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Apparently marriage is on the way out.  I heard this on Monday, on a BBC Radio 4 programme called, “What is a wife?”.

It was a thought-provoking programme, but I also found it mildly infuriating.  The idea of ‘wifeliness’ was looked at, and I have to say it’s not an attractive term and it has little relevance – and few examples- in today’s world for women in the UK.  It has such connotations of domestic subservience, and I can’t find a positive way in which to view it.  However, the actual reality of women in the UK getting married in the first place is itself in decline.  They reckon that by 2011 less than half of the adult population will be married. 

It was interesting to hear women who had, with the rise of feminism in the late 60s and 70s, taken the view that to become married was to tie themself unequally to a man, to take a position of second place that suggested a trade-off.  “You give me money and security and I’ll give you a nice home and food on the table (whilst giving up my right to independent thought and living)”.  To them feminism meant that marriage was out of the question as an aspiration, and irrelevant to the new ideals of modern womanhood. 

I struggled to recognise how they painted marriage though.  I have always assumed that marriage is a statement of faith in and commitment to each other, as opposed to a simple definition of roles.  “Husband” does not, for me, mean provider and dominant decision-maker.  It just means the man I love and have committed to share a life with.  “Wife” similarly does not mean home-maker or dominant child-rearer.  It means I am sharing a life with the man I love.

But for many people today marriage is viewed as simply unnecessary.  There is now no shame in a couple living together in our society.  There is no longer a stigma attached to children ‘born out of wed-lock” (how long since anyone spoke about that?!).  But I have to say I still believe in marriage.  I love being so committed to this one man, and I value the security that I get from knowing we have made vows of equal and equally significant commitment to each other.

These days those few people who do choose to get married (I have friends who are wedding photographers, and don’t get the impression that they have a shortage of business, so maybe ‘few’ is not quite right) face the added likelihood that their marriage may not last.  Marriage rates are falling and divorce rates are rising. 

But this weekend my parents are celebrating their 4oth wedding anniversary.  My dad was actually married once before, but this marriage, the one I was born into is the one he has spent most of his adult life in.  That’s some achievement.  So I’d like to celebrate marriage, celebrate commitment and celebrate the wonderful thing it can be to share a life with someone.

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This winter it’ll be our 11th wedding anniversary.  I’ve found myself reflecting on our vows again, as the other week I was unwell (again) and this week our daughter has been poorly too. 

We ‘d only been married for a matter of a few months before I began to struggle with what was eventually identified as post viral fatigue.  This made me pretty ill and pretty hopeless for a good while, and was a massive cause of worry and stress for my husband.  I left my job and basically just spent some months trying to get back on my feet.  I went to work part time, then very quickly became ill again and because I was still in my probationary period ended up not getting my contract continued – I lost my job, in other words.  It was about 18 months from the initial onset of the illness that I became fit enough to go to work again and although in the years that have followed I’ve had bouts of post viral illness again, it has never been as bad or as long standing as it was that first time round. 

As you can imagine, ‘in sickness and in health’ was a wedding vow that we had never really thought of having to put to the test so early in our marriage.  We received enormous support from our church, and a pivotal moment on the road to recovery for me was our then-minister and some other wonderful people from our church community coming round to our tiny flat and anointing me with oil and praying for us both.  It was from that point on that things began to slowly get better.  God didn’t dramatically heal me, but I’m quietly confident that He began a much gentler process at that time.

Anyway, we were up through the wee small hours yesterday morning (and this morning too actually) as our daughter was running a temperature and has just been feeling really not well.  As I eventually lay down to try and get some sleep I found myself reflecting that those vows don’t just apply to me and my husband.  We’re a family of three, and since our daughter came along she’s become bound up in those vows too.  Our commitment to each other before God is also a commitment to her.  At least that’s how I see it.

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