Spreading around Christian social media is yet another shallow but well-intentioned article about a hotbutton topic. The topic du jour is marriage. I wasn’t going to respond to the article — it’s just too easy and might come across as trying to be trendy — but my wife has specifically requested that I discuss some of the very important issues it raises. In addition to the article, there is a fairly popular response to the article which takes some of the conclusions even further.
In essence, the first article suggests that marriage is about your spouse, and the second article suggests that marriage is about God. In a sort of trendy, pop-philosophy/theology sort of way, there are some half-truths to these articles, but there are some real dangers here, too.
I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade (or wedding, as it were), but marriage is an incredibly complex phenomenon that isn’t just about your spouse or about God. It is in part about you. It is in part about your kids. It is also about your community, your extended family, and even about your country and the world. The world, after all, consists of a very large network of families. Everybody’s got a mom.
We risk a lot by trying to simplify marriage, especially if we suggest that marriage is not at least partially for ourselves. This is a setup for abuse. An abuser must convince those whom he/she abuses that their identities and feelings don’t matter, so this sort of simplistic thinking about marriage only compounds these problems and makes the abuser’s job easier. If you are in an abusive marriage, remember that you matter, too. There is a dramatic difference between going through hard times and having a toxic relationship.
The articles’ deemphasis of one’s happiness belies an ignorance of Godly virtue. The point of pursuing virtue, especially Godly virtue, is ultimately your own happiness and flourishing, as well as that of those around you. In a sense, we could gain temporary happiness by chasing new, hot sex partners on the side or by manipulating our spouses into doing whatever we want them to do, but the fullest sense of happiness in marriage will come when two people pursue and engage in virtuous acts together. It’s a strange sort of self-righteousness and covert asceticism to think that seeking your own happiness is a bad thing. Seek happiness in the virtuous way.
At this point, there are a million other directions I could go with critiquing these articles, as their one-dimensional caricatures of marriage do no one any good; however, I want to highlight one broader, critical error that both articles make in providing an account of marriage. That is, they both believe in the “one thing” which makes sense of everything else. I see this time and time again: people start doing a little thinking outside the box, and suddenly they think they have discovered some arcane secret hidden away for centuries which solves all the problems.
My point here goes well beyond marriage: it’s a common trend for people to opt for the easiest explanations to understand or those which make them feel best about themselves. I’m certainly guilty of this at times, just like anyone else; however, I do make an effort to step back from myself and examine what I believe or what I’m reading/hearing/etc. This extra step is essential for having a discerning mind, or else you will find yourself caught in the sway of whoever has the fanciest rhetoric.
Here are two steps to making you a smarter person. When you hear an explanation for something, do the following:
- Raise one (and only one) eyebrow. This may take practice.
- Say, “Oh, really?”
When you go through these two simple steps for either of these articles on marriage, you start to realize, “Wait, maybe there’s more to it.” So, I’m going to suggest something radical: figure out what your marriage is going to mean. I’m not going to fill in all the blanks for you. Obviously, you’re going to want to love your spouse, you’re going to want to keep yourself healthy, you’re going to have to balance finances, work, kids, and a bunch of other fairly standard stuff, but there are a lot of things you get to make up. For my wife and I, marriage is (in part) for doing nerdy things, like writing, painting, and playing video games.
Marriage is for a lot of things, so when someone comes to you claiming to have solved the whole puzzle, remember to raise that skeptical eyebrow and question their judgment.