Thoughts on Christian Marriage Teachings, Part One

Image courtesy of Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on March 17, 2015.

“God needs to be the center of your marriage or it will fall apart.

“Marriage takes three to work well.”

“A good husband is one who helps his wife fall more in love with God than with him.”

“The most important thing in marriage is for both to have faith in God.”

“Without God, marriage cannot work well. We are two selfish to accomplish a good marriage on our own without his sanctification and redemption.”

“A husband must be completely surrendered to God in order for his wife to completely surrender to him.”

“The closer you move toward God, the closer you move toward each other.”

“God ordained marriage and God sustains marriage.”

If you look up “Christian marriage quotes”, you’ll find thousands of pages and tens of thousands of quotes like the ones above. Some of us don’t have to Google, these things were drilled into us from babyhood. We heard them from our parents, the pulpit, pre-marital pastoral counseling, Christian marriage books, our own wedding ceremonies, and marriage seminars and conferences.

This type of thinking is a type of religious-centrism, or the idea that your perspective based on your religion is a universal truth. In reality the world around you is a much bigger place with broader views that don’t follow your rules or operate within your paradigm.

I’d like to talk a little more thoughtfully about the idea that “having a relationship with God and God as the center” is not necessary for having a wonderful marriage and how dependence on this concept can be damaging.

But first, a story. My story, and what led to the broadening of my own views on healthy marriage.

These teachings about having God at the center of your marriage, almost tanked my own marriage. Along with the erroneous teachings of Complementarianism, the idea that God had to be the center of my marriage, and all that entails, was disastrous for my marriage.

I came into marriage with a lot of funny ideas on what a Godly marriage was supposed to look like. I’d been raised a good little female homeschooler and read all the right books, including Created to Be His Helpmeet. I knew that in order to have a godly marriage that lasts a lifetime, I had to learn submission to my husband, he had to be in tune with God in order to lead correctly, we had to both be in daily communication with God, prayer together daily, discuss our faith, be part of Bible studies that would encourage us in our personal faith and our godly marriage, and be sure to “keep God at the center” of our marriage. We could only love each other well if we loved God more. Every church we were part of reinforced these teachings. Every couple we talked to in the church declared them to be true.

But nothing worked out like it was supposed to. As my husband said to me just last night, “Doing marriage the Christian way almost killed our marriage”. The more I tried to respectfully get him to lead prayer with me, or to go to men’s retreats where he’d learn to be a more godly leader, the more he resisted and the more distant he got. He’d cave and go to a retreat where, in his words, “they’d spend the whole time telling us how we weren’t good enough men and needed to repent and get closer to God and we’d come home feeling both dejected and on a repentance high.” (He likes to refer to the emotional upswing that happens after a spiritual encounter as a “spiritual high”.) We had quite a few of those experiences in the first 5 years of trying to be a godly couple. There seemed to always be something to repent of, something we weren’t doing quite right, something we needed to do better in order to obtain what we were supposedly missing: connection with God and therefore each other and therefore God’s blessing on our marriage.

Somewhere along the line, we both gave up. We loved each other, had great chemistry, were committed for life. But we were tired. So tired of trying to fit into boxes we didn’t fit in. Trying to pursue the elusive spiritual connection that would finally help us obtain “godly marriage”. We never fought, we just disconnected. I was sure it was over because we never prayed together and he was sullen because I lived in fear that we’d messed up, that God wasn’t the center of our marriage, that we could never have what all those smiling couples on the marriage books had. And we were both miserable.

Giving up saved our marriage. 

When we were both able to give up on expectations of each other and ourselves, expectations we were told came straight from God, we were finally able to see the people we were and the relationship we had. We were able to appreciate the uniqueness that was us instead of forcing something that wasn’t us and was killing our hearts and souls and relationship. We gave up the idea that either of us had to be close to God to be close to each other and started connecting based on who we were as people, not as Christians. We stopped sharing our personal faith journeys with each other in a forced “we have to share because it’s what we’re supposed to do” way, which was really me trying to pry his thoughts out of his head in order to feel some sort of spiritual connection to him. We stopped trying to model the male headship structure and decided that Egalitarianism was more true to who we were and made more sense for a healthy relationship between adults. I started to blossom as my own person, an independent individual, something I had never done before as a conservative homeschooled female. I no longer needed him to shape up spiritually in order to lead me. I didn’t need a leader, I needed a partner, a companion. He didn’t need me to be another child that needed leading, he needed and wanted a partner in life.

We stopped asking “what are we supposed to do? What are we supposed to get out of this relationship? How can we glorify God with our marriage?” and started asking “what do we want to do? What do we want from this relationship? How can we live a fulfilled, healthy life within our marriage?” We threw out the books, stopped going to conferences, and completely gave up any spiritual and religious aspect of our marriage. We didn’t talk about God with each other for *years* and just let the other person have their own faith and do whatever they liked with it. We stripped it all down to two people, madly in love, who like each other and want to do life together, and now what? 

That was the first 5 years of our marriage. The last 5 years have been truly phenomenal. Real connection, mutual respect, freeing each other to be individuals, talking til 2 AM about everything and nothing, sexual fulfillment, laughter, partners in crime, best friends, each on our own spiritual journey and not threatened by the others’, doing life together in an easy, non-forced way. According to every sermon, every book, every conference, every meme and internet quote passed around Facebook, our marriage should be falling apart without God. But without God and the expectations that came with the idea of him, our marriage is thriving, as are many others in the same place as we are. I am sometimes angered by the fact that something that started out so good was almost destroyed because we submitted to teachings of men in the name of their god. I’ll talk a little more about those teachings and the problems inherent in them in Part 2.

Part Two >

5 comments

  • This makes me sad on so many levels. I am sad that you had 5 years of marriage because you were trying to fit into a box. I am sad that the way you understand God being part of your marriage was based on bad facts. I was told to find the godliest guy I knew and marry him. Lucky for me he was my best friend:-)

    We both love God with our whole hearts, souls, mind and strength. But we rarely pray together, read the Bible together or anything. We go to church. God is definitely the center of both our lives, but we never really fit into the box you speak of and we have always been ok. We pray with our kids and read the Bible with our kids. Some times all together and sometimes not.

    About 10 years into our marriage I read, “Created to Be His Helpmeet”. I applied some of the principles. After a few weeks my husband ask me what was wrong with me, why I was being so strange and why could I not make any decisions anymore. I told him about the book. He told me that book was awful and I should go back to normal:-) HEHEHEHE.

    I hope my homeschool/Public school kids all know that there is not a one size fits all way to have a godly life or marriage.

    I am looking forward to part 2 of this story!

    • I was told the man I wanted wasn’t godly enough. Heh. I am not saying that having a god as part of your relationship is always bad. I am saying that it is not necessary for a good marriage. And that assuming that the one god that you believe is necessary for a good marriage is very narrow-minded and dismissing of the many great marriages that have happened in other religions or without any religion at all. That is the box that I speak of here. That you must believe and make the Christian god the center of your relationship for it to be a good relationship.

      And I didn’t mean to imply that the first 5 years weren’t good. Because they were. We loved each other. But they were confusing in a way that the last 6 years have not been.

  • Pingback: Thoughts on Christian Marriage Teachings, Part Two | Homeschoolers Anonymous

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  • I also have an “Un Christian Marriage” Nope. We don’t pray together. We do attend church, but my husband would rather have his toenails pulled out than to go to a “men’s retreat” and discuss his marriage. We argue sometimes, and often, our arguments are productive.

    However, I feel just fine about it all. Why? Because the Bible never says “Pray with your spouse to have a good marriage.” It never says a single word about Christian retreats, men’s or women’s .

    I feel that the Christian community, in trying to address the many struggling marriages, created all of these dopey rules and forgot what Jesus said was the greatest commandment “Love God with all that you are and your neighbor as yourself.” Other good things, family devotions, prayer time, retreats, seminars, etc. have been elevated and people forget the simple wisdom of Jesus’ commands.

    And then, there is the idea that when you are praying, devotioning and retreating, you won’t have struggles…ummm…yeah, all human relationships go through times of struggle. Christian or not. There is no solution to those problems. Maturity cures many of them, and growing together cures lots of others.

    There are good marriages that are not Christian. (duh) Even in the New Testament, Christians are told to stay in their marriages and work at it, even if their spouses are not believers.

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