Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

Book Review: For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope

November 20th, 2017

What makes for a good marriage? What combination of inborn traits, behaviors, and life circumstances makes for marital longevity and bliss?

Sure, there are plenty of people willing to opine based on their personal experiences with marriage, or perhaps on their experiences counseling married couples or divorcees. But what does the science say?

Ostensibly, that’s what Tara Parker-Pope set out to explore in For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.

And, if you do a cursory reading of her book, you’ll come to certain conclusions about the best marital model. Mainly, you’ll come to think that an egalitarian, 50-50 marriage is the way to go. It is clearly the best option. That is, if you fail to read page 254 carefully. There, a couple of paragraphs belie the drumbeat of “egalitarian is best” to which the entire rest of the book marches:

“It’s often a surprise when people learn that a traditional marriage, which is marked by the male breadwinner/female homemaker roles, is widely viewed as the most stable marriage. It had the lowest divorce rate in the studies by Dr. Hetherington. But just because these marriages are stable doesn’t mean they always are the most happy.

For a traditional marriage to thrive, both partners have to be happy with their individual role, perform it well, and feel respected by the other partner for the contributions they make to the marriage and family. If one partner changes, particularly if the wife decides she wants to work outside the home, the marriage can be stressed, often beyond repair.”

I love how shocked Parker-Pope is (and how she attributes her own shock to “people”) that experts on marriage stability regard the traditional marriage to be the most stable model (you know, based on things like… data.) I also love how quickly she jumps to discredit that result. I mean, it may be the most stable, but clearly one couldn’t actually be, you know, happy in a marriage like that.

When I read that second paragraph, I can’t help but think that the things she’s arguing make for a happy traditional marriage are things that make for a happy marriage altogether. Even if both spouses work, they will be happiest if both are happy with their individual role, perform it well, and feel respected by the other partner for the contributions they make to the marriage and family. And if one partner changes, perhaps maybe if a woman decides she wants to stay at home with the children? The marriage is stressed – not necessarily by the desire, but by the change in family dynamics that must be navigated before a new equilibrium is reached.

Now, does this mean that Parker-Pope’s book is not worth reading? Not really. I found it to be interesting. It sparked lots of conversation with my husband (always a nice thing whether or not the topic of discussion is marriage – but it’s especially nice when a book about marriage enables conversation with your spouse.) There was other information that is applicable even if you reject the pervasive belief that egalitarianism is the best model for marriage (for instance, did you know that couples with MORE conflict tend to have stronger marriages? It’s really in how conflict is brought up and managed that makes the difference.)

I don’t think this is a great book to read if you feel like your marriage is in trouble. It’s not terribly practical in that regard. I also don’t think it quite succeeds at the subtitle’s aim of discussing “the science of a good marriage” (given its failure to look any deeper at the most stable model of marriage – the two paragraphs above are literally ALL that is said about traditional marriage.) But if you’re like me, in a happy and functional marriage and eager to continue learning and growing within that marriage, I think this could still be beneficial (or at least interesting).


Rating: 3 stars
Category: Marriage
Synopsis: Attempts to discuss what the science says about successful marriages (that don’t end in divorce), but without really regarding a traditional marriage as a viable option (and therefore leaving out an entire area of inquiry that seems rather important to this reader.)
Recommendation: Interesting information, probably not helpful for a struggling marriage.

WiW: Engagement Advice

October 3rd, 2011

I have a friend who is in human resources and one of her jobs is to conduct engagement surveys. Her roommate teases that this involves going about to all of her employees and asking them:

“Are you engaged? Are you engaged? Are you planning on becoming engaged?”

I am not engaged (to be married, that is), nor am I planning (er…expecting) to become engaged anytime in the near future.

But I’m all for storing up little bits of engagement advice–and it just so happens that I’ve read some this week.

From Lane Maitland in Grace Livingston Hill’s Maris:

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying,” broke in Merrick. “….That’s why I say marriage is a mess and I hope I never fall in love.”

“Say, you know marriage wasn’t meant to be a mess, and God planned the first marriage to be helpful to both the man and the woman. It wasn’t till the man and woman tried to be independent of God that sin came into the world, and happiness was spoiled. It’s somebody’s fault when marriages go wrong.”

“Oh, is it! And whose fault would it be?”

“Well, people ought to be careful who they pick to fall in love with in the first place. You don’t have to fall in love with everybody you admire. You have to watch yourself. You have to choose the right one. You have to get the one God planned for you.”

“Oh, yeah? And how would you know who that was?…”

“Well, in the first place, if I found I was getting really interested in a girl I’d find out whether she was a real sincere Christian or not…That would be my first step in deciding….In a true marriage both parties would have to qualify, wouldn’t they? It’s only as two people are dominated by the same Spirit, and are surrendered to the same Lord, that they can live together in harmony, isn’t it?”

Such good advice for anyone considering marriage. I think that last bit is so important.

I see so many people who are content to say that the person they are interested in professes Christ. But the Christian man or woman who is looking to marry someone should be concerned that whoever they marry be dominated by and surrendered to the same Lord.

I think that if this condition is met, matters of preferences and temperaments and hobbies become much less important. One could marry someone who is otherwise “incompatible” (by the world’s standards) so long as both are completely surrendered to the same Lord–the Lord Jesus Christ.


It just so happens that my pastor is blogging on the topic of preparation for marriage–and I think he’s got some really great insights. You can find his posts at justinerickson.org. Please pass them along to someone who could use them.


The Week in WordsDon’t forget to take a look at Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”, where bloggers collect quotes they’ve read throughout the week.

A Cracked Mirror

September 29th, 2010

Last week, a woman from my church shared with me how something I’d written on my blog had impacted her life.

Something I’d written had encouraged her to step back and let her husband lead.

Something I’d written had been used by God to make her a better woman, a better wife.

After reading what I’d written, she released control of an issue. She supported her husband’s decision. She experienced immediate breakthrough in the situation she’d been hanging on to.

Wow.

I’m amazed. I’m humbled. I’m blessed.

That God could use me–a single woman who feels so very messed up–to minister truth to another woman.

That God could use me to bless a marriage, a family.

It’s an awesome privilege.

Thank you, dear Lord, for using me. And thank you, dear readers, for letting God speak to you through a cracked mirror like myself.

A Dose of Cold, Hard Reality

August 20th, 2010

“There is no such thing as a perfect man,” Evan basically tells her, “and if there was, he wouldn’t marry you.”

Lori Gottlieb was on her way to a new way of looking at dating and marriage–thanks to a dose of cold, hard reality.

She shares her journey in Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. (See my review here.)

Along the way, she provides a dose of reality for her readers–and I couldn’t stop noting down fantastic quotes.

“Clampitt matches people like this: ‘Number one,’ she said, ‘I look at whether the two people have common relationship goals. Number two, I look at values. Things like independence, family, religion, loyalty. Number three, what are the key qualities this person needs? You get no more than five. Things like, he has to be very intelligent. Number four, I look at shared interests. Interests are great because it’s bonding and stimulating and fun to share those, but the other things are more important for the long-term. I put shared interests last for that reason.”

My dad said something similar when I was reeling from a breakup with a guy with whom I shared a lot of interests. Dad, of course, was saying it as an “other fish in the sea” type comment. But the fact remains, shared interests are only one aspect of a happy marital relationship–and a small aspect at that.

“Ferman says she took immediate physical chemistry off her list when she realized that, given a certain level of attraction, she could find someone very attractive over time.”

I tried to explain this concept to a friend. It took a while, but I think she eventually got it. At least for women, physical attraction is about a lot more than the physical. Physical attraction is just as much a function of shared values, experiences, thoughts, emotions.

You say you won’t date someone you’re not attracted to, I ask how you know you’re not attracted to him. Do you know him well enough to know that, really?

No, I’m not saying you should marry someone you’re not physically attracted to. But I am saying that there is a very real sense in which someone you are not attracted to initially becomes very attractive as you get to know them. And I’m not talking about “He has a beautiful mind–so what if I can’t stand his body?” I’m talking about real, honest to goodness physical attraction–but physical attraction that doesn’t exist until other connections have been made.

“So when these matchmakers ask their clients to consider the guy who is too-this or not-that-enough, they’re actually saying something quite simple: You can have rigid expectations and try to find someone who meets them, or you can let go of preconceived notions and find someone you’ll fall in love with.”

I’ve seen the lists a mile high, with dozens of non-negotiables. It’s the Goldilocks phenomenon, except that there’s no “just right” to be found. The problem is, these lists might be lists of what we want, but they’re only occasionally lists of what we need. In the quest for the fantasy man, women are not even giving a first glance to the many real men who might be around–and just might be “Mr. Right”–but who fail to live up to the standards of the non-existent fantasy man.

“Dr. Broder says he sees a heightened sense of entitlement that previous generations didn’t have. Our mothers might have wished, but certainly didn’t expect, that their husbands would constantly want to please them, be attracted to them, entertain them, enjoy sharing all their interests, and be the most charming person in the room. Instead, they knew that marriage involved failing health, aging, boredom, periods of stress and disconnection, annoying habits, issues with children, and hardships and misunderstandings of all sorts. But many women today seem to be looking for an idealized spiritual union instead of a realistic marital partnership.”

Have I ever mentioned that I’m a big fan of Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Marriage? Well, I am. The major question that book asks is “What if God intended marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy?”

If you’re looking for a marriage in which you can continue living as you please without having to make adjustments, without having to be sanctified, without having to love sacrificially, you’re sadly mistaken about the reality of married life. Marriage requires you to learn selfless love, to lay down your life for and submit to your spouse. The quest for the “perfect” man belies this truth–and sets up marriages for failure. Because even if you manage to find the “perfect man”–and he decides to marry you, marriage is still going to be a challenge, it’s still going to be a process of sanctification.

“If this sounds unromantic, when I look at my friends’ marriages, with their routine day-to-dayness, they actually seem far more romantic than any dating relationship might be. Dating seems romantic, but for the most part it’s an extended audition. Marriage seems boring, but for the most part it’s a state of comfort and acceptance. Dating is about grand romantic gestures that mean little over the long term. Marriage is about small acts of kindness that bond you over a lifetime. It’s quietly romantic.

Compared to the “dream world” of chick flicks and romance novels, reality can seem pretty cold, pretty hard. But compared to the reality that living in the dream world creates, facing reality is a lot more pleasant.

Always a guest, never a bride (Guest post)

February 11th, 2010

I asked my sister to write a guest post for Love Month because I think her perspective as a single woman is valuable. At first, Anna shied away from the prospect, thinking that she had little to share that I wouldn’t have already shared–but I think you’ll agree that her story adds greatly to this month’s topic.

Love Month Banner

It seems like I’ve been attending weddings all my life. It all began with my mother’s siblings. Many of my friends attended their first wedding as a teenager, but I can remember 10 different wedding that I attended before age 16. As a child, weddings were a time to see cousins and eat cake. I was happy to celebrate and occasionally had a role to play: flower girl, punch server, gift receiver. During my teenage years I spent some time dreaming of what my own wedding would be like, who my bridesmaids would be, what colors and songs I would choose. But that wedding never came about. Many of my high school and college friends are married, and half of my Physician Assistant class got married during the time we were in school. Still, there is no relationship for me. Am I destined to be single for the rest of my life? Always a guest, never a bride?

Two weddings stand out to me. The first was that of a close high school friend. She had been dating for several years, but when I heard of the engagement, bitterness filled my heart. I remember driving home from a card party, sobbing, desperately praying the words of a song that “just happened” to be playing.

“All of You is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough.” Enough by Chris Tomlin

I didn’t believe at that point that God was all I need. I was envious of my sister in Christ, bitter that “life was passing me by.” Absurd, I know. I was only 19!

The second wedding has not yet occurred. It is that of my brother and his fiancée this summer. Here I am, 26 without a man in sight, ecstatic that my little brother is getting married. When I heard the news, I screamed with joy. I actually woke up one roommate and thoroughly scared the other one with all the racket! There was no thought of myself in that moment, no sorrow that I would be attending another wedding as a single woman. What a difference in my attitude!

Paul admonishes the church to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) While this includes outward actions, most of rejoicing with people has to do with the heart. My ability to rejoice with my friends in their marriage depends directly on my trust that God IS all I need.

Contentment in singleness while attending weddings is difficult. I don’t like RSVPing for one, being pushed to the front for the bouquet toss, not having a dance partner. I do wish to be married one day! But if that was my focus, life would be miserable. I could waste time searching for that “perfect someone”, but I would miss out on the purpose God has for me today.

A turning point for me was reading Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? by Carolyn McCulley. Carolyn encourages women to regard singleness as a gift from God and to find purpose in fulfilling a unique role in the church. I encourage each person, male or female, single or married, to read this book. If it doesn’t apply to you, it will help you in relationship with the single women you know.

Is contentment in singleness easy? No, it is a constant struggle. I doubt I will ever be completely content with my singleness. I am not promised I will ever be married in this life. But I do know one thing. There is coming a day when I will be dressed in white awaiting my Bridegroom. “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:6-7

Always a guest, one day a Bride!

Made great by each other

April 26th, 2005

I’m a woman. I love stories of strong women, of brave women, of women who made a difference, of women who achieved some level of fame. Occasionally, the question enters my head–Would any of
these women have reached the status they have if it weren’t for their husbands? Maybe they just married into fame. Their marriage made the difference.

Now, before you get scared that my espoused feminism has gone down the drain, let me describe a few truths that I have come to when thinking about this question.

After God made Eve from Adam’s rib in the Garden of Eden, Adam woke up. Just as he had named every other living creature, he now named Eve–“She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23) There is no doubt in my mind about the implications of this Scripture. No woman can claim that she does not need man. No, in the beginning, we were named by a man–called
Woman, because we came from man. We cannot forget our origins. In the same way, man can never claim that he does not need woman. He must remember our origins. “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.'” (Genesis 2:18) God saw that man was incomplete, lacking a helper. And so God made a helper–not the same as him but comparable to him, his partner but not his head.

A woman I have admired for years, studying her life and yearning for her influence, is the Proverbs 31 woman. But listen to what the Bible says about her and her husband. “The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:11-12) And again: “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” (Proverbs 31:23) This woman is not great because of her husband–not to say that her husband isn’t great. Instead, these verses seem to say that her husband is great, at least in part, because she is trustworthy and she does good. “They” say that behind every good man is a great woman–and I have little doubt. The Proverbs 31 woman by her actions and words has made her husband great and respected. I find it almost ironic to read the last few verses: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done
well, but you excel them all.’ Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her
in the gates.
” (Proverbs 31:28-31) This woman who by her deeds has paved the way for her husband to have a place in the city gates, now is praised in the city gates by her husband. “Let her own
works praise her in the gates.

Great men and great women, they go together hand in hand. Which one creates the other I cannot say. But I must say that the greatness of a great woman brings her husband honor, and the greatness of a great man gives his wife praise. That’s the way God made it.

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