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American marriage myths

February 6, 2018 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

For the first two months of 2018, I will be using this space to interact with “This is our time” by Trevin Wax, a book that appeared on many “Best of” Christian book lists of 2017. In this book, Wax looks at the myths our culture teaches us, affirms the good longings underneath those myths, and then challenges those myths with the gospel. I believe this will be a good exercise for us in how to be discerning as we live in our world, so that we might be as Paul exhorted the Ephesian church: “Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

The sixth chapter of “This is our time” is entitled Marriage Matters. In this chapter, Wax examines the myths surrounding romantic love and marriage in America. He talks about the two extremes he sees in the world: on one end (in cultures with arranged marriages), there is marriage as a contract, where romantic love plays no part. On the other end of the spectrum is what often passes for marriage in America (myth #1), where it is just an expression of intense, romantic love, with no expectation that it will be forever if the feelings fade. Marriage as designed by God is somewhere in the middle, as best illustrated by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote “It is not your love that upholds marriage, but from now on it is marriage that upholds your love.” In other words, romantic love matters in marriage, but the foundation is the commitment made to each other by a husband and wife.

A second myth surrounding marriage in America is that if you marry the right person, then your marriage should be easy (and that therefore if your marriage is difficult, it’s because you married the wrong person). This mistaken belief has helped contribute to the rise in cohabitation before marriage, where people test out their compatibility with another person while resisting the total life commitment of marriage, just in case the relationship gets hard or someone better comes along. The belief that the right marriage should be easy is a myth because even if you marry a compatible person, they will change and evolve over time, and also because good marriages don’t necessarily have to be easy marriages. The reality is that we are all broken by sin, so loving and living well with another person will be difficult, no matter how great a person they are.

A third myth surrounding marriage in America is that the goal is to find someone who accepts us as we are, complements our abilities, and fulfills our sexual and emotional desires. In other words, we are taught to look for a relationship based on self-fulfillment with a partner who makes almost no claims on us. In reality, marriage is meant to be based more on self-denial than self-fulfillment, where husbands give themselves up for their wives like Christ did for the church, and wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:21-30). If two people come together expecting to stay the same while their partner changes for them, it will be a recipe for disaster. But when two people come together to love and serve and lift up the other, it proclaims Jesus.

Lastly, the final myth is that marriage is only about the two people getting married. Biblically, marriage is also about the community and about Christ. Marriage is meant to be a commitment made in community, undergirded by the support and accountability of family and friends and church. And finally, marriage is meant to point to the love between Jesus and His church, Christ and His bride. Marriage is about more than just romantic love and personal happiness; it is about bringing glory to God through the way we love, serve, and commit through the good times and bad times to each other.

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