who have formed a contingent attachment lose their sense of self apart from their relationships. This causes them to have a great fear of changes in their relationship or in their partner’s emotions or moods.
How Christian Marriage Counseling Can Help You Differentiate
Differentiation is not a destination that can be reached overnight. Instead, it’s a journey toward a healthy sense of self, both individually and in relation to others. It’s a difficult process that requires a lot of work, including some decisions that may be uncomfortable.
This isn’t the easiest way to work on your marriage, but it is incredibly fruitful and will enable you to enjoy a much more fulfilling relationship with your spouse.
Becoming well-differentiated is a nuanced process, which means that it involves subtle complexities that can be confusing. How can you grow as a person and bond with your spouse at the same time? How can you develop a more grounded sense of self while still being “one flesh” in your marriage?
These questions are complicated, and there are no one-size-fits-all answers. If you think you need to work on this process in your marriage, a Christian counselor Newport Beach can help you wade through some of the complexities.
Whether you are just starting out or have been married for years, a qualified Christian counselor can provide you with the guidance and support you are seeking. Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information about setting up an appointment with one of our marriage specialists.
“Out for a Walk,” courtesy of Vladimir Kudinov, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reconciled,” courtesy of Priscilla du Preez, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Committed,” courtesy of freestocks.org, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Field gazing,” courtesy of unsplash.com, pexels.com, CC0 License