The following post is excerpted from the chapter, "The Purpose of Marriage," in my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God.
At some point, all the practical questions about marriage find their basis in the central question of what marriage is supposed to be all about. One might think that we should begin with that question, but in reality none of us do. Ask most couples when they’re about to get married, and they will tell you that they’re getting married because “We’re in love.” Doubtless at the time, that is true. Ask a couple on the verge of divorce why they got married in the first place, and sometimes they’ll say the same thing, and say that later on they fell out of love. If they’re being sincerely reflective, though, they’ll acknowledge ulterior motives. She wanted to get out of her parents’ house and couldn’t afford to be on her own. He wanted sex, and for religious or other reasons didn’t want simply to sleep around. She wanted the security of a committed relationship. He was afraid he was going to lose her if he didn’t lock in the relationship with a ring. She hadn’t had a lot of guys interested in her, and felt that this was the best she could do. He had been scared to death of marriage, until he ended up being more scared of ending up alone. She wanted children and didn’t want to raise them alone. There are a multitude of reasons. Feel free to swap the pronoun genders around: none of these reasons are specific to men or to women in particular.
So which is true? The romantic version at the time, or the jaded version from years later? Most likely, both are. People are complex beings, and we all have ulterior motives, whether we think we do or not. It doesn’t make the love we feel at the time any less real.
But the important issue is not what we think marriage is all about. Rather, it’s what does God think marriage is all about? Why did he create marriage? What is it for? How is it supposed to function in our lives?