Is Your Marriage A Parlor?


(In this post, I use some abbreviations that I have created. They are listed in the sidebar, to the right.)

A comment that Sheila Wray Gregoire made in her post Why Is Marriage Advice So Contradictory? brought an old-fashioned word to my mind, a word little-used today: Parlor. In the first part of the article, Gregoire writes about wives who are afraid to confront their husbands over bad behavior, and at one point she said,

They’re afraid of doing the right thing because the marriage may suffer.”

She is correct in what she says, and the reason that I was re-reading her post was because I was planning to use it as a springboard for husbands, for them to read and to follow the advice she gave. Goose and Gander, after all. As I was reading her post and read that line for a second or third time, the image of an old-fashioned front parlor came to my mind.

“Parlor Settin’”

I love me some old movies and musicals, and one of my all-time favorites is Seven Brides For Seven Brothers; one of the songs is Going Courtin’, which contains these lines, spoken by two of the brothers, asking about proper courting etiquette:

How ’bout parlor darkin’?
And pettin’?
How ’bout sofa settin’?

What this clever song is referencing is the old-fashioned parlor that homes used to have. Years ago, many homes had “front parlors,” rooms that served one purpose: to present the family in its finest light to visitors by having them sit in the parlor. The “front parlor” contained the best furniture and appoinments, and was usually covered when not in use, closed off from the rest of the house by a door. This is depicted in a scene from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Quiet Man.

Mind you, no one went into the parlor for normal, everyday matters or functions. But if such events as the pastor coming to call, or the ladies’ committee was meeting for tea, or the daughter’s nice young man was coming to call, then the parlor was used for these social occasions. Otherwise, it was kept separate from daily life. Wife knows all about this, as her mother kept a front parlor for guests, when she was growing up in Illinois.

Marital Idolatry

One of the first things that I wrote when I started this blog was a series on Marital Idolatry, and it was amusing to me to find Gregoire writing about marriages being turned into idols. In her blogpost, she was saying that wives were afraid to do the right thing in their marriages, thus putting the marriages before God and making them an idol. That’s all well and good, but many times, the wife who has made her marriage an idol is the one who is doing wrong, and sinning against her marriage, her husband and God.

It’s not uncommon for GCWs™ to value their marriages above their husbands. To them, they have Good Christian Marriages (GCM™), which they are proud to present to the world, but all too often, function merely as “front parlors”. Like the old-fashioned parlors of the past, the marriage is maintained for the purpose of propping up ego and image. Proper decorum and image is maintained through presenting the parlor as the reality of the marriage, whereas reality actually lies in the less maintained, lived-in quarters, away from public viewing.

It’s in these quarters, whether it be the kitchen, the family den, a closed-in mud room that functions as the de facto living room, etc., where real life occurs; this is where the misery, carefully kept from view, is lived 24/7. The good stuff, the furniture and appointments that have been accumulated to demonstrate family position, are on display whenever needed to entertain others or to bolster marital esteem in the community. But the husband? Not so much; he’s just another accoutrement to decorate the parlor.

Break Up The Furniture

Guys, when you read Gregoire’s post and her advice to wives, you’ll be struck by the fact that she has no problem with telling wives to confront their husbands when they are  in sin. (Sound like any Curmudgeons you know?) Gregoire tells wives to do the right thing, to be willing to stop being nice. In fact, I was impressed  by one of her lines, one that I know I’ll be using, often, down the road:

Loving Our Husbands Does Not Mean Being Nice.

Husbands, the flipside of this statement is true: loving your wives does not mean being nice. I’m not saying you have carte blanche to start acting stinkin’; far from it. Instead, I’m going to tell you, again (and again, and again….), to be willing to do the same thing that Gregoire tells her women readers: be willing to confront sin and bad behavior that is ruining your marriage and relationship. You should not have a two-tier marriage, one in which you live in the back room and the rest of the world sits in the parlor. It’s time move yourself into the front parlor.

How do you do this? By being Christian before being a husband. Gregoire makes a good point; in fact, a hella good point! You are called to be like Christ before you are called to be a husband. That means you do right and you live right, and you don’t condone or abet sin, even in your wife. You do what Gregoire counsels wives to do: Confront. Break up the logjam. Open the front parlor and if need be, break some of the furniture that serves as your wife’s idol. (Look up Nehushtan in your Bibles, for precedent.)

Be Boorish?

It has been decades since I read David Wilkerson’s, The Cross and The Switchblade. Near the beginning of that book, Wilkerson tells of an incident in his father’s church. Wilkerson’s grandfather was an old-fashioned country preacher who was not in the least bit refined. Wilkerson’s dad, a second-generation preacher, was pastoring a more upscale congregation, which meant that they were more refined.  Wilkerson’s father made the mistake of asking his dad, Wilkerson’s grandfather, to come and preach a revival.

Well, according to Wilkerson, his grandfather came and surveyed the church, taking it spiritual temperature. Then that Sunday morning, when he got up to preach, the first thing he did was to take off his muddy boots and put them on the altar rail. As you would expect, there was an audible gasp from the congregation. And Granddad immediately followed it up, telling them something along the line of “You care more about the cleanliness of this altar railing than with the cleanliness of your hearts.” And off he went.

Some would say that was rather boorish behavior; however, others would say that was prophetic behavior, telling the truth even though it was blunt and it hurt someone’s feelings. Yes, it was brusque; yes, it was abrupt. (Okay,  even those words are mild.) But it got the point across; the truth of the message struck home. To those would say that this was boorishness, my reply would be “So? Maybe this is not a time for singing Kumbaya.”

In her post, Gregoire tells of a woman who was proud of the fact that she was able to forgive her husband for 41 years, while he drank himself to death; Gregoire was somewhat underwhelmed by that story.  I’m always coming across husbands who, while in great misery, are adamant about continuing to serve God by enduring their wives’ imposed misery. It’s easy to see that that wife and those husbands have a skewed view of what constitutes godliness in the eyes of God.

It is not boorish to stand up for yourself and say that your marriage has left the rails, and that you want it to be set to right by putting back on the tracks. Yes, I know that the Bible tells us, “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Rom. 12:18) But sometimes there comes a point where you can’t live in peace. After all, Proverbs tells us, three times, that it’s better to live alone in a shack than in a fine house with a wife who battles you.

Last year, I wrote about about two different Christian models. Casper Milquetoast and Patrick Henry. It is the Patrick Henry’s who live in the front parlor; the Milquetoasts are relegated to the den. Guys, your call. Are you going to sit in the front parlor or take your place in the back room?


1 Comment

Filed under Marriage & Sexuality

One response to “Is Your Marriage A Parlor?

  1. It’s a funeral parlor.


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