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updated 3/25/2005 4:17:20 PM ET 2005-03-25T21:17:20

Eric and Susan Johnston still have that newlywed glow. Just 10 months into what they hope will be forever together, the Franklin, Tenn., couple look like most any other. But they're different. At least their marriage is. They have what's known as a covenant marriage.

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"I look at covenant marriage as such that the joining of two people held to a higher standard,” says Eric Johnston. "It's a covenant, commitment, and a promise between us ratified by God."

It takes a little work to get one and it's much, much tougher to get out of one.

"It's an easy thing to get upset with a spouse and just decide not to work it out,” says Susan Johnston.

Covenant marriage differs from a standard marriage in three ways. It requires counseling before marriage or divorce. The only reasons to divorce include abuse, adultery, alcoholism, incarceration or abandonment.

And it requires a cooling-off period up to two years before divorce.

"It would require us to go through all of the channels to make divorce absolutely the last resort, because we're not going to use the word divorce in our marriage,” says Susan.

But critics complain covenant marriage is a way to sneak religion into public policy.

"The concept of covenant marriage is from the Bible and in that section it says 'women submit unto your husbands,’” says family law practitioner Lynne Gold-Bikin. “We are going backwards."

Though available in Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana, there's still no rush yet on covenant marriage. For example, in Arkansas since 2002, there have been over 112-thousand marriages. Just under 1,200 were covenant marriages.

"If you don't have it within you I don't think a piece of paper is going to do it for you," says Susan Sanders.

Susan and Tom Sanders were married in Louisiana. They opted against covenant marriage because they thought it was too intrusive. The result? They say they have seven beautiful years behind them and they look forward to the rest.

Back in Tennessee, the Johnstons have faith that their decision to choose covenant marriage will be blessed.

"It's a promise that we've made and it's something that we take very seriously," says Eric Johnston.

A promise they hope will be the foundation for a strong future.

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