Some Hopefully Helpful Advice For Your Weird Marriage

Several times every day on my social media timelines, I see links shared featuring experts offering marriage advice.

Some are better than others, and nearly all have some general wisdom that is helpful, but most of the time they suffer from the same fatal flaw.

Invariably when someone writes a blog or column about how to have a better, more intimate, more successful marriage, they begin with the assumption that all marriages are created equal, all striving to reach the same place.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, and those of us who have been married for any length of time understand this on a deeply personal level, because most of us know how very strange our marriage often seems to us.

Most of the relationship resources (especially Christian-generated ones) come from the perspective of what men need, or what women want, yet they are so often based on a generalized, stereotyped idea of gender roles. They assume that all men and all women, (and therefore all marriages), look the same and aspire to the same things.

When it comes to marriage advice however, one size does not fit all. In fact, one size simply fits—one size. It really only truly fits the giver himself or herself.

Married person here’s the deal: You’re not married to men or women as an idea. You’re not married to a gender role or a category. You’re married to a man or a woman; a completely original human being whose idiosyncrasies, gifts, needs, and desires are as decidedly once-in-history as they are.

You didn’t make an agreement with Marriage and you didn’t sign-up to join an institution; you made a life-long vow to one specific person, and so the best marital advice I can give you is this:

Make it your life’s work to know and love that person better than anyone ever has or ever will.

Since, on that magical day in the near or distant past, you didn’t make your heartfelt pledges to a marital expert, a licensed therapist, a renowned author, or a well-read blogger, but to your spouse; you need to be consulting them first, and last, and continually.

He or she is the one person on the planet, most qualified to speak into your marriage.

All the books and blogs and articles that resonate with you, as full of deep truth and great insight as they might be, don’t really matter if the one person who you’ve promised to share your life with isn’t the loudest voice in your head.

If you don’t know the heart of your mate (spoken in their words, not filtered through an outsider’s version of it), you’re failing them.

The truth is, all marriages are weird—and gloriously so.

They’re the beautifully bizarre product of two flawed, odd, messy lives intertwining, and slapping together a living, real-time impressionist painting made out of strange habits, peculiar conversations, and a billion tiny, unique ways of navigating obstacles and working out solutions.

And most of the time they look nothing like the books you’ll read or the examples you’ll be given, so fear not if you feel like a failure. Don’t be discouraged by the bizarre or irregular, because they’re actually priceless gifts.

People often talk about the “sanctity” of marriage, and the truth is, it’s found in the weird.

That’s where the sweet spot of the sacred marriage stuff really is; when you and your spouse make the decision to live life together and work it out together in all its spectacular oddness.

What even the most well-meaning marital advice inadvertently does, is force you to compare your marriage with some ridiculously idealized, stock photography standard of Marriage that has never existed in the first place. It’s never wise to use a fantasy image as your reality template, so chuck it out the window and embrace what’s there in front of you.

You may desperately want your marriage to be normal, but that’s a silly and unattainable target, one that will only waste the precious time you have. Seek instead, to partner with your spouse in having the best weird marriage ever.

The only relationship you should compare yours to is yesterday’s version of it. Are you listening better, sacrificing more, working harder? Are you communicating more clearly, sharing more openly?

Ultimately if you have questions about the kind of spouse you are, you won’t find that answer in a blog post or book excerpt or DVD lecture. You’ll find it right in front of you, across the dinner table from you, next to you in bed as you read this.

Here’s an idea:

Get out your old wedding vows and sit down across from your spouse; read them out loud and then look them in the eyes and ask them, “So, how am I doing?”

Then, really listen and don’t stop until death do you part.

May you never stop nurturing your wonderfully weird marriage.


0 thoughts on “Some Hopefully Helpful Advice For Your Weird Marriage

  1. One of my favorite quotes, and I’m not sure where I saw it first, is this: “Normal is just a setting on the dryer.” Trying to judge others on any level based on what we think is normal will only lead to division and discord. As long a we are trying to be the best people we can be, and not hurting others, we all need to learn to live and let live.

  2. Recovering fundie Samantha Field loves taking those so-called “Christian” books about how to have a happy marriage and ripping them a new A-hole. For example:

    The themes are pretty much the same in all of them. Gender roles are described in stereotyped terms that just happen to coincide with 1950s American culture ideals. Out-of-context Bible verses are assembled to support these culturally notions, totally forgetting they they simply state the way things were in a primitive society 3,000 years ago. And they all end up demanding that a woman must submit to the Lordship of her husband—which is ultimately translated as “the woman must take on the role of negro slave circa 1847—if she wants to be happy and have a happy marriage.

    This past summer I encountered a fundie pastor’s wife who had fallen into this soul-grinding trap. It was a brief encounter, but it seemed like an unmistakable one. I was asking some questions related to a research problem in the social sciences. They were questions she could have answered or at least offered an opinion about. The answer to each question was, “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask my husband.” Clearly, as I saw it, she no longer had a functioning brain or a life of her own. Her whole sense of individuality and meaning as a human being had been totally deferred to the Lordship of her husband to the point where it seemed clear to me that she (as a personality) had ceased to exist.

    This is not the Christian faith. The is abuse masquerading as the Christian faith in a desperate attempt to salvage a 1950s American cultural ideal that never really was ideal—and putting the lipstick of Christianity on this muddy pig in a vain attempt to make it look respectable.

  3. So on point. Nothing makes me grind my teeth like someone offering marriage advise based on their wounds, selfishness and weaknesses. As a counselor, when counseling couples I find that they are as different Zebras. They all have a very unique pattern. I find myself waiting to see the strange that makes them all so different. But nothing is more beautiful to me than two human beings, fighting all the nay sayers and all the negative drama to stay together and pour out their very souls into each other. Its a heart moving mess. Nothing refines or sharpens the jagged edge of a human like marriage.

  4. Thanks so much for writing this! I am a hard-working Marriage & Family Therapist and I love everything you said. My role (beyond basic communication and conflict skills) is exactly this: to get couples to look each other in the eyes and remember the uniqueness of their partnership. And I would love for all couples to be able to do this on their own, but until then, thank you so much for this great, encouraging post!

  5. My husband and I have been married 19 years. The best advice I was ever given was to keep our marriage within our marriage, meaning resist the urge to tell other people about the details. The advice I tend to give is to encourage and accept change in your spouse. As soon as we think we know our spouse so well that we can’t be surprised, we’ve put them in a box and we grow stagnant. Like you said, we have to really listen to each other.

    • I’m playing catch-up on John’s blogs right now… in case you are wondering about this comment 2 1/2 weeks later. 😉 Your advice about accepting change was advise I received and was definitely the best ever. We got married at 18 (we are now 40). Everyone was terrified we were screwing up. But my mother-in-law just said, “The reason young marriages fail is because people still have a lot of changing to do. But if you will just accept the changes as you guys go along, you can make it.” And she was right. I had to take a deep breath a few times, but our marriage is better than ever. Excellent advise to keep doling out!

      • That’s great advice from your mother-in-law and so true. I always think of that when people say they’ve ‘grown apart’. I think a lot of times what they’re really saying is that they don’t like the way their partner is changing.

  6. Thanks so much for this post John. My wife and I were discussing earlier today how far from normal our marriage is, but that it works for us. We love each other dearly, but in all honesty, we’re not very compatible. Regardless, we both now know after 20+ years of trial and error what it takes for this union to work. I wouldn’t give it or the results of it (we have 8 fabulous children) for anything. It’s nice to know that there are those like yourself who can appreciate that we don’t have a textbook marriage… and that there are no textbook marriages for that matter.

  7. I lost my husband to cancer after 38 years of a weird marriage. Everyone thought we’d never make it to “death does us part” but we did. And three years after his death I’m beginning to see just how much we were meant for each other. It’s sad, but we don’t know what we have until it’s gone.

  8. Interesting reading, but for a 17 year ministry veteran trying to live out the red letters of Jesus, there’s not a scriptual reference in the post. I’m not a radical by any means, but I unfortunately hear too many sermons that are 99% commentary. If you claim the Word, friend, then teach the Word. Otherwise, yours is simply another white noise opinion.

    • Hi Ron, Not everything is a theological treatise. If you can’t find the love of Jesus in my writings, I’m OK with that. I don’t have to preach Jesus’ words to live them. My wife can attest to that. Peace.

  9. I think John must have been hospitalized or died. He has not posted anything in a long time. I wonder if his current church has decided that the blog is too much of a lightning rod and that he needs to stop blogging if he wants to stay.

    You’re making us nervous out here John. You okay?

  10. Pingback: Some Hopefully Helpful Advice For Your Weird Marriage – ReLoriMichelle

  11. I really loved this post so much I reblogged it on my blog, too. My first marriage was an unhappy marriage that ended in a devastating divorce. Oh how I wish I had had that advice when I was young and first married! I realize now that I married my first husband less for love and more for security. I expected the Christian stereotype husband and Hollywood movie romance…instead I got a singular individual that I failed to love well because he didn’t match up to my preconceived ideas. He did the same to me…expected me to be some kind of bizarre mix of the stereotype Christian wife, a porn star, and his mother!!

    I’m not supposing that had we had this advice that our outcome might have been different. Divorce was probably inevitable in our case. But, maybe we could have learned how to accept, appreciate, and possibly even love the actual person we were married to if we had looked hard enough at the person “sitting across the table or sleeping in our bed.” Excellent advice.

    I am now in my second marriage, and I am so totally in love with the singular individual I am married to because I never looked at him through the lens of stereotype or expectation, but just simply at his authentic self. He is so beautifully weird and I wouldn’t want him to change a thing!

  12. “You’re married to a man, or a woman; a completely original human being whose idiosyncrasies, gifts, needs, and desires are as decidedly once-in-history as they are”

    I love this line in particular because it puts forth the idea that (shock horror) we are all individuals and no two people are the same.

    I’ve not been married to my husband for very long but we often joke about how weird we are. However, both of us embrace the weirdness rather than trying to change one another.

    Glad to hear you haven’t stopped blogging John. I haven’t been around much myself since New Year because I ended up in hospital the weekend before last.

    Thank you for this.

  13. “You’re married to a man, or a woman; a completely original human being whose idiosyncrasies, gifts, needs, and desires are as decidedly once-in-history as they are”

    I love this line in particular because it reminds me that (shock horror) we are all individuals.

    I’ve not been married to my husband for very long but we’ve known each other for over 4 years in total. I know he was weird before we got together but we embrace the weirdness in each other. Although there are traits that we don’t necessarily appreciate in each other, neither of us would ever think of trying to change the other person. As my husband said “If you changed, you wouldn’t be the woman I fell in love with”.

    Glad to hear you haven’t stopped blogging John. I’ve not visited your site since New Year mainly because I’ve been in hospital.

    Thanks for another inspiring article and here’s to many more!

  14. Either the Bible is true or it is not. If it is, then we must love one another and esteem others more highly than we do ourselves. This love, true love, means being strong enough to risk the destruction of an earthly relationship to speak to an issue that has eternal consequences. Real love does not allow someone to walk in sin, knowing that sin separates us from God.

    • “Either the Bible is true or it is not.”

      That’s not really engaging with any of this conversation meaningfully, and it certainly doesn’t address the nuances and intricasies of Scripture.

      Leviticus 20:9-10:

      Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head.
      If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.

      Are those statements “true” or are they “not true”, Alan? What is the context of the verses? What is the cultural influence on them? What group of people are they addressing, what type of writing are they, and are they literally binding now for Bible-believers?

      I think we need to do better at dealing with the complexities of life and the Bible than saying, “The Bible is true or it isn’t”.

      • “Nuances and intricacies”…interesting. The statements are true for those living under the law. Not very intricate. It seems fairly straight forward. If we are to believe that culture influences or shapes truth, then we throw out those parts of the Bible our culture finds disagreeable or outdated. I don’t want to do that. Instead, let’s accept God’s word as the only truth and show people His love.

        • “…God’s word as the only truth”

          Whose interpretation? Who gets to be the last word on context, content, intent, meaning and application of the words of Scripture? (Strangely it is almost always oneself).

          “If we are to believe that culture influences or shapes truth, then we throw out those parts of the Bible our culture finds disagreeable or outdated. I don’t want to do that.”

          Leviticus 20:9-10:
          9 “‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head.
          10 “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.

          Good luck not throwing out such “parts of the Bible our culture finds disagreeable or outdated”. I’ll send you all my disrespectful teens and unfaithful spouses.

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