Christians are called to live together in community. But too often there exists a great divide between married couples and their unmarried counterparts. Couples have moved past the lifestyle of their single peers; they no longer have to endure the torments of Christian dating and get to have guilt-free sex. They can quickly forget what it was like to be single. In turn single Christians often times feel ostracized, forgotten, hurt and even pitied. But marriage is supposed to build up the body of Christ, not divide it. To that end, here’s a few ways married couples should treat single people to encourage and strengthen the body of Christ:
- Don’t treat them like a threat
A commonly subtle yet painful impression married people give to their single counterparts is that they see them as a potential threat to their marriage. Infidelity is a home-wrecking sin to be actively avoided. Thus, the married attitude sometimes becomes one of “I can’t allow for the possibility of anyone compete with my spouse!” With these presuppositions, married men won’t talk to a single woman unless necessity requires it. Even then, they are sometimes instructed to do things like ‘keep it brief and professional’ and ‘avoid intimate eye contact’ (whatever the deuce that is). Likewise, married women will avoid conversations of any depth with a single man- ‘heaven forbid they think I’m making an emotional connection!’
Such an attitude, no matter how subtle, is noticeable. And it develops alienation between married couples and single people, an ever-increasing rift between the two phases of life. Not only is this hurtful but it also stands in contrast to a Christian view of marriage. A married person is a Christian before they are a spouse. Being a Christ-follower is their primary identity and role. This makes a single woman a sister in Christ, and a single male a beloved brother in the kingdom. Treat them as such. Because single people are not threats; they are people. And they ought to be valued, befriended and treated as such.
- Don’t act like being single is easy
“I remember the good ol’ days as a bachelor. Man, that was the life.”
Give yourself negative five points if you’ve ever expressed similar sentiments. Yes, being single certainly has it’s perks: you have your own space, less financial turmoil, you don’t have to split time between families during the holidays, and you don’t run the nightly risk of watching Gilmore Girls instead of Band of Brothers etc. etc. But keep in mind that single life has its own set of challenges. There can be intense loneliness, waking up every morning without someone next to you in bed, and great amounts of sexual frustration from attempting to maintain Christian virtues as a single person. Often times there’s the routine ‘so are you seeing anyone?’ at every family holiday, followed by looks of endearment pity when you tell your relatives “No, I’m still single”…right before they insist they introduce you to Bart, this twenties-something at their church; “he’s also single! So I’m sure you’d hit it off!”
Being single is no easier than being married. Each has its own perks and its own challenges. And yet married people often have a belittling and demeaning attitude toward the difficulties of singleness. “Yes it’s hard but try being married(oh wait, you can’t)!” is a subtle attitude of many interactions.
- Be transparent with the struggles and joys of marriage
Marriage is a mixed bag. Personalities can clash. Sex can be a difficult thing to figure out. Fights and grudges carry on for years. Mistakes from your previous lives can complicate your current relationship.
At the same time, marriage at it’s best is a beautiful merging of two persons. But there’s the temptation to only share the life and trials of matrimony with fellow couples. We tend to block out our single friends, abstain from seeking their counsel and reply to every inquiry that “oh, married life is good….yeah…so are you seeing anyone?”
Transparency across life stages can bring rich depth to single life and your marriage. Though they may not share all your experiences, singled people can often times diagnose and advise a marriage with clarity that’s not impeded by matrimonial baggage. Likewise, single people stand much to gain from hearing true perspectives on your married life. Too often, however, they are deprived of such insight and respect because couples like to save face.
- Be intentional about spending time with them
Married people like hanging out with married people. This is natural. After all, we can easily relate to each other. But just as it is important for college students to have friends with different ethnicities and backgrounds, so it’s just as beneficial for a Christian community to involve friendships between single people and married couples.
Often someone gets married and no longer has time for their single friends. There only seems to be room in the calendar for double dates or bro time with other husbands when the wives get together. But married life should make time for single friends that both members bring into the relationship. The apathy we show towards our single relationships is hurtful, to say the least.
- Don’t assume they really want to be married
“Someday you’ll find the right person and be happy.”
“It’s such a pity you’re single. I just can’t believe it!”
“…so…have you met anyone yet?”
Marriage is not the end all be all. The apostle Paul was pretty clear that the ideal state was to remain unmarried. Although for some the calling to celibacy is reluctant and painful, there are others for whom it is blessed and welcome. This does not mean there’s something wrong with them.
Married couples ought to be sensitive both to those who are single and want to be married (i.e. quit saying things like “I just can’t believe you’re still single!”) and to those who are single and truly have no desire to be married (“You mean you don’t want to find a spouse? What…do you have a lot of cats?”). There are numerous examples throughout the Bible and church history of people whose celibacy leads them to wonderful service of the church. Let’s remember that.
Marriage is a wonderful gift. And the calling to matrimony ought to be treasured. But the ultimate goal of a Christian marriage is to build up, proclaim and encourage the body of Christ. This means single and married Christians are to live together in transparency and community. There cannot be a divide created by matrimony. It’s part of the calling to marriage to use your relationship as a ministry to those from every walk of life.
Also, quit mentioning cats.