Are we making marriage too hard?
It’s September, and that means a new series on the blog (and on the podcast!). This month we’re going to be talking about marriage on hard mode–or rather how to AVOID hard mode in your marriage!
And we thought we’d begin with the philosophical question: are we making marriage harder than it needs to be with the way that we talk about it?
Plus we’ve got Bruce Fleming back by popular demand to talk about Ephesians 5!
Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:
Timeline of the Podcast
2:00 The ‘philosophy’ of marriage being hard
16:00 How we can condition ourselves like toddlers
22:40 Why Rebecca loves wedding sermons
27:35 Research on women’s beliefs vs health
34:00 Bruce joins us to discuss Ephesians 5
56:45 Finishing up with encouragement!
Main Segment: Why Do We Make it Sound Like Marriage is Always Hard?
Rebecca and I were discussing this comment I made on Facebook–and what happens when we give the impression that marriage is a hard slog.
I sometimes wonder if most Christian marriage authors & influencers have good marriages.
Just read a meme re: marriage that said: “God, I can’t do this alone. I need your help & grace.”
What if marriage IS God’s grace to you–or at least what if it should be?
I know many marriages are hard, and many marriages can’t be saved. And many of us go through difficult seasons. But when those who teach about marriage make it sound like being married is a huge hard slog that they can’t get through without God’s grace–well, that’s WEIRD, isn’t it?
My marriage makes my life easier. There has never been a day in my life, even when I’m mad at Keith, when I would have thought that marriage is one of the hardest things in my life. Maybe the problem is that we talk about marriage as if it is hard, and then, when people are dating and the relationship is awful, they figure “that’s just how marriage is.” They don’t recognize red flags, and so they marry someone they don’t suit or who has bad character. And then, yes, marriage is hard.
But ideally, marriage should be God’s gift to us, not something that we need His power to get through. Am I missing something?
UPDATE: And let me also say, if your marriage IS really hard, I’m afraid that the idea that “marriage is hard” will mean that you may not recognize that your situation IS actually worse than normal and you do need help. If all marriage is hard, then you may think what you’re going through is just par for the course, and just something to be endured. Or, when you talk to others, they may downplay your pain because “all marriage is hard.” No, marriage shouldn’t ideally be hard, and if it is, that means you need help to make it better. Hard isn’t just something to be endured because it’s inevitable.
We looked at how telling everyone that marriage is hard may cause people to ignore red flags, and how our solution to marriage problems is often to tell people to get rid of their expectations that it will be good.
If you don’t expect it to be good, you can’t be disappointed.
But what if this is off? We talk about what to expect in the next month as we launch into our “Stop Doing Marriage on Hard Mode” series!
Win a copy of The Orgasm Course!
We’re giving away ONE copy of the Orgasm Course to someone who signs up to our email list this week–and ONE to someone who is already signed up.
New Research: Religion only makes women healthier IF they’re in churches with women in leadership
Interesting study that Dr. Camden shared–For men, the health benefits are the same in whatever church they go to. But for women, the health benefits of going to church and being religious disappear if they’re in churches where women aren’t in leadership.
Bruce Fleming Joins to Talk about Ephesians 5!
I had so many people asking me to have Bruce back on after his stint on the podcast talking about Genesis 3, so here he is talking about Ephesians 5! Bruce told me, “A number of your listeners and viewers have been contacting me with touching testimonies. “So wonderful to have that curse of Eve lifted off my shoulders” and the like. A real encouragement to Joy and me!”
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
Things Mentioned in This Podcast:
- Sign up to my emails to be entered in a draw to win The Orgasm Course (or our puberty course to share with your kids!)
- Support our research on Patreon for as little as $3 a month!
- Bruce Fleming’s Tru316 project, his Eden podcast, and the episode that goes along with what he was talking about today
- Cynthia Westfall’s interview on our podcast about a different aspect of Ephesians 5
- Dr. Camden’s original article about the research on the health effects of churches
- The American Sociological Association’s journal article on when religion hurts
What do you think? What expectations should we give about marriage? What do you think about Ephesians 5? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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Loved this morning’s podcast and Bruce’s take on Ephesians 5 about head.
I have often heard people talk about how hard marriage is and I’d wonder, “Why bother getting married in the first place if marriage is so hard?” During the years I was anxious to get married due to a ticking biological clock, I would express my desire for marriage and complain about the lack of single age-appropriate Christian men. The response I’d get was, “But marriage is so hard.” I’d read some Christian marriage books which seemed to echo that belief and I’d wonder if maybe being single is much better.
What I find ironic is that the same people who are writing this books lamenting how hard marriage is make marriage into an idol. The message I get is “No matter how hard your marriage is, you must put ALL your trust in God and just endure it.” And all this advice seems to be put on women and it’s their responsibility to not have expectations for a healthy marriage. No wonder I’m deconstructing from organized religion. However, this is a learning experience and a reminder that just because books and movies have the “Christian” label slapped on does not mean it’s Christian.
I have to preface this by saying, I am about 85% egalitarian. I want to have answers to the passages that seem to indicate otherwise.
But Bruce here and others like him aren’t doing good exegesis, in my mind.
He can’t just say “we can put quotes around those verses in 1 Corinthians. Paul is responding to ideas.”
That is one theory, but in my small amount of reading, it is by no means the most widely accepted, even by egalitarians. There is legitimate scholarship that calls into question that theory.
We have to do the text justice, and wrestle with it in its complex entirety. We have to do women justice, and not offer them flimsy explanations for equity that can be shot down by the next Bible scholar to comes along.
I am disappointed when I see Christians quickly accept any explanation that fits our bias (whatever side of a particular issue we may be on).
Susanna, I completely agree that we should wrestle with the texts, and that we all come at them with our own biases. I’m trying to show different ways to interpret Scripture, but I think it’s important that everyone wrestle and learn. One of the people I’ve learned the most from is Marg Mowczko, who is very methodical and very learned in Greek and in Roman culture. I’ve also very much appreciated Cynthia Westfall’s scholarly work in Paul and Gender. It’s a dense book, but shows again the interplay between Roman culture and the Greek that we need to understand.
100% agree we need to do the biblical texts justice, and avoid bias in both directions. I also agree that if you just listen to the episode, Bruce Fleming does not give an explanation about why you might “put quotes around” certain things Paul writes in 1 Corinthians. This could make it sound like he is saying this arbitrarily. But there is more to it than just a hypothesis that egalitarians like because it fits their preconceived notions. For example, in “The Making of Biblical Womanhood,” Beth Allison Barr shows how Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 echo the words of contemporary Roman writers, suggesting that he was stating a common pagan belief that he then proceeded to subvert. (That whole book is worth a read, by the way!) And yes, there is scholarly disagreement about this interpretation. Both complementarian and egalitarian scholars have other explanations. Check out Marg Mowczko’s blog, she has a lot of discussions on these passages in 1 Corinthians as well as many others. In reality, there’s disagreement about the precise meaning of just about every tricky passage in the Bible, not just the ones about women. These are the places where we need to be very humble and avoid building elaborate doctrinal structures around a few incompletely understood verses.
Very good discussion in the comments. After reading some of the comments about how we interpret and wrestle with the scriptures, I feel that we can put too much focus on trying to do everything the correct way and think it’s the only way. Regardless of what the original intent in some of these challenging (often misunderstood and misrepresented) verses, shouldn’t we put more focus on what Jesus said? He was very simple and to the point about how we are to love and treat others. I think that’s the problem with these Christian teachings about marriage because they seem more focused on the few verses from the Bible that specifically talk about marriage and don’t mention much about what Jesus said. I don’t think God expects us to adhere to the ancient customs of marriage today. During biblical times, women were not educated and according to the laws, they were in the same category as slaves and children.
Unfortunately, Christian marriage books seem to want to keep the status quo and as I have analyzed a few of these books, I don’t see much of what Jesus said. I see more of the author’s interpretation of what they believe Paul meant and then expand on that to fit their personal narrative (to keep women in their place and elevate men).
Regardless of what the original intent of these marriage passages, I don’t want a marriage of male headship and female submission. I want an equal partnership. To express this to other Christians in my circle sounds like blasphemy to them, but I don’t care anymore. God knows my heart anyway. Wanting equal say in marriage does not make the wife domineering or the husband passive like Emerson Eggerichs believes as well as some Christians I know think.
Thank you for making this a safe place to express myself and being open to hearing other viewpoints. The problem I’ve experienced with my church circles is that you can only believe one way.
I love this, Laura! This is something that I brought up in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage–it’s like we think the Bible only has 5 passages or so that apply to marriage, and everything else doesn’t apply. But the entire Bible applies to marriage! Jesus’ command to love your neighbour is about marriage. All of Jesus’ teaching is also about marriage! Yes. And the more we concentrate on looking like Jesus, the more everything else will fall into place.
Oh, I love this! I was very intimidated by the dire warnings before I got married and spent the first two years worried that at any point we’d start hating each other. I had so many friends who swore up and down that marriage was SO difficult and they worked SO hard and were convicted every day.
Honestly? I have found, for the first seven years anyway (maybe year 10 the shoe will drop?) that marriage is not hard, at least not in any way that my other relationships aren’t. In every relationship there’s some sacrifice, some biting of the tongue, but marriage has always felt very easy and gentle. We do make constant efforts to communicate well and wisely, but that never feels like work to me.
We got married last year and we had SO many people telling us that our first year was going to be really, really hard, that we had to expect to find it really painful to adjust to living together…it was painted as this huge, traumatic event that we would just about survive by the skin of our teeth. Fourteen months in, we’re still waiting for all this trauma to start…yes, we’ve had challenges (marrying, changing jobs and moving house – twice! – during Covid hasn’t exactly been ‘easy’) but nothing above & beyond what we’d have expected as singles – and some of the challenges have been easier because we could face them together.
100%! I had had some pretty frustrating roommate experiences before I got married so my husband has always felt very easy to live with. He’s a good roommate as well as a good husband, which really makes a difference!
For some reason today, the comments have a strange look to them and all comments are numbered. Is this just my Device or is something technology-wise in transition? I just find it strange!
Personally I have come to understand that being 150% biblical is impossible. So you just live the best God-pleasing way you can. That’s going to look different for everyone! And you will never necessarily have an answer to every single misunderstanding of scripture. You just pray for personal direction. Salvation and jesus’s God-hood are the main unchangeable beliefs (maybe others but that’s the bare bones)
We’re having some technical issues! Trying to sort it all out. 🙂
I’m glad you’re addressing this topic! Clearly the “marriage is so hard” trope can be used to normalize very bad behavior in a marriage. There is another side to it also.
When I was growing up, there seemed to be a big concern in church culture that young people would “idolize” their relationship/significant other. As a teen and a young woman, I was frequently told not to look to a boyfriend/husband to meet my emotional needs, but to “take it all to Jesus.” That’s a healthy message up to a point (no one should want a relationship/significant other to “fix” them). But it was emphasized so much that it tended to sound like you couldn’t legitimately expect ANYTHING from your future spouse (I recall a message from Andy Stanley (?) that said that directly!). Add to that weird hierarchical ideas about women’s “role” in a marriage, and some not-so-subtle dynamics in my own parents’ marriage, and it got even more confusing.
In short, I think the Christian conversation normalizes and spiritualizes emotional distance in marriage. I’ve been married 10 years and am only beginning to fully accept that my desire for deep emotional intimacy in my marriage is not a symptom of selfishness, neediness or unrealistic expectations, but a desire for the “knowing” that is part of God’s design! Your work has been a big part of that growth, so thank you.
One more thought: A better way to talk about it might be “marriage takes work.” Because all good relationships do! It may be hard, but if we do the work we should be able to make things better. If I’m suffering inside because I feel lonely and distant from my husband, praying about it endlessly won’t make me feel less “needy” and better able to “love him selflessly.” It’s not because “marriage is hard” and I just need to let go of my unrealistic expectations. I don’t need to get used to being lonely! I need to get off my knees and go talk to him! I need to work on myself and on being vulnerable with him. I need to set boundaries and do my part to make space in our busy lives for connection. Sometimes we use catchphrases like “let go and let God” and we think we are being spiritual by accepting a dysfunctional situation, when the godly thing to do would be to wade in and get to work.
Oh, wow. that’s an amazing comment. Thank you! I think that’s what so many women are feeling.
I love Bruce’s take on Ephesians 5. So, if the husband as head, wife as body figure of speech was about unity… It’s interesting that St. Paul had the husband being the head and the wife the body. Because in a patriarchal society, husbands had full legal rights over the marital resources – the wife, no legal rights.
If she wanted to use THEIR resource she needed his permission in a way he did not need her permission if he wanted to use them. Think of it like this. The laws of society take THEIR resources and place them in his, the husband’s, hand. So for the wife to have anything, her husband has to give it to her.
Back to husband as head, wife as body figure of speech. For your body to be nourished, you have to eat the food. It passes through your mouth, as in, your head. Well, what if the purpose of the analogy was to tell husbands to share the marital resources with their wives?
Would you consider writing your second book on contemporary American Evangelical wedding sermons? (You know, like Beth Allison Barr works on medieval English sermons, as she mentions in her latest book?) Most people have videos of their entire weddings, so it wouldn’t be difficult to collect data and you could even interview the bride and groom. A longitudinal study where they watch the sermon again after 10 years of marriage and how they react to it then…
P.S. Speaking of Beth Allison Barr, any thoughts of having her on the show, like you did Kristin Kobes Du Mez? I know her book doesn’t include a sex chapter, like Kristin’s, but I’m sure she’d have very interesting things to say (she does admit to being a women’s retreat dropout in her book) and she is the third member of your Jesus & John Wayne bundle. <3
I actually have already recorded with Beth! But I’m saving it until November because Beth, Kristin and I are going to do a webinar where Devi from the Where Do We Go From Here podcast interviews us. It’ll be free, and it’ll be on December 2!
I haven’t had a chance to listen yet but still wanted to comment before I forget.
I love this thought. I didn’t marry a bad man, but we’ve been married for over a decade and at least half but probably 2/3 of that time has been really hard. Gut-wrenchingly, cry in the shower hard.
I like that you are pointing out that if we keep talking about how hard it is, it clouds our vision because YES!
We went on for years in hard times without seeking help through counseling. Oh how I wish I had sought counseling sooner.
We both came to our marriage with a lot of baggage. I have a history of abuse and as such I have a very controlling nature and I tend to believe that I’m unlovable (though I didn’t know that my abuse even affected me until we’d been married 10 years. I also didn’t know I thought I was unlovable until I talked with a licensed counselor).
So many things that ate me up inside could have been fixed with a little help.
Same for my husband, though his experience is vastly different from mine.
I had never considered that it could be (at least in part) a result of hard marriage talk that we didn’t think it was out of the ordinary or that we didn’t seek help, but I can see that now.
This is good for me to remember. I do talk about how hard marriage was for us initially but only because I’m using it to testify of Jesus and how He has redeemed our marriage, but I will think more carefully in how I present it.
That’s it exactly, S! I’m glad you got some help.