Normally Mary posts on Wednesdays, but she let me borrow her day so I could respond to an article in a timely fashion. Thanks Mary!
Owen Strachan, the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, wrote an article on how married couples don’t need to be compatible; they should focus on fulfilling biblical gender roles instead. The article is very misguided and confused, starting with the fact that Strachan doesn’t understand what compatibility is.
To begin, he writes, “The real issue before every couple is this: none of us is compatible. We’re sinners.” According to Strachan, once you’re a sinner, you can no longer be compatible with anyone. This is patently ridiculous. Of course people are sinners, but they are still people, with unique personalities and characters and styles and tastes and preferences. Because of these differences, some people are naturally going to get along better than others. Being sinful doesn’t obliterate this common sense reality.
Strachan goes on to define what he means by compatibility, and he only confuses things. He writes that relationships that are built on a “compatibility foundation” (his scare quotes) are built on physical attraction and socioeconomic status, both of which could change at any time. I agree with him that it is not wise to build a marriage solely on physical attraction and wealth, but where on earth does he get the idea that compatibility consists exclusively in those two attributes? Again, compatibility is about how people relate to each based on their particular personalities.
Strachan then defines compatibility further and somehow manages to confuse the issue even more. At the end of the article he writes, “Compatibility is great if you can get it, as Matt Chandler has said well.” Wait a minute. Didn’t he just say that “none of us is compatible”? Which is it? Strachan blatantly contradicts himself and never bothers to resolves it. At this point I gave up trying to make sense of his view of compatibility and just compiled what I already knew.
Here is Strachan's idea of a person seeking marriage, expressed in an equation:
Person = sinner + socioeconomic status + physical attractiveness + commitment to biblical gender roles (he thinks that the first obliterates all hope of true compatibility and the next two aren’t stable, so the last one is your only hope)
This model is incredibly reductionistic. When a Christian decides whom she wants to marry, she definitely wants to marry a Christian, and she needs to take into account the fact that the person she will marry is a sinner. But there is so much more to the decision (and people!) than that. She will be dating actual men, with different personalities and senses of humor and energy levels and outlooks on life and physical looks and skills and dreams and jobs. Some of those guys she will click with, and some she won’t.
This is obvious in the rest of life. When I’m looking for friends, there are some people with whom I easily get along. We’re not always very similar, but there’s something about them that just works with me. On the other side, there are people I’ve met where it really seems like we should be friends, but we just don’t gel. And that’s ok. That’s just part of what happens when you are dealing with three-dimensional, complicated, wonderful, sinful people created by a wondrously creative God.
Even though Strachan doesn’t understand what compatibility is or how it works, his objection against it is pretty clear. He is understandably grieved by the fact that “people rip up their marriages and start over again, believing they married a person they weren’t compatible with.” I agree with Strachan that “lack of compatibility” is not a legitimate ground for divorce. His solution to this problem is to deny that compatibility exists altogether and tell people that they better be real good at gender roles. This is where we decisively part ways. I say that being married to someone who is not very compatible with you is not grounds for divorce, but it is extremely difficult, no matter how good you are at self-sacrificial love. The solution is to wisely discern the compatibility of the person you marry before you marry them.
This is a solution that I have lived out. All the guys I dated were quality Christian men, who would have complementarized the heck out of marriage, even unto the satisfaction of Owen Strachan. But for various reasons, because we are actual people, and not gender role robots, we didn’t work out. We just didn’t click.
This was hardest for me when I was dating an especially quality guy. I really wanted to get married; he really wanted to get married. He was a committed Christian, thoughtful, caring, fun, and always ready to serve, but I just wasn’t that excited about him. I broke up with him after two months, wondering if I was completely insane to be throwing this chance away. I knew I had made the right choice a year later when he married a wonderful woman with whom he really does click. They delight in one another, and it is a gorgeous thing to behold.
A while after that, I met my husband. We too delight in one another. Yes, we’re sinners, and we forgive each other a lot, and we sacrifice for each other, but marriage is a lot of fun. We enjoy being together and doing things together. Simply put, we’re compatible. And of course our marriage has its tough parts, but why would anyone want to make it harder by marrying someone they’re not very compatible with?
When someone is deciding whom to marry, they need to take compatibility into account. It’s wise and simple common sense. Does the fact that you’re basically compatible mean that life will always be a bed of roses? Nope. But does pretending compatibility doesn’t exist and marrying someone just because they agree with you on a narrow interpretation of biblical gender roles mean that life will always be a bed of roses? Quite the contrary. Get ready for lots of thorns.