The history of marriage is very old. The day when a new family has born is celebrated in all nations across the planet, and usually consists of few stages, such as preparation to it, traditional ceremonies, legal processes, entertainment, party etc. Over the history these stages were mixed up together. Some of those stages have gone or merged with others, new appeared and so on. Therefore it is important to clearly define what exactly is meant by the term "marriage" in order to avoid mixing this terminology with something else.
Regardless of any culture in the world, marriage has at least two separate areas, although closely related with each other: one is personal, which is solely between the partners of the couple. This is called relationship. And another—derivative from the first: all the logistics that are related to the society, law and legal procedures. The relationship between a couple is the main reason why all the logistics exist. The same was done in ancient culture of Israel. It is important to know what stages an ancient Jewish marriage consisted of. The earliest mention of marriage appears in Genesis chapter 24, where the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah is described.
The first step was a stage of "ketubah", a legal document, the main objective which is to protect the bride, even when she did not actually sign the document. Jewish ketubah perceives that the father of the bride will use his wisdom to best represent her interests. Therefore there is no need of the ketubah being signed by the bride, as long as her father signed it, although optionally she could do that as well. It is plausible that Isaac married Rebekah according to such document, although there is no direct clear confirmation of that. However, in the 58th verse of Genesis, the 24th chapter says, "Then they called Rebekah and said to her, Will you go with this man? And she said, I will go." So here Rebekah agreed to become the wife of Isaac. Note that ketubah always have been signed at the very beginning of the marriage process, and its mere signing already considered a legal marriage. The dating and friendship could be started only after this. Such order is quite a difference from the modern marriage where the registration documents are only issued at the end of the whole process. Ketubah was signed in triplicate. First copy was usually for the father of the bride, the second was for the husband and the third remained signed in the synagogue. All three papers were sealed and only a judge could open the seal. So when the ketubah has been signed, the couple was legally married, although there was not yet any intimate life. If one of the partners could not fulfill all the conditions in the signed ketubah, such agreement would considered to be broken and this supposed to be submitted to a Beth Din, a rabbinical religious court to invalidate the ketubah.
Then, the next stage was "chuppah" (Hebrew: חוּפָּה) also called "chuppot", literally "canopy" or "covering". At this stage, an intimate life starts. However, this phase would never start if a man did not fulfill the requirements in his signed ketubah. Such pause could last for many years, as it is the case with Jacob, who had run up seven years for Laban, before he could have an intimate relationship with his daughter Rachel. Modern chuppah went through a significant evolution during (the time of) Jewish culture and changed its meaning by nowadays. At the beginning it was the so-called "fabric of the innocence", a sheet that was placed under the bride on the first marital relations. The whole event of the very first marital relations was a very important process. On the time, when the husband fulfilled all the agreements in signed ketubah, he was allowed to set the date of chuppah and inform his wife about that. Then a wedding room with a bed was prepared. The couple was allowed to bring up to ten witnesses who were waiting outside the room, so the couple eventually came out showing fresh blood on the chuppah. This is mentioned in the Gospel of John: "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled." (John 3:29).
The last stage of the marriage was the celebration. Important to know that this was not some special sacred act or imminent necessity. Instead, it was only a mere action of celebrating the fact that the new young family has been already formed. Such ceremony wasn't even necessary and could be even omitted, as in case with Isaac and Rebekah. Jesus also visited a similar party: "On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding." (John 2:1-2)
All this complex process of the wedding went through a significant evolution from ancient Jewish times to nowadays. If early conditions were imperfect and could not foresee some specific corner cases, such as orphanhood or the bride lost her virginity due to certain circumstances, then later versions of the process introduce even more legal conditions in order to dictate security and protection for the woman. For example, just in the beginning of the 1950s an additional paragraph was introduced, called "The Lieberman Clause". This change stipulates that divorce should be adjudicated in earlier mentioned rabbinical court in order to prevent an effect of "chained wife" or "aguna". Halakha (Hebrew: הֲלָכָה), the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from Torah, does not allow a woman to issue a divorce letter (Get)? to her husband. Therefore, even if the woman was divorced officially in civil law, without such letter she had no right to re-marry from the religious point of view. In case of various reasons being responsible for a man not returning to his wife, such as death in a battle or missed in action etc, his wife was still married being "chained" to her marriage. These kind of cases were covered by Talmudic scholar and Jewish Theological Seminary professor Saul Lieberman, requiring that a religious divorce letter should be granted in case a civil divorce was already issued. But the main problem with the law was that it in principle could not handle all possible subtle cases for couples throughout the entire civilisation existence at any time or place. Christ, who fulfilled the physical law, replaced it with the new, spiritual law including totally new genuine essence. If previously the Law of the Old Testament had an incredible voluminous number of different conditions, provisions and rules that were gradually added during its existence, the Law of the New Testament is based on a completely different paradigm, where relationship with God and love of the neighbour is a cornerstone concept of it. Similarly, ancient Jewish culture demanded implementation of given promises through the agreed conditions of ketubah and that supposed to satisfy the wife's father's requirements. Then the era of Christ demands the keeping of promises in the relationship within the couple. The law cannot force to actually love somebody.
The evolution of an ancient marriage process also demonstrates a decay of its values. For example, as it is already known, the main stage in ancient Jewish was ketubah. Not just its formal signing but also the necessity of the description of clear and exact accomplishments of all obligations and promises. Celebration was only the last, optional stage. Again, the celebration was never the culmination but only a beautiful and solemn gala-party, which was not even always affordable. However, in modern marriage process the main focus has been shifted from the contract to the party itself. Modern wedding consists of the formal part, during which the couple gives pre-made standard promises in front of an often unknown leader. This stage is usually shorter and is tend to be finished as soon as possible, so everyone can finally move to the party. In the meanwhile the party itself takes lion's share of all invested wedding expenses. It is possible to assert that in modern wedding the stage of ketubah would be exactly that formal part, where pre-made promises were given. Note that the promises, that were given orally, can be guaranteed completely only if a true relationship is available between the couple. That means, promises cannot be kept without the relationship as well as a not fulfilled ketubah meant the beginning of the end of marriage for the ancient Jews. So the failure of relationship surely would mean the same thing in the modern marriage.
Of course, having a choice between A purely verbal promises that are warranted by just relationship as the only connection between the partners, and B, legal or religious laws in order to reliably guarantee the marriage foundation, the obviously fast solution would be to choose a plan B, where law and legal and religious processes. This is due to the fact that it is much harder to get around the legal obligations and therefore sometimes easier to just stay married rather then going through all the legal processes, penalties and other consequences. But is this true, especially if it is not possible to force somebody to love through the law?
Can a marriage be without love between partners, but solely be based only on "dry" fulfillment of certain promises? After all, if these promises are fulfilled, can the marriage be considered healthy? To find an answer for this question, one should look at the very nature of God. For example, equating marriage between Christ and Church, Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind through love, not through the routine of the law. Therefore the love towards the church as the bride is the primary factor of family formation. And thus if there is no love, such "technical" marriage unlikely will last for long.
Immediately there could be a counter-question:
"Since marriage can break, as it can be observed, but if it actually rests exclusively on private and undocumented relationships rather than on external rules or prohibitions or law, then such approach can cause mass divorce, betrayal and end up in deception, because in this way can be done anything?"
Unfortunately, this is a very appropriate question, a valid scenario and discernable plot that can happen next, if law and prohibitions became void. But since a probability of such outcome is extremely high, this is also the main problem nowadays among Christians, and it has its own term: hypocrisy. A closer look to how Gospel works, could explain this in detail.
Gospel, in its concept as a "good news" is based solely on voluntary principles, on voluntary bearing the cross of Christ, on a voluntary agreement to bear the yoke of Jesus and voluntarily consent to be His disciple and follower. Such decision to follow Christ is not based on fear of punishment. Jesus never kept anyone by a power and forced no one to be happy by law and never pushed anyone to believe in Him. This is the essence of His teaching: His disciples are volunteers that are always free to decide what they want to do next with control on it. In fact, Gospel ends exactly on the moment when a person supposed to decide himself what to do next. Taking the decision to follow Christ, one does not need to sign any kind of documents or exhibit a colorful public bravado. Even one of very few Christian ceremonies, such as a process of baptism is also very personal and does not have to be public, because this is the covenant between the follower and the Christ, not in a stipulation with a crowd of people on public. First of all a follower of Christ will live his life personally with God and that will result into the fruits of virtues. Such virtues as a result of following Christ are not a demonstration of some visual appearances on public that can be superficially judged by a human to be good enough or not yet. Otherwise, what kind of nobility is this, if love and faith is based on an elementary self-preservation and is built by fear of penalties in the future? The similar way is the decision to keep a real marriage upon good will and voluntary principles. Such decision should not depend on fear of legal and other consequences. Therefore, supporters of the law and prohibitions who still advocate legitimate obligations are the main principle of marriage, should also understand that they are rejecting the grace of Christ and promoting what is already long time gone in history, which was called "white washed graves" and is no longer relevant. The principle of marriage preservation through the laws, rules and regulations is not internal and private between two partners, but is external, public and therefore adjucated by people that are outside of the marriage boundaries. Therefore, it looks valid (or not) only from the outside, while hiding many private serious issues within the couple in order to avoid the judgement from others. However, if to accept the idea of binding the marriage merely on the internal relationships and nothing else, as well as also accept the proposition that the absence of the relationship is also an absence of any kind of future for such family and the only way to resolve this is to build true private pertinence or simply stop it all at once, then it would also suggest that there are not so much true and long lasting marriages. This is where the fear of mass divorce comes from, once law and a legal consequences as the deterrence of divorce would be eliminated. If this is true, then one needs to stop deceiving himself and begin thinking where is the root of high percentage of attraction to divorce.
Noteworthy is the fact, that the real purpose of implementation of certain promises can be actually hidden, but from the outside represented with fake goals in order to hide a true reason. Through this way it is possible one can get married because of persecution of certain benefits or higher social state etc. Therefore it is important to remember how Jesus noted that "by their fruits shall know them". The fruit is a completed, finished object, by which can be determined its condition, quality, purpose etc. The fulfillment of the promises is not an object, but still a running process, even if such fulfillment is done very carefully and accurately. Some promises could be indeed quondam and therefore finished, but promises that run the family are always frequentative, like one cannot love a spouse or care on demand only once and never again. Therefore mere fulfillments of the promises does not yet mean for which purpose they were given and even done. Their ultimate goal might be quite different and so the final fruit also might be quite different than expected. For example, a culture of some nations forces a woman to get married before certain time. And the mere fact of getting married changes her social status and gives her particular benefits. Such environment hardly cultivates a deep and strong relationship, but rather pushes for a superficial link only to mark a specific cultural checkpoint. Therefore the real purpose of given promises determines the quality of the relationship. Thus, the very essence of marriage as a contract is the exceptional quality of internal relationship which is the link between two partners and nothing else. Their quality directly determines the state of implementation of a marriage as a contract. Hence the presence or absence of internal quality relationship is also the fulfillment of a marriage contract or its termination.