evangelical husbands and wives might as well be here
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Alex Iby.) I can relate.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! As we finish up Love Month, it seems fitting we end here. Evangelical men get taught completely impractical rules for marriage, and then — once everything goes completely pear-shaped — take disastrous advice to fix their ruined relationships. Today, let me show you some of that disastrous advice, why it absolutely doesn’t work, and what evangelical husbands do as a result.

evangelical husbands and wives might as well be here
(Alex Iby.) Long ago, I could certainly relate.

(I don’t use scare quotes without warning you. All quoted material comes from cited sources.)

No, It Is the Wives Who Are Wrong.

One men’s site, The Good Men Project, caught my eye a while ago with this headline:

Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are?

The site’s editors provided the post under that headline. And as with most headlines that take the form of questions, the post’s answer was no, and their wives are big ole meaniepies. Of course. This site’s readers believe two things above all when it comes to marriage:

  1. Their rules totally and completely work to create happy, lasting marriages.
  2. For some wacky reason, their wives just refuse to follow those rules, which causes all their marital problems.

The post begins with a refrain that the site’s editors say they heard “over and over again” in various forms:

“I want to have a good marriage. I love my wife. But sometimes, all I feel is resentment—from my wife, toward my wife, toward the marriage. I believe my wife thinks I am an asshole, and she treats me as such.”

And I was hit with this major sense of having seen these complaints many times before, somewhere else.

That’s because I absolutely had.

Dogwhistles Galore.

Interestingly, the post I mentioned above doesn’t ever specifically mention religion at all, much less evangelicalism. That’s normal these days. Evangelical-leaning writers tend to keep their religiosity on the down-low. We’re a bit past the days of outright posturing and direct virtue signaling.

Now it’s all dogwhistles and reading between the lines.

If I had to put The Good Men Project in a category, it’d be evangelical lite. It’s not quite as hard-right culture-warrior-ish as, say, Al Mohler’s blog, but it’s definitely aimed toward conservative Christian men.

As such, it’s completely authoritarian in nature. Nothing it contains makes sense outside of that context.

What this site’s editors actually say about marriage, moreover, is pure evangelicalism.

The Misery of Evangelical Husbands.

This post describes how authoritarian Christian husbands usually handle their marriages — and indeed, their whole lives. From the writers’ tacit approval of men outrageously abusing their employees to “get shit done” to their complaints about constant power struggles between spouses to their enormous self-pity, nothing here would be out of place or surprising to hear in any evangelical church’s gossip mill. Add in the requisite Jesus-es per paragraph (JPP) to the post, and it’d fit perfectly with any of the links in that previous sentence.

The editors of The Good Man Project declare:

Men and women both hope that their spouse will suddenly turn into the magic mind-reader, someone who will wake up and “get” the anger and disconnection that they are feeling.

Hm. How odd. Somehow, Jesus isn’t helping evangelical husbands or their marriages!

Of course, nobody involved can accept the obvious truth about why these men’s marriages are so completely miserable. But that doesn’t stop them from trying to fix their unhappy marriages with tribe-approved tactics.

Just Like Fireproof!

Modern Christian Men runs a podcast that often tackles subjects related to marriage. A few years ago, they featured a guy claiming to have experienced “the Fireproof Movie in Real-Life!”

For those who didn’t catch itFireproof tells the story of a troubled, supposedly-atheist couple. For some weird reason, they behave exactly like evangelical couples do. The husband is a selfish, arrogant, narcissistic, controlling, entitled git. Worse, he constantly hovers on the edge of spousal abuse. Unsurprisingly, his wife initiates divorce proceedings.

Then, the husband receives a book called The Love Dare. The book recommends a series of 40ish busy-work exercises to heal troubled marriages. Though he’s quite skeptical, the husband starts performing these exercises.

Amazingly, the husband’s minimal efforts pay off. Also, he converts to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. (The book insists that its suggestions won’t work if he doesn’t.) Naturally, the moviemakers, who wrote the book, attribute the husband’s changes to his conversion. Also naturally, his newly-reconciled totally-an-atheist wife also converts at the end.

Evangelicals erroneously think these fictional stories reflect reality. Thus, Fireproof depicts a fictional husband doing the The Love Dare and it saves his marriage.

That must mean that the book’s suggestions work in reality too.

But they don’t.

Here Comes the Jesus Juke.

In this podcast, an evangelical man, Aaron, compares his relationship to the one in Fireproof. Around the 8:40 mark, Aaron reveals that a friend of his recast his wife’s threatened divorce as “a battle between good and evil.”

And this battle had to be fought by Jesus-ing harder than he’d ever Jesus-ed before in his life.

Now, until Aaron’s friend told him to think about his marriage problems in terms of invisible boogeymen fighting invisible battles, it hadn’t even occurred to Aaron, a lifelong evangelical Christian, to consider things in that light.

That’s because nothing going on in Aaron’s marriage was actually supernatural imaginary in nature. It was all just people doing people-things. Specifically, it was him or both spouses operating under really awful marriage rules that don’t work and then being astonished and upset when the marriage started suffering as a result.

The host and Aaron spend some time discussing how selfishness kinda runs all through the psychological makeup of evangelical husbands and apparently that’s all because of demons.

In fact, at 16:20, Aaron insists that there is no way whatsoever that he could have achieved these changes without Jesus Power. Now he’s totally proud of considering his imaginary friend Jesus the top priority in his life, with his wife as second fiddle.

(I’ll just note here that I know tons of non-Christian men who are amazingly kind and goodhearted. Somehow, it’s only evangelical husbands who need magical Jesus help to be decent human beings. Weird, isn’t it?)

So yes, of course Aaron didn’t reach immediately for imaginary explanations. His friend had to Jesus juke him into the idea. Then, because this idea kept Aaron’s authoritarian paradigms intact, he latched onto it.

Fixing Everything Through Jesus-ing Harder.

Having gotten Aaron on board, this wonderful friend told him to think very hard at the ceiling to fix his marriage.

And oh, Aaron did!

In the podcast, Aaron also explicitly compares his marriage to the fictional one in the movie, saying his marriage suffered the same exact problems. That is not a glowing recommendation of evangelicalism generally.

In fact, nothing whatsoever about this podcast makes evangelicalism sound even remotely appealing. Or viable.

So Aaron began following his tribe’s prescribed suggestion of Jesus-ing harder. ZOMG! Magical Jesus marriage healing ensued! All those problems got fixed! Now his wife loves it when he jets off to go play games with his pals!

Oh, sure, sometimes Aaron still finds himself behaving in very selfish ways toward his wife. He declares that he’s not “perfect, only saved.” But these incidents never “cause issues,” unless they do. And gosh y’all, he’s at least halfway improved from when his marriage almost failed. He only needs to be regularly “snapped back,” as he repeatedly puts it, by his wife. (I wonder how much his wife likes having to remind him to be a decent human being toward her?)

The host considers this bizarre, steadily-escalating trickle-truth admission a total testament to the veracity of evangelical Christianity — even a selling point for potential soulwinners.

But it isn’t.

That’s because Jesus-ing doesn’t work. It really, really doesn’t. IF this guy’s marriage is doing better now, and that’s a big huge side-eyed IF because we know evangelicals lie freely in their testimonies, then we know this: his Jesus-ing umbrella did not land that bear.

And All the Other Stuff Husbands Try.

But wait, there’s more!

One evangelical man advises his peers about how to obtain more sex from their wives. For decades, evangelical leaders have taught that a married couple’s sex life reflects the quality of their relationship in general (and maybe even the state of their souls). As a result, much relationship-repair advice aimed at evangelical husbands centers around them getting more sex.

This guy offers the same advice that has not been working for evangelical men since I was married to one 25 years ago. To paraphrase (with quotes from the original):

  • Hug and kiss your wife more often. “This will go far. Trust me.” Except it doesn’t. Evangelical men aren’t subtle about why they’re showing affection. When hugs and kisses come out of the clear blue sky and are inevitably followed by demands for sex, certain associations tend to get formed in the mind. Once the sex is rejected, the gestures vanish, never to be seen again.
  • Try to initiate sex earlier in the evening so your wife isn’t too tired. “Guys, you might have to get on her schedule.” He says nothing about reducing her unfair workload permanently or even for that night.
  • Pay attention to your wife’s unspoken signals to know if she’s upset. Then, “run towards resolution and get in the sack.” I died inside reading that. If evangelical men could do any of that, I mean if they even really wanted to do any of that, they wouldn’t be evangelicals in the first place.
  • Initiate sex more often but not by looking at PORN, you beast. “You lead. You initiate. And when she does initiate, never turn her down.” Yeah, that’ll happen.

Yep, Biff tried all of this.

So did all of the evangelical men I ever knew.

None found success.

Why This Bad Advice Doesn’t Work.

What’s especially sad about the situation is that some of these men can see something better. Unfortunately, their system simply won’t get them there. Evangelicalism functions like an inaccurate roadmap. It cannot get evangelical husbands from Point A to Point Great Marriage.

But these husbands don’t ever come face to face with that reality.

Evangelical husbands accept and practice these unworkable non-solutions in the place of reducing the levels of control-lust, disrespect, and unfairness in their marriages. These suggestions take the place of becoming genuinely better human beings. They substitute for real self-improvement.

If their substitute efforts don’t reconcile their wives and their marriage ends, they will blame their wives and insist up and down that they tried super-hard to fix things. In all cases, their peers will agree 100% with them.

And Why It’s Harder Than It Seems.

What I’ve described is the stuff evangelical men do so they don’t have to lose their perceived unilateral, ultimate power in the relationship. The actual conflicts in the marriage likely come from that exact power struggle. Unfortunately, evangelical men are flat-out terrified of opting out of the fight.

In evangelicals’ world, moving away from authoritarianism isn’t nearly as cut-and-dried as it seems.

To a large extent, such self-improvement will impact that man’s relationship not just with his spouse, but with his greater community of fellow evangelicals. Authoritarians view any softening of authoritarianism as an admission of weakness — and an invitation to seize control of that person.

Oh, I mean, these evangelical husbands want a good marriage. Of course they do.

They just don’t want it enough to reject the message they’ve internalized. The message must remain perfect, and so the only advice evangelical husbands accept involves trying to conform better to the message. After all, it’ll long outlast the marriage itself, one way or the other.

I guess what I’m saying is:

Don’t look for evangelicals’ divorce rates to change overmuch in coming years. I think it’s only going to get worse as evangelical husbands drill down harder on authoritarianism.

NEXT UP: Oh yay, another right-wing Christian site has given TRUE CHRISTIANS™ a blank permission slip to hammer us heathens with recruitment attempts. We’ll check it out tomorrow — see you then!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...