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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