On the shelf of your church's bookstore, Are You Waiting for 'The One'? (InterVarsity), by Dwight N. and Margaret Kim Peterson, might look like any other Christian book on dating and marriage. Look a little harder.

The new book, subtitled "Cultivating Realistic, Positive Expectations for Christian Marriage," is refreshingly different, captured in those two words realistic and positive. Instead of hard-and-fast statements about the One Best Biblical Way to Do Relationships, the Petersons offer a gentle, reasoned approach that allows room for Christian singles and couples to discover, within the context of faith, what works best in their own unique relationships.

The couple says the book was born out of a course they've taught for years at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. And they say the course has been as much of an education for them as for their students.

"Neither of us was really familiar with the large collection of Christian marriage literature out there," Dwight, a professor of New Testament at Eastern, recently told me. When students started bringing in popular Christian relationship books for the couple to look at, "we were sort of …"

"Aghast," supplies Margaret, an associate professor of theology. "Disappointed," Dwight adds, "at their lack of depth and wisdom." Many of the books, written by young Christian leaders who knew firsthand the contours of the current dating scene, tended to apply a "black and white, there must be an answer to everything" mindset that can lead to problems down the road, says Margaret.

The Petersons were inspired to write a book of their own, one that goes beyond the rigid gender roles that don't always work as well as they are supposed to. "Some of [our students have] never seen two grownups in peaceful relationship," says Margaret. And many of them have been raised with a "guard your heart" mentality that has prevented them from knowing how to build a friendship. "They have no tools, no clues, no habits of communication," says Margaret. "All they have are a few clichés, and they don't work."

In many ways the Petersons have a traditional marriage (they married after Margaret lost her first husband, Hyung Goo Kim, to HIV/AIDS, an experience she has written about for Christianity Today), but theirs allows for flexibility as far as gender roles are concerned, due in part to sheer necessity: As a paraplegic, Dwight has certain limitations, and the two have had to figure out how to work with them. As Margaret puts it, "We had to cultivate a much more interactive dynamic in our home than we would have otherwise."

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But beyond that, they believe "there are richer … ways to live" than having a set of rules about what husband and wife are allowed to do. "Some people," says Dwight, "fit into those [traditional] roles pretty comfortably. And then there are loads of people who don't fit really easily into those rigid gender roles, and we don't think they should have to. Why make them fit into a straitjacket that really ought not to be there?"

But how does the Petersons' thinking accord with the Bible's instructions about marriage? They maintain that it fits just fine—if one looks at Ephesians 5 and similar passages as a cooperative model, not simply a conflict-resolution model. Submission, Dwight explains, is often interpreted to mean "that the husband makes all the decisions."

"Which right there," Margaret jumps in, "assumes that the most important thing that happens in any family is decisions."

"It makes it seem," Dwight explains, "like Ephesians 5 is supposed to be a picture of what a marriage is like … when the husband and the wife are at each other's throats." He goes on, "Conflict is just scary. It's scary to be in disagreement, intractable or not, with somebody you really love. What's attractive about that sort of role-playing thing: It won't last forever because he gets the last word." Taken too far, this mentality makes it appear that Christian marriage's most distinguishing factor is its "a tie-breaking mechanism" for dealing with conflict, and "you end up doing an end run around your conflict," says Margaret. Instead, she and Dwight "seek consensus as something to aspire to and something to work towards. Let's think about what it means to have it be win-win … to work together."

While Dwight emphasizes that they don't present themselves as "the one marriage for everyone to emulate," they do try to show their students, both through their course and by example, "what peaceful working through challenges could look like."

"One thing that has concerned us," says Margaret, "is how little adult conversation many of these young people have ever had. They come so hungry, almost starved, for real conversation with a grownup. That makes us sad and kind of alarmed …. They don't seem to get enough interaction with people who recognize the dangers and the downside to relationship."

Another similar pitfall the Petersons see is for Christians to pretend that life in the church is perpetually rosy. The result is that problems like abuse and divorce are poorly handled, if at all.

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"We talk a lot in our class about abuse," says Margaret, "[partly because] nobody else is." She recalls handing out a list of 17 warning signs of abuse in one class. "The next week, we got an eight-page essay."

The student who wrote the essay had dated a boy in high school who had exhibited 13 of the 17 signs—and yet she didn't know at the time she was being abused, because she had never heard the term defined. After the boy raped her, she blamed herself for being involved in sexual activity.

"She had no idea," recalls Margaret, "that if he forces himself on you, it's rape. Who's taking care of these people?"

One final message the Petersons want to convey: While marriage is hard work, it isn't just hard work. They want their students and their readers to know, "You can do it," Dwight says. "It's work—and you can do it."

"You've got to work really hard to be an athlete," Margaret says. "You've got to work really hard to be a musician. You do it because even the work is fun, at least some of the time. The process is something to relax into and engage in."

One of the Petersons' biggest goals is teaching students to "be more who they are and realize more of their potential in relationship." Through their teaching and now through Are You Waiting for 'The One'?, the Petersons are doing just that for a growing number of young Christians hungry for life-giving relationships.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog, and author of 'Bring Her Down': How the American Media Tried to Destroy Sarah Palin. She wrote "'Unwanted' Girls Defy Sexism in India," "What the Herman Cain Case Reveals about Harassment," "The Good Christian Girl: A Fable," "The Lost Virtue of Courtesy," and "Abstinence Is Not Rocket Science" "God Loves a Good Romance" for CT online, and "Guarding Your Marriage without Dissing Women," "Bill Maher Slurs Sarah Palin, NOW Responds," "The Social Network's Women Problem," "Facebook Envy on Valentine's Day," "What Are Wedding Vows For, Anyway?" "Why Sex Ruins TV Romances," and "Don't Think Pink" for Her.meneutics.