According to a survey of Christian counselors, the three most common marriage counseling books they ask their clients to read and discuss have little to no Biblical principles. (Johnson, pg 190). In fact, one of these popular self-help books, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (aff link) by Dr. John Gray, is completely secular with no mention of God or Christianity. If we are going to learn from this book and others like it, we need to read them with a Christ-centered perspective.
This integration of secular and Christian should include an explanation of how the world views human relations, how Christians are to see human relations and marriage through a Biblical perspective, and what advice Christians can take from the secular perspective and use for the success of their marriages. With a simple change of perspective we can take books like these, separate the good from the bad, and learn something helpful from them.
Non-Christian society views humanity and its needs and desires through different eyes than those of a believer. Much popular advice begins with putting “self” first. American culture, especially, has a strong sense of entitlement. Something is good only as long as it does not hinder or change what “I deserve” or “what is best for me.” The focus is on the person, and because of this marriage self-help advice tends to promote taking care of our own needs first, instead of focusing on what is best for ours spouses.
Such simple things as “the right to watch TV”(Gray, pg 124) are framed in the context of entitlement, and that an individual can and should get angry or perturbed over not being allowed to fulfill themselves as they wish. However, the purpose of self-fulfillment, in the case of Men are from Mars is sought with the idea of meeting an individual’s personal needs first before attempting to meet the needs of another. “A Man becomes fully receptive to and appreciative of the [love] needed by women [after] his own primary needs are first fulfilled”(Gray, pg 134).
Dr. Gray gives his advice within the context of fairness. In fact, in Men are from Mars, Dr. John Gray creates a complex point-scoring system for men and women to better understand how to give equal amounts of love (197). Unfortunately, this foundation of self-gratification cannot heal relationships. A popular celebrity recently left her marriage because, “I love myself enough to walk away”(Radar). Although some of the advice found in these books is helpful in understanding how men and women think about relationships, a we must first understand their inherent self-centered approaches that do not reflect a Biblical worldview.
If we want to use popular marriage self-help books, we need to only use them with a clear understanding of how fallen people are. All husbands and wives need to understand how every human relationship, including marriage, is intrinsically broken. Humanity does not just make sinful choices; humanity is sinful in its very essence (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10-18). To say someone is human is to say there are corrupt and fallen and cannot have goodness apart from God’s grace (Romans 3:23, 5:12).
This changes our perspective on such things like rights, fairness, and holding oneself too highly. If the self is broken, then it makes no sense to build a marriage on the self. To have success in our marriages we have to build our foundations on Christ. As the marriage progresses the way a couple approaches their problems should not be to put their own needs first, but to mirror Christ. This means marriage relationships must not have an attitude of selfishness, but one of selflessness.
Christ’s act on the cross was one of pure sacrifice (John 15:13). When God calls Christians to marriage, He calls them to live in light of what God has done on the cross. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her”(NASB95). God also calls wives to “submit to” and “respect” their husbands. This means that spouses are not to live in such a way that they are keeping track of how many “points” their mate have scored before they can return the favor. Christ gave up everything for the good of His bride, the church, before the church ever gave up anything for Him. Spouses are to mirror this attitude by loving their spouses sacrificially.
Couples get to focus on grace instead of fairness because people are not entitled to anything. People do not deserve respect because they are “naturally good” but because God gave them worth when He made them in His image (Genesis 1:27, James 3:8-9) and because God loved people enough to give up His own son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16). This type of respect is the most valuable and long lasting.
Now with a clear understanding of the nature of secular marriage self helps, such as Men are from Mars, and an adequate perspective of how Christians should approach human relationships, we can use these books to supplement our marriage growth. Books like these are not a quick fix, even the Christian ones. Marriage problems often need help that “will require more time and patience than [the couple] is willing to give”(Hudson 58). But marriage also needs creative ideas (Hudson 36), and these popular books offer creative solution.
Men are from Mars’s main idea is that men and women are intrinsically different. They even “speak different languages”(Gray 59). This is an example of a valuable truth, explained by a secular psychologist, which can benefit a Christian marriage. God did not create people “male and male” but “male and female.” We can use any appropriate material that explains this difference to help us interact with our spouses in a more loving and nurturing way. But we also need to understand that the foundation of these self-helps is not going to be based on Christ. Scripture calls us to build our marriages on Christ, and although this is not the easiest or quickest foundation to build upon, it is by far the firmest (2 Timothy 2:19).
Want a good Christian-marriage book that already has its foundation in Christ? Try The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of Godby Timothy Keller or Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happyby Gary Thomas (aff links).
Gray, John. Ph.D. Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships. Ney York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992. Print.
Hudson, Lofton R. Marital Counseling. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963. Print.
Johnson, Brad. The Pastor’s Guide to Psychological Disorders and Treatments. New York, NY: Haworth Pastoral Press, 2000. Print.
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Eph 5:22–33.
Radar Staff. Jennifer Lopez. RadarOnline.com. Date Published: Aug 2, 2011, Date Accessed: Oct 1, 2011. <http://www.radaronline.com/exclusives/2011/08/jennifer-lopez-i- love-myself-enough-walk-away-marriage-now>.
Earth Pic by: WoodleyWonderWorks (Org. Nasa)