Help! My marriage is in trouble.

That has been communicated to me as a biblical counselor many times. The reasons vary but cover the full range of what biblical counselors identify as “presenting issues.”

They include conflict, communications, parenting, extended family issues, anger, bitterness, anxiety, depression, adultery, pornography, abuse (emotional or physical), and so forth and so on.

In some cases, the couple just needs a tune-up reminder. They are serious about following Jesus and obeying the Bible and are fundamentally committed to one another. People like that are easy to help because they want to change and become more like Christ.

In other cases, it is not so easy. Major conflict has been an issue for most of their married lives. In still others, sexual sin of one type or the other has been present, and that has created bitterness and a lack of forgiveness. In still others, wayward children have developed a split between parents, and a lack of unity permeates the household. In other cases, a furious husband or wife has created an environment of fear in the household.

Whatever the situation, I have tried to get back to the basics to restructure the marriage into the biblical model. An excellent place to start is to help them under what a Covenant of Companionship is and what it looks like in practice.

A Covenant of Companionship

Way back in 1983, Jay Adams wrote in Solving Marriage Problems that marriage is a Covenant of Companionship. (Adams, 1983)

It was the word companionship that emphasized what covenant means. Adams, in the same book, lamented the fact that in America, the divorce rate was so high, especially among conservative evangelical Christians.

Pew Research did a study in 2014 and recorded the following rates of divorce among religious groups in America.

Evangelical Protestants 28%

Mainline Protestants 14%

Historical Black Protestants 9%

Catholics 19%

Jewish 5%

Nones or nothing 20%

I have often wondered how many of the evangelicals received pre-martial counseling and if that counsel included what a biblical covenant of marriage looked like.

The Heart of the Matter-A Covenant

Consider the following illustration that illustrates how many people view marriage:

I have read that 60% of the people getting married today are getting prenuptial contracts. I found this in a law-type prenup website in their Q&A section. It indicates the prevailing attitude towards marriage.

Question: 

When I get married, will my wife gain ownership rights to my house?

My fiancée has asked about putting her name on the deed to my house after we get married. I don’t want to do that if things don’t work out and we divorce. But I’ve heard that when I marry all of my assets automatically become half hers, anyway. I should say that I will be the only one paying for the mortgage and home improvements. What does the law say, and will a premarital agreement remedy the situation?

Answer:

Keeping the house in your name only and paying all expenses yourself increases the likelihood that you will be awarded all or most of the house in case of a divorce. But if the two of you stay married for a number of years, equitable distribution law is likely to kick in, meaning that a judge will add the value of the house to the mix when dividing your joint assets. The judge is likely to presume that you have paid the mortgage and maintenance from your after-marriage earnings, which are considered marital property.

A prenuptial is a hedge bet that “it might not work out.” The division of assets is another reason many couples do not bother with a marriage covenant. They believe they are free to quit the relationship for any reason.

Contracts are replacing Covenants, or people just live together in a loose relationship with variable levels of commitments.1

The basis for a Covenant of Companionship is found in God’s Word.

The Basis of the Covenant


Genesis 2:18-25 (NASB)
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Leaving the parents

Children are under their parent’s authority. A new family unit is formed when they covenant to get married—their position with their parents changes. To leave the parents means a couple of things.

The new family must be more concerned about their partner’s ideas, opinions, and practices than their parents. 

It also means the new couple must not overly depend on their parents for affection, approval, assistance, and counsel.

It also means any bad attitudes regarding parents must be eliminated, or there will be an emotional bond that will dominate the new relationship.

Don’t try to change your mate because your parents do not like them the way they are.

The new couple’s primary concern must be being a good husband or wife rather than a good son or daughter.

Being intentional about the principle of leaving the parents (biblically) helps to ensure a unity of purpose and reduces the risk of parental interference in the marriage.

Cleaving to one another


Malachi 2:14 (NASB)
“Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.

Proverbs 2:16-17 (NASB)

To deliver you from the strange woman, From the adulteress who flatters with her words; That leaves the companion of her youth  And forgets the covenant of her God;

When God said in Genesis 2:18 that it was not good for man to live alone, he meant marriage as a solution for loneliness. Eve was to be Adam’s companion, a helpmeet. Without Eve, Adam lacked something vital: an intimate relationship with his companion.

Malachi 2:14 and Proverbs 2:16-17 link companionship and covenant. Adams, in Solving Marriage Problems, explains the Hebrew:

Aloneness can be countered only by means of the two elements found in the two distinct words translated as “companion” in Proverbs and Malachi. Each of the two words refers to one side of companionship. The word used in Proverbs refers to one “in intimate relationship”; the word in Malachi refers to one “associated with, or united to.” Together, they speak of a relationship in which there is constant commitment and intimacy. Intimacy apart from a commitment to remain together is not adequate; commitment to remain in association apart from intimacy is equally deficient. Both elements are necessary to defeat loneliness. (Adams, 1983)

We can draw some applications from Adam’s explanation:

A marriage covenant is a commitment whereby two people promise to be faithful to one another regardless of what happens.

Traditional wedding vows reflect the covenantal nature of the promise to stick together no matter what:

I, (Bride/Groom), take you (Groom/Bride) to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.

Traditional wedding vows involve the husband, the wife, and God. In church weddings, the commitment is made before the minister and the guests, who can testify to the commitment made. The vows should be taken seriously as they emphasize commitment and not contract.

Wayne Mack, in Strengthening Your Marriage, says that making a marriage covenant is like becoming a Christian:

When a person receives Christ, he or she also leaves their former way of life and commits to Christ. The commitment to Christ means trusting Him and serving Him regardless of how one feels or what problems may come up. (Mack W. A., 1999 2nd Ed)

As a pastor, I have had the opportunity to help a couple renew their vows after sin had nearly destroyed their marriage. It is always a joyous occasion to see a couple renew their commitment. God gives second chances!

Traditional vows are great but usually do not involve specific commitments that can be applied. The couple may be fuzzy regarding the particulars if they have not had good pre-marital counseling.

In Part Two, I will give details that flesh out the commitments that a Covenant of Companionship should look like biblically.


Pastor Bruce Roeder


Biblical Counselor, Training Program Instructor

Milwaukee, WI. He has an M.A. in Biblical Counseling and is certified with the ACBC (Level 2) and IABC. He is married to his wife Elizabeth of 49 years. They have one son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and three great grandkids. 

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  1. Sometimes called “friends with benefits” ↩︎