My Marriage Survived Romance Novels- Marriage Unwrapped


One of the first posts I ever read by Mary was this one (which she later followed up with this one) and I loved her honesty about her struggle with expectations in marriage. Your issue might not be romance novels per se but I still think, if we are honest, most women can find some of ourselves in her story.

The first time I picked up a Harlequin romance novel, I was in sixth grade. Now, before you gasp, shudder and generally question my mother’s parenting abilities, let me explain. First of all, my mom didn’t know. Secondly, while my reading ability far surpassed my age, my comprehension – at least when it came to love scenes and the such – was a different story.

[No pun intended. But that was kind of funny, right?]

As the not-so-natural complement to my Sweet Valley Twins and Babysitter’s Club books, I devoured the little white paperbacks full of manufactured romance and sap. And as soon as I moved up to high school, I graduated to Danielle Steele along with Mary Higgins Clark and college catalogs.

Those books weren’t my first foray into the world of romantic fantasy. Like every other girl I knew, I grew up on Disney princesses and handsome princes. And well before that, I memorized my mom’s recollection of the magical day when, as a teenager in youth group, she gazed at my dad and just knew.

I was raised to be kind to others, do my best, mind my manners and love God above all else. But I was also raised to believe in white knights, grand gestures and happily ever after.

Just like the belief that every meal should include a starchy side, the idea that “true love” came wrapped in candlelight, whispered nothings and a big, expensive bunch of roses was deeply ingrained. So deeply, in fact, that it took years before I realized that a) it existed and b) that it was wrong.

In the meantime I kept reading every romance novel I could get my hands on – and then wondered why my own relationship didn’t compare. Actually, “wonder” is a pretty tame word for it. “Despair” might be more accurate.

My husband and I married stupid young. [I’m not saying that getting married young is stupid. I’m saying that when WE got married (young), we were stupid.] And for several years we lived on the brink of divorce. Every couple has their issues, and I didn’t disagree with the counselor who placed most the blame on my husband. But over time even I had to acknowledge that perhaps my romance obsession – and the unrealistic expectations it created and maintained – was causing problems as well.

Why didn’t he ever plan dates?
Would it kill him to tell me exactly how beautiful I am?
Why didn’t he ever buy me flowers?
Didn’t he understand how important love notes are?
Is it so much to ask that he just open my door?!

Okay, for the record, my husband is a gentleman who often uses polite manners. And he does open doors for me. But the rest of it? They were my actual complaints – and the source of many fights. But they weren’t the real issue. The underlying, marriage-crippling problem was that I truly expected my down-to-earth, never-met-a-chick-flick-he-liked husband to turn into a lovey-dovey, plans-carriage-rides-for-date-night knight in shining armor. And I truly believed that’s what I needed, what I deserved.

It sounds so ridiculous. Now. But for the first several years we were married, I truly lost my grasp on reality when it came to love and relationships and marriage. Thankfully, I eventually realized that my expectations and demands were causing a lot of trouble. And that – surprise, surprise – life is not a romance novel.

And honestly, I’m glad. Real life, real love is so much better than any work of fiction. My husband shows he loves me in a hundred ways – ways that are infinitely better than roses and candlelight.

Not that I’d turn down a vase full of flowers. For the record.


  1. Mary’s honesty is refreshing, let alone encouraging. And I think you’re right, Jill, we can all find ourselves in part of her story, especially as it relates to expectation….

    (This is a good series! You’re a great encourager yourself :). )

  2. Wonderful! These words resonated with me. Great reminders. Even though I’ve learned this, I often forget it.

  3. I remember the posts that Jill links to, and this one is even better.

    And I love the last line. You are a stich.

    I think I experienced much the same thing you did. And I have learned, too, that real life and real love is SO much better than the manufactured stuff in romance novels. But it was not an easy lesson to learn.

  4. At some point in my marriage, relatively early on I think, I had just finished watching some kind of romantic comedy or drama. And it dawned on me that I had the kind of love the movie tried so hard to convey, only I had the real thing. Sure, I would love some flowers for no reason at all (or an anniversary or birthday). But I just told my husband the other day that him filling my gas tank is my love language! I was able to stop watching those movies with a wistful heart and just enjoy them and then be thankful for the authentic relationship I have.

    Great post!

  5. Christie says:

    This spoke right to me!!!
    Shortly after we married, my husband read a John Piper book that said that romance novels–even “Christian” romance novels–are to women as p*rnography is to men. Meaning they set such unrealistic expectations of the spouse, and those expectations can be a wedge in a marriage. My husband completely agreed with this point, and felt that since he avoids all p*rn (thank you, sweet husband!!!), that I should avoid this genre of book, as well.
    Out of respect for my husband, I (reluctantly) gave up those novels almost 5 years ago. I have yet to be convicted of the need to quit reading them myself, though, and simply avoid them in one of my (few) acts of true submission to my husband.
    This weekend, I attended the She Speaks conference. (Side note– AMAZING CONFERENCE put on by Proverbs 31 Ministries! I highly recommend it for any woman interested in writing, speaking, or leading Women’s Ministry) While there, I was blessed to be given many books, donated by Christian publishers. I got to meet the authors of these books, have them signed, and talk to these authors as fellow Sisters in Christ. Coming home, I was eager to start reading these books…some were clearly Christian romance genre. Because after meeting the women who wrote them, and seeing how they love the Lord like I do, I figured “they can’t be bad…there’s no reason not to read these!!”

    Thank you for this well timed reminder of something that is so important to my husband, and truly, becoming something I know to avoid myself. As much as I love those romances, I need to keep my expectations pure, realistic…and keep my promise to my beloved husband.

  6. I have been reading romance novels since I was about 14 yes old – they weren’t aways clean either. For a young girl you imagine your self having a love you see in these novals. It awakens love early and the bible says that you shouldn’t do that. I stop reading them when I got older. I recently started reading them again about 2 yrs ago. I’m married now and I believe that every women loves a good love story but you have separate yourself from the story and also it can show you sone insight of what you might be lacking in your marriage. Sometimes you can get something good out of them. When I say this I’m not talking about erotic novals. Clean romantic ones. Everything we do we must do it in balance and have a prayful mind and always seek the lord in every area of ourlives so we can be free and not bound.

  7. It’s when we feel entitled to a romance novel type of love, and offended if our husbands don’t provide it, that’s the major problem! I too got married young, and I thought “love” meant drama and passion. Those first couple years I really needed to see that marriage has nothing to do with feelings or situation, it’s all about commitment to God and the other person. Then the feelings just follow naturally, but they’re not the basis for your marriage. Thanks for sharing this, Mary! You had me cracking up. :)

  8. A year ago, I packed up my romance type novels, including Danielle Steele and Linda Howard. I realized that I read those books too much, and began wanting my marriage to be as romantic and exciting as the books. Once I came to the realization that I HAD that, because my marriage was the real thing, and my husband truly is amazing, I didn’t need, or want, to read the fake romance stories. Last week, I took the box that I packed up, and donated it. Great post, thanks for sharing, and letting us all know we aren’t the only christians who read or have read romance novels :0)

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