Whenever I meet with couples for counseling, many want to know the secret to a long lasting marriage. They want their marriage to last forever. They will marvel at the divorce rate, see their friends struggling, and wonder if it is possible to actually make it to “till death do us part.” As I have been pondering our next sermon series at WBCC, I have been thinking about why it seems so hard. Recently I stumbled onto a trend in our culture called Serial Monogamy. It’s defined as the practice of engaging in a succession of monogamous sexual relationships. This doesn’t have to be marriage. But rather a commitment to one relationship at a time, as opposed to a marriage to one person until death. Americans and Western society in general have a growing distrust of the institution of marriage. We have seen too many marriages fall apart. We have seen too many hearts broken. We have seen too many expectations destroyed. And that has caused a generation of young people to say, “Marriage is not for me unless I know for sure that I have found the one.” Now, it shouldn’t be that surprising that serial monogamy is a thing in our culture. We practice it in lesser forms in middle school and high school. We have committed relationships with people…until we don’t. Perhaps the insecurity of not having involved parents has caused us to look toward another peer to fill the void and security that parents in the past provided. But with divorce and parents spending more time at work than at home, adolescents have grown into a world where their emotional needs are not met by God, or even by parents, but by other fickle adolescents trying to get a grasp on who they are.
So fast forward to adulthood. I went to Psychology Today and found this blog on serial monogamy. The author ends with this “Serial Monogamy does not involve profound emotional difficulties; on the contrary, it is in accordance with the brief nature of emotions and the significant role that the notion of change plays for this generation.”
I want to take a moment and think about what this PhD Psychologist just said and reveal what is actually going on within the heart of what he called the “brief nature of emotions.” First off, he is saying that people are victims of their emotions. We must follow them. Now if we were to slow down and think about what that means we would realize that most of us would be in jail for heinous crimes for following the “brief nature of our emotions.”
Do you know what kind of people are victims of their emotions?
My sweet sons Austin and Jett repeatedly throw tantrums when I tell them that they need to go to bed, that we need to stop playing or when I tell them they have to share their favorite toy (at the moment: squishy lizard).
But what is at the heart of the “brief nature of emotions?” I would contend that several things factor into what drives our emotions, but one in particular causes us to do things that in an unemotional objective state we would never do. And that is the famed 10th commandment. You shall not covet. Covet means to idolize or obsess over someone or something. A popular version of this sin is lusting. You fantasize about something you don’t have. We see the sin of coveting rise up in us whenever we see someone who has something we want. If we are honest with ourselves, we have been coveting from our earliest memories.
In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul wrote about discovering this part of his heart and its fierce objection to the crushing weight of the law.
Romans 7:8-11 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, You shall not covet. 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Paul was a man who was an achiever. When it came to the commandments he was able to knock out 1-9 no problem. He could at least justify in his mind that his actions showed he was obeying all nine. But You shall not covet ate him up. This was an internal commandment. He was never satisfied with what he had. Now Paul was busy doing the Lord’s work. He had been killing off Christians in zeal. But there was no satisfaction for his soul. Something inside him needed more. It was an obsession that was not of the Lord. He coveted what he did not have. The Lord was not enough. That realization killed him. It brought him to real agony. The same agony a drug addict feels when he realizes he is powerless to help himself. Paul was fighting a battle he could not win.
Secular Serial monogamists experience something similar. Serial Monogamists, you shall not covet another relationship while in the current one. This is an absolute. They become convicted that they must not cheat and they have an emotional investment with this person and their emotions have led them to leave, but cheating is condemned. The “out” for the secular serial monogamist is to share his feelings and how they must follow their heart to not be with their partner. As soon as that has been communicated, the void returns and another relationship begins. It can be almost seamless. The other problem that the psychologist writing for Psychology Today ran into is that the brief nature of emotions affects others differently. It isn’t just this generation that has short attention spans and short emotive bursts, but rather any person who experiences insecurity to a high degree and a lack of trust in people are more likely to not fully give themselves to another, and look to satisfy themselves with intense emotional experiences that wear off like a drug.
Paul did become a Christian. And he still had moments to where he went to places where he coveted like a non-Christian. In verses 14 and following we see a verb tense transition. It moves from past tense detailing his life as not a Christian, to present tense to what he is experiencing even as he is writing this portion of the New Testament. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. But look what he wrote in his present condition.
Romans 7:15-19 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Paul seems to be in the same struggle. He clearly knew that there was something wrong in him, but he is battling the covetousness even as a Christian. Even as a man filled with the Holy Spirit. Even as a man who is healing people of diseases, getting stoned to death and getting imprisoned for his faith. He still is struggling with this even though the Lord is working powerfully within him. There is something that every person wrestles with in being content with God has given him. Which means we can be doing some incredible things for God. We can even have a holy discontent and working with the energy of the Lord to heal communities and souls with the power of the Gospel and find our souls in need of the Healer.
That brings us to serial monogamy again. When serial monogamists become Christians, there is a high probability that they will experience a covetousness for something better.
It looks like this: In the past when the relationship became “toxic,” it was cause to cut ties and move on to a healthier person. When you as a serial monogamist become a monogamist, you realize your ownership in the toxicity of the relationship and look to Jesus to heal you, not to the other person to change.
Or perhaps when a person doesn’t treat you like you saw your parents treat each other, he doesn’t love you. Instead of recognizing that you are putting an unknown and unwanted expectation on your spouse to behave as a husband in your head is supposed to behave, you look to move on to a new relationship leaving him scratching his head and completely clueless that he was not a husband in the average to decent range.
So how do we overcome the “brief nature of our emotions.” Paul shares toward the end of chapter 7.
Paul concludes chapter seven revealing how anyone is ever able to overcome the idol factory of their heart. He wrote in Romans 7:21-25, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
When the “brief nature of our emotions” overwhelms the married Christian and then the Spirit wars with the flesh inside that is when the resolve of the Christian is tested. Christians must rely on the fact that Jesus death, burial, resurrection and giving of His Holy Spirit drive everything we do. When God says we have the power to overcome sin and trust in the Spirit and not in our own abilities and our own strength, we walk that out. Feelings must follow that. That is how even the serial monogamist can be transformed into a monogamist by the power of Jesus to overcome a lifestyle and to overcome a feeling. Remember as Christians we don’t fight for victory over sin, we fight from victory over sin.