Real Marriage review: 207-22, "Reverse-Engineering Your Life and Marriage"

Well, folks, we finally did it. We managed to make it all the way through to the very bitter end of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage. Usually I’m excited about wrapping up one of these review series, but all I can manage to feel about finishing this one is … relief. I’m not entirely sure why reading Real Marriage was so much more draining than Fascinating Womanhood or Captivating, but it has been.

And, thankfully, the last chapter is mercifully brief. It’s not really a chapter so much as it is a homework assignment: pages 211 through 222 are a list of questions that the married couple reading this book are supposed to answer separately and then discuss.

The one thing that stood out to me about this chapter is how patronizing it is. Mark has been a lot of things through this book—a lying manipulative asshole, primarily—but his need to openly patronize women hasn’t been as glaringly obvious.

But then we get to stuff like this:

“During the vacation, I kept a legal-size yellow pad handy and started writing out a length homework assignment for Grace.”

A homework assignment. Right. If my partner came home from vacation and handed me a legal pad filled with the questions on 211-222, I’d shove it up his ass. Thankfully, my partner is a decent human being who respects me.

Honestly, most of the questions are fairly bland—like ones that talk about furniture and kitchen appliances– but some take on a super-special patriarchal flavor:

  • What church will you attend? Will it be a church with strong men leading so that the husband is motivated, engaged, and committed? (214)
  • Husbands, how will you wash her in the Word? (215)
  • What is your job? Will the wife be working? (215)
  • Who will be the primary caregiver of your child(ren)? (216)

It’s interesting that the whole list seems to be written entirely by Mark (the book has usually noted when an idea came from Grace or when she’s writing. Surprisingly, she’s participated less in Real Marriage than John Eldredge did in Captivating), and the whole thing is targeted toward men. It’s not specifically any one question that makes me think that as much as how most of the questions are phrased. If any of you have access to this chapter and had a different thought, I’d appreciate another perspective on that. But it struck me as odd that questions like “Husbands, how will you wash her in the Word?” had no feminine-gendered counterpart.

Another thing to note is the classism that’s been hinted at in other places but came out of the woodwork this week. I haven’t really commented on it before because I spent so much time focusing on the classism and white supremacy happening in Captivating, but there’s a heavy dose of it here:

Quarterly—go for a romantic and fun overnight getaway together …
Annually—if finances allow, take a planned vacation that you are both excited about. (213)

List all of the things you can hand off to someone else (for example, ordering groceries online and having them delivered, mowing your lawn, doing your taxes, running errands, outsourcing dry cleaning and ironing …) (222)

I don’t know about you but “romantic and fun overnight getaways” four times a year is beyond ridiculous, and I’m a solidly middle-class white person. Between the price of gas, dinner, hotel, and traveling food, around where I live that’s a minimum of $300. I’m sorry, but doing that every couple of months isn’t something we can afford, and I don’t think people who aren’t drawing down the income of an extremely wealthy mega-church pastor can do that, either.

And that other bit about “handing off” things? Have you ever looked up what it costs to have groceries delivered to your house? Or what it would cost to have someone do all of your laundry? He’s practically talking about hiring a maid and it just boggles me because he’s not meeting his readers where they actually live. It must be really nice to live in a world where “handing off things” is simple and affordable, but for the vast majority of us it doesn’t work that way and we could really use some advice about simplifying our lives that don’t involve spending more money.

Anyway, this chapter wasn’t really rage-inducing like many of the others, but it sort of reminded me of “The Hollow Men” because the book finished not with a bang but a whimper.


In conclusion, there’s been a few consistent problems that put this book into the “actively harmful” category.

First, I cannot stress enough the danger and harm of minimizing abusive behaviors, which Mark and Grace repeatedly do in their own ways. Mark dismisses his habits of verbally and emotionally abusing the people around him, and Grace paints abusive and hurtful actions—like boundary violations, entitlement attitudes toward sex, verbal and emotional abuse—as “normal” and “expected.”

They also go out of their way to reinforce traditional gender roles, and like Fascinating Womanhood and Captivating, place a horrible burden on people who don’t naturally fit them, condemning their inability to conform to a ridiculous construct as sinful and anti-God.

Mark, like most other evangelicals, also accepts the idea that the female-gendered body is inherently sexualized. He sees no problem with viewing women as sexual objects meant to service men—the only change he makes from mainstream American culture is that women are supposed to be sex toys for their husbands and no one else, and that it is supposedly a good thing for men to treat the women married to them like objects.

Grace implies pretty much every single time she opens her mouth on the topic that being an abuse survivor is sinful. Not that what happened to an abuse survivor was a sin committed by the abuser, but that abuse survivors need to “repent” and “be cleansed.” Not only that, but much of the advice given in this book fits right into abusive narratives, and abusers will use what they say in order to gaslight and further abuse their victim.

Anyway, I’m just happy I’m done with this and I won’t have to touch it again for the foreseeable future.

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  • Rivikah

    Here’s what I hate about several of the example questions you’ve included here: They include the “right” answer. I mean, what kind of discussion can you have with questions like that first one?

    • Tim

      I don’t know. Maybe the husband doesn’t want to be “engaged, motivated, committed.” (It actually doesn’t sound that appealing to me, the way it’s put.) Maybe the wife doesn’t want him to be. Or maybe they feel like during some stages of life there are priorities that take precedence over a lot of involvement with their church community.

      I agree with you though, it certainly sounds like there’s a “right’ answer in Driscoll’s mind.

  • Amy

    How about “handing off” some of the household duties and parenting to the man?

  • ReverendRef

    After surviving the mess that is “Real Marriage,” you should do yourself a favor and read, “The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage,” by Rob and Kristen Bell.

    Full disclosure: I haven’t read it, but it’s received some very good reviews and probably has more to say about a loving, shared marriage than anything Mr. Driscoll put down on paper.

  • Well, where I live (15 miles outside the Washington beltway) it costs $7.95 to have my groceries delivered. That’s well less than my gas and time shopping. Clearly your mileage varies…

    • Here in Los Angeles, Amazon’s grocery delivery is $300/year. Google Express delivery is $95/year, and there are various other delivery services around for ~$8/delivery. I guess it just depends on where you are financially, but if I were a working mother, I would certainly consider it well worth the cost.

  • Am I the only one who finds expressions like “Wash her in the Word” (and its counterpart, “Bathe in the blood”) to be…slightly creepy?

    Like…how does one even do that?

    • I came to the comments to say exactly what you did. The phrase “wash her in the Word” kind of makes me want to vomit.

      • rachel

        Also, “wash her in the Word”, without a gender-flipped counterpart, implies that women are inherently dirty things, and are only cleansed by a husband’s actions (whatever they may be).

      • We have to keep in mind the context in which Paul wrote those words. In ancient society, it was taboo for a woman to receive a theological education. Paul encouraged husbands to educate their wives in the scriptures. “Wash her in the Word” is about bringing women into equality, not shaming her for sin.

        • Mark Z.

          “Wash her in the Word”: that’s modern evangelical-speak, not anything from Paul.

          (None of the Biblical authors refer to the Bible as “the Word”. The prophets often use the phrase “the word of the Lord”, but that always refers to a specific, immediately relevant, spoken message. If you’re reading something out of a book, that’s “the Law” or “the Scriptures”. )

          Anyway. The purpose of a metaphor is to suggest meaning. If you have to explain that the suggested meaning is not the one you intend, then it is, at best, a terrible metaphor. “Washing” denotes cleaning an object by immersing it in a flowing fluid. This suggests “immersing” (which seems to be what Driscoll is going for), but also that the object starts out dirty and is made clean by the process. You don’t wash things that are already clean.

          • Tim

            April can probably speak to what she saw a reference to. I assumed it was a reference to Eph 5:26 The point of that passage seems to be that a husband ought to be aware of his wife’s needs (not faults) in the same way that he’s conscious of his own needs, and he ought to be helpful, placing just as much priority on her needs as he does on his own. We all need help every now and then.

            In the passage, Paul applies the metaphor of washing “through the word” to the church (composed of both men and women) not to wives.

    • You are not the only one. I felt as if something was crawling on my skin when I read that and I thought I might throw up. It is seriously weird.

  • My mom LOVED her job. It was a strong part of her identity. I would have paid good money to see my dad try to tell her to quit to be a better wife. She would have taken off his head. (Not that he would have ever done that. They have a pretty egaliterian marriage with shared responsibilities.) My mom is religiously conservative, but she believes women should work and have careers. Probably a product of losing her father at a young age.

  • I’m glad for you that this ordeal is over. I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis writing about the depression he experienced while writing Screwtape Letters and how painful it was to enter that mind frame. Bravo for what you are doing by exposing the fallacies of the wolves masquerading as God’s shepherds.

  • Samantha…my only “criticism” of your critique of Real Marriage is that I expected a more colorful ending sentence from you (just before the “In conclusion…” section).

    Something like “…Women did not come out on top in Real Marriage. Overall the book was flaccid and finished without a climax.”?

  • Samantha, Thank you for the work you have just finished. I tried to read the book when it came out because I needed help with my marriage but couldn’t get past the first chapter. We have communication problems but there is no way my husband would ever treat me with the disrespect that Mark shows his wife. I couldn’t read another page and threw it away rather than selling it to the used book store. Now I know that it was the right thing to do and have answers for anyone who starts quoting from it. You have done many women a great service. Thank you.