In A Nutshell
The cultural standards and norms surrounding “dating” today have demonstrated their inadequacy to produce healthy relationships, happy marriages, and lifelong unconditional love. The emotional wasteland produced by popular notions of love and marriage is everywhere evident and the divorce rate now hovers at fifty percent for new marriages. In his book The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband, Steve Wood presents a radically counter-cultural standard of “courtship” for Christian women seeking “a good husband.” It is difficult to determine the precise audience of this book. It appears to be for Christian women generally, but from a somewhat Catholic perspective. Most of the principles endorsed in this book are founded in Scripture or Church teaching. Unfortunately, Wood’s advice on how to implement these principles is often unrealistic and, in some cases, not even ideal. The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband suggests an overly demanding approach to choosing a husband that does not sufficiently take into account the workings of grace, the nature of marriage itself, or the unavoidable cultural circumstances of our day.
The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband rightly challenges Christian women to raise their standards in the choice of a husband. Wood wisely advises women to be discerning in their choice, to seek counsel from family, and to pray for a good husband. He cautions women about some faults to which men are prone, and warns against the dangers of interfaith marriage, alcoholism, and contraception. So, why not wholeheartedly endorse this book?
First, in the area of family finances, Wood asserts that a man should have his education completed, his career established, and most of his student loans paid off before getting married. I don’t think anyone would deny that this seems ideal. Considering that most people meet their spouses while in college, however, it is not realistic. In pursuit of this ideal, a young couple would likely need to postpone marriage for seven years or more following graduation. Apart from considerations of chastity and other strains such a delay may cause, one wonders what the woman is to do in this time. If she pursues further education herself, she’s likely to accumulate more student debt. If she chooses meaningful work to pay off her own loans, she spends her prime years in a career situation knowing her vocation to family life. This is certainly less than ideal.
Second, those who do not find a spouse while in college often turn to online services to find a spouse. The average age of women that use these services is between twenty-six and thirty-six. Yet Wood suggests that women seeking a spouse online should inform a prospective suitor that he needs to obtain permission from her father before corresponding with her. This may be appropriate for a sixteen-year-old girl, but it is certainly inappropriate for a thirty-two-year-old woman.
Third, Wood endorses a principle he calls “What You See Is What You Get.” By drawing an example from the employer/employee relationship, Wood says, “people are very likely to function in a new position much as they have functioned in the past” (pg. 58). While it is true that women need to temper romantic fantasies about a future husband with reality, Wood seems to discount that marriage is not merely a state in life, but a vocation. A vocation is the particular way in which God calls us to greater perfection in this life, and union with Him in the next. A young man enters a monastery with the aim of perfecting himself; he does not wait until he is holy to enter. The same is true of marriage. With the grace conferred in the sacrament of matrimony and a willingness to embrace the responsibilities of marriage, men are not “magically transformed,” but are prepared to gain the virtues necessary for a happy married life and, ultimately, for salvation. Therefore a woman can reasonably expect a good man to become a better man through marriage.
Return to Top
The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband devotes a chapter to each letter of the alphabet and closes with an extensive list of helpful resources for family life.
There are other problems with Wood’s advice in addition to the three mentioned above. Generally, it seems that Wood underestimates the workings of grace in the choice of a husband, in determining the appropriate time to marry, and in dealing with hardships, financial or otherwise, that arise after marriage. Certainly, grace builds on nature and we need to consult reason in these matters, but often God calls us before assuring us of the details. Young couples that follow this call, though they may marry with debt and rear large families, invariably find that God provides for their necessities.
For these reasons, I do not recommend this book.