Marriage vs. Romance and 5 other False Dilemmas

Marriage can't possibly be romantic. That's why divorce is so common. - Western Culture. That's a crock! - Me. @DanielTStephens

“Marriage can’t possibly be romantic. That’s why divorce is so common.” – Western Culture

“That’s a crock!” – Me

"Marriage can't possibly be romantic. That's why divorce is so common." - Western Culture. "That's a crock!" - Me. @DanielTStephens


Chick flicks and female targeted TV shows promote the belief that “romance” is a lot of laughing together and over the top dates. The problem with that is it’s like trying to make apple pie without the apples.

Action movies and male targeted TV shows promote the belief that “romance” is pornographically wild sex, every time, all the time. The problem with that is it’s like trying to make apple pie without any filling or crust.

Both sets of Movies and TV shows promote the idea that married people never laugh together, never have over the top dates, and never have any sex whatsoever… except at Christmas and New Years, and it’s always boring and awkward, and she has to be drunk to put up with it.


Wikipedia puts the US divorce rate at right around 53% as of 2011. As with any internet statistic, take that with a grain of salt, but that’s what I’ll be working with for the sake of this argument.

If people get married expecting chick-flick and porn-stained “romance,” no one is going to get what they expect.

Real marriage is about realistic expectations. Real romance is about beating those expectations.

False Dilemmas in Marriage

A “False Dilemma” is the ultimate product of black or white, all or nothing thinking. It presents a “dilemma” between two options and instills the idea that those are the only two possible options on the menu, with no alterations or substitutions possible. It is “false” because, in reality, there are other options on the menu, and alterations or substitutions are allowed.

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A few weeks ago I described my understanding of the four Greek words for love, several of which are used in the Bible. Some of that discussion is repeated below.

Eros vs. Storge

Eros is most closely related to erotic or sexual love. But it is not necessarily limited to sexual expression. I prefer to characterize it as passionate love. Good sex is undoubtedly passionate. But so is the anger you feel when you are protecting someone you love. So is the pride you feel when someone you love achieves a major goal or milestone in their life.

Storge love [Loyal, Familial Love] is not necessarily characterized by closeness. But it is certainly characterized by commitment.

Culture tells us that we can either have passion or commitment in marriage, but not both.

Why can’t we have passionate commitment?

Agape vs. Phileo

Agape is God’s unconditional love for us. He loved us while we were yet sinners, and died for us – with this sort of love.

Phileo love is human love for flawed people. If Agape love is given by ignoring people’s flaws through Christ’s redemption, then Phileo love is given by accepting people’s flaws.

Culture tells us that we can only love each other either by ignoring or accepting each other’s flaws.

In marriage, this is called picking your battles. You are showing agape love when you let little things slide. You are showing phileo love when you commit to someone even though you disagree with their choices.

Pitch vs. Grind

One of the TV shows that Skylar and I thoroughly enjoy is Shark Tank, a TV show all about small business owner’s making their pitch to venture capitalists.

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In dating, we are essentially “pitching” ourselves to potential spouses.

It’s sad that ABC’s “Beyond the Tank” gets lower ratings than the main show. As a culture, we are clearly not interested in hearing about the grind that comes after a major capital investment.

The same goes for culture’s interest in what comes after the wedding.

Happiness vs. Holiness

Lest you think I am ranting on culture, even the Church presents false dilemmas about marriage.

In his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks the question “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

Full disclosure: I have not read the book, but I am familiar with the question. And I am familiar with what other Christians assume is Gary’s point before they have read the book.

Why should we assume that happiness and holiness are mutually exclusive? Isn’t the temporal point of holiness to achieve a greater level of lasting and real happiness? Or have I missed something?

As much as I appreciate Gary Thomas’s work (Sacred Pathways made a huge impact on me), Sacred Marriage has only perpetuated culture’s claim that marriage is not romantic. The central question in all of the marketing material for the book is a leading question that implies we cannot be both holy and happy.

Superbowl vs. Practice

Superbowl Sunday is just about the most honored holiday in the US. It reaches multiple ethnicities, cultures, and religions. Even mediocre football fans watch the game – if only for the commercials.

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Hopefully, we all know, at least subconsciously, that the players practiced A TON before they ever got to play in the big game. But few of us want to apply the same principles to marriage and dating.

If you’re not married, imagine the person you want to marry. Now imagine who they want to marry. Become that person. That is your practice. A lasting and happy marriage is your super bowl.

If you are married, stop treating your marriage like it’s less than the big game. Practice like you play. That’s how NFL teams get to the super bowl. That’s how marriages survive – when both people take things seriously and work their butts off for it.

Marriage Requires Realistic Expectations

Unmet expectations lead to conflict. Unmet expectations happen in one of two ways: either one person expects too much, or the other person delivers too little.

Both are wrong. Both lead to conflict. Both contribute to divorce.

Romance Requires Beating Expectations

Under promise, over deliver. A customer service principle that I learned when I worked for America’s Tire Company in 2006.

The same thing applies in marriage. But that principle makes romance one sided, not two sided. You as the romantic need to know what your spouse’s expectations are, commit to meet them, then blow their minds by over delivering.

Real marriage is about realistic expectations. Real romance is about beating those expectations. @DanielTStephens

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By Dan

Founder, Executive Director, Mental Health Counselor at Restored Life Counseling