Monday, July 6, 2015

The Marital Debt

Phil and I met during our semester abroad in Austria, began dating pretty quickly, and began planning our life together soon after that.  Hey, when you know, you know.  We were young and in love and happened to be taking a course together called "Christian Marriage".  We would sit together in class, and study for the exams, all the while discussing our values and faith and what was important to us to have a holy Catholic marriage.  We were both on board with everything the church taught - chastity, NFP, being open to life, being married until death do us part, and having God as the center.  The whole shebang.  We were lucky to see eye-to-eye on all of the big things, and I'm sure the wonderful examples of married love we had from our parents was the main reason why.

Six kids later, and we're still happy at any chance to be together.

But...then we came to the part of the class where the Professor started talking about the marital debt.  I had never heard of this!

Here is the definition of the marital debt from the Bible: 

[1 Corinthians]
{7:3} A husband should fulfill his obligation to his wife, and a wife should also act similarly toward her husband.
{7:4} It is not the wife, but the husband, who has power over her body. But, similarly also, it is not the husband, but the wife, who has power over his body.
{7:5} So, do not fail in your obligations to one another, except perhaps by consent, for a limited time, so that you may empty yourselves for prayer. And then, return together again, lest Satan tempt you by means of your abstinence.

The husband and wife have a moral obligation (called the marriage debt) to have natural marital relations with each other.  Only for a grave reason could a married woman deny her husband marital relations for an extended time. 

In my naivety, I thought this was a troubling "rule" of the Church.  What if I was feeling sick?  What if I wasn't in the mood?  What if I was mad at him?  I still "owed" it to him?  That didn't seem loving at all, it was more like paying a bill and checking off a to-do list.  

But Phil, being his ever patient self, described it in a way that I would understand.  If we love each other, he said, then we want what's best for one another.  Simple as that.  He explained that the marital debt worked two ways, and if I wasn't feeling well or really tired, then he would be obligated not to even try anything, because he would want to put my needs above his.  I liked the way Phil explained it, and turns out it's never been an issue for us to feel obligated to pay the marital debt to one another (hello six kids!).  We naturally want what's best for each other.  If I'm tired, but I know he's been looking forward to a date night, I try to rally because I love making him happy.  And that definitely ends up making us both happy.  

The reason all of this was on my mind today was because I heard a song on the radio this morning with the following lyrics:

Best believe that, when you need that,
I'll provide that, you will always have it.
I be on deck, keep it in check,
When you need that I'mma let you have it.

She doesn't even know it, but she's singing about the marital debt!  (Of course, the song is terribly inappropriate and she's probably not singing about married love, but nonetheless, the sentiment is the same).  

When it seems sometimes that it's anti-feminist to be a good, dutiful wife who is generous and loving and happy to take care of the house and kids, it's nice to get reminders that it's our God given duty to put the needs of our spouse before our own.  We shouldn't be ashamed to do just that.  At the end of the day, I want to be known as a good mom and wife, with my eyes on the Heavenly prize.  After all, it's not in taking that we are fulfilled, but rather in giving that we receive.


  1. See, I totally agree with how you described the idea, but I think the phrase "marital debt" is antiquated and has negative connotations. I don't have any suggestions for a better phrase, though. ;)

    1. I know!! That's why it sounded so icky when I first heard of it, I mean debt is a four letter word and something we want to avoid! Shall we call it The Marital Gift...that kinda sounds creepy. The Marriage Deal, The Invisible Handshake, The Happiness Project...kidding, kidding, it's all weird.

    2. "Marital debt" bums me out, like "lovers" bums Liz Lemon out. Teehee!

    3. They called it the marital embrace on our engagement retreat and I thought that was pretty cheesy ;). I think no matter how you phrase it, it's going to be the slightest bit awkward! But love this post!

  2. I remember feeling the same way when I took the class Colleen, and it is one of the things in college that has stuck with me through the years. It gives me a little push when I am not really in the mood :).

  3. I'm familiar with the Scripture passage but not the term. I really appreciate how balanced it is, and that it calls for real love from both spouses and leads to a happy marriage.


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