Compromise is a common refrain in response to questions about what makes a marriage last, but new books coming from religion and spirituality publishers are taking a more modern, less clichéd approach to holy matrimony. A happy marriage has more to do with spouses choosing one another’s successes than it does constant bliss or unending sacrifice, write Gail Song Bantum and Brian Bantum in Choosing Us: Marriage and Mutual Flourishing in a World of Difference (Brazos, Mar. 2022). In the book, the Bantums share stories aimed at building relationships that reflect the kingdom of God by drawing on their multiracial marriage as well as their careers in ministry—Gail is the lead pastor at Quest Church in Seattle while Brian is a writer and a professor of theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Choosing Us focuses on helping readers find mutuality in marriage by “exploring your own story; seeing the other for who they are, even as they change; and being flexible and creative in discovering how those differences and stories come alive in new ways when joined together,” according to the publisher.
Katelyn Beaty, senior acquisitions editor at Brazos, notes that Choosing Us highlights long-standing systems of inequality and division and subsequently the differences that emerge along racial, gender, and class lines. “Those differences affect entire nations and communities, but they also can shape individual relationships,” she says. “The Bantums are open about wrestling with their different ethnic backgrounds, upbringings, and differing experiences in the church owing to gender. And by wrestling openly with them in this book, they provide a model for how other couples can do the same.”
Healthy, mutually supportive marriages can also have a beneficial effect on the people around them, according to Beaty. “When marriages are thriving, whole communities can thrive, too,” she says. “They provide a vision of God’s covenantal, self-sacrificing love to a watching world.”
Lou Holtz, former head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, similarly gives couples permission to embrace differences in A Lifetime of Love: A Game Plan for Marriage and Family Life (Ave Maria, Jan. 2022). The author of Wins, Losses, and Lessons writes, “Your partner doesn’t have to be exactly the same as you. You don’t have to have the same background. One of you can be shy; the other can be outgoing. One of you can be outwardly beautiful and the other relatively plain.”
Holtz’s wife of 59 years, Beth, was originally a coauthor of A Lifetime of Love, but she died on June 30, 2020, after a long illness. The book, which features stories from the Holtzes’ lives that reflect their faith in God as well as a commitment to their four children, was written in Beth’s memory. “If you share core values like honesty, trust, and commitment to excellence, and if you truly love and care about each other, you will have a wonderful life together,” Holtz writes. “That’s what happened to me.”
Mike Amodei, executive editor, curriculum, at Ave Maria Press, wants readers of A Lifetime of Love to recognize that intentionality is essential when it comes to both a good marriage and raising productive children. “In spite of any busyness, time must be carved out between spouses, and each child’s personalities and interests must be recognized and respected,” he says. “Lou Holtz makes the point that to love well requires planning and execution.”
Making it work
Several titles are delving into the effort it can take to keep a marriage healthy. Today’s authors are discovering new ways to stay connected to their spouses, and they are sharing their stories, warts and all.
Ashley Petrone, creator of the design blog Arrows and Bow, details personal stories of struggle and success in Designed to Last: Our Journey of Building an Intentional Home, Growing in Faith, and Finding Joy in the In-Between (Tyndale, Apr. 2022), cowritten with her husband, Dino Petrone. With over 664,000 followers on Instagram, the husband-and-wife team are known for getting engaged after just three weeks, practicing celibacy before they wed, and moving into an RV after the births of three of their four children. Their debut book will collect both new and fan-favorite stories about their relationship, according to the publisher.
“Design is a huge passion of mine and I get so much satisfaction encouraging others to design their homes with intention and love the home they’re in,” Ashley writes on her website. “My goal here is to inspire you to live life to the fullest, thrive in every aspect of life including motherhood and marriage. And to find joy in every in between.”
In The Rhythm of Us: Create the Thriving Marriage You Long For (Navpress, Nov.), Christian spouses are called to resist being pulled into meaningless directions and advised to instead slow down and find time, both together and individually, to spend with Jesus. Authors Chris and Jenni Graebe, hosts of the Live It Well podcast, explore how taking risks and pursuing God-given dreams can fortify a marriage. “What Jenni and I have both learned about creating a thriving marriage is that we won’t get there by accident,” Chris Graebe writes in the book. “It takes developing intentional rhythms that guide us into the life and marriage we long for.”
Family comes first in Famous at Home: 7 Decisions to Put Your Family Center Stage in a World Competing for Your Time, Attention, and Identity (Tyndale, May 2022), by marriage and leadership coaches Josh and Christi Straub. The husband-and-wife team examine how personal pursuits and busyness can cause families to struggle, and the book encourages readers to “give their family the best version of themselves instead of their leftovers,” according to the publisher.
Faith’s helping hand
Religious and spiritual teachings can also be a source of hope and help for couples experiencing challenges in marriage. Bible-based guides for those in search of better home lives include Gospel-Shaped Marriage: Grace for Sinners to Love Like Saints (Crossway, June 2022) by Chad and Emily Van Dixhoorn. The publisher says the book assesses the Bible’s design for marriage, including what matrimony looked like in redemptive history, while encouraging readers that despite being sinners, “they are also saints, equipped through God’s power to create a healthy, loving marriage.” Each chapter features recommended Bible verses, prayer prompts, and discussion questions for those preparing to wed as well as for those looking to strengthen their marriage. Grace is an absolute necessity for a Christian marriage to thrive, according to Todd Augustine, senior acquisitions editor at Crossway.
“Many modern books on the Christian life acknowledge that Christians are sinners, yet in this short volume, the authors remind readers that Christians are also saints,” Augustine says. “Connected to Christ our Savior, we are called and enabled by his grace to love others, including our spouse. It is this hermeneutic of grace that drives the book and helps Christians grow in grace as they seek to love one another in the bonds of holy marriage.”
For couples of retirement age, as well as for those who work from home or run a business together, Spouse in the House: Rearranging Our Attitudes to Make Room for Each Other by Cynthia Ruchti and Becky Melby (Kregel, out now) addresses irritation that can arise after “too much togetherness,” according to the publisher. Using biblical lessons about peace, the book lays out ways for partners to coexist in the home without exhausting one another.
Some challenges of marriage are more common than others, such as communication breakdowns and stress, but Chad Robichaux and Adam Davis are specifically addressing issues relating to mental health, military life, and more in Fight for Us: Win Back the Marriage God Intends for You (Nelson, Feb. 2022). The book follows Robichaux’s deployment to Afghanistan as a Marine and subsequent experiences with severe PTSD. On the brink of suicide, Robichaux received support from his wife’s pastor, Davis, and here the pair share their five principles for developing a “never-give-up, never-quit mentality every relationship needs,” according to the publisher.
And finally, geared toward younger generations who are considering marriage, children, and the rest of their futures, The Power of Place: Choosing Stability in a Rootless Age (Nelson, Oct.), by teaching pastor Daniel Grothe, takes a critical view of “hypermobility and noncommittal wandering” associated with modern life, according to the publisher. In the book, Grothe argues that settling down and building a stable home is the key to not just a rich family life, but also to friendships, community, and purpose.
“In a world of increasing mobility—now both amplified and restricted by the pandemic—Grothe talks about the ancient and often overlooked spiritual discipline of staying put,” says Tim Paulson, Nelson’s v-p and publisher. “It’s the spiritual medicine we all need.”