Two marriage myths, busted

Dan Phillips debunks a couple of myths, believed by many people today:

As I continue in my announced intent to share a few bits of Biblical wisdom on marriage, it seems good to start by dispelling a couple of myths. Call me a Biblical “mythbuster.”

First: it takes two to create marital problems. No, it doesn’t. It only takes one.

It feels embarrassing even to have to say that, it’s such a Biblically obvious point — but the notion of necessarily democratically-shared liability is so widespread that some air-clearing is necessary.

I think I’ll call this the Democratic Causality Myth. How do I know it’s a myth? The same way I know anything really important: the Bible. Didn’t you read 1 Peter 2:19-20?

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

There you go: it is possible to suffer, not only in spite of doing good, but precisely for doing good. Peter expressly envisions a relationship where Party A causes suffering to Party B, and the latter not only did not “have it coming to him,” but was specifically doing what he ought to be doing.

Peter’s not done with that theme. Note that he says in 3:14a, “even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.” There it is again: suffering precisely because one had done what was right.

Of course, we could add a heap of Scriptures, and they’d take us back to our Lord Himself, amid the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

The assumption that all suffering must be immediately traceable to some specifically causative wrongdoing is simply not Biblical. It is to join hands and nod along with Job’s divinely-discredited friends, as they doggedly pursue the etiology of Job’s suffering, sure that he’d brought it on himself somehow.

So if we grant this for all of life, is there some force-field that un-trues the truth when it comes to marriage? Is it only in marriage that we must always split blame for suffering 50-50? I’d like to see that logic diagrammed.

Now let me hasten to say (if it isn’t too late to “hasten”) that the odds are that there never has been a troubled marriage involving one 100% flawless saint and one 100% culpable reprobate. And anyone who was trying to help a troubled couple would be a fool to overlook the wisdom of Prov. 18:17. We sinners being what we are (sinners, and rationalizing ones at that), the odds are that both parties in a struggling marriage have sin-patterns to deal with. You, the person in a troubled marriage, should start with that assumption.

But really — a woman’s husband commits adultery. You immediately begin to search for what she did to bring this on herself? On what Biblical warrant? Even if you can find twelve things she did wrong as a wife, does that make his sin of adultery to any degree her fault? A man’s wife incessantly tongue-lashes and emasculates him. First thing you do is start listing off his failure as a leader? On what Biblical warrant? Even if you can find twelve things he did wrong as a husband, does that make her sin of verbal assaults to any degree his fault?

Where was I when the Bible was changed (A) to relieve parties of 100% culpability for their own sin, and (B) to empower mere mortals to cause other mortals either to sin or do righteousness?

Let me also hasten to say that if you are in a troubled marriage, and your immediate thought is “Aha! I knew it! This proves I’m in the right!”, you’re not catching what I’m throwing. What I’m throwing, when we combine it wth the terrifying human capacity for rationalization of the most outrageous sins, is that you should start with the thought that you may be the one in the wrong.

In fact, let me develop that. Let’s say a marriage is troubled. (Readers: “A marriage is troubled.” Nice.) Let’s say the biggest problem is a selfish, lazy man who is in no way a picture of Christ’s sacrificial love for His church (Eph. 5:25ff.). You imagine the specifics. Let’s say he agrees with his wife that they have a troubled marriage. Let’s say she tries to talk to him about his behavior (the porn, the late nights out away from home night after night, whatever).

He retorts “It takes two to tango, honey. We’ve got problems, that means you’ve got problems. Let’s talk about your problems.”

What if she does have problems? What if she doesn’t? It doesn’t make any difference to his sin. Maybe she’s sweeter than a ripe peach. Maybe she’s a sour-mouthed, nasty, merciless harridan. What does that have to do with anything? He is contributing sin to the marriage because he is contributing sin to the marriage. Insisting on starting with her behavior, and hiding behind the democratic myth, is a sheer red-herring.

And in case I haven’t made this clear, I am writing to you. I am not writing to your spouse. You (and I) need to own your (and my) sin, period, and not race for cover behind the democratic causality myth.

Second: an occasional knock-down, drag-out fight is good for a marriage. This is a great idea… well, apart from that whole thing about it being totally dead-wrong.

The Proverbs book has a long (60+ page) chapter on what Proverbs specifically, and the Bible as a whole, has to say about marriage. I tackle this particular myth in the course of that study. To wit:

Perhaps you have heard the conventional wisdom that fighting is healthy for a marriage, that a little “clearing the air” (by means of a fight) is actually constructive and helpful. I have come to be absolutely convinced that this is a lie, and harmful one at that. A married couple should never fight.

By “fight,” of course, I do not mean “disagree,” nor do I mean have lively discussions nor debates. It is probably not only impossible, but positively undesirable that disagreements never take place in a marriage of two redeemed pilgrims on their way to—but not yet arrived at—the Celestial City. (More on that, later.)

Probably any couple knows when a disagreement becomes a fight. When lines are drawn up, tempers flare, hurtful accusations are hurled, and verbal blows are exchanged, a disagreement has degenerated into a fight. One opponent seeks to defeat the other, at almost any cost. Victory becomes the only goal. (p. 210)

This is followed by a sidebar, “Why Christian couples should never fight each other,” Biblically detailing individual sets of reasons why neither husband nor wife should ever participate in a fight with the other. The reasons center around the Biblical description of what it means to be married in general, and specifically what it means to be a husband or a wife. You can’t be doing what God calls a husband or wife to do, and at the same time give yourself to fighting your spouse.

(And yes, I’m aware that clever minds can come up with valid “what-ifs” [“What if my husband is carrying a vial of deadly virus and intends to wipe out the population of Encino?”] — if a “what-if” that probably accounts for about 0.0001% of actual marital fights constitutes a valid exception.)

So. We can’t assume that every marital problem has a 50-50 split. We can’t solve our problem by trying to destroy our mate and force him or her to our will by verbal blunt-force trauma.

What should we do?

Next time.