Down the rabbit hole of über-Christian marriage advice: Do I really have to be spiritual to have a strong connection to my partner?

Guest post by Zoë
Etsy seller CosmicLibrary says, “This unusual book has a wonderfully skewed view on love and matrimony – it was authored by a reverend well over 100 years ago.”

Wedding porn is fun. I like it. But it’s everywhere, and you know what I crave more of? Marriage advice. I want to read inspiring things about how to have a happy relationship.

Relationships are something I’m interested in, and I like to think about mine. And it makes me feel appreciative of my partner. But, come to find out, a lot of marriage and relationship advice is religious — which is one thing I am not.

I started a Pinterest board called “Marriage” to accompany my wedding board (okay, boards, but who’s counting?). In my quest, I found The Happy Wives Club. I bought her book. I happily read stories about couples who had been married for decades and shared advice. I basked in the positive view of marriage, since so often the cultural narrative is like “Yeah, it’s the ball and chain, you’re going to be miserable!” And then she got down to distilling her principles for a happy marriage, and ends up saying “I’ve never met an atheist with a happy personal life.” Essentially, you have to be (a certain kind of) Christian to have a happy marriage. Ouch.

I also found this wedding magazine called Inspire Weddings and Marriage. It’s the only wedding magazine I’ve found that also covers the marriage after the party. I think it must be a Southern thing, and I couldn’t find their website, just an outdated Facebook page, but it’s FULL of content and gives advice on how to have a happy marriage, too, which I love. The one problem I have with it is that it’s exceedingly religious. Like it contains Bible quotes instead of ads, casual references to the “Christ-centered” marriage, and stories of couples who “courted” instead of dating. Unlike Happy Wives Club, it doesn’t explicitly say that good marriages are reserved for Christians, but it’s hard not to get the message that The Way to have a happy marriage is by “focusing on Christ.”

Even the seemingly secular content has some sort of religious background. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts was interesting and I found it to be a helpful mental exercise. But guess what? The author is a pastor, and that reflects in at least some of his writing. A lot of similarly touted relationship books are the same.

And then there’s the SUPER-DUPER-ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN content that tells readers to abstain from sex until marriage and be a helpmate to one’s husband. I read that too. But I won’t get into it here.

My partner and I are atheists, so I feel a little confused when some of this stuff resonates with me. I’ve been reading it because I enjoy reading things that make me think about our relationship and how to keep it strong. But all of it is supposed to be “Christ-centered.” Do I really have to be a Christian or otherwise spiritual to have a strong connection to my partner? Do I have to pray to a deity in order to be a good wife and build up my husband? Should I convert in order to save my marriage!? (Okay, I’m exaggerating.)

I continue to read such things. I just tune out the bits I don’t like that are based on religion. So “submit to your husband” is reinterpreted as something like “trust your partner’s judgment.” Am I betraying my beliefs by continuing to read? Can I just ignore the central message of all this stuff?

Hopefully it’s obvious that I’m not judging those who are deeply Christian. That’s great. Obviously I find value in some of those messages, even if I don’t buy the underlying principle of God existing. Otherwise I wouldn’t get my relationship advice fix from those sources.

I understand that there is secular marriage advice, which is similar advice with the religion left out. And yes, atheism is lack of belief, so it makes sense that atheist marriage advice would just be marriage advice without religion. But I feel like there’s room for advice specific to non-religious folks. Like how to build community. Or where find married couple role models. Or how get free/cheap marriage counseling without going through a church.

Anyone know of atheist marriage books, blogs, etc? Any other thoughts about religion or the lack there-of and marriage advice?

Comments on Down the rabbit hole of über-Christian marriage advice: Do I really have to be spiritual to have a strong connection to my partner?

  1. Also late to the party! Atheist (and ex-Jew) marrying a lazy/agnostic Pagan (and fallen Catholic) just for the record.

    My favorite place to get advice on ANYTHING is Captain Awkward. There’s over 600 questions answered so far, with multiple tags and categories, including Relationships. One of the bonding activities Fiance and I do together is sit in bed and read the questions together. http://captainawkward.com/category/relationships/

  2. Count me as another happy atheist. I haven’t seen any popular explicit atheist/secular marriage advice, but I’ve encountered a lot of useful advice in passing, like in comment sections of atheist and skeptic blogs.

    I have found Captain Awkward (captainawkward.com) to be a great resource for building a strong marriage, or building strong, healthy relationships in general. (That’s kind of how I ended up here.) Since it’s an advice column, it’s to be expected.

    The most recent thing I read there was on setting up finances with a long term partner. The commenters there are also very helpful. One suggestion I thought was helpful was setting up a shared account and having a task list for bills to be paid monthly.

    Other topics I think are pertinent to making a strong marriage was setting boundaries like deciding who is contributing to the household and how much. There was an older post about how much time people wanted to spend with their partners. For some people, once a week is too much, and for others three times a week is not enough. There’s also discussions about managing relationships with in-laws, disability, family meetings/checking in, abusive relationships, sex-lives, etc. Of course not all the advice will apply to everyone, but there are a ton of different view points and ideas, that you’ll likely find something that works.

    In general, I’ve got to echo other commenters’ advice on communication. This doesn’t mean that you and your partner are completely honest about everything, but that you each make your wants/needs known and figure out how to get those met.

  3. I just stumbled upon this post and thought you might be interested in this: http://www.relatetoday.com its relationship advice, geared towards marriage or any committed relationship that is based on academic research with no religious influence. It uses academic research and machine learning to customize advice to you.

  4. That was an interesting read. What I believe is that we should have belief in God and religion but should not have blind faith. Its all in the thinking and ones perspective to think that in spirituality to have a strong connection to my partner.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! Glad to know I’m not the only one.

    I’m a non-religious newlywed and was experiencing a lot of the same things when looking for marriage advice. Like you, I want to read inspirational stories of happy couples, especially when I hear so many terrible stories, and hear so many people complaining about their relationships. I can’t relate to that. My husband and I are very happily married, and I definitely want it to stay that way, so I think it’s important to learn from others. But, I don’t need someone telling me to pray, submit to my husband, or that as an atheist I won’t have a happy marriage – what a terrible statement!

    My husband and I actually ended up starting a marriage blog of our own, sharing our own experiences. Even while researching for our own content, it’s so hard to find supporting information that doesn’t have a religious foundation. Hoping to find more blogs, books, and resources for people like us 🙂

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