What Miley Cyrus Teaches Us About Marriage
A catchy new song by Miley reveals a view on love that may not last a lifetime.
“Well, actually nothing. Miley Cyrus and her husband just separated. This is something we should grieve or ignore, not further publicize. I don’t need her to teach me anything.”
Ok. But think about this.
Divorce under any circumstances is painful—painful to God, painful to the couple, painful to everybody affected by it.
With enough troubles of our own, Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth separating less than a year into their own marriage need not be newsworthy to us. Not because our hearts don’t break anytime a marriage starts crumbling, but because it’s really none of our business.
But consider that it’s also news your kids are ingesting whether you want them to or not.
They may not particularly care about the separation. But they’re definitely influenced by the surrounding interviews, Instragram pics, and, in her case, lyrics—all dripping with worldview and teaching them a way to think about marriage.
Worldview is always something we need to take seriously. Because how we think and are taught to think about relationships precedes how we’ll act in them.
So while we don’t need to regurgitate every bit of poisoned cotton candy offered up by popular culture, some moments have value for the sake of our own thinking and the futures of our kids.
We certainly don’t need to judge this couple, but her own words and thinking are worth reflecting on—if for no other reason than to judge ourselves.
A lyric worth exploring
While talking about marriage and her new album in a recent interview, Cyrus offered great insight into the relational spirit of the age. She explained her approach to marriage in the context of a lyric.
“I have a new song, ‘Never Be Me,’ and the chorus says, ‘If you’re looking for faithful, that’ll never be me. If you’re looking for stable, that’ll never be me. If you’re looking for someone that’ll be all that you need, that’s never going to be me.”
Let’s take the message of this lyric seriously and think about it in the context of a marriage.
“Be all that you need?” We can probably pass on that. Not really possible in either direction. Though a desire to try becomes a nice gesture.
But faithfulness? Absolutely need it for marriage to work.
Stability—at least in the sense that I’m rooted and grounded and not going anywhere? Essential ingredient of marriage.
“Never Be Me” becomes a confession in advance that I’m committed to the exact opposite of what it takes to truly be married. (Or be a good parent. Or a good friend.) In marrying me, you’ll never get what your heart desires—which we’ll come back to shortly.
In another interview, her representative told the Associated Press that they decided a break was best while they focus on “themselves and careers.”
All of this amounts to a worldview, a perspective loaded with implications for how we enter a relationship. So let’s consider any marriage founded on these commitments:
- Committed to unfaithfulness
- Committed to instability
- Committed to not being all you need
- Committed to myself
- Committed to my career
Nothing to see here, folks, just move right along. Easy to critique, easy to discern a recipe for relational failure, right?
How could any marriage survive under the weight of these starting points? It can’t. But while it’s always easier to dispassionately point them out in someone else’s relationship—especially after a break up—can we see them in our own?
How many of us enter marriage having already absorbed a worldview similar to this? It might hurt to think about it, but consider whether these statements have ever been true about your own approach to marriage:
- We allow our hearts to develop unfaithful affairs and attachments: with people, with play, with possessions.
- We’re more concerned with our spouse fulfilling our dreams for marriage than trying to fulfill theirs.
- We allow work to shape our identity in ways that undermine our marital oneness.
- We quietly embrace the instability that comes with knowing divorce is always an option.
- We prioritize ourselves first and foremost.
Even starting marriage with three or four of these in place promises trouble.
Though we masterfully keep our faulty pre-married, self-centered commitments hidden as long as we can, they eventually seep through the cracks of our marriage.
If we’re honest, we might find in our own hearts many of the same active saboteurs that undo much more public marriages like this one.
Over time, our kids seeing these same “commitments” played out in their home becomes considerably more persuasive than anything going on in celebrity culture. So it’s worth reflecting on.
“Complex” and “modern” and “new”?
In another interview she gave months before the divorce, Cyrus revealed her belief in the distinctiveness of her approach to marriage.
“But my relationship is unique. And I don’t know that I would ever publicly allow people in there because it’s so complex, and modern, and new that I don’t think we’re in a place where people would get it,” she says. “I mean, do people really think that I’m at home in a (expletive) apron cooking dinner? I’m in a hetero relationship. But I still am very sexually attracted to women.”
Her self-interpretation regarding her take on relationships probably conjures a slew of words in your own mind.
But “modern”? Crassness, vulgarity, and sexual lewdness are hardly modern ideas. They originated in Genesis 3 and have been weaving themselves into the tapestry of human history ever since.
What she’s describing isn’t really “new,” as she says, is it? No way. It’s old as pre-flood dirt.
It’s Genesis old. It’s Abraham giving his wife to another man as a bribe old. It’s Potipher’s wife seducing Joseph old. It’s Old Testament kings with their harems old. It’s Jezebel old.
Hedonism isn’t complex either. It’s raw and untamed and rather simple. It childishly acts upon whatever feeling rises to the surface. It’s easy to understand. We experience it quite naturally.
Congratulating ourselves for throwing off restraint actually smells of something primeval. Rebellion toward tradition? Sexual experimentation and perversion? Redefining God’s order in the universe to suit ourselves? Been around forever.
Two-thousand year old Romans 1 explains why TMZ will always have plenty of fresh material.
Agape love, commitment, fidelity—those have always been radical words, unique, complex. To be experienced by humans, they require a spiritual transformation.
What she describes as unique really isn’t at all. But a transformed heart? That proves harder to find.
Indeed, if you see these positive traits in yourself or in those around you, remember: you didn’t start this way. God did a special work in your heart to bring these words to life.
A quest for something more
So I wonder if Miley wasn’t all that radical in her approach to marriage. Really, in today’s climate perhaps the only radical aspect of their situation is that they got married in the first place.
That may be the most interesting question of all. In an age that celebrates avoiding anything that hinders our quest for self-fulfillment, why do we still intuitively believe marriage has something to offer?
Maybe that’s not so complicated either.
We do it because we crave something marriage inherently dangles in front of us—genuine intimacy and depth of relationship. We just don’t always do—or sometimes even understand—what it takes to bring them about in our marriage.
Many of us put a ton or work into preparing for our wedding day. But the best marriage ceremonies still only provide temporary, superficial intimacy, even for those tying the knot. The hard work of developing real intimacy is just beginning.
That’s why in the two minutes it takes for a couple to read their vows to one another, another nine couples filed for divorce somewhere around the country within the first five years of their own marriage.
Because real intimacy takes work. And a commitment to resist what comes natural so we can experience the supernatural.
The prospect of real intimacy
Contrary to the self-centered starting points marking so many—most?—marriages, real intimacy flows out of completely opposite commitments:
- Intimacy needs faithfulness and stability as foundations. (II Thessalonians 3:3)
- Intimacy requires trying to meet your spouse’s needs in a way no other human relationship will attempt. (Philippians 2:3,4)
- Intimacy demands a willingness to die to self, so that we might find greater selves. (John 15:12,13)
- Intimacy requires making a great marriage superior to making a great career. (Ephesians 5:32)
We crave intimacy, but then readily welcome a near constant flow of imposters. Superficial physical or emotional hookups foster fake intimacy. Pornography produces fake intimacy. Romance novels offer fake intimacy.
Saying we’re married when we know in advance we’re going to give ourselves to other lovers is fake intimacy. Reciting vows, living together, but then investing energy only in the comfort and convenience of ourselves? Fake intimacy.
Living together and sharing a bed and other partners isn’t marriage—it’s an extended adolescent hookup.
Marriage with a hustler caveat—we’re married but I’m going to cheat on you if something better comes along or I just feel like it—undermines the possibility of intimacy from the outset.
That’s consumer-driven marriage. Tinsel-town relationship patterns that never really produce the intimacy our hearts crave.
Though it makes us squeamish to consider, the selfish inclination of our heart tends more toward what the prophet Ezekiel repeatedly called whoredom rather than faithfulness. The Bible argues that we are all tramps at our core and in dire need of soul-cleansing chastity.
Remember Hosea? His marriage to Gomer—“a wife of whoredom”—marks one time in history that God actually endorsed a marriage founded on infidelity and unfaithfulness.
Through Hosea and Gomer, God says to everyone then and now, “Stop giving yourself to false idols with your mind, heart, and body. Repent! Return to me and find the intimacy you crave.”
And that’s the hook. God reveals that in the midst of our “whoring” about with people and things and everything other than Him—even in the context of our own marriage—what we really desire is a substantive connection with Him.
His is an invitation to true intimacy, of being refreshed by real waters that quench real thirst. No more imposters. No more scrounging around dry cisterns. Just the real thing, found in Him, practiced and played out in relationship with our spouse.
It’s what Hosea and Gomer needed. It’s what their Israeli brothers and sisters needed. It’s what the pagans around them needed. It’s what you and I need. It’s what Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth need.
Real intimacy in our relationship with God. Real intimacy in our relationship with our spouse.
Thanks but no thanks
So I need my kids to understand that what Miley says about marriage isn’t radical. There’s nothing particularly new about living selfishly or unfaithfully in the context of a relationship—it comes perfectly natural to us all.
Nor do we need to judge them or anyone else stumbling along in their quest for intimacy.
But for the sake of our families we need to at least say what used to be obvious. That choosing this path not only angers and sorrows God, but also harms your own self.
It makes a mockery of the concept of marriage. It does damage to the body and soul of anyone who chooses the same road.
And you won’t find true intimacy, which is what you’re after in the first place.
But a committed, faithful relationship will always be the most radical idea. An idea whose seeds contain the possibility of growing into genuine intimacy. And one always worth pursuing even today.
Copyright © 2019 Ed Uszynski. All rights reserved.Miley Cyrus and her husband just separated