Monday, June 7, 2010

A Word About My Marriage . . . Clearing the Air

I know that I make comments now and then about my wife, my marriage and the fact that we are on two separate pages at times. I know too that this makes some people uncomfortable, especially if you have been around the evangelical church for some time. But I thought it was time I addressed this directly.

In the typical Evangelical setting there is a myth about marriage. The Christian marriage is virtually perfect and there is harmony because both sides have their eyes on Jesus and love each other with agape love. So you never hear a peep about any kind of disagreement . . . unless it comes just before a total collapse of the union.

This happened in my present church about 4-5 years ago (and since). Then, one of the key families suddenly—with no warning—imploded and the parents divorced. They used to sit up near the front with their three blond, little boys. To everyone’s shock they announced that they were divorcing and they have never been back to church since.

I was in Sunday school class with the dad and Denise with the mom. The only chink in their armor may have been the Sunday before their marital demise when the mom mentioned to the women’s Sunday school class that her husband was going to be really mad when he finds out that she had booked a cruise without asking him. Then . . . wham . . . they leave each other and the marriage is over. The cruise issue couldn’t have been the cause . . . maybe the “last straw.”

I go to a church where the culture is that people are more private than most. I’ve been there for about seven years and I have never heard anyone say anything negative about their marriages. It is simply not done. Maybe a joke, “You know men, they spend all the money on their toys, ha!” But no one says offers a serious comment about a real issue.

Now I, in my desire for candor, am the exception. I don’t say negative things about our marriage relationship often, but if it is an issue, and related, I don’t hesitate. I mention fights, which we’ve had. I will say that Denise doesn’t like this or that about me. I admit, I bring up the negative far more than she does . . . but I try to bring up the positive equally.

I have seen people’s jaws drop . . . especially if they don’t know me. They frown on my negativity. My comments also worry them a great deal. Like the fore-mentioned couple, in our church you never say anything negative about your marriage, except for the warning flare shot high into the sky as the ship is sinking. I suspect that many speculate if that is what I’m doing . . . you know the flare. Some probably expect for Denise and me to announce our divorce any day . . . or like the other couple, just never show up again and they hear through the grapevine that we have divorced.

But there is a lot of silent suffering going on in our church. The pastor’s wife as slipped over on more than one occasion to vent that she is near her breaking point in the marriage . . . but only in a very private setting and only with my wife, who is her best friend.

But I don’t think our marriage is worse than others. Actually, I think it is much healthier. We agree on 90% of issues. If you read this blog you know just about the entire 10% of our conflicting views.

I’ve mentioned before how I started a Bible study about 5 years ago for couples at our church and it was on marriage. It was frustrating because I could not get anyone to share anything negative about their perfect marriages. I knew things about the five couples who came. But all the information came via the same convoluted course. The wife of the couple had told their non-Christian friend. That non-Christian friend had told my wife and thus I knew. So, I knew that couple A was having serious issues because the husband owned a business and was spending many hours away form the family and it really frustrated the wife. The couple B was plagued by the husband’s on and off again relationship with the bottle . . . meaning of course the Jack Daniel’s bottle. He was a mean drunk. Couple C had some of the most serious conflicts within the household. In couple D’s situation, the husband lived and worked in another state and their marriage was suffering a great deal from it. Plus there was a conflict between the husband and his father-in-law, who is an elder at our church, and who told his geologist son-in-law that he could not be a Christian because he believed in an old earth.

So when I asked poignant questions each week, no one would volunteer an answer but squirm in their seats. So, inevitably, I would share what Denise and I were struggling with. I can remember clearly that wife from couple C sharing, just once, shared about a struggle she and her husband were having. He looked at her with a subliminal rage.

It was during that same meeting that the husbands from couple A, B and C (the husband from D wasn’t there) confronted me during snack break. “We don’t like you trying to dig up dirt on us. We have great marriages.” Then the husband from couple C gave me a book about “looking for God’s fingerprint in nature” and told me that we should study that book.

Gee-whiz I thought. So, gave up on the study.

Denise and I have a marriage that is far from perfect, but it is honest. About 12 years ago we were through a very rough spot . . . so rough that divorce was in our vocabulary. It is nowhere near that now.

Most of our 10% of disagreement now comes over the very issues I blog about . . . honestly, candor and me going to an Evangelical church. Regarding church, she doesn’t see my point. To her, church is about tradition and personal relationships. She does have some good relationships with other women, such as the pastor’s wife. But men, at least in this church, treat each other differently. While Denise is down in her woman’s class, sharing cookies and kitting secrets, and laughing, I was sitting upstairs with the men. I would be watching a Ken Hamm video and being lectured to about how we should force our children to believe in a young earth. If I dared to disagree with them (somewhat like Johan was referring to in his comments two posts ago) I am quickly pointed out as compromiser with Satan. So our church experiences are very different. To her it is silly to change churches. “There is no perfect church,” she will yell at me. And of course she is right. So, to keep the peace, I am staying here and trying to make the best of it.

The other issue that is hard for us is my desire for candor. I’ve said before that is has always been a natural desire of mine, even though I spent 20 years as an Evangel-lair. Maybe it has to do with my upbringing verses hers.

I grew up in a somewhat dysfunctional family. My father became an alcoholic in his later years. My siblings have been into a lot of wild things and remain unstable. Yet, and I know this sounds funny, but my family’s dysfunctionality was in harmony with Bible-belt fundamentalism. I’ve mentioned before that my pastor, growing up, had a pretty mistress on the side, (which my mother helped to cover for). Our Sunday school director was having sex with as many young boys as he could (thank God he never got his hands on me). So the two opposites were compatible . . . sadly.

My wife grew up in a Scandinavian-Lutheran culture. There is a huge contrast between the two cultures. I see her culture being much more refined . . . but also much more Victorian. Her family never, ever talks about emotional issues. They never talk about faults of their own . . . never, ever. They, like most people in their society, keep a fa├žade of perfection. But it is very different than the Evangelical pretense of godliness. The difference is, the Scandinavian-Lutheran culture allows for mischief deep down below the surface. I mean there were some bad things going on down there, but you would never, ever talk about them. Evangelicals believe their own lies about their goodness.

So, when it comes to candor, Denise and I are not on the same page. No, she is not a phony, but my candor makes her very uncomfortable. I’ve mentioned that she does not come to this blog. I wish she would. I would love to have her come and comment. But this blog scares the hell out of her . . . like when I use words like, “hell.” It really embarrasses her. There was a time when I was begging her to come here. It isn’t like she doesn’t read blogs. She followed my son’s blog with great enthusiasm. She follows two niece’s blogs daily and even friends of friends. But she would not come here any more that I would want to go to a Jesusland amusement park. I know it is not fair for me to reference her views and she is not here to defend herself . . . but I wish she were here. I wish she would blog every day about things I do to piss her off. I would read it faithfully because then I would know what they were. If she had a hard time thinking of my faults I could give her a laundry list of suggestions.

She doesn’t like my writing in general for the same reason. She has asked me to only write privately for my own benefit, not allowing others to see it. You know, like a diary that I lock up each night and put under my bed. But, we are different people when it comes to this perspective. If I don’t write and if I don’t “shout” my thoughts from the rooftops . . . I think I would die inside.

So, I think I’ve said enough and the air should be clear.

It is late, and I had to type fast so I hope I can proof-read this tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I do think evangelicalism can oversell or make marriage unrealistic. On the flip side there are two issues that I would also add to what you wrote about marriage.

1. Singles are made to feel guilty. They have to live with shame, assume that something is wrong. Once when I was a Christian attending an evangelical church I was told by one of the elders that being single was a sin. Now I am frustrated about being single, but it was the closest time I came to being arrested for assault.

2. The unrealistic view of marriage can be also the downfall of others. For example take the guy dealing with same sex attraction; he's trying to hold on, resist going that route...and then the church comes along and pushes marriage so hard it only adds to his frustration. Not only that but he is also comprehending the fact that he might not have what others have, and he may have to live his life without getting married. I would be curious to know how many are driven into worse relationships or homosexuality outright due to dispair or personal anguish by such an approach to marriage.

Evangelicals have made marriage into an idol, and treat it like the Mormons do. Sadly some of it is becuase evangelcals view marriage as a way to battle society in some of our culture wars.

Anonymous said...

Not just marriage, but ALL the Utterly Perfect Shiny Happy Christian fill-in-the-blanks until a messed-up guy like me can only turn his back on the whole thing in despair. The only flawed mortal among these Utterly Perfect We-Can't-Call-Ourselves-Gods.

Anon: This is called "Salvation by Marriage", with the corollary of "Bedroom Evangelism", i.e. "Outbreed and Overwhelm the Heathen." Just like Islam in Eurabia -- "We conquer the lands of the Infidel! Our wombs are our weapons!"

Headless Unicorn Guy

MJ said...

I guess being married has given me the blind eye to the plight of those single within the church. I do apologize if I've ever been part of the problem.

I know that I personally don't see any inferiority among the single. Of course, for a good part of church history, celibacy was regarded as the "most spiritual" state of life. Of course we are presently talking about the Evangelical church in America.

If I've been guilty, it would be with one friend who is 55 and single. A few times over the years I've tried to match-make him with a lady. But the reason I tried was the he himself saying that he was miserable being single.

I do think in the far right Evangelical movement, hard-core homeschoolers, Left-Behind fans, Bill Gothard (btw he never married did he?) followers, there is the belief that, as HUG says, this ideal of the Christian family saving the world.

Anonymous said...

Nice article about you marriage story. I really enjoyed it while reading this article.
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