Reading Real Marriage, Chapter 2: Friends with Acronyms

This post is the second in a series in which I’ll review Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book Real Marriage though a complementarian lens. I myself do not believe that complementarianism is a morally or theologically sound view; but my church does, and it recently hosted Driscoll’s Real Marriage conference. In a recent conversation with my pastor, he said that he believes that Pastor Driscoll’s theology aligns well with our church’s beliefs; so I am trying set aside my own egalitarian beliefs and read Real Marriage in light of what I know my church’s soft-complementarian teachings on gender to be, and to try to understand what Driscoll — and by extension, my church — is teaching about marriage, and whether those views are ones that I can live with in a church. Previous posts: Chapter 1

This second chapter, entitled “Friends with Benefits” (because heaven forbid Mark should miss an opportunity to remind the reader that being married means having lots of sex), is on the whole less angry-making than the first chapter was. In it, Mark makes the point that friendship is a foundational part of a marriage relationship, and so discussions of marriage from a Biblical standpoint should not only look at the Bible verses about marriage, but “they should also examine the mountain of Bible verses about friendship because those apply to the most vital human friendship of all with our very best friend, our spouse. The Bible itself weds marriage and friendship. A wife* in Song of Songs says, ‘This is my beloved, and this is my friend’ (5:16)” (25-26).

(*I wasn’t under the impression that Song of Songs actually specifies that the couple is married; can anyone who knows better weigh in on this for me?)

So, okay, I’m with him on this (inasmuch as I think think that the best way to understand the “biblical perspective” on a given topic is to use a cross-reference to look up all the verses about that topic; I rather think that learning the core concepts of the Gospel — loving your neighbor, doing unto others, uplifting the humble and caring for the oppressed, etc., and the trajectory of scripture as moving from strict Law toward ever increasing mercy, grace, and justice — and then studying in light of those concepts is a more useful way to gain a truly “biblical perspective” about life. But I take his point: studying marriage involves studying friendship).

Mark starts the chapter by using as an example the marriage of Martin Luther and Katherine von Bora Luther, who was one of the nuns that Martin Luther helped to escape from a Benedictine cloister. Driscoll writes that “their marriage did not start with love or attraction, as Katherine was not physically attractive” (21), which struck me as a particularly chauvinistic statement — of course Martin wasn’t attracted to her, because she wasn’t objectively attractive, and therefore they couldn’t have been in love; but he goes on to describe all the ways in which they were loving companions to each other throughout their marriage, and the tenderness that he displayed toward her in the last years of his life, and it’s all very sweet, actually. Maybe Mark will continue along these lines….

Nope! Next he goes on to cite statistics that wives and husbands are way more satisfied with the quality of their sex lives when the quality of their friendship is good. See, it’s not really about friendship after all, it’s still about sex.

Mark and Grace Driscoll
Mark and Grace Driscoll

Also, friendship is an important part of marriage because it is “a safeguard against emotional adultery,” which Mark defines as “having as your close friend someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse” (25). This is literally the only thing he says about this concept (I checked the index – yep, that’s it!), leaving the impression that a close friendship between members of the opposite sex is so obviously sinful and adulterous that he doesn’t even need to address it any further. But it’s one of those things I’m having a hard time parsing. Is he saying that being close friends with someone of the opposite sex will inevitably lead to “real” adultery, the physical kind? That being friends with someone is a violation of your spouse’s trust? That men and women simply cannot be friends without romantic feelings developing? That being close friends with someone is the emotional equivalent of getting naked and bumping genitals? Why does this apply only to opposite-sex friendships and not to same-sex ones? Couldn’t I be emotionally cheating on my spouse just as effectively by having a close emotional friendship with another woman? Why is it the genders of the individuals that are important in determining whether emotional adultery is taking place, and not the degree of emotional entanglement?

Also, here is a quote, emphasis mine:

Marital friendship requires both the husband and wife to be willing to invest what it takes to be a good friend. Friendship is costly in everything — time, energy, emotion, and sometimes money. Those who want their spouses to be friends without seeking to be good friends in return are selfish and demanding. And those who want to be good friends but do not help their spouses reciprocate are prone to be taken advantage of, abused, neglected, and suffer from their marriages. (26-27)

Yes, he really did just explicitly say that people who don’t “help their spouses reciprocate” (what does that even mean?? Mark doesn’t bother to explain) are drawing down abuse on themselves. This is transparent victim-blaming, and it’s gross. Shame on you, Mark Driscoll.

Mark goes on to write using a gimmick that I’m guessing he uses all the time in his sermons, saying, “As a fun way to look at the issue, here’s what we believe it means to be married F-R-I-E-N-D-S” (27). I’ll run through his acronym:

– Fruitful: “The goal, center, and purpose of marriage is not self, spouse, or cildren. The ultimate goal of marriage is and family is the glory of God” (28). He says that in a good marriage, your partner should be “a wise friend used of God to make you more fruitful,” and vice versa. He also says something that made me go WTF?: “It was God Himself who not only created marriage, but also commanded that it ‘be fruitful.’ This explains why Satan did not even show up until Adam and Eve were married” (28). Wait, what?

R – Reciprocal: He includes a list of ways spouses can do things for each other (“She leaves encouraging notes with my keys or on my car steering wheel in the mornings,” “He lovingly makes me coffee every single morning,” that sort of thing). He also criticizes the language people use of “falling in/out of love” — “In using the language of ‘falling,’ they are cleverly avoiding any responsibility [in abandoning one’s spouse or committing adultery], as if they were simply required to follow their hearts. but the Bible tells us not to follow our hearts, but rather ‘guard’ them because they are prone to selfishness and sin” (29-30). He goes on to say,

According to the Bible, love does not come from our hearts, but rather through our hearts. This is because “God is love,” and in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we receive God’s love to share with others. It is through the presence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives that we are able to love our spouses. (30)

This must be why non-Christians don’t love their spouses, and why the divorce rate for Christians is so much lower than that of non-Christians, you guys!

Also: one of the examples of spouses reciprocating is a husband who insists on kissing his wife good-bye, even if she doesn’t want to (because she’s running late) and is trying to avoid him; “he will stand in front of my car, and climb in to make sure he does [kiss me]” (31). Because a good model for married love is ignoring your spouse’s protests and overriding their lack of consent so you can get physical with them anyway!

I – Intimate: Mark explains that there are three types of marriages: back-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder, and face-to-face. “A back-to-back marriage is one in which the couple has turned their backs on each other. As a result, they live separately and do not work together (shoulder-to-shoulder) or draw each other out in friendship (face-to-face). … A shoulder-to-shoulder marriage is one in which the couple works together on tasks and projects…. A face-to-face marriage is one in which, in addition to the shoulder-to-shoulder work, the couple gets a lot of face-to-face time for conversation, friendship, and intimacy” (32).

Makes sense so far. Then he goes on to say that women’s friendships are usually face-to-face and built around intimate conversation, and men’s friendships are usually shoulder-to-shoulder as they bond over a shared activity (at least he said “usually”…). So his advice is that a wife needs to learn to spend time in shared activity with her husband in order to build a good friendship with him; and a husband needs to learn to have deeper and more intimate conversations to be a good friend to his wife. “For her, intimacy means ‘into-me-see,’ which means she wants to know her husband and be known by him” (33). I don’t have a problem with this advice, besides the pervasive gender essentialism, I just wanted to highlight this sentence because “into-me-see” made me roll my eyes so hard they fell out of my face.

E – Enjoyable: Mark says that an important part of friendship is enjoying each other, which, duh? He also says a good spouse should be “someone who knows how to have a good time, relax, go on an adventure, or just toss it all to the side for a holy diversion” (35): spouses with anxiety disorders or depression or who find spontaneity difficult need not apply!

N – Needed: Mark discusses how in the beginning, God as “one God in three persons living in unbroken union and eternal communion” created man and saw that it was not good for him to be alone, so God’s solution was “a friendship in the covenant of marriage.”

Curiously, God made the woman from a rib taken out of the man’s side. Perhaps this was because she belongs at his side as an intimate equal and not in front of him as feminism would teach or behind him as chauvinism would teach. (37)


Also, ladies need to be needed: “A man needs his wife as his companion and friend. And a wife needs to be helpful by God’s design. The more his need for her and her need to help him are celebrated as gifts from God, the faster oneness and friendship blossom in the marriage” (38). A man needs to have a helpful companion, and woman needs to be a helpful companion! Women don’t actually need anything from their husbands; we just live to serve! (Is it too soon to facepalm again?)

D – Devoted: This acronym is starting to get away from Mark here; he’s basically rehashing points he made already. Sticking together, give and take, yada yada.

S – Sanctifying: “We truly do not know how selfish and sinful we are until we live with someone in marriage. Most of our dating is spent pretending to be people we are not, and after a few years of marriage, our spouses start to discover who we truly are rather than the characters we have been acting like” (40). Mark, you are not making a very good argument against cohabitation here!

Mark says that a good spouse needs to lovingly call us out on our bullshit (I’m paraphrasing a little), because this kind of honesty helps us grow. Which, you know what? I agree with him on this, too. Weird.


There are some weird, seemingly contradictory bits laced throughout this chapter in reference to complementarianism and the leadership/submission model Mark endorses, but since I’m trying to avoid going into that right now, I’m going to keep collecting these bits and examine them in a future post.

Other than that – that’s it for Chapter 2, which was relatively painless. I’m sure Chapter 3, “Men and Marriage,” will be just as easy to get through! Right? …Right??


One thought on “Reading Real Marriage, Chapter 2: Friends with Acronyms

  1. Loved this and love your site. I’m excited to read more of your reviews on this book. It’s very insightful and I’m so impressed you can look at through the lens of complementarianism, I’m also egalitarian. Loved the line “I rolled my eyes so hard they fell out of my face”, I may have to steal it… kidding, I’ll totally link it back to here bc this article is great!

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