Monday, December 19, 2011

Secrets to a Successful Marriage

I recently received a copy of the marriage book by Gary Chapman, entitled Happily Ever After: Six Secrets to a Successful Marriage.  I haven't read any of his other books, although The Five Love Languages has been highly recommended by more than one of my friends.  That concept intrigues me and I requested this book because I hoped that it was full of solid, Christian advice for my marriage.

My first impression was that the cover was very pretty, and each chapter is divided by the same flowery fleur de lis (yes, I know what I just did) style decoration.  Almost like fancy wedding wallpaper.  Before I digress too far, I will continue.  The book consists of six sections, each divided into more detailed chapters, and some additional tools and resources found in the very back.  The sections cover how to solve conflicts, negotiating change, finances, marriage after children, love and sex, and in-law relationships.  Off to a good start and certainly the key topics for any marriage.

My second impression was that Dr. Chapman has a somewhat formal writing style.  It was hard for me to get into the first chapter because it seemed like his writing was full of overly large words.  I understood him, and I liked the way he wrote, but I also felt like his style of writing would turn off a large portion of readers.  Unless they had a dictionary or thesaurus handy.  Dr. Chapman's dialogue also felt stiff and overly formal.  In retellings of how couples spoke to him and about each other in counseling sessions, I had to assume that he was not giving verbatim recounts.  Often the dialogue seemed scripted and unrealistic.  When I am reading a marriage book, I want a situation that I can identify with, not one that feels "fake" or overly clinical. 

My final impression, and one that cinched the deal for me, was chapter 6 in part 5, "Love Inflicts No Pain."  By that point, it was increasingly obvious to me that Gary Chapman's target audience is the middle to upper middle class Christian couple.  But, regardless of who the target audience is, being from a social work field and working with women (and men) who have suffered through domestic violence, it really irked me when I read that chapter.  Not only did it seem that he minimized physical and sexual abuse, but he did not once give a disclaimer regarding personal safety and ways to seek help if you are in a violent relationship.  This attitude, and the lack of recognition of this issue, only instigates the stereotypes that I hear about Christian pastors and marriage counselors who never condone divorce or separation, even in extreme circumstances of domestic violence or sexual abuse. 

Truthfully, I sometimes roll my eyes at those disclaimers that give people a hotline number, but when I read this, I realized why they are so important.  Violence in any relationship is never acceptable, and I would have respected the advice from Dr. Chapman's book much more if he would have taken the time to affirm that there are violent relationships where it is encouraged and expected that the victim seek help and get out of the relationship when possible.  I realize and appreciate that a husband or wife is to be Christ to their spouse and to love and forgive them unconditionally.  But I do not, and will never, feel that God expects one of His children to remain in a relationship where they are being physically or sexually abused.  Sometimes, until a spouse truly changes, it is better and safer, for the other half to leave.  A true Christian does not abuse their spouse.  I wish Dr. Chapman would have made that affirmation clear in this book.

I might recommend this book to two married Christians in an otherwise healthy relationship.  For my marriage, personally, I feel that there are some good points and discussion topics that my husband and I could talk about.  However, due to Dr. Chapman's disregard for the very real dangers of domestic violence, I would not recommend this book in any other situation.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Tyndale House Publishers blogging for books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.


  1. I am here via Masked Mom's Liebster awards, and I appreciate what you have written. Coincidentally, I posted my own variation of what it takes to have a successful long-term relationship just this morning, and Dr. Chapman's name never came up. In my case, Annie told me early on that if I ever struck her, or cheated on her, that she was out of there in a flash. I thought her rules were not only reasonable, but diabolically simple for me to follow.

  2. You are right, Mark. Those rules should be diabolically simple for anyone to follow. The unfortunate part is that many spouses break that rule, even in "Christian" homes. Dr. Chapman missed an incredible opportunity to reassure and provide hope for a victim who may be reading his book. He chose, instead, to reinforce the cycle of guilt and blame that many abusers take advantage of.