marriages begin so prettily
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Beatriz Pérez Moya.)
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Recently, I showed you how evangelical leaders teach men to pick perfect wives. That’s only part of the equation of a lifelong marriage, of course. The other half involves divorce-proofing their marriages. Evangelicals in general absorb all kinds of bad advice about relationships, but today I want to show you what the men learn about leading happy marriages — and why.

marriages begin so prettily
(Beatriz Pérez Moya.) Precariously balanced but staged very prettily. Hmm.. there’s a metaphor in here somewhere.

Stacking the Odds.

“[A]ll the women who are still available seem to be holding out for some superspiritual guy who wants to be an overseas missionary in a Third World country, and whom they feel some kind of amazing ‘click’ or ‘chemistry’ with.”

— one of A.J. Kiesling’s male respondents

Most evangelical men seem to deeply distrust the women in their tribe — and women overall, really. And thus, they deeply distrust marriage to women. In her book Where Have All the Good Men Gone, author A.J. Kiesling alights on the very barest tip of the distrust iceberg lurking under those belligerent waters.

When I read between the lines of what the few men in her study told her, I see men who feel disgruntled and irritated — if not outright angered — by what they perceive as legions of women making unreasonable demands of them, refusing to follow the fundagelical script, and behaving in capricious, childish ways to boot. But it’s all very consistent with what I’ve seen evangelical men talking about in their own semi-private spaces.

In response to this perceived lack of follow-through in their tribe’s womenfolk, evangelical men have evolved countering tactics. They think they can better ensure long-lasting, happy marriages through these tactics. The tactics involve not just mate selection, but advice carrying through to the days of marriage itself.

They’re flat-out wrong, alas. The problem isn’t so much the women they’re marrying as the paradigm of marriage they’re operating under in the first place. But I’m just relaying what their thought processes are. 

Ensuring a Long, Happy Marriage Through Ignorance.

First and foremost, many evangelical men think they must marry virgins in order to cultivate long, happy marriages. When I lurked their spaces, I heard them refer frequently to one study — to the point where they didn’t even bother naming it directly anymore and just assumed everybody there knew about it. This reference turned out to be a 2018 study by  Nicholas Wolfinger. He found that the more sexual partners women had before marriage, the less happy their marriages were.

Men faced a similar problem, Wolfinger found, but their own marital risks were nowhere near as marked. Of course, the men in these evangelical spaces never talked about the male end of that equation. In addition, Wolfinger also found that religious couples’ marriages tended to be happier, as well as those of college-educated and middle-class-or-higher couples.

But the men I heard discussing this study only focused on the female virginity end of it. And oh boy, they focused very closely indeed on that. They’d been talking like that for years, and this study seemed to be the answer to their prayers for confirmation of that myth.

Of course, that Atlantic piece lists a whole bunch of potential dealbreaking criticisms of Wolfinger’s study. The primary one comes from a sociologist who notes, “you could have a lot of sexual partners not because you’re good at sex, but because you’re bad at relationships.” However, evangelical men have gotten very used to blaming women and seeing women’s sexuality as an evil that must be corralled and tamed for their own and society’s greater good.

So they’ve latched onto that study as PROOF YES PROOF that evangelical marriage rules totally work and should be imposed on all marriages.

Control of Women Is “Key!”

The Guy’s Guide to Marrying Well carries through this reasoning. The booklet, put out by Boundless (a subgroup under the hard-right bigotry-for-Jesus club Focus on the Family), was designed to teach evangelical men how to marriage the Jesus way.

One of its essays (p. 38) is called “Accountability is Key.” The essay’s author, Scott Croft, complains that young women today aren’t nearly as well-corralled and tamed by their daddies as they used to be:

In this day and age, however, the hard fact is that many single Christian women today have fathers who are not involved in their lives at all, are not believers, or are indifferent to or unaware of the notion of protecting and shepherding their daughters and potential suitors in a dating context.

Oh the HUMANITY!

Croft suggests, in the sad and lamentable absence of super-controlling fathers in women’s lives, that single evangelical men attach their dating relationships to older married evangelical couples. He claims, without evidence of course, that this move will impose “accountability” on a dating couple. (Evangelicals love this word.) It’s quite clear, however, that the single women are, in Croft’s mind, the ones in need of that quality. He’s so certain of that point that he tells young men to “insist” on this move.

At no point does Croft discuss how that older couple will provide “accountability” to young women, nor any dangers involved in over-sharing one’s private business to anyone belonging to a group noted for its propensity for gossip.

Unsurprisingly, Croft’s just one of the talking heads associated with Focus on the Family, with no qualifications I can discern for advising any people about their marriages.

Keeping Wives’ Resentment at a Simmer.

Evangelical men’s sites contain no shortage for their readers regarding their marriages. It’s all awful.

In general, the advice evangelical men accept tends to focus on transactions and gestures instead of actual compassion and mutuality in relationships.

One woman writing for The Good Men Project (a site subtly but completely leaned toward evangelical bro-dudes) tells her male readers to do chores around the house. This is very common advice — Biff got it too, long ago. But she doesn’t tell them to do chores because it’s just the right thing to do because evangelical men are adults sharing a home with another adult and that’s how adults handle chores because they respect each other and don’t want to abuse that other person’s trust or take advantage of them.

Instead, she tells evangelical men to do chores because it’ll make their wives happier if they do. This advice has nothing to do with “compassion, kindness, nurture,” which she incorrectly asserts. Instead, it’s about mitigating evangelical wives’ simmering resentment over unfairness and disrespect.

Notably, she even hints in the post that she’s had to seriously lower her expectations for cleanliness — probably because “the Hub” doesn’t do anywhere near his share of the work:

Some days the chores get finished; some days they do not. The house will not always be clean. And at the end of any day it doesn’t matter if we have spotless floors or sparkling tubs. What matters is that we loved.

No. What matters is that both partners show respect and fairness to each other.

But you won’t find that advice here.

Jesus-ing Super Hard Ensures Happy Marriages, Totally, Too.

I left the obvious advice for last. Yes, obviously, evangelical men think that Jesus-ing super hard will keep the marital flames burning bright. One evangelical site begins its own advice listicle with Jesus-ing:

1) Every night, no matter how tough it is, pray together. Prayer is one of the most powerful things you can do for your marriage; God uses it to draw the two of you together with Him. If neither of you know what to say, start with something simple like “God, help us… we’re lost… we need You, show us the way.”

He ends his listicle with demands for prayer, too. (Unfortunately, the ceiling won’t care either way about anything evangelicals have to say to it.) His entire list functions as an admonition to evangelical men to Jesus their li’l hearts out constantly, with references to Jesus-ing all through the listicle. One example:

15) Get your priorities right. God is your first priority and should be the source of your life, not your spouse. Your spouse is never meant to provide all of your emotional and spiritual needs. Each of you should spend time alone with the Lord, every day. Your second priority is your spouse.

Care about your fandom first, men, dammit! Always the fandom first! And your fandom’s leaders aren’t saying that because they benefit directly from this prioritization. Nope. They really totally mean it. Put your spouse second, and your marriage will be totes happy forevah.

If you’re wondering, this listicle writer recasts marital sex as a battleground for demons:

16) Have sex. Satan does everything he can to get you in bed before marriage; he fights to keep you away from it afterwards. Sex bonds a couple together.

Wouldn’t you love to be on the receiving end of that burst of illogic? I know I would. SEX-EH! Ugh. I’m glad Biff never seems to have gotten that advice, cuz he’d have used it on me for sure.

But he got literally everything else on this listicle, as do millions of evangelical men today.

What Doesn’t Keep Marriages Alive.

Evangelical men get told everything under the sun about keeping romance alive, about nice gestures, about date nights, about occasional housework, about the disturbingly transactional communication styles evangelicals practice.

However, all of their advice leaves out one very, very important piece of the marriage puzzle:

Respect and fairness. Human decency.

Love is a flame that keeps the bed warm and the eyes sparkling. But it can be doused all too easily through disrespect and poor treatment. Respect and fairness keep that flame alive.

Occasional stabs at minimal housework and talking to the ceiling together do not function as an adequate substitute for these qualities. They won’t keep love alive.

(Nor will anything on this other list of inadequate substitutes. Also, this Christian wrote a good piece about his tribe’s tendency to reach for easy substitutes over doing difficult work they don’t wanna do.)

And evangelicals’ divorce rates show us exactly how poorly their substitutes work.

The Substitutes for Human Decency.

Mention every person’s urgent need for respect and fairness, and evangelical men have no idea how to respond or what to say besides a general snarled explosion of anger about straw feminism. These men try to follow the terrible advice they’ve accepted about making their wives happy to keep them in the marriage, and gosh, none of it works! That’s not their fault! Their wives are being completely unreasonable and mean, probably because of feminism!

They DID DISHES, what else does she want? They TOOK HER OUT LAST FRIDAY, why is she still mad? Jeez, they even GAVE HER FLOWERS and she still won’t screw them. What more can she ask?!? They ARE respectful! THAT’S respect, as they define it! She’s being so UNFAIR!

In the end, it’s way easier for evangelical men to make substitute gestures than to be genuinely respectful and fair toward their wives. That’s all they are willing to do, and so that’s the advice they accept.

Evangelical men’s entire religion involves substituting easy, brief busy-work for being truly decent human beings, all so they can revel in their divinely-mandated male supremacy.

Really, why should anything change once they marry?

NEXT UP: When all that marital advice goes hideously wrong, evangelical men look to fiction to repair the damage. And I’m not just talking about the Bible. See you tomorrow!


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Last note: I cringe when evangelical women use nicknames like “the Hub” to refer to their husbands, as that one writer did. Nicknames like that just sound so disrespectful and condescending to me, like a subtle dig to get a bit of their own back. It’s hard to imagine any man liking being called stuff like that. Maybe outside of evangelicalism, such nicknames are fine. I guess knowing what I do about the sheer misery and constant power-struggles in most evangelical marriages, I’m hard-pressed to see them as completely innocent and lighthearted when they come from evangelical women.

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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,...