Self-Help Marriage Books

I just read and evaluated a book on marriage for a class.  With all due respect to those who have tried, a book on making a marriage successful is usually a gross over simplification, and often constructed on a sandy foundation. At best, it builds on no foundation; at worst, it elevates a successful marriage into a position above God. The reason has everything to do with the focus. Too often, the mindset is that two people, through self-regulated behavior, can build and maintain a positive relationship with one another. While it is true that relationship management is the reason for many successful marriages, it is not how God teaches on marriage.

Dr. John Gottman has contributed to the body of nearly secular self-help marriage books. His book, Why Marriages Succeed and or Fail is informative and helpful but still misses God’s primary starting point of all successful marriages. It doesn't build upon a solid foundation.

Here's what often goes overlooked, even by many Christian authors and publishers: Genesis outlines God’s creation of the covenant relationship between a man and a woman--marriage. He created it, and therefore he alone gets to define it. In making man and woman in the image of the triune God, men and women are created to be in interpersonal relationship with God, but also with one another. Genesis 2:24 reads, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh,” showing the parting of one relationship in order to enter into a physically and spiritually profound marital union. Jesus builds upon our understanding of this union saying, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6, ESV). Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7 that it is a sin for a man and woman to become “one flesh” out side of marriage, demonstrating that there is more than the mere physical in the act of sexual relations. And Romans 6:2 indicates that the marriage covenant is a life-long covenant.

But much of the New Testament biblical teaching on marriage is actually used as symbolism to either show Christ’s Kingly reign, a proper relationship between Christ and man, or the relationship between Christ and the Church. This symbolism often uses the marriage ceremony or wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14, Matthew 25:7-12, Luke 22:27-30, John, 2:1-12, John 2:28-29, 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:23-32, and Revelation 19:7-9). One might ask how the symbolism of the wedding and Christ relates to the marriage between a man and a woman today, and the answer is found in understanding the relationships. The Bible clearly demonstrates Christ’s love for the Church, even that he died for her. And man is called to love his bride that much, that is, as much as Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:23-33). In addition, Paul says that a man should also love his wife as he loves himself (Ephesians 5:28-30). With that said, it is clear that the Bible holds marriage in a high position, not to be taken lightly. (It is also clear that the marriage or the family unit should not be worshiped as an idol as some do, but this is a discussion for another time.)

As God calls men and women to himself and sanctifies them in preparation of the glory of Kingdom living, we find a need for grace, care, and love in our relationships, especially our marital relationship. Very few of the issues that the marriage self-help books deal with will still be issues after a married couple submits their lives and relationship to God’s grace, care, and love. Often, when the Holy Spirit is working in a marriage and the couple is in submission to God’s will, Gottman’s style of simple self assessment testing and marriage tactics seems silly. In Christ, the married couple comes to understand the difficulty of marriage and the amazing power of God in the marriage covenant. An through this understanding, they can have a beautiful, loving marriage that teaches them more about the nature and character of God.  This is not to say that a couple will never need counseling or help in the marriage, but that they should always keep God's rightful position over their marriage, rather than incorrectly putting the newest trend of self-help in God’s seat.

*Photo by Keith Park, registered under a Creative Commons license.