Evangelical Christian Marriage: Hawking the Product

Evangelical Christian Marriage: Hawking the Product October 18, 2012

by Sierra

In evangelical Christian culture, marriage is a commodity. Marriage books are sold like gardening manuals or cheat sheets for the SATs. The sales pitch for marriage in Christian culture is more intense than any you’ll ever experience on a used car lot. Christians are made to believe that they’re God’s designated curators of Marriage, That Holy and Venerable Institution, and that falling down on the job can undermine the entire fabric of society. Just look at these book titles!

Marriage is about way more than you and your partner:

Save a Marriage, Save Our Nation

Why Marriage Matters

Marriage is also sold as the cure-all for emotional emptiness – second only to Jesus, of course (or was it the other way around?):

The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted

The Marriage You’ve Always Dreamed Of

Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs

Marriage is also the Hardest College Class Ever:

The Marriage Course

Getting Marriage Right

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

That’s probably because it means learning how to translate extraterrestrial languages:

Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences

His Needs, Her Needs

One of Us Must Be Crazy and I’m Pretty Sure It’s You: Making Sense of the Differences That Divide Us

Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother

Cracking the Communication Code: The Secret to Speaking Your Mate’s Language

Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs

For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men

For Married Men Only: Three Principles for Loving Your Wife

What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You: A Guided Tour of a Man’s Body, Soul, and Spirit

Communication: Key to Your Marriage

Think you picked the wrong kind of alien to marry? Never fear! You can rebuild him:

Have a New Husband by Friday: How to Change His Attitude, Behavior and Communication in 5 Days

But for pete’s sake don’t expect perfection:

What Did You Expect? (Paperback Edition): Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together (Warning: Mark Driscoll)

Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy

The sheer volume of evangelical Christian literature on marriage makes it seem like being married is the hardest thing in the world to do. When I entered my first relationship, I was so certain that I was embarking on a project, I gave myself panic attacks on a daily basis. Was I calling too often? Asking too many questions? Ignoring him too much? Saying the wrong things? Was I listening enough? Was I giving him enough space?

I had absorbed the message that relationships were Hard Work, that they were Projects that required Constant Maintenance. The idea of just being in a relationship was alien to me. These worries dovetailed neatly with the popular myth of the high maintenance girlfriend. I was terrified of being “high maintenance” in the same way that I was terrified to just let our relationship be.

Overly Attached Girlfriend meme.

One of the aspects of Christian culture that feels most alien to me now is that carefully cultivated sense of urgency and guilt, that sense that I must always be doing something to preserve or protect or strengthen or maintain my relationship with my partner.

After five years, the most useful piece of advice I ever received was this:

“Chill out. I love you the way you are.” -my fiancé

Rocket science.

One of the reasons I think of Christian culture’s obsession with marriage as a marketing gimmick is that it appears to create a problem in order to solve it. It tells you that communicating with your partner is very hard because you can’t possibly understand someone of the opposite sex. Then it tells you how to understand the opposite sex by using its own patented communication strategies. Gender differences are the problem, because they make your partner incomprehensible. The solution? Gender differences, handily explained by a shelf full of Respected Christian Married Couples.

I no longer think of my relationship with Stuart as a project. It’s not a thing, not some rock to be polished. It’s a relationship with an individual. But you can’t sell books on relationships with individuals, can you?

Christian culture isolates men and women, trains them to think and act differently, then presents this training as a marriage problem to be solved. Communication is hard, they say. Marriage is hard. After five years of a committed relationship, I can safely say this: it’s not hard. Not at all. It’s way easier! I have somebody to help me through daily life, to support me, to be honest with me, to help me grow as a person. And I don’t have to do all the dishes anymore!

What made it hard in the beginning was all my anxiety about how hard it was going to be. Truth is, after five years, I haven’t learned to “be a wife.” I’ve learned how to live with the man I love, not with “men” in general. Marriage isn’t a project. It’s a relationship. It’s not about “men” or “women.” It’s about you and your partner. That’s it.

Comments open below

Read everything by Sierra!

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog  the phoenix and the olive branch

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  • lucrezaborgia

    The product is rules rules rules.

  • amyrose

    I love this! Absolutely brilliant, Sierra!
    I found this quote on the web one day as a newlywed after an evangelical friend made me feel guilty for not thinking marriage was hard and not having any immediate plans to “work on our marriage”:

    “Good marriages are not hard work. In fact they seem to chug along quite nicely with very little thought. It’s bad marriages that are hard work.”

    And many young evangelicals are set up from the start for bad marriages. Young women are led to believe in marriage as a grand fairy tale and young men are led to believe that they are getting someone to fulfill their every whim and desire. Couples often marry quickly and without knowing each other well. And then you throw in the modern evangelical obsession with doing, working, and fixing yourself and others all the time to prove how spiritual you are and you get relationships that are a mess and being made worse.

  • wanderer

    love this, thank you. It’s just me, relating with this other person. It’s not some huge master plan that will be part of destroying or saving the entire planet. what a relief.

  • Saraquill

    If the trouble of marriage can be narrowed down to being incompatible with the other sex, then the simplest solution is to have only same sex marriages. I guess celibacy is also an option.

  • Karen

    The Other Sex (doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman) does Think Funny at times; so every good relationship has to find it’s own methods of communication. (I’ve always suspected that gays and lesbians are a step ahead of us hetero folks on relationships because the two partners aren’t socialized to think differently.) OTOH, it isn’t a Mars/Venus, and certainly not a Waffle/Spaghetti split. Husband and I have understood each other well enough to love and support each other for 32 years. We’re not alone.

    (Also, as a former programmer, I’m deeply insulted by the woman=spaghetti meme. “Spaghetti code” is an epithet in the programming world.)

  • Lizzy

    I was talking to my husband about the evangelical outlook on marriage yesterday after seeing a bumper sticker that said “I love my wife.” Why do you need a bumper sticker to say that? Isn’t it a given that husbands love their wives? I find it odd how often they need to assert such things and read books on having a good marriage and go to conferences about strong marriages. It’s not that my husband and I have the perfect marriage or perfect life, but I don’t feel like it’s an uphill battle or that I need to read a constant parade of books about how to fix it.

  • Jewel

    What a brilliant quote, and so, so true. The few good marriages/relationships that I know are that way because they truly love each other how they are, and they are with the right person. They are not trying to fit a sqare peg into a round hole, so to speak. The religious idea that you can have a good marriage no matter who you are married to is ridiculous, and a prescription for disaster.

  • Meggie

    Well said, Sierra. I don’t understand why this style of Christianity separate the sexes all the time until marriage. I prefer life experience to books. I had heaps of male friends through high school. I knew how guys worked. I never really occured to me to look for differences between the sexes. My marriage has been easy. Marrying into a fundy-lite family, I am watching cousins-in-law, nieces and nephews really struggle because they have never held a proper conversation with the opposite sex before their first relationship (which is suppose to lead to marriage!). No book is going to solve this problem.

  • stairway to heaven

    Evangelical Christianity in many ways has always reminded me of a high school pep rally. The constant chest pounding and back thumping is an effort to instill in someone a sort of false confidence. If you needed to be ”psyched up” for the big game you were also the one most like to ”choke” when things were on the line.

    The need for rules and the very narrow view of everything in life would seem to smother many marriages and hence the constant need for correction. To be able to love and accept someone for exactly who they are goes against the grain yet is a most powerful component to marriage. It allows for growth both as a person and as a couple and instills a sort of strength and confidence that helps one navigate through life.