Column: What does it mean to ‘become one flesh’?

I have just spent a month with my husband at what we call “the shore.” This is in the Gulf. We go there for one month in the winter. This winter was strange because the Copper Country was almost as warm as the Gulf. But we enjoy it. Usually, he fishes and talks to all the other fishermen, and I sit and take in the beauty of the waves, soaking in the sun.

What came to mind as I was experiencing this peaceful moment was the scripture passage, “Jesus said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ (Matt 19:5). In short, the two shall become one. I thought about this, having been married for over 40 years. Every marriage has its ups and downs, but somehow, with God’s grace, we have made it through to this peaceful place of ocean, fish, sun and true companionship.

I began thinking about the often-used scripture passages at many weddings I have attended. What does it mean that the two shall become one? That must be the hardest thing for human beings to do. Yes, most couples begin in a flush of eternal pledges to each other, which lasts maybe a year or two. Then, the hard situations come onto the scene: children, relatives, financial demands and the need to say nothing of personal freedom, which one often must forgo for compromise. Marriage can be difficult, I realize that. But what did Jesus mean when he said the two shall become one? What was he telling us?

I have come to believe in a few principles as a summation of the growth of a marriage. The way I see it, one is compassion, thinking of the other. Communication is the bedrock of marriage. The more you communicate, and sometimes it is hard for one party to be wounded, the more you have to put your hurt aside and reach out to say what is bothering or holding back the closeness of each partner. Lastly and perhaps most important is forgiveness. Forgive and get on with it. These three items, compromise, communication, forgiveness and perhaps one more, compassion, are essential; at least, they are for me and my relationship with my spouse. They allow us to fulfill as closely as humanely possible to becoming “one flesh.”

One of the victories of marriage is that as you age with your spouse, you have a true companion. You are not alone. You have shared experiences, a collection of memories and peace in your life, which you did not have in your younger years. The only sad part is when one dies and leaves the other. I have seen this time and time again. When one of the spouses dies, they realize the closeness and the true meaning of the “One Flesh”. There is a hole left in the life of the other, and this, again, is a difficult time of adjustment to being alone. Jesus was telling us, I think, that the sharing of life with a partner grows us into a place we can call one flesh. As difficult as the journey of life is, the rewards are peace and certainty. This does not mean that personality and singular habits do not change; what it means is that we learn the other. We learn to love the other beyond the simple aggravations, inconsistencies and forgetfulness.

Marriage at its best is when it has been lived. There are problems, stumbling blocks and inconsistencies in living, but love is needed when we communicate our vulnerability to our partner. Then grace can heal the wound made in that one flesh. It takes great patience sometimes, but love can ultimately move mountains. God is love and blesses our union with showers of grace that heal and renew.

For those who are having problems in their marriage, I feel for you but suggest you and your partner reach out in prayer, and God will heal you. This is a hard task, but with grace and commitment to your marriage, it can be done to put ego aside and put compassion and love on.

As I sit reading my novel on the beach, watching the joy of my fisherman husband, I see us as individuals, yes. But I also see the journey, God’s grace and the small victory of the two of us so happy in our long marriage. We are living the promise, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt 19:5).


Kathleen Carlton Johnson, Ph.D., is a hospice chaplain.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today