The Myth of a Christian Marriage
by Judy Bodmer
“Larry, we have to talk,” I said as my husband prepared to go to work. The argument we had the night before still hung in the air. “There’s something wrong with our marriage.”
“Judy, I have to go.” He was clearly irritated.
“Don’t you love me?” I asked.
“Sure I do. I have employees waiting to be let in.”
“Larry, if you love me, why don’t I feel it?” I needed him to put his arms around me and reassure me.
But he didn’t. He just walked out the door.
What had happened to us? Two years before, when we had committed our lives to Christ, we had been like newlyweds. I was sure that with God as our partner our journey through life would be smooth.
But it wasn’t. Our first child, who was born shortly after we became Christians, needed major surgery when he was six weeks old. A few months later, Larry’s employer couldn’t pay him, so he was forced to leave his job. I thought about going to work, but then I discovered I was pregnant again. I was scared and I needed Larry to reassure me, but he couldn’t because he was dealing with his own fears. I felt alone.
We started to fight, sometimes over the stupidest things like the way he read the newspaper or ate his cereal. I felt guilty for my angry outbursts. Christians didn’t act that way. In the name of peace, I swallowed my feelings.
From the pulpit I heard that if I would spend time with the Lord every morning and study the Bible things would get better. I tried to have a daily quiet time, began memorizing scripture, and joined a women’s Bible study. Everyone I met seemed happy. I knew that no one would understand that Larry and I sometimes said ugly, hurtful things to each other, so I kept quiet.
After months of being unemployed, my husband started his own business, which meant he was gone long hours and came home exhausted. Our financial situation improved, but we still lived on the edge.
I prayed God would make Larry more thoughtful, loving, and romantic, and, what I wanted most, that God would help Larry open up and share his heart with me. But with each passing year, our fights grew in frequency and intensity. We were like strangers, sharing the same bed.
I began to question if my husband loved me. If he did, wouldn’t I feel it? I slugged through two years of hoping things would change, but they didn’t. Surely this wasn’t what God wanted. I could see no hope of future happiness with this man.
In the heat of one of our arguments I said the word “divorce.” Larry hardly winced. Maybe it was the solution to our problems. My youngest was now a year old, so I went out and found a job in preparation for my leaving.
I finally confided in my sister how unhappy I was. She and her husband arranged for us to attend a weekend marriage retreat. They took our kids and even paid the deposit. I knew it was a waste of time and money, but this would prove to everyone that we had tried.
On that weekend, Larry heard one of the presenters say that he was afraid of living up to everyone’s expectations. He too owned his own business and Larry closely identified with him. This gave him the courage to share these same fears with me. He dropped all of his defenses and told me how hard it was to please me, his employees, his customers, his friends, and his family. He shared the pain he carried from his childhood. His openness broke through the wall I had built over the years. We forgave one another that weekend and started all over again. At first we were scared that what we had discovered wouldn’t last, but as the months and then years passed, we slowly grew closer to each other and to God.
Looking back, we can clearly see the myths that almost destroyed our marriage. Perhaps you can learn from the truths that put it back together.
Myth #1: If you have a daily quiet time, tithe, and attend church regularly you will be happy.
Well-meaning Christians gave us easy-sounding formulas for successful living. We wanted to believe them, just as we wanted to believe the fairy-tales we saw in the movies. We thought if we did all of these “religious” acts, our marriage would be heaven on earth. When it wasn’t, we were disappointed. Not only did we become disillusioned with our marriage, it also made us question our relationship with God.
Truth: Every couple goes through tough times, even Christian ones. Yes, being more spiritually disciplined can help, but there are no magical formulas that guarantee happiness. Jesus clearly states that in this life we will experience trouble (John 16:33). We should expect the hard times and grow through them. Our financial struggles taught us to become more reliant on God. We never missed a house payment or went hungry.
Myth #2: If you both are Christians, it will divorce proof your marriage.
Larry and I believed that good Christians never divorce, so when we began to struggle, we felt alone and isolated. We waited to go for help until it was almost too late.
Truth: Christian pollster George Barna says the divorce rate among born-again Christians is now the same as for non-Christians. One of the reasons that CNN cited in an article on their Website was that the church gives couples “a fairy-tale view of marriage.” Dr. Roy Austin, a Dallas therapist and Southwestern Seminary graduate, calls this “magical thinking.” He says that he sees this often in the evangelical and fundamentalist couples he counsels. He says, “‘Magical thinking’ leaves them less prepared for the rigors of marriage.”
Myth #3: Scriptures can be a simple guide for your marriage.
One of our issues was who should handle the money. We thought that to be scripturally correct that Larry should pay the bills and balance the checkbook. He always felt pressured by the time it took to do this and since he handled all of our money, I never knew how much I had to spend on groceries and clothes. This added to an already tense situation.
Truth: Scripture can be a valuable guide for our daily living, but “Misunderstanding the scriptures,” says Gary Snyder, a local psychologist in the Seattle area, “has led more than one couple into trouble. If couples took advantage of each other’s gifts and time, they could make their marriage a whole lot better.”
Myth #4: We need to keep our marital problems to ourselves.
So many of the Christians that we were around during our hard years never allowed the conversation to break the surface. It seemed to us like we were the only couple who had any problems.
Truth: It would have been helpful to know that others argued over the disciplining of their children or the correct way to do the landscaping or that other husbands often came home late or forgot Valentine’s Day. We would have understood that we were normal and perhaps would have learned from them how to solve many of these problems.
Myth #5: Pray and God will change your husband.
I spent much time in prayer begging God to change my husband. I knew we would be happy if only Larry were different.
Truth: Praying for our spouses is a good thing. However, what would we learn if God zapped them and turned them into the perfect mate? Nothing. God is more interested in teaching us to be better people than fixing our problems quickly. I thought all of our marital problems were my husband’s fault. Our marriage turned around when I admitted that I was wrong too. My judgmental attitude drove Larry away and hurt him deeply, the exact opposite of what I wanted. My acceptance built him up and allowed him to become all that God designed him to be.
Myth #6: We arrive in God’s Kingdom as fully mature Christians.
When I recommitted my life to Christ at twenty-five, I didn’t understand that I was a sinner who needed daily repentance. I could see clearly every splinter in Larry’s character, but was blind to the log in my own eye (Matt. 7:3-5).
Truth: Growing in Christ is a process (Eph 4:15). The day I turned back to God, he started peeling off layers of old beliefs and sins. Today I read the scripture and ask God to reveal how I can be a better wife. When he shows me how I’ve hurt Larry, I ask for God’s forgiveness. Instead of shame, I feel clean and whole from the inside out.
Myth #7: Christian couples don’t fight.
I thought “peace” meant no fighting and so I denied my negative feelings. I would let things build up until I exploded over something trivial.
Truth: Anger needs to be expressed in a healthy way.The Bible clearly says, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26–27 NIV). Notice the latter part of that scripture. When we don’t deal with our anger in a timely manner, we are giving the devil an opportunity to get his hooks into our marriage. The best thing you can do is say, “I feel angry right now.” On the other hand, exploding over every little thing can be destructive too. Dealing with issues as they arise is healthy; burying them can lead to bitterness.
Myth #8: As leader of the household, my husband is responsible for my spiritual growth.
Early in our Christian walk, a woman told me that when her husband accepted the Lord he instantly became patient, loving, and romantic. I looked at Larry and wondered why his conversion hadn’t made a bigger difference in our marriage. I decided it was because he wasn’t spiritual enough, so I began a mission of helping him grow in the Lord. I gave him books, left him notes, and dragged him to all sorts of speakers.
Truth: We need to be patient with one another as we grow toward Christ in our own way and in our own time. I was critical of my husband’s lack of spiritual leadership. But in his thirties, Larry felt the call to go into ministry and is now a fulltime pastor. It took time, but he’s the strong leader and loving husband that I always wanted. When I backed off, my husband grew in leaps and bounds.
Myth #9: If my husband loved me, I’d feel it.
I didn’t feel my husband’s love because at my very core I didn’t believe I was lovable, even by God. I thought God was a strict disciplinarian who demanded perfection and who was too busy to notice me.
Truth: Feelings of love come from core beliefs about yourself. God loves you just as you are (Psalm 139).When your requirement for love is filled by God, then it frees you from needing to “feel” loved by your husband. After I put aside my faulty believes and allowed myself to feel God’s love, I was able to accept Larry for who he was and instead of always being a taker, I became a giver of love, a more fulfilling way to live (1 Cor. 13).
Larry and I survived those early years of mythical thinking. Now, after thirty-two years of marriage, Larry makes my coffee every morning, prays with me, listens to my gripes and complaints, gives me encouragement in my struggles, and accepts all of my quirky ways. It hasn’t been the easy journey that I thought it would be, but I think our love is richer for having struggled. I thank God every day for the reality of my marriage.
©Judy Bodmer 2007 All Rights Reserved