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What Does It Mean for Two to Become One in Marriage?

After a year of becoming married, I’ve gained newfound appreciation for the bible phrase, “and the two shall become one.” It’s an idea that shows up in Genesis, the gospels, and also Ephesians when Paul is talking about marriage. I mean, I’ve always heard of the phrase. Theoretically I was on board—otherwise I wouldn’t have stood up there at the altar and said “I do” when I married my wife. But I also didn’t know just how hard, or rewarding, it would actually be. Change is slow, and we also didn’t hear about the daily realities of marriage prior to tying the knot. If you are new to marriage or thinking about marriage, I wanted to share some practical ways I’ve been seeing that verse of Scripture of “two becoming one” being lived out in our lives.

Bible Verses About Two Becoming One

There are several “two become one” bible verses you can find in various places:

Genesis 2:24, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Matthew 19:5-6, And said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Mark 10:8, 'And the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Ephesians 5:28-31, In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

What “Two Shall Become One Flesh” Does NOT Mean

I listened to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of material on marriage prior to getting married, namely Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. I remember being daunted, inspired, and then finally intimidated again by the phrase, “and the two shall become one.” One what?? But everyone that I listened and learned from was firm: “two becoming one flesh” does NOT mean that you become the SAME person. You are still two, separate individuals. You do not lose your individuality and become one identity.

Equally clear, for my single friends reading this blog, is that “two become one” does NOT mean that any of us are incomplete or lacking in singlehood. Marriage is not the end-all-be-all. The church has done a poor job of emphasizing the completeness of all people regardless of whether they are seeking marriage or not. In fact, Keller in his own book emphasizes friendship as a foundational aspect to marriage:

“Friendship is a deep oneness that develops when two people, speaking the truth in love to one another, journey together to the same horizon.

Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Notice how he is still explicit that there are still TWO separate people. They just happen to be journeying together to the same destination. The Genesis verse, “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” emphasizes that the new primary identity and destination a married person has is to their spouse, not their parents. The Bible emphasizes “one flesh” in order to communicate God’s desire for marriage to be lifelong and covenantal.

Other practical ways “two become one flesh” does NOT look like in marriage:

  • We don’t necessarily have the same friends
  • We don’t have the same depth of relationship to our respective parents
  • We don’t have the same schedules (shocker that we are not joined at the hip, though we have observed vast differences in this between different couples)
  • We can attend social events on our own if we choose
  • We have different interests and habits
  • We often have to work out our differences on any of the above

Defining Two Becoming One In Marriage

So what does “two becoming one in marriage” actually look like? My wife and I have two phrases we like to say to each other.

“We’re on the same team.” When conflict arises, it’s helpful to remember that though we are two different, separate people, we aim to be one unit, and one unified team. Having a teammate doesn’t mean you always have to have the same opinion. But we do hope to come to an agreement with one unified decision.

We’re better together.” Sometimes it is tempting to say, “forget it! I’m just going to do my own thing!” But we’ve come to learn and recognize that we each have strengths and weaknesses. Our differences in opinion help us to consider a broader range of perspective. Our weaknesses and flaws are sometimes covered by the other person’s strengths. One person is not better than the other, but we ARE better together.

Two becoming one in marriage means that are striving to always work better together and to understand each other better. We acknowledge the other person’s freedom to be their own, authentic, God-given self. We sometimes have to sacrifice in order to accommodate or help the other person.

The Pain Of Becoming One In Marriage

The realities of doing this is hard. It is really, really hard.

Many of us would rather not embrace change in life. We like our set routines. We hold fast to our opinions. We have our own patterns and ways of processing the world, why change what has already worked for so long in the past?

Both my wife and I have experienced this deeply in the past year. For starters, we have different routines in the morning and evenings. We like to eat different things, at different times of the day. Just coexisting and trying to sync up energy levels throughout the day has been difficult.

And then there’s bigger things, like money and finances. We were used to spending different amounts of money in various different categories. Picking where to eat and what to order was a challenge in itself. What made natural, perfect sense to one of us, often confused or irritated the other person.

There are both pros and cons to being two very different people trying to become on in marriage. The cons are that small and big decisions alike can be frustrating and difficult. We may not see eye to eye. But the pros are that it forces us to really examine our own preferences and biases. The pros of being different is that we each bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. We learn from each other and both become better as a result of it.

How to Become One in Marriage

One of the hardest things for us this past year was figuring out which church community to commit to as a married couple. For me, there was pain in letting go of the church and faith context that I had immersed myself in the past 4 years before marriage. I was a regular part of a church community that I deeply loved. To me, that was the pattern I had known of wanting to pursue God and live out a life of faith with others in community. However, what we soon realized was that trying to impose my way of living, my preference in what I believed to be following Jesus, was like trying to put new wine into old wineskins.

There was nothing wrong with the old wineskin. But what worked for me as a single person did not work for us both together. We were new wine.

God has been putting this verse on my heart recently, from when he led the Israelites out of Babylonian captivity and ultimately was pointing towards Jesus:

"Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth—do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:19.

In the verse immediately prior to this in verse 18, God also urges them: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” Letting go of my individual preferences has been a new exercise in trusting God, in letting my wife teach me out of her strengths, in depending on a new wineskin to hold our newly formed marriage.

So. How DOES a couple become one in marriage? We don’t really know. I think the answer still lies in putting our hope in God. As the only immovable constant in the universe, God is the only reference point that is not skewed towards one of our individual biases or desires. A few questions to ask ourselves, or anyone else in a similar boat:

  • Is there anything that we’re idolizing above God? Even traditionally “good” things such as church involvement or spiritual disciplines?
  • The behaviors that you don’t want to change… what is the underlying fear motivating you to reject change?
  • What circumstances and decisions will allow you BOTH to experience more of God? Is there evidence or absence of the fruit of the Spirit for one or both people (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control)?

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