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I’ll Marry You When You’ve Earned It (The true meaning behind a common phrase)

I’ve heard the phrase a few times before from men who have been living with the same woman for several years. “Well, I have to marry her now. After all, she’s earned it, and I want to keep her.”

It blew right past me the last couple times I heard it, but this time it bumped me on the way past like a slap in the face. We could imagine a conversation…

“So you have to marry her now.”


“Because she’s earned it.”



“Oh, you know, putting up with me these years. Staying faithful, doing life together…”

“And sex.”

“Well…yeah. Like I said, doing life together.”

“So she’s earned it now.”

“Yes, that’s what I said.”

“But you didn’t have to marry her four years ago.”

“Well, we just met then. We were going steady but hadn’t moved in together yet.”

“She hadn’t earned it yet?”

“Well, no.”

“So what you’re saying is that if you were perfectly honest, and she was perfectly honest on your first date it could have gone something like this: Her, ‘I want you to marry me someday.’ You, ‘Well, share my bed and my home for a few years. Have unprotected sex with me with absolutely no guarantee that I will take care of your children. Devote three or four precious years of your young life to me. In short, earn it. You work for everything in life, even my love. And I am such a stud, I can speak to you like an employee. Why there are girls just lined up out there…”


“Just being honest.”

“I never said I was a stud!”

“Well then what gives you the right to speak down to her like that?”

“I’m not speaking down to her! I just said she earned it!”

“Yes. But what you meant to say, all along is: my love is not a gift, it is a wage. I’ll marry you when you’ve earned it. And by the way, if at any point in the future she stops serving you as you demand, then what? Your relationship is a one-way street. It is predicated on her serving your needs adequately. Does that mean if she stops serving you, you are justified to leave her?”


The sexual revolution was pushed in the West in part by the Feminist movement, and marketed as the liberation of women. But that’s an absolute lie!

In relationships, men have all the power. Biologically and emotionally (just speaking of the flesh) a man is far more likely and capable of taking advantage of a woman. The most devastating thing that a man can do to a woman is not to have a one-night-stand and leave her immediately (this can be bad enough!) but to stay with her until children come, and then disappear for greener pastures.

Of course, it doesn’t work the other way around. Biologically/physically, and emotionally the mother is bound to the child. She cannot simply walk away. But the man can. And they do – in huge droves, they do.

But in most sane cultures of the world they do not allow their children to run wild. They cherish and protect their young girls by introducing and protecting the institution of marriage. I am tempted at this point to credit Christianity alone here…but in reality, most cultures have some sense of marriage. Only our insane “progressive” culture has dispensed with marriage, and in so doing has put young women and children in harm’s way.

Marriage is an institution designed to protect women and children.

The moment you remove the need to get married before having a sexual relationship, you liberate the man to do exactly what his sinful flesh inclines him to do: to leave at any time, or (which may be worse) to use the power that he has to abandon her as a weapon or tool to control her.

After four years, the person in this fictional scenario has decided to lay down his tool, his weapon, his threat of abandonment. “After all, she has earned it.” But how has she earned it? And why in the world is she earning something from him? People earn things from people who have more money, power or authority than they do. This couple cannot be thinking of some sort of headship role because they are thoroughly “liberated” from those old-fashioned ideas. (But a Christian version of headship/submission certainly would not look as brutal/crass as this!…For more on Christian Headship/Submission, see post Leadership and Submission in the Home, or my recent sermon, “Heart of the Servant King“)

So then why does he speak of “earning” it? And why is it that this simple phrase seems so accurate and natural that most of us have passed over it without a thought? “Earned it? Of course she’s earned it – she’s been with him for four years!”

That tiny band – that precious gold band that God demands be given to a girl before taking her virginity – he has kept that from her. He has kept it away and up, just out of reach. Invisible, but never quite out of mind.

In the other hand, he held the opposite: nothing. Absolutely nothing. After giving her virginity, her time, her youth, her childbearing years…nothing. Devestatingly, achingly, crushingly nothing. The hand is just empty…and that one lingers too. Which one will she receive? What will be her reward?

It is all at the mercy of the man. This is what the Sexual Revolution has given to the liberated modern man – absolute brutal power over woman. At any moment, at the slightest whim, he can leave her. Leave her. Leave her. With absolutely nothing.

And so she must serve him. Of course he never tells her to. But why would he? He’s too clever for that, and only amateurs manipulate with words. He is so good, sometimes he doesn’t even know what he is doing.

“Well, honey, I always dreamed of being with someone who would perform sexually in this way…” So if she wishes to be his wife, perhaps, someday, she must perform in that way. Otherwise, it’s the dreaded nothing.

“Well, my standard of beauty is thin, tall, well groomed, red hair, nose-ring, etc….” so she must remain thin, put her makeup on without fail around him, and try to conform to his standard of beauty.

“Well, you know I love a girl that can cook!” so now she must learn to cook, and do it well! Not for the joy of it, but for the fear…what if he decides, after all her long years of candidating for the position of first lady, that he actually has chosen candidate #2? A candidate who can cook?

I used to be able to smile and nod along to the Romeo and Juliet type of movie and song plots. The young passionate man who loves Juliet so much that he just cannot wait, and will not tolerate any sort of family interference. He has to take her now, and they will move in together immediately to passionately begin their life together.

Too much life experience has poisoned this story for me. Despite what is promised in movies such as The Notebook, the strong tree of fidelity, family and covenant love does not grow easily in the soil of fornication and lust. It grows there sometimes – perhaps by accident, or family pattern. But it is not native to that soil.

I used to love this story because passionate love is from God: but what I missed is that by bypassing marriage, this dastardly young man has robbed the woman of all the protections and rights which society has seen right to protect the woman with. She is completely at his mercy now. Will he be fair to her? Or will he toy with her for a few years? Or a few decades? Will he someday decide she has “earned” his covenant? Or will he never decide that? Will he – as many men that I know personally, as well as huge statistics in our society – simply leave her when the kids come, when the going gets rough, or when he gets bored?

If sex is before marriage, marriage becomes a weapon or tool of manipulation. And a kind man who says, “I’ll marry her…after all, she’s earned it!” betrays that all along, he has been using just this weapon to control and manipulate his woman.

And that, I believe, is just not right.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress anddefraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God whogives His Holy Spirit to you.” 1 Thess. 4:3-8


  1. Keep speaking the truth! This is a huge problem today… no-one wants to commit to something that is life-long. Guys never ask “their girl” to marry them for a variety of reasons (many of which you touched on here).
    Divorce is tooo easy and rampant even among Christians. There are father-less (and mother-less) children because of divorce and other horrible sins.
    Marriage needs to be taken seriously and it’s terrible that it’s not.
    Purity is taken even less seriously in this world we live in today. I am committed to purity before marriage and I am determined that will never change.

  2. Amen! what a great article! We need men who will treasure a girl’s heart and protect her, not be the devil’s advocate. I am sooo thankful to have a guy like this (in a world of sad statistics) who puts my life and my best interests before his and is committed to the sanctity of the institution of marriage and willing to wait until the Lord makes His will clear to us.

    • I’m willing to wait on my guy too but it seems like he’ll never ask me. We’ve been together for well over a year and I definitely think it’s God’s will for us to get married. Well, at least I used to think that. I mean, our families love each other and we seem so right for one another. And yet, we’ve talked about marriage and never has he proposed. I’m starting to wonder if he’s just playing me cause he’s satisfied with our current status. But I believe in marriage and that’s what I want!

      So, how do you know when the Lord has made His will clear? I just wish I knew.
      I’m ready to have a serious convo with my bf and give him an ultimatum.

      • You should. Guys are dense, and sometimes it’s scary to move on to the next level. Maybe he just needs a little push.
        On a different, but related topic, I want you to know what power you have as a woman. As a young man, I struggled often with depression. Then I met my now-wife, and we began courting. At some point, I hit one of my depressed streaks. I distinctly remember her comment (which she doesn’t remember) “my…this depression is really scary…” then she looked away and was silent. I thought to myself, “uh oh. I don’t think she wants to be married to a man who gets depressed.” From that moment, I made it priority #1 to get this depression business figured out. And I did! Others have serious medical conditions leading to depression – but for me it basically came down to me grabbing myself by the scruff of the neck and saying, “look, kiddo, life isn’t that bad. suck it up and pull out of it!”
        Now the point is this: because my now-wife had a very firm idea of what she wanted in a man, I felt pulled to rise to that level. She never vocalized what she was thinking, but I could read it from her: if I want to marry her, I must be such-and-such a sort of a man. That’s a powerful thing.
        And if you are insistent that you want a man who can step up, take initiative and lead in the home, I think that will go a long way towards helping your man rise to that challenge. (Some good teaching on complimentarian gender roles can also help a lot…see post leadership and submission in the home… …and other posts) But of course you cannot control anybody but yourself.
        I feel for you. We get married far too late in this society, and that’s too bad, because having your kids when you are still young is a BLAST, and also (I think) closer to God’s ideal.
        Hope it all goes well for you!

  3. Thank you, Josiah. You have really encouraged me! I’m going to talk to my parents about the situation (more in depth) and get their wisdom and then I will definitely talk to him in depth.
    Also, thank you for telling me about your depression and how your wife helped you see that you needed to do something about it. You are an over comer and I can see your heart is owned by the Lord.
    I believe in traditional marriage and am definitely not an egalitarian or “evangelical feminist”. I’m all for the man being the head of the house, my leader and I have no problems being submissive. I’ve been submissive to my parents and have always respected their guidance in my life. And that’s where my future fears come in. The guy I am with is not that much of a leader (yet). I’ve had to push him in various little areas. It’s a struggle for me because he is a bit older than me and yet he doesn’t act like it. Or at least not all the time 😉

    I love him to death but the more I dwell on his shortcomings, the more frustrated I become. I know I’m not perfect either and still have habits I need to deal with. But I am adamant that I will not be the main provider; esp when children come along (Lord Willing!). I don’t believe that I should provide for my boyfriend financially; esp when we aren’t engaged yet. There are various other problems too but that is the main one that weighs on my mind.

    Loved reading your lengthy article; gave me a lot of food for though and I found myself nodding my head a lot 🙂

    I think you’re right; maybe he just needs a push!

    • I was very glad to read, “I’m going to talk to my parents (and think about it more)…” I didn’t sleep well after writing you. I think I showed my youth/inexperience when I quickly wrote back, “You should do it!” to you. Of course, I don’t know enough about your situation to give you advice like that! So I’m glad you’re looking into informed advice closer to home!

      It has been a continual frustration and blessing that I married a strong-character woman. She doesn’t let me get away with being sloppy, lazy or sinful. Not that she nags, but she has a high image of what I should be, and I know when I have missed it.

      Don’t let your man get away with being a typical metro-sexual, passive male. He can be more, and God calls him to be a leader, soldier, martyr. If he loves you, and if he craves your approval, he will rise to what you want him to be. (at least I think he will)

      he should really get into listening to Mark Driscoll’s stuff…but kind of hard to introduce him to it, considering that is what he needs!

      Click on the category tab to the right see: “Christian walk/boy2man” and you will see some interesting articles on this topic.

      • Well, I believe in respecting my parents’ authority and it’s always been that way, thankfully. I like to talk to them about important matters such as these because they are older, wiser, more mature etc…
        I think you offered me some great advice and I definitely want to see if I can get him listening to Driscoll.

        I can be strong-willed and independent but I also recognize the need to be submissive and actively standing behind the men in my life (whether it be father, brothers or “husband-to-be”. I’m definitely not giving up on him but I’m not going to compromise either. I think he will rise up to be what I hope he also wants to be – and not just for me but for the Lord.
        And if not, well, we will get there when we get there. 🙂 I’ll be in a lot of prayer!

    • …remember, “submissive” does not mean “passive.”
      “Helper appropriate to him” (often translated “help-meet” in Gen. 2) literally means “helper face-to-face.” There is a time and a place for a submissive wife to stand in the “face” of her partner and reflect his imperfections back to him, in love, for his good.

  4. I also wanted to thank you, Josiah for that reply, I gained some valuable insight from it too. I really liked this, “And if you are insistent that you want a man who can step up, take initiative and lead in the home, I think that will go a long way towards helping your man rise to that challenge.” I truly believe this…when we set and keep our standards, it does help the guy to rise to that (challenge or not), and also all the big and little ways we can encourage them to fulfill their God-given roles.

    • …I feel compelled to add….
      This idea of helping a man “man up” can also back-fire. I have seen that a lot – even in couples who both really believe in complementarian marriage.
      The problem is that if a woman doesn’t watch it, she can fill the role of a mother, pushing the man into a role of a child. He may resist/flee from this pressure, or he may settle into the implied role of female leadership. Counter-intuitive, I know, but I’ve seen it.
      The key, I think, is missing the “respect” that God commands wives to give their husbands. I’d recommend the books “for women only” (a short and lively read!) or “love and respect” (a bit longer/more meaty, but also more deep) for this topic.
      In a few words, how can I describe it?
      Okay, this is a terrible example…
      But think of an “administrative assistant” and a CEO. As you may know, many such “assistants” do more to run the company than the CEO. Many “make” the man they serve. How do they do it? Through careful planning of the affairs, through kind words, through seeing him in a certain way, through respecting him and working alongside him.
      In the course of their work, she will no doubt confront him many times. She will advise him to do this and not that, and find ways to encourage him NOT to do certain bad habits that detract from his dignity, and from the wealth of the company.
      However, one thing you would NOT EVER see is her talking gently and softly to him – head slightly bent forward, hand open gently towards him, as though speaking to a child.
      She will find ways to differ with him and better him in a way that will MAINTAIN HIS SENSE OF RESPECT. Otherwise she will be packing her bags, no matter how good of a job she does.
      Anyways, that’s a bit of a rushed job at mentioning that topic. Perhaps worhty of writing a post soon. But those books will do a better job than I of explaining this topic.
      God’s peace and wisdom be with both of you in all your affairs!
      – josiah

      • Great example you gave, it makes perfect sense to me, the CEO and Administrative assistant.. I was going to add on to my last comment that bit about not “taking the reigns” so to speak in a way that would essentially be treating him like a child or a position of disrespect. 🙂
        Thank you for the clarification on being submissive does not=passive as well, I am finding that this is a common idea often thrown out there.

      • “Many “make” the man they serve. ”

        I love that line; so true! Behind every great man is a woman! 🙂

        Like I mentioned up above, I was raised to respect those in authority and there is nothing more inspiring than seeing my Mom stand behind Dad or seeing a friend stand behind and beside her husband.
        And yet I also agree with you that there are ways to lead them to greatness, to encourage them on and also be kind and “confront” when necessary.

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