You may have thought you entered marriage with a clean slate. You and your beloved were going to live happily ever after–for the first time in history. Your marriage began with certain assumptions and expectations about your role and your spouse’s role. Some of that may have turned out to be true, but you’ve also been disappointed. Where did those assumptions come from? Where did you learn about marriage?
You learned about marriage long before you knew you were learning about it. You’ve picked up assumptions, behavior patterns, messages, beliefs, expectations that color everything about your relationship. And your spouse did too.
You’re probably reading this after having been married for some time. So ask yourself, how is everything you learned working out for you?
Consider who has taught you about marriage–and relationships, sex, intimacy, communication, male/female roles, handling conflict, money, extended family, feelings, and all the other things that go into life as a married person. Recognizing your teachers can help you evaluate if you want to believe–and hold on to–what they taught you, or whether you need to learn something different.
Family of Origin
If your mother ruled the house (by personality or by default) you’ll assume you (or your wife) can do the same. If your father was the authoritarian you’ll assume you (or your husband) is likely to play the same role. The way your parents talked about sex, worked through conflict, or loved each other (or didn’t) created templates in your brain.
Your family of origin is your first teacher, whether they acknowledged it or not, and whether they did a good job of it or not. You can’t help but carry those assumptions in your bones. Men are . . . Women are . . . Husbands should . . . Wives should . . .
Even if you deeply dislike how your parents did things, your default will look a lot like them. And you don’t learn something different simply by saying “I don’t want to do that.” If your parents’ marriage was non-existent, toxic, or fell apart, does your brain have any healthy templates of what a healthy godly marriage looks like? Perhaps not.
Popular media teaches things about love, sex, marriage, relationships, etc. that are almost never healthy, true, or complete. What would you assume about marriage from the media you consume? Here are just a few of those possible messages that might have lodged in your brain.
- The way to get a guy is to use your sex appeal
- Marriage doesn’t work, so you’ve got to go get what you need any way you can
- Just get the guy or the girl, and “happily ever after” will just happen
- Married sex is always boring and diminishes over time
Porn is enormous here. As it relates to marriage, porn gives both men and women the message that sexual satisfaction is all about what I (usually the man) want. A woman is an object valued for her sex appeal. Sex is divorced from the need to do the hard work of intimacy in relationship.
Popular Christian media teaches things too. You might assume Christian media’s marriage messages can be trusted. Perhaps you should be able to trust them. But have you picked up any of these distorted and dangerously incomplete beliefs?
- Marriage problems will be solved if you just pray about it and both go to church
- Being happily married is the goal of the Christian life
- Your spouse will meet all your needs if you do marriage God’s way
These beliefs might be unstated in the Christian media you consume, but it’s worth evaluating the underlying assumptions of even Christian media.
Here we might get a little touchy. I pray you’ve learned encouraging, authentic, mature, and truly godly things about marriage and relationships in church. But I’ve talked with so many people who have been disappointed or traumatized from things they learned in church that it’s important to articulate some of these things.
If you picked up any of these beliefs in church it might have been spoken explicitly, but more likely it was unstated. As you consider these possible beliefs don’t primarily think about words that were said, but ways of being you observed. Have any of these made their way into your brain?
- Men are to dominate their wives, and can demand and expect sex the way they want it any time they want
- A godly man is “nice”
- A wife is a godly woman to the degree she is submissive and satisfies her husband’s sexual desires
- Old baggage won’t impact your marriage if you are following Jesus
- Go to a marriage conference once a year and your marriage will work out fine
Some of those messages may seem contradictory, and that’s perhaps one reason some in the church are confused about Christian marriage. Some (not all!) popular pastors have taught some of these messages from the pulpit. I believe that makes God weep.
Finding Better Teachers
If your marriage is less than strong and healthy you need some new teachers. Finding healthy mature godly teachers to learn about marriage from might not be easy, but here are some things to consider.
Look for a few married couples who have made it. Not couples who look shiny on the outside, but who demonstrate authenticity, joy, and peace. If your pastor and his wife exude this, great. But I’ve seen many pastors whose marriages display gross power imbalance and domination. Don’t buy that lie.
Look for a few couples where both husband and wife exude being Fully Alive. You can certainly learn from individuals who are unmarried, or who are surviving a difficult marriage. But to develop a template in your mind of what a healthy godly marriage looks like you need to see a few marriages that truly work.
Then observe them. Talk with them. What’s worked? What hasn’t worked? Talk about the mindset they’ve developed. What have they learned? How have they navigated things such as money, in-laws, parenting, sex, seasons of life, etc.
And then prayerfully consider what you learn from those couples against the picture of Jesus-followers in the New Testament. Church teachings might have messed with your understanding of the classic marriage passages in Paul’s letters, so you might need to focus most on Jesus and the gospels.
You may have to dispense with much of what you’ve learned from your family of origin, media, and perhaps even the church. Your marriage will be better for it.
Your Turn: Where did you learn about marriage? What are some things you learned about marriage that seem to not be working now? Leave a comment below.
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