Why Bad Marriages Are Now Epidemic in Protestant Churches, and What Can Be Done About It
Everyone notes that the church divorce rate is the same as the secular realm; roughly 50% of all marriages “fail” as if non-divorce is the definition of a successful marriage. But keep this in mind, there is a strong stigma attached to divorce in the church, so we must assume that non-divorce marriages that are bastions of misery number higher in the church. Much higher. Even though the divorce rate is the same, the irreligious are far more inclined to escape misery by divorce; yet, again, the statistics are the same.
May 16th of this year was my 30th anniversary as a pastor, and that experience has shown me that the Protestant church is rife with horrible marriages. As a pastor, I saw the epidemic from Dallas to Dayton, Ohio in every church and seminary I attended. And I also experienced this firsthand; my own first marriage was a miserable coexistence for the last 21 years of the 24 years we were married despite every effort on my part to make the marriage happy. Actually, the first three years were happy days, and then I got saved which is a good thing but then church happened.
In case you’re wondering, this post was inspired by an incident between me and Susan a couple of days ago. Out of nowhere, she was rude to me and my response was tit for tat. Per the usual, the next hour was pretty much business as usual. But the incident triggered a question that I have been pondering for some time. Why are we so patient with each other and happy together regardless of the following? We both have habits that annoy each other. We have our share of disagreements. Yet, neither of us walk on eggshells. Rarely does either of us have to ask the other, “What’s wrong?” Unresolved issues are very short-lived; usually less than one day. In both cases, what we love about each other far outweighs any offense or disagreement. We love being together.
Why is this? Why does happiness seem to come naturally for some couples while others struggle to be happy and can’t seem to agree on anything? Why was happiness in my first marriage such a struggle, but in this marriage happiness seems to flow naturally with little effort? I will primarily speak in regard to me and Susan, but I also think the answer is a common principle that answers the aforementioned question in large part.
The whole thing with the silent treatment; unresolved issues that create a cloud of unhappiness between married couples for days, walking on eggshells, wars and truces; continually seeking out others to resolve issues, being afraid of saying a wrong word that will create some sort of issue; the withholding of sex; boring sex; etc., etc., etc. Do you know what all of that is, and everything like it? Here is what it is.
And where does condemnation come from? Yep, the law. Now think with me for a moment. If the definition of righteousness is perfect law-keeping and the Protestant gospel keeps them under law, and it does, shall we not then expect a life shadowed by condemnation? Yes. And would this obviously include marriages as well? Yes. What marriage counseling, especially in Neo-Protestant circles, is not merely two people coming to a counselor with their condemnation lists against each other?
Worst yet, “biblical” counselors slide right into the law thing with concepts like, “marriage is two sinners living together.” “Marriage is hard work,” etc., etc. Wow, really? Marriage is hard work? Where does the Bible say that? It doesn’t, but I contend that Protestant marriages are in fact hard time under the condemnation of the law just like their gospel.
What’s the difference between being under condemnation and love? The apostle Peter gives us a hint: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly since love covers a multitude of sins.” The KJV states it more accurately; love covers “the multitude of sins.” Love doesn’t cover some sin, it covers all sin. And that’s sin that fails to love, not sin that condemns.
Also note: “Above all” we are to love, not keep a record of wrongs. That’s not the primary goal of love according to the apostle Paul.
Let’s put this in context of what happened with me and Susan the other day. First, Susan and I understand that one of the major tenets of sin is a desire to control through condemnation. So, silent treatment and the like is manipulative withholding of love for purposes of controlling the other person through condemnation. When that doesn’t work, we go to a biblical counselor for help in better condemning the spouse in order to gain control.
So, Susan and I don’t play that game; it’s not our goal to control each other.
Secondly, we know that our goal is love and that we both blew it. The law teaches us that love covers a multitude of sin; the law doesn’t teach us to use the law to condemn our spouse for selfish purposes. In other words, everything doesn’t have to be some big sin issue requiring a bunch of religious drama. In most cases, we know that truth is at work rectifying our falling short of love. Unless it’s a really big issue, we move on with our life of love. Sin isn’t the focus; love is the focus.
It’s amazing what happens when the focus isn’t control; the focus becomes what you have always adored about that person which leads to patience. It goes something like this…
”I sure wish she wouldn’t do that, but on the other hand, I don’t know how I would ever be happy without her in my life, and all of the wonderful things she does for me.”
Her love covers a multitude of her own sin, and mine, and vice versa. Love is the primary focus, not condemnation.