In a recent article posted on CNN titled “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger” an anonymous blogger explained how she and her husband share a mutual understanding of the other’s promiscuity. She proceeded make the argument that this arrangement actually strengthened her marriage. As one could imagine the comments thread exploded on this article. And it was one of those threads that ranked high for moments in which I really just wanted to hit “Reply All” and tell everyone commenting:
Because not only were many of the comments somewhat arrogant and, at times, Neanderthalic to the extent that it seems only internet comment threads are capable of (“Ur soo stopid LOL!”) but I also really failed to see logical basis of the objections they raised.
Because, personally, when I read the article, I couldn’t help but think “yeah, okay…
If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard the argument a million times that mutual agreements of this sort can add vitality and life to a relationship. This is not a new statement, nor is it one without logical coherence. It really depends on one’s belief in the purpose of marriage.
The common held notion is that marriage should make you happy. This line of thought is strewn across our romantic lingo and sexual ethics. Although most of us will admit that marriage, love, and relationships take work, we still hold the practical belief that said work is for the end goal of our happiness. Thus, though all relationships require effort, there are some that are like old cars: no matter how much effort you put into them they’re still not going to function well. Though they once ran smoothly their glory days have faded and it is time to move on.
When attached to this train of logic, there is strong evidence for why affairs might be helpful in a marriage. Just like one mechanic may say one thing needs to be fixed on a car, and another says it doesn’t, so a marriage that is geared towards happiness may have numerous avenues of attaining it. Inasmuch, it makes completely logical sense why someone who is used to sleeping with the first person they flirt with at the grocery store (“Mangos, eh? Ever watched Seinfeld?”) would need such liberty within a marriage in order to be happy. And hey, if their spouse is happy too (which could easily fall under the “what they don’t know don’t hurt ’em” category) theennn:
And I expect this from American culture. I expect this from a consumeristic society that is based on subjective morality and self-satisfaction. So while I am saddened by the apparent pain of someone suffering under a lifestyle they chose but obviously isn’t working out for them (the author of the article lamented, among other instances, the first part of their pregnancy when her husband was still having affairs while she was home sick), I am also neither surprised nor angered that someone who doesn’t hold my personal beliefs would fail to adhere to them.
But what is surprising/frustrating/demanding of reform is that Christians think the same way.
If you don’t think that’s true then take the time to compare divorce rates, percentages of infidelity, and pornography use between Christians and non-Christians.
Okay, so I’ll do it for you:
A poll done by Barna Group in 2008 revealed that 34% of Protestant Christians had been divorced at some point in their life while only 30% of atheist couples could make the same claim. According to Christian Post, a poll of 1,000 confessing Christians found that 50% of the men and 20% of the women were “addicted” to pornography. While Barna Groups poll revealed that Christians are 30% less likely than non-Christians to approve of extra-marital affairs, a Christianity Today poll found that 45% of Christians confessed to engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior outside of their marriage. Compare this to a recent poll of the general population which concluded close to 50% of women and 60% of men have engaged in extra-marital affairs and you’ll see the problem. The statistics show that there isn’t a lot of discrepancy between the two groups. Certainly not as much as there should be.
What’s more is I can’t help but notice how Christians talk about marriage no differently from the world. For instance, give yourself a point for every time you’ve heard any of the following statements from Christians in the last year, two points if you said it yourself (I scored 24!!) :
- “The wedding was a success! They’re happily married.”
- “He/she just makes me so happy.”
- “I’m happy when I’m around you.”
- “I’m not happy in this relationship anymore.”
- “I just wish we had a happier marriage; don’t you remember how it used to be?”
I could go on. Or I could just rip a page out of a Nicholas Sparks novel and type the dialogue verbatim. But let’s be honest:
The point is Christians, from a practical standpoint, strive towards happiness in a marriage just as much as our secular counter-parts. The difference is nil. We date the people who make us happy, marry the ones we’re convinced will make us happiest, and stick with the marriages that produce happiness. We might sing worship songs on Sunday morning and jam to K-Love en route to our nuptials but we’re really clapping to the same tune.
This is our greatest fallacy within marriage and the reason our marriages can’t exist as a testimony in contrast to the relationship featured in this article. Because what’s the difference between us save for our tactics?
The cruel irony is that a marriage aimed towards happiness is really rather hopeless. I don’t mean to be a downer here, but if you think about it, no matter how happy you are at any point in your marriage it’s still going to end one of three ways: death, divorce, or abduction by rogue aliens.
So from a utilitarian standpoint, if you’re pursuing marriage for the sake of happiness then it would behoove you to think again. Rather, save your money, sleep around, retain your independence, lock your heart in a drawer somewhere deep within your soul and be done with the whole thing. I guarantee you’ll have less heartache, conflict, disputes, sleepless nights and despair. Probably a lot more “happiness”.
And so it would make sense that the end goal of a Christian marriage is not happiness, just like the end goal of a Christian life is not happiness. Instead, it’s aim is sanctification.
A Christian marriage points not to the comforts of this life but to the hope of eternal life; it glories not in the happiness evoked by being dedicated and committed to another person but in the testimony of being pursued and redeemed into permanent relationship with Christ. Thus a Christian perspective of marriage offers that marriage ought to refine a person, to push them to be more like the Object Of Our Faith. Marriage ought to exist as a living, breathing, fighting, forgiving, loving, laughing, crying testimony of two imperfect persons attempting to illustrate the perfect love of a perfect God. In short: marriage ought to reflect Christ’s love for the church. Unless crucifixion was actually a Greek word for some obscure form of happiness, then we’ve really lost our way.
Now, if I could get personal with you for a moment:
I married a saint of a woman. Not only is she a saint but she is also infinitely cute, like “OMG I saw this in an indie movie once and it was adorbs!!!” cute. Like “dude, she’s ten times out of your league in combined score of looks and personality” cute. But I am not always happy in my marriage. In fact, sometimes I’m very unhappy in my marriage. Mostly because my selfish desires don’t always co-align with the needs of another reasonable human being.
But I find encouragement from the fact that my marriage hasn’t always made me happy. Because though it may not be making me happy, it is making me better. And I pray for the fortitude, understanding and determination to stick it out through times when happy moments are few and far between.
Such determination must be built on a proper perspective of marriage. Because if happiness is my goal, then this game will end quickly and poorly and my tactics will never reflect eternal hope or Christ’s love.
The Christian fallacy of pursuing happiness in our relationships is that it takes our eyes off the true purpose of marriage. If our aim is happiness then our testimony is diluted, both in and outside of the marital covenant. Pursuing an affair to maintain marital satisfaction may be more drastic than the measures the rest of us take but that doesn’t mean we Christians are free of blame.
Rather, the Christian marriage would to well to understand that:
And if we set our eyes on sanctification, if we aim to be living testimonies to the love and sacrificial dedication of Christ, we will find that our relationships, our marriages and our lives are all working towards a greater purpose. This is a purpose that goes beyond us and our desires. It is a purpose into which we have been adopted and granted a role, not by our own merit, but by the love we now seek to imitate.
Indeed, it is a purpose that exceeds anything that happiness, marriage, sex, dating, affairs, and definitely Nicholas Sparks books could offer. For it exceeds, oh-glorious thought, anything that world could ever offer.