Thursday, June 27, 2013

Marriage Diminished

I came across this article today. SCCL had linked to it on its Facebook page. It's kinda hard to describe the reaction it created within me. Many emotions, nary a one "edifying".

I'm not interested in snarking on this women or her husband (even if the page and article practically begs for it). I'm not gonna break each section and point on her list down to debunk it. I'm also not claiming that every single thing she presents is bad. What I want to do is address the toxicity of the religious addiction in the message presented there in broad and general terms - cause some of it is triggering for me on multiple levels (and probably triggering for many of you). I see her attitude about marriage as everything that's wrong with "Christian" marriage these days and probably the root of disease that causes marriages in the Christian community to crumble at a higher rate than the secular community - and this doesn't even take into account all of the loveless, mechanical, and moribund lasting marriages within the Christian community. I would also have to raise my hand and plead guilty to allowing my own religious addictions to cloud my view of marriage in the past, even if not to such a degree.

Much of this traces squarely to the trendy, fairly recent idea with the Christian community that "love is a choice". Total BS. Total, total BS. It's. Just. Wrong. (I wrote a little about that idea here back in 2010, and while many of my perspectives on faith/religion have changed since then, some fairly drastically, much of what I wrote there holds up with where I am today) 

Two things for those of you duped into believing "love is a choice"...

1) Think back to a time that you were hurt by love, then choose to not love the person that hurt you...and see if the pain goes away. *hint* It doesn't.

2) If love is a choice, then that means love is works-based. If you're a "grace" person within the Christian community, and you believe and live according to "love is a choice", how do you reconcile free grace with works-based love?

Let's be clear - you can choose to act in a loving manner toward someone, but you can't choose to love or not love them. You can act in loving ways toward your spouse, toward a neighbor, toward co-workers, toward ANYONE. That doesn't mean you love them. True love is organic in every way. It plants itself, waters itself, grows itself. The most you can do to control it is to pull a few weeds or move it away from its sunshine (the object of your affection), but IT chooses its own life-cycle. It follows no formula, has no mold. It just IS, whether you like it or not, whether you want it to be or not.

The work isn't in the "love" part of the equation. The work is in the relationship - forming and maintaining solid, healthy communication, boundaries, developing trust and deeper levels of respect, et cetera. Even that part doesn't work by following a formula, and a formula may even deliver a death-blow. Relationship is a choice, but love isn't, and if a formula ends your relationship rest assured that the pain is just beginning.

When I see this kind of formulaic, role-playing, works-based approach to love and marriage, I'm reminded of something my ex asked my mother on two occasions - once via phone and once in person: "Lew does so much for me. He does everything for me. What can I do for him? What's my ministry to him?" My mom thought it odd on both occasions, and told her, "Just love him." She never really understood what that meant, because her emotions (and particularly acting upon them) were forbidden territory where only the worldly trod. She was to "love the man she married, not marry the man she loved" - something many of you who read here were indoctrinated to believe. It's sad that young people are poisoned with that kind of crap, and that many end up stuck in loveless marriages playing the role of "godly helpmeet" and "biblical wife" while choosing to love the one they married. It. Just. Isn't. Healthy...or right.

All of this kind of nonsense is why I strongly encourage young Christian couples to NOT make any kind of pre-marital counseling a religious deal. Don't go to someone who's gonna break out the bible and start telling the husband to be the head/wife to submit and become a Proverbs 31 women. Stay away from pastors. Go either to professionals or to people on both sides of the success/non-success marriage Mason-Dixon line (who won't make it all about religion). I can't speak to exactly how God made you, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't with a cookie cutter, and religifying your marriage with someone's biblical formulas or mandates is to conform yourself to a shape you likely don't really fit into. That's called "doctrine over person" - a sure sign of religious addiction and a red flag for an unhealthy religious/spiritual situation.

Godly. Biblical. Edifying. Proverbs 31 women. Submit. Blah blah blah. This kind of stuff has seriously turned me off to the Christian idea and ideal of marriage. I matter. What I feel matters. The box you may want to put me in doesn't matter. Not to me, anyway.

My heart goes out to those of you stuck in loveless marriages, having been convinced that if you'll just do the right things, then God will make love happen. Doesn't work that way...and never will - no matter how many Fireproof "love dares" you subject yourself to. At some point it becomes self-brainwashing. To those of you single or on the verge of marriage, if you'll only marry to "edify" or to "minister" to the other person, PLEASE STOP. You can marry for whatever reason you want, but if that reason isn't something like "I love this person and want to spend the rest of my life with them", well, let's just say that I don't anticipate you finding much success in either or both of the happiness and long-lasting areas.

This kind of marriage makes failure SO easy. Too easy.

I hope for better for you. You matter. What you feel matters.


  1. Some of what this lady said made me writhe.

    Particularly the bit about how you should plop yourself down and wait for God to bring you a husband, and not do any kind of active work to find one. She said that "regrets and baggage" are what come from trying to find your own husband.

    This made me incredibly, incredibly sad, because I have a good friend who followed the mindset of "waiting" for a husband, and ended up alone. The words "baggage and regret" are exactly how she would describe feeling about being in the "just wait" mindset as a young adult. She has extreme regrets that she wasn't open to dating when there were still lots of single guys around. Extreme regrets.

    1. I have a friend who is a couple of weeks from her 42nd b-day and still thinks if she patiently waits God will deliver a husband to her door. My husband and I wanted to set her up once but she didn't have time to come meet the guy because she is too busy doing church things and hanging out with a gaggle of single women who are also patiently waiting for "the one" to randomly ring the doorbell, and besides that, she informed me that she shouldn't go trying to meet someone on purpose like that. *headdesk*

  2. "True love is organic in every way. It plants itself, waters itself, grows itself. The most you can do to control it is to pull a few weeds or move it away from its sunshine (the object of your affection), but IT chooses its own life-cycle. It follows no formula, has no mold. It just IS, whether you like it or not, whether you want it to be or not."

    So, so true. I've been reading your blog from the start and back then I was still sifting out a whole lot of lies I had been taught, like that love could be forced. I actually tried it, tried dating someone who was "good on paper," and discovered how futile it was. Then, on May 2, 2012, I fell in love and it's been an exciting and harrowing journey since. I did not choose to love him at all, and have tried many times to STOP loving him, because we broke up a couple of times and it hurt so bad I just wanted to not love him anymore (I've always felt for your tragedy, but now I can empathize better), but I can't stop or change the feelings. They just are. I have worked very hard on my actions and learning communication skills (really tough for a P/QF girl), and he has had to learn and change a lot too, but many times the things that make my love grow even more are the flaws and little vulnerabilities he has. When he has tried to put on an extra macho, impressive self for me, it has just put more distance between us. When I have slipped into old habits of passivity and being stereotypically feminine, it has put more distance between us. It did not kill the feelings, but it made it harder to express them.



  3. My husband and I got premarital counseling from a couple at our church who were not pastors, but lay people. It was a really positive experience for the following reasons: 1. Because they weren't pastors, I think they had an easier time sticking to practical things (like communication, what expectations we were entering with, how our families of origin were different and similar) rather than feeling obligated to stick to overly spiritual topics, like headship and submission. 2. They actually didn't talk about headship and submission at all. We were from a laid-back enough denomination that they realized the couples who came to them were not all going to have the same view on the submission thing. They mostly tried to asses whether hubs and I were in true agreement about HOW to handle conflict and HOW to divide responsibility. 3. Because they did have similar faith beliefs as we did, there were some basic values that were the same....but again, because they weren't pastors, we didn't feel like things were being over spiritualized.

    So if someone were to consider getting premarital counseling and didn't have the money/time/whatever to go to a professional, I would highly suggest trying to find a very healthy married couple who share your values and asking them to mentor you through the adjustment process.

  4. It's interesting to note that, except for the required reference to the "Proverbs 31 woman," (a broad description, not a set of commandments, by the way) and the equally required reference to submission in Ephesians (which, of course, always points out submission with no further discussion, as though the word itself says it all), she makes no citation to Scripture to back up any specific advice she gives on so-called Biblical womanhood. Of course the overwhelming majority of the rules of Biblical womanhood in this realm of Christendom are without a Biblical basis anyway. They are precisely the title of your blog.

    Good post.

  5. Why is it that these submissive women always forget to add the part about husbands equally submitting?

    Some of the comments were really insightful. I loved these:

    "Darlings, men already have enough privilege in this world without women oppressing our own sisters. We have intelligent thoughts because we're not meant to be Stepford wives. We are at our happiest and most able when we are not constantly second-guessing ourselves and putting our feelings aside. We deserve better than to feel second-rate and to put our well-being at the mercy of a husband. We have beautiful hearts and minds, so let them shine!"

    "The reality is that as women we have got to think ahead... Make no mistake, You are valuable all on your own. Know that. Live that. You are not required to be only as good as the man you are married to. You may find yourself alone. Know how to pick up and carry on. Be able to love yourself even when everyone else tells you that you failed. Teach your daughters to be ambitious and strong. Teach them to provide for themselves. Teach them the value of their opinions and their right to make decisions. Teach them that they are not defined by a marriage, should they choose to have one."

    This advice, though, from the blog owner, really, really, sucks:
    "It may help to write out all the things you love about your husband. If you don’t have a very long list, maybe you should blame that on the person in the mirror. After all, you’re the one who married him, right?"

    Really? Is it always the woman's fault?

    1. "It may help to write out all the things you love about your husband. If you don’t have a very long list, maybe you should blame that on the person in the mirror. After all, you’re the one who married him, right?"

      Yeah, that one, in the context she presented it, REALLY bothered me.

      Then again, in a Dr. Steve Brule kinda way, it has a ring of truth to it..."You shouldn't have married him then, you dingus."

    2. Same would be true for a man.

  6. They certainly like a lot of photos of themselves on their blog.

  7. I didn't even read the article -- but I wanted to share my own personal experience regarding "falling" in love and "choosing" to love. I fell in love with my husband -- absolutely fell. Hard. When he was a "heathen" and I was a rebellious college student. We dated for two years -- I just knew I wanted to get married, he just knew he did NOT. So we broke up. Man, it hurt. I couldn't eat, lost weight, was a mess. But I kept on keeping on.

    Fast forward FOUR YEARS. And I'm in church one Sunday looking at a wedding invitation that a friend of mine had and it was my ex-boyfriend's mom marrying an older gentleman at my church. They'd met at a Bible study, started dating, fell in love, and decided to get married. My friend insisted I go say "hi," although I couldn't think of anything I'd rather not do. My ex's mother immediately asked if I was married, and then informed me that my ex was not. She had that matchmaking gleam in her eye. I told her, I kid you not, "God would have to speak to me from a burning bush before I would go out with him again."

    God has such a funny sense of humor. I married him eleven months later. We will celebrate our 22nd anniversary this next February. We fell in love with each other, but we choose to do the work to nurture our relationship and keep our marriage healthy. Maybe that's where some of the confusion comes in when it comes to word choices. It hasn't always been easy, but it has been SO WORTH IT. My husband is a Christian now (he became a follower of Jesus two weeks before we saw each other for the first time in four years at his mother's wedding) and he is a good man. I love him with all my heart, and I know he loves me, too, because he tells me so. He loves the Lord, but he is not a flaky over-spiritualize everything nutcase. He values my opinion and has said many times that he trusts my "gut feeling" about things when it comes to making decisions.

    We homeschooled our kid, but not for religious reasons, really. Our schools are crap here. So we figured two college educated people could certainly do her no more harm than the public schools. I'm glad that she has seen a married couple that understands give and take on both sides -- submitting to each other, rather than a master and a slave. She knows her feelings, opinions, beliefs have every bit as much value and importance as any man she'll ever meet and she's been taught to stand up for herself and what SHE believes, not what she's been told to believe.

    I'm rambling, so I'll shut up now, but I just wanted to share my views on the whole falling and choosing thing.

  8. Love you Lewis. I read some and skimmed most of what she wrote. I was getting so angry at it that I just could not read it all. I object to everything she wrote. I can't go into detail, your comment section would be overwhelmed.

  9. After reading your post, I came away with three questions. Does our choice to be obedient to the Bible mean that we don't live under grace, and are living a "works-based" life? Because, man, I often don't WANT to obey what it says. I'd much rather live life selfishly and for myself. If love isn't a choice, then what about the command for a man to love his wife, as "Christ loved the church?" And, how would you advise those "stuck in loveless marriages?"

    1. "Does our choice to be obedient to the Bible mean that we don't live under grace, and are living a "works-based" life?"

      Yes. You're not living under grace so much as being controlled by a collection of religious texts. Your answer is in your own question. You're measuring your works by some books to determine your grace.

      "Because, man, I often don't WANT to obey what it says."

      Then don't. It's a free country. Frankly, you should be thankful that we AREN'T doing much of what it says. Might not be many of us left.

      "I'd much rather live life selfishly and for myself."

      Then aren't you just using your faith/religion as a bandaid to cover a deeper character flaw - rather than addressing the character flaw?

      "If love isn't a choice, then what about the command for a man to love his wife, as "Christ loved the church?""

      I'm not a disciple of Paul. He has no authority over me. I don't take orders from him. He's dead. Moot point, anyway. To love someone as "Christ loved the church" is a noun that generated some verbing. Christ was a pretty emotional guy. Did a lot of crying, getting angry, et cetera, and responding to what he FELT *gasp*

      "And, how would you advise those "stuck in loveless marriages?""

      I'd advise them to get out.

    2. I am glad that I did not get out when my marriage was more painful than joyful. My husband became disabled cognitively due to a seizure disorder. He became more like a child and he ignored every need I had. He then told his mom some of what I told him I needed. The biggest need I had was for a break. I needed 2 hours to sit in a coffee shop and read a book or just sit there and exist. However, I was in a demanding career, had a cognitively disabled husband, and a six month old child. It would not have been out of line for me to need a couple of hours. My husband could not comprehend that I would need something. He told him mom. She then got me alone and verbally attacked me for saying I needed a break for a couple of hours, that I was abandoning my family and that I was not allowed to have any needs of my own. As my husband's condition got worse our love was dying. In fact I did almost leave.

      I am now glad that I didn't because I would miss the joy we are experiencing now. My husband had brain surgery and is no longer disabled. His cognitive function continues to improve. As he gets better love is returning to our marriage and it is better and stronger than when it started.

      I do know of many who are in loveless marriages and they do need to get out, but I do think our society jumps to the getting out phase much too quickly. I would advise someone in a loveless marriage to evaluate why they are in a loveless marriage and then decided what to do about it. I don't recommend getting out until I know the circumstances.

  10. I couldn't get past the first sentence. "A few weeks ago, our preacher asked Big Jon & I to ..." Bad grammar.

    Petty, I know.

  11. Speaking as someone who's single and really happy in that state, the comment that bothered me was "as a single gal, waiting for the good Lord to bless me with the man he designed for me...i love to read posts such as this one. this season of singleness can be difficult at times, but i'm patiently waiting ..."

    These words make me so ANGRY. This poor girl has been raised to believe the only life for a woman is as a wife and mother. And then she reads all these Happy Happy pages painting a picture of a Gorgeous Biblical Life with a Godly, Loving Man, so she'll probably take the first man who offers her that wedding ring. And leaving herself open to an abusive relationship because she'll convince herself if only she tries just a Bit Harder he will change.

    That said, it was interesting (and pleasing) to see the critical comments left. Too often on this type of blog, they get removed.

    Christine in Australia

  12. Thank you for this post. I have run into the "love is a choice" idea outside of the Christian community as well, and it certainly messed with my head for a while. I spent a long time believing that if I acted in a loving manner, the feeling of love would happen on its own, and I couldn't figure out why I instead felt anger and resentment towards my then-boyfriend. It has taken a long time to start trusting my own gut again, instead of believing what the people around me tell me I should feel. Even though my family and upbringing were primarily secular, I find that a lot of the issues you write about really speak to me. I guess belief systems can contain that toxicity you mention even when they're not necessarily religion-based.

  13. I'll give her two bits of credit. Number seven about telling your husband what you need is good advice. I have known so many young women who play the "but he should know what I want and if I have to tell him, he doesn't love me" game with their boyfriends or husbands. Childish. And not getting caught up in "husband bashing" with girlfriends is not terrible advice, although the reasoning is not sound and the rest of the advice under that point crosses lines. As a man, Lewis, you have probably never had the joy of a group of middle aged women comparing notes on everything they hate about their husbands. It is downright depressing and some of them seem to even be competitive about it with the "oh, yeah, well mine is worse because...".

  14. I think we have all heard and been duped by the "Love is a Choice" thing. It really is not. Doing the right thing is a choice!

    I loved my husband like crazy when I married him over 30 years ago and still do. I love my kids like crazy. I love certain people like crazy.

    I don't love or could never "choose" to love certain supposed Christian people who have done the stupidest things I have ever know. I have chosen to forgive them.

    I would smack those middle aged women who compare their husbands. I don't need to make a "list" of the things I love about my husband..I know them!

    Just my two cents..

  15. I didn't (and don't) believe in "Love at First Sight."


    My wife and I knew when we first saw each other that we would end up married. I can't explain it. I took things slow and got to know her as a friend, not asking her out for over a year. But we desired each other. It was pretty well inevitable. (We have been married 12 years, and almost can't remember life without each other. It was a match.)

  16. Long time reader/lurker first time poster. First off this blog has been really helpful for me as I’ve transitioned away from Christianity or at least the form of Christianity that I grew up with. Though my experience has been much less intense than many others (super fundamentalist private school that enforced strict gender roles) it had a profoundly negative effect on self-esteem. I don’t know exactly where I’ll land in the whole religion spectrum as I’ve been feeling really skeptical about the whole bible recently but you and your blog have presented a much more palatable version of Christianity than I’ve found anywhere else.

    With all that out of the way - this lady’s article is exactly why I started drifting away to begin with. Why on earth would I want to be a cookie cutter caricature of a biblical stepford wife? I’ve never been able to wrap my head around being ok with being the inferior being or “weaker vessel” and happy about it. There is so much more to me than the role of wife or mother if there’s a God I would hope he created me to be more than a helpmeet-y baby maker otherwise I am completely defined by my gender and stripped of any individual opinions, talents or preferences and that just doesn't seem fair or right. Biblical or not I want no part of it.

  17. Buddy, I think you got it in one in this article. The love is a choice schlock is one of many ways the old-fashioned community has tried to avoid divorce at ANY cost.