My husband and I have difficulty managing our conflicts. We knew marriage would be difficult. Ours, however, has turned out to be much more difficult than either of us anticipated. Sometimes our anger spills out in front of the children. Can you share something to help us do a better job of dealing with our differences? —Diane, Honolulu, Hawaii
Real Family Talk
An Equal Partnership
by Willie and Elaine Oliver
What does it mean to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers”? What if the person I’m dating is a believer from a different denomination than mine; isn’t she still a believer?
It sounds like you’re referring to 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
For many people in relationships, this passage of scripture seems somewhat harsh, especially if—as you’ve stated—the other person is a “believer” from another denomination.
Perhaps we should first define the word “yoke.” A yoke is an implement used to harness farming animals together to pull a plow, wagon, or heavy load. It is used to join a pair of animals that will work together simultaniously.
What would happen if a farmer yoked a really strong ox with a sickly ox? The sickly ox would likely impede the progress of the stronger ox; or, it may pull to the left while the other one pulls to the right. It would be very difficult for them to work together because they are unequally yoked. They may get the work done, but it will be exponentially more difficult because of their unequal pairing.
In this passage of scripture, the word “yoke” is used to help illuminate the serious nature of marital relationships. When one is dating or looking for an eligible marriage partner, it’s akin to being yoked with another person. If you want to optimally accomplish the task of marriage, you want to look for someone who is equally fit to share the blessings and burdens of an intimate relationship such as marriage, to find someone who shares similar principles and values. Does this person share your beliefs about how you worship God, your day of worship, or how you keep your day of worship? What about tithing and raising children? These are critical issues to consider, because we all live by our values and beliefs. They drive everything we think, feel, and do.
Sometimes in dating relationships, individuals convince themselves that religious differences are no big deal, usually because they are blinded by their emotions. However, after they are married, core principles surface and they begin to feel the struggle of being yoked with a partner who is fundamentally different.
We’re sure you know a few people who have been successful while being “unequally yoked.” However, empirical research supports biblical counsel not to marry someone of a different faith. Religious dissimilarity is one of the factors associated with increased risk of marital distress or divorce. Conflict arises when couples can’t agree about how they’re going to spend their weekends, especially if they worship on different days.
If you’re reading this and you’re already married to someone of a different faith, there are ways you can make your marriage thrive in spite of the challenges. If you’re dating or considering marriage to someone of a different faith, allow God to direct your path, and trust Him to lead you where He wants you to go. You can’t go wrong if you follow God’s directives.
You will be in our prayers.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, MA, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist, is associate director of Family Ministries. You may communicate with them at Family.Adventist.org or HopeTV.org/RealFamilyTalk.
All Bible references are from the English Standard Version.