Chapter 16 » 16.13

The meaning of marriage

The solemnisation of a marriage is only its beginning. Life brings many pressures that test the resilience of marriage and need to be faced by the married couple with support from the meeting. Sometimes they lead, despite our best efforts, to a recognition that a marriage has irretrievably ended; sometimes, in consequence, there is a possibility of remarriage after divorce.

Quakers insist that those joining in marriage must unconditionally intend their commitment to be lifelong. However, married couples can expect their commitment to be continually tested, and they must respond by continually reaffirming it. This will be easy sometimes, more often complicated, and sometimes very difficult indeed. The commitment of marriage must be founded on love and truth, so that a couple can trust one another to make peace in their marriage by harmonious resolution of conflict, not by denying or avoiding conflict. The support of the meeting for a troubled marriage can be crucial in preserving it.

Nevertheless, there will be times when a marriage simply cannot be preserved, and Friends recognise the validity of civil divorce and the dissolution of civil partnership. Good grounds for divorce do exist, and in particular one spouse cannot sustain a marriage alone when the other has withdrawn their commitment (in whatever way). The remarriage of a divorced person is, however, a sensitive issue (see 16.40); Quaker testimony to truth and integrity requires evidence of complete commitment. It is important that a pre-marital meeting for clearness (see 16.3716.39) should lead to discernment that a divorced person is approaching remarriage with the intention of making a genuine lifelong commitment, whatever the reasons for their past experience may have been.

A selection of Friends’ views may be found at Marriage and steadfast commitment 22.3322.50 and Ending of relationships 22.7322.79. For 17th-century practice see 19.56

← 16.12 16.14 →