Tearing Down the “Christian Marriage” Idol

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that a number of my tweets are the simply the documentation of the terrible (yet funny) things my wife says or humorous little (sarcastic) reflections on life together. Tweets like:

Half of the fun is tweeting them and waiting for her to scream at me from the other room. It’s my opinion that sarcasm is one of the many love languages that Dr. Gary Chapman missed.

You’re not nice to your wife

I had a woman who followed me for quite a while—we had a couple conversations and she seemed to genuinely appreciate my tweets, but one day she up and unfollowed me. My Twitter attrition rate is pretty high, so I usually don’t think anything about losing followers, but this one surprised me. So I asked her if there was something specific I did to cause her to click the “unfollow” button.

She told me that she generally appreciated my tweets but felt I was too mean to my wife. This caught me by surprise because Shawna sees everything I tweet about her, it’s typically self-depreciating humor, and we think it’s the funniest thing ever.

But in the opinion of this Twitter user, that’s not how men treat their wives.

The Christian marriage mold

Biblically speaking, there isn’t a ton of prescribed behavior for married people in the Bible—but you wouldn’t know that from the church. Christianity has a whole marriage industry full of conferences, books, curriculum, sermon series, etc explaining how to have godly wedded bliss. Everywhere you turn there are blog listicles of rules, tips, and recipes for good Christian marriages.

I read a post on having a good “Christian marriage” this morning with advice like: “Try to avoid eating at restaurants” and “Define who does what chores.”

Advice is okay for what it’s worth, but the unspoken communication is that “Christian marriages”® look a specific way or have particular elements. The faith that holds the Christian marriage together is focused on the particular directives and mandates.

I remember someone asking my grandmother on her fiftieth wedding anniversary what the key to a long marriage was and her timeless answer was, “Bite back.”

Like many marriages that lived through the depression and a world war, these two were often snipping at each other and bickering. By “Christian marriage” standards they didn’t have a very good one. Sometimes it was hard from the outside to know whether they even liked each other.

But their love was abiding and permanent, and despite how it looked to the anyone else, they went the distance.

The crippled waltz

Marriage, when done right, is two broken and damaged people learning to dance. Because no two people are impaired in the same way, each dance takes on characteristics that are specific to that couple. The key is to learn to compensate for each other’s weakness and to create something beautiful—something unique.

So much marriage advice (and parenting advice for that matter) is made of broken people standardizing the dance moves that have worked for their marriage and inflicting them on others. No two dances look quite the same, and it’s no one’s place to look at any couple on the dance floor and judge the “Christianity” in their movements.

I wish I knew this years ago. Too much of my life was spent chasing the idol of Christian marriage and damaging a perfectly good union by holding it up to an idealized standard that doesn’t really exist. The glittering image of real “Christian parenting,” “Christian marriages,” Christian ministry,” or any other role we as Christians pursue creates a treadmill. I’m constantly appraising these roles by their chimerical Christian equivalents.

A “Christian marriage,” like any other marriage, is about learning to mold yourself to another person—and not to an expectation. It’s just that we do it in the presence and empowerment of God.

So relax and take some time today to enjoy the marriage you have, and not the one you should have. It might make all the difference.

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