Marriage may be made in heaven, but man is responsible for the upkeep.
Rhoda and Tom Beiler have been married for forty-seven years. “We understood the vows and thought we were very much ‘in love,’” Tom said. “But from the perspective of time and experience, I now know that we didn’t fully grasp the depth of ‘the tie that binds.’”
And that tie does indeed bind. It binds tight and holds firm. The Amish have virtually a 0 percent divorce rate.
By comparison, according to a recent study by the Barna Group, the divorce figure among all born-again Christians (including evangelicals) is 32 percent, which is statistically identical to the 33 percent figure among non-born-again adults.*
Amish wedding vows are viewed as a promise before God, taken as seriously as a baptism vow. “A man and a woman know that this commitment is for life,” said Kathy King, an Old Order Amish wife in New Holland, Pennsylvania, married to husband David for thirty years. “They don’t even question it. They know they have to make it through hard times as well as good times.”
Kathy said that marriage partners don’t expect perfection from each other. “We don’t throw our faults into each other’s faces. We live and let live.”
Commitment is the key, said Dan Miller, an Old Order Amish bishop. “We make a commitment to each other. We work at it. We don’t believe in trying to change your spouse. We’re more accepting. And perhaps most importantly, we know that a happy marriage is pleasing to God.” Dan and his wife have been married for more than forty-three years.
Since divorce is out of the question for the Amish, it might force couples to marry cautiously as well as to take a realistic look at how to fix problems, observed Erik Wesner, author of the blog AmishAmerica. “Mulling the divorce option in the back of the mind when things get tough in a relationship—I think that just sucks energy away from where it could be used constructively to strengthen a relationship. Not that that is necessarily the reaction of Amish couples to sit down and say ‘hey how can we fix this’—there are definitely communication issues like anywhere else—but the impact of the messages of Christian love that get repeated in Church and daily devotions and everywhere else in the culture cannot be overstated.”
Erik also pointed out that the Amish lifestyle shapes an intimacy for spouses—both in close proximity and in relationship. “Even with the lunch pail factory work phenomenon and some ‘on-the-road’ businesses like construction, I’d say men as farmers and at home business owners still in large part are at home and in close and constant contact with their wives, which one would think would reduce issues that come from distance and alienation not uncommon in more mobile modern society.”
The Amish are the first to say they are far from perfect. Some marriages turn sour. Sexual and physical abuse occurs. Church leaders have been known to abuse their power. In general, though, according to Dr. Donald B. Kraybill, a nationally recognized scholar on Anabaptist groups, the Amish way of life provides many sources of satisfaction for most of its members. Despite their imperfections, the Amish have developed a remarkably stable society.
A recent story in a newspaper sounded deliciously Amish. The reporter met with a ninety-two-year-old woman and her ninety-four-year-old husband. This elderly couple had been married for almost seventy years. “What’s the secret to your marriage’s longevity?” the reporter asked.
The couple looked at each other for a long moment. Then the wife spoke: “Eh, neither of us died.”
Road Map: Getting There from Here
The Amish believe that their marriage vows are a promise made to God, not to another person. Such a perspective certainly ratchets up the importance of that commitment! Amish children know that even if their parents have disagreements or difficult stretches, it doesn’t threaten the security of the home. Those children are raised believing that marriage is permanent.
Today’s children are growing up in a culture that dismisses—even mocks—the importance of marriage. Have you talked to your children about the seriousness of a wedding vow? Or about what an enduring marriage is based on? Share with them what God intended: marriage is designed to be a joyful, meaningful, fulfilling, and permanent relationship.
All marriages are bound to face trouble at some point. Chances are your marriage has already faced trouble, is facing trouble, or will face trouble in the future. Don’t give up! Commit to pray daily for your marriage and wait expectantly for God’s blessings when you do. Today is a new day.
In their own words . . .
When a man does dishes, it’s called helping; when a woman does dishes, it’s called life.
—Scribe from Mifflinton, Pennsylvania
* New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released,” Barna Group, March 31, 2008, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released.