The Fallacy Of A Happy Marriage

In a recent article posted on CNN titled “How Affairs Make My Marriage Strongeran 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.

Okay, maybe not the last one

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:

how about no
Eh, I’m going to anyway.

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.



Always Second Chances: The Man Cave

Below is another post in the ongoing effort between myself and a fellow blogger to prompt good discussion on Christian relationships. Today we addressed the inevitable question: “What are you thinking about?” If you like this snippet, then be sure to check out the full discussion here.


man cave



“What are you thinking…?”

“Oh, nothing… what are you thinking…?”
It’s this endless charade between couples, a vicious cycle that highlights the vast differences between males and females. Because, when a man says he isn’t thinking anything… he usually isn’t. When a woman says she isn’t thinking anything… she usually is.
I didn’t really believe this until recently when enough guys that I casually surveyed admitted that there, indeed, is such a thing as the ‘man cave’. The place where men go mentally to escape every day life. The place where they are literally, sometimes, not thinking about anything.
I can look back at myself in the “what are you thinking” circles in past relationships, believing firmly that the men were actually holding back some secret thoughts from me. I knew I was…so, naturally, they would be too.  The thing about the “what are you thinking” moments, is that the girls ask guys what they are thinking out of some desire to know, but mostly out of an ulterior motivation to be able to tell men what they are actually thinking (or they’re simply fishing for compliments). The thing about the “what are you thinking” moments, is that guys are usually honest about their thoughts (no matter how shallow, stupid and non-related to the relationship they are), where girls tend to reveal only half truths or generous overtures about their significant other in hopes that he will one-up her. The thing about these moments is that girls are often verbal processors and guys just need to think about absolutely nothing for a while…or something seemingly insignificant to her or their relationship.
I don’t really get it, since I’m currently unable to sleep because my mind keeps racing and because, while I’m in one, a relationship seems to occupy a lot of my thoughts. How do guys think about nothing? Can you enlighten me (and our audience) on this one, Bryn?
This is an interesting question, and unfortunately I think it varies wildly from one guy to another, particularly as you cross lines between extroverts and introverts. I’ll simply speak from personal experience as a somewhat (read: very) introverted male.

There are innumerous times when my fiancé will ask me “what are you thinking about?”. To be fair, it’s usually because I asked her first. More often than not, she has a clear succinct answer and it’s usually sweet or endearing; it usually relates to us. What’s awkward is when she turns the question around on me and the only thing I’m positive I wasn’t thinking about was exactly what I should’ve been thinking about: us. Many a car trip has evolved around conversations such as:

Me: “What are you thinking about, dear?”
Her: “Oh, I was just thinking about how much I love taking drives with you. What are you thinking about?”
Me: “Oh-uh, I was just wondering who on earth came up with the color for yellow lines in the middle of the road. Don’t you think life would be totally different if they were, say, lime green?”

The thing is, I find females (particularly extroverted ones) often take this personally and think that because a guy isn’t thinking about them while they’re sharing a quaint experience (such as cross-country road trips) he must not care. This simply is not true. The only time an introverted male has a one track mind is during sporting events or in the middle of a really gripping movie; I’d throw physical intimacy into the mix but the truth is even during passionate moments a guy can be pondering deep mysteries of the universe. Horrible as that may sound, this is nothing personal; it does not mean we don’t care about you, its just part of how we’re wired. For introverted men, we are either hyper-focusing (to the extent that breaking our concentration would be as safe as lighting a fire cracker by a sleeping tiger) or wandering down a million different paths of thought at once (which is where the nickname “space cadet” may come in handy). Many times, the thinking question will catch me off guard, and instead of attempting to explain everything that was running through my head (“did I turn off the stove?”, “I bet the Bruins are gonna pull up an upset tonight…”, “Man, Bill Bryon’s new book was spellbinding…”, “Did I call my Father for Father’s day?”, “Oh- I love this radio station!”) my response will just be “nothing”. This is not a lie, but a simplified truth. As a fellow introverted professor one told me “you have no idea what it’s like being inside my brain!”. Sometimes, ladies, we tell simplified truths to spare you the realization that you’re dating a half-crazed, ADHD poster-child.

On the flip side, there is truth in the fact that we sometimes need to retreat into a space where we don’t need to think about anything and can just clear our heads. For me, this is while running and the drive to work in the morning; if anyone tries to talk to me during these moments they will be greeted with the conversational quality of a brick wall. This is how we recharge; it’s how we empty ourselves and gain a sense of where we are in the world. It’s vital that an introvert get this time, vital that a man feels secure in his place in the cosmos before stepping into a relationship. Thus, if my significant other asks me what I’m thinking about in these moments, she’s lucky if I even answer “nothing”. If I do, this is not a simplified truth, but as real as the car we’re driving in.

The key to understanding another person isn’t (ironically) understanding them. It’s grasping that there’s some spheres of their consciousness that you will never understand. It’s easy to take things personally, and easier still to fill in the blanks. The response “I wasn’t thinking about anything” can easily lead into the conceived notion that “he’s lying, he’s gotta be thinking about something. So I bet it’s how annoyed he is with me. Or I bet he’s thinking about his ex-girlfriend, and that cashier at the counter that bashed her eyes at him…how could he do this to me?” In situations like this, trust is essential. Learn to trust the person you’re with, let their “nothing” be nothing and their silence be a sign of respect. Let them sit in their “man-cave” when needed and leave well enough alone.

After all, we may just be thinking about why the median lines aren’t lime-green.

I think it’s good for us females to realize the broad spectrum of what we might be up against when we ask The Question. Mostly I think it’s good for us to realize that we shouldn’t take it personally and it may be good for us to recognize that we should be aware of possible ulterior motives when we ask what our guys are thinking.  If we really want to know, fine… but if we’re just fishing for a compliment, or if we are trying to get him to ask us what we are thinking…
we should maybe think twice about our approach.

I think there’s something really valuable in letting go of this need we have to understand each other, too. Of letting ourselves exist in our weird trains of thought without having to completely understand the other and without taking any of it personally. Great points and insights here. Trustis essential and letting these moments be what they are can simply be life-giving…instead of having to over-analyze, read into, believe lies about what the other is thinking (or not thinking).

Sometimes the silence is a beautiful thing, too.
The silence as we both think about a million things, or stare off into the abyss, wondering about absolutely nothing at all…and letting ourselves just exist in each other’s presence, understanding that we won’t understand everything and that it’s okay.

Let’s let the men have their mental ‘Man Cave’ and not take it personally when we can’t go there with them.