Author’s Note: Most of the images in this post are NSFW.
Nowadays, I don’t spend much time thinking about what I was taught about relationships when I was a Christian. The exceptions are when I randomly come across dating or relationship advice targeted for Christians. It’s not a healthy reminder of what I used to believe. Much of it is obsessed with controlling sex. Hardly any of it deals with people as they are.
Mixed messages on sex.
Growing up, I was told sex is bad unless there’s a marriage involved. Desiring sex is wicked and sinful behavior. Homosexual intercourse was especially evil. There is a right way and wrong way to have, want, and obtain sex. Deviating from this will lead to sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy, and any other bad thing your youth pastor can imagine.
Somehow, marriage magically waves all of this away. All of a sudden desire for physical intimacy is natural. Wives have to submit to their husbands’ demands for sex because good women are pure and aren’t interested in such things. Make sure to pop out a few children. They’re gifts from your divine overlord now.
On top of this, there’s the caricature of relationships that before marriage, they’re all about sex for godless heathen couples. People are bad for even thinking about it. It’s just an avenue for Satan to lure the unwitting into a life of depravity. Be afraid of sexuality.
Inviting your imaginary friend into the relationship.
I was taught that good relationships were Christ-centered. If that sounds vague, it’s because it is. Christ-centered relationships talk about following what the Bible commands people to do. In effect, it’s an invitation to invite your church congregation to pass judgment over your relationship. Couples that have unresolved issues get to live out power fantasies when they tell you what you’re doing wrong.
Inviting Jesus into your relationship is supposed to make it better and work out. My sister and her husband got this advice during their marriage ceremony. Marriages are supposed to be between one man and one woman, but I guess there’s always that loophole for a deity that wants in on the action. At any rate, following what the invisible friend in the sky wants is a convenient excuse for why a relationship doesn’t work out. Practicing Christians can blame the person leaving as ungodly, or worldly, or some other pejorative.
I can’t believe I used to think this stuff was healthy.
All this relationship advice stunted my emotional growth. I was obsessed with a caricature of what healthy relationships were supposed to be like. It’s affected me in a way that I’m still sure I have invisible baggage that I haven’t gotten rid of.
Most of all, the Christian advice I got taught me to be suspicious of other people. Relationships were about ferreting out hidden problems and then running from them, because that’s what the righteous are supposed to do. Eventually I became convinced that nobody could ever want me for me, and that my needs were not important if they didn’t fit within my deity-shaped upbringing.
How does a person recover from this?
I wish I knew. Some of it has to deal with getting an outside perspective on the faith. Not being in it and maintaining belief in the divine helps. It means I don’t have to make excuses for ideas that don’t work. More than that, it means I don’t have to fit reality into something strange and different.
But I can understand why it’s hard for people in the faith to get out of this perspective. My reason for writing this is because I came across Christian dating advice and remembered that it was mostly what I was taught. The things I learned as a kid are still getting passed on to new generations. Sorrow doesn’t begin to cover the range of emotions I felt when I realized that.
The one thing I wish I realized was that the people who disregarded all the advice I’d been given typically had the healthiest relationships. They addressed partners as they were, not as what some outdated book suggested they ought to be. Mutual trust and respect go a long way. Treat a spouse as some biblical stereotype, and it’s an easy way to doom a healthy relationship.
Above all else, if faith leaves people doubting themselves, it’s entirely possible that the faith could be to blame.