by Suzanne Woods Fisher
"Marriage may be made in heaven, but man is responsible for the upkeep." Amish proverb
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 in some Amish families. 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."
"How to Make a Marriage Last" was excerpted with permission from Amish Values for Your Family (Revell Books, 2011).
About Suzanne Woods Fisher: She is an author of bestselling fiction and
non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish. Why the Amish? Well, Suzanne's
grandfather was raised Plain. She's always been fascinated by her gentle,
wise relatives. Learn more about Suzanne, her books, and Amish Wisdom, her
weekly radio show, by stopping by www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. Please subscribe to this blog and consider leaving a comment!