Sometimes marriage counselling goes very, very badly–especially if it’s focused on making sure women don’t sin against their husbands, rather than focused on building oneness and intimacy.
Allow me to tell a story that unfolded last week and took a ton of my emotional energy.
An anonymous person shared on Twitter screen shots of a handout that she had received when seeking marriage counseling at one of the main campuses at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago very recently. That document listed 98 ways–yes, 98–that a woman could sin against her husband, along with a scorecard where she could rate herself, and ask her husband to rate her. The husband was not given anything equivalent.
To say it mildly, these documents are highly offensive and off-putting, as well as rather worthy of ridicule (and many Twitter users partook of that entertainment). But in the course of the day, other documents were shared from other churches which were quite similar.
Last week we recorded a podcast about these lists, and I encourage you to listen in! But for today, I wanted to make sure that there was a thorough post written looking at the lists. So I’m sorry if I’m repeating some of the podcast, but this is important enough that it needs to be written out!
Where did these lists come from?
They were originally compiled by Faith Bible Counseling in Lafayette, and put in the approved Homework Bank for the Soul Care ministry at Harvest Bible Chapel. The source of them is Wayne Mack’s 1980 book A Homework Manual for Biblical Living Vol. 2 Family and Marital Problems. You can find iterations of the lists online, many updated, used by different churches. The Biblical Counseling Center has produced updated versions of these lists, including the new LOG List of 100 sins for Wives/Mothers. While there is an equivalent list for men, it hasn’t been formatted and I can’t find it anywhere, while the LOG List is up on the homework page at Living Hope Church, for instance, without the husband’s list accompanying it.
Picture the scenario here. A couple is having marriage problems.
So they seek out marriage counseling–which then accuses the wife of committing these 100 sins. How would you feel if you went to marriage counseling like that? Especially when so much abuse is present in the church, can you see why this is problematic (and why I wrote those series of posts explaining my concerns with biblical counseling)?
Incidentally, it wouldn’t even be okay if they DID hand out an equivalent list for husbands, because reading a list of 100 sins is overwhelming and counterproductive. Expressing what you need from each other and how the other can meet those needs is much more helpful.
But let’s look at some of these sins she may commit in greater detail. To make this easier, I’m going to refer to the documents like this (the first three are in the same download). You can download them below, but it’s not necessary unless you want to fret and get angry and make your blood pressure worse. And I’ll be referring to them in this post, so you’ll get a gist of them regardless.
A. Handout from Harvest: Scorecard for Wives
B. Handout from Harvest: Practical Ways to Show Your Husband Love
C. Common Ways in Which Wives Sin Against their Husbands
D. Log List of 100 sins of the Wife/Mother (from BiblicalCounselingCenter.org, downloaded from Living Hope Church)
E. Scorecard for Husbands (Downloaded from Faith Bible Counseling)
1. She shouldn’t get her feelings hurt.
One of the 98 sins is this one (C):
- I get my feelings hurt very easily. (I am sensitive because of my pride).
Let’s remember that, when seeking marriage counseling, chances are that the reason that you’re going is because your feelings are hurt. By saying that this is a sin, then it’s saying that it’s not about what he’s doing; the real problem is what she’s feeling. If she would just stop being hurt (which is, of course, because she’s prideful) then they wouldn’t need counseling at all.
2. She had better walk a very, very fine line–or she’s in sin! But we won’t tell you where that line is.
- Do you keep yourself attractive (though not offensively so) in appearance in order that your husband may be glad to have everyone know you are his wife? (A4)
Got it. So I’m to be attractive–but not offensively so. What, exactly, is offensively attractive? Is it if you have too large a bust? Is it if you’re too beautiful? If you have a nose ring? If you have cleavage showing? It doesn’t say, so women have to figure this out for themselves And it’s important, remember, because we’ll be scored on our ability to walk that line!
Here’s another example (C):
- I’m a perfectionist about my housekeeping.
- I’m a poor housekeeper, and do not take proper care in the appearance of our home.
So the house should be attractive, but I guess not offensively so, either. (By the way, I agree that both extremes are wrong. I just have a big problem with a document like this laying blame on a woman where she’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t, without helping her sort it out at all).
And here’s yet another one (A6&7):
- Are you willing to let your husband have his own way and the last word when you disagree?
- Do you avoid making a fuss over trifles and solve minor problems that you should handle alone?
So she has to let him make the decisions, but she shouldn’t bother him with minor things. So who decides which is which? What if they disagree? It’s quite a pickle, isn’t it?
3. She had better satisfy him sexually and not expect to be satisfied sexually herself.
You might be in sin if:
- I often refuse to have sexual relations and rarely initiate them. Most of the time I am only interested in my own sexual needs. (C)
You show love to your husband by:
- Remembering that the purpose of the sexual relationship is to meet the needs of your husband. (B)
And then add to both of this sin:
- I sometimes feel depressed and unsatisfied with our sexual relations. (D37)
So she isn’t supposed to think of her own needs, she’s supposed to see sex as only for him, BUT it’s also suspect if she’s unsatisfied. As I’ve written recently, the most sexually deprived people in church on a Sunday morning are not men; they’re women. The rate of orgasm among married women is quite low. In my book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, only 18% report always having an orgasm during a sexual encounter. On the other hand, men nearly always do. So even if women don’t make love as often as men would like, men are still receiving orgasm far more than women are.
Perhaps the reason that women don’t want sex is because we’ve been taught our whole lives that sex is about his physical release; that if we don’t have sex, he’ll have an affair (which makes us feel used and kills our libidos); that we don’t have sexual needs ourselves; and that sex consists of intercourse until he climaxes. Seriously, the way we think of sex, her sexual satisfaction is an afterthought. That’s why I believe that we need to change how we talk about sex so that it’s not about them achieving intercourse, but rather about them feeling close and feeling aroused. BOTH of them.
4. She had better not struggle with depression, or ever feel any emotion other than happiness.
- I give in to depression or X rather than trying to fight it. (C)
Here’s another one:
- I usually don’t attend church with a joyful spirit. (C)
So having spiritual doubts or troubles is now a sin against your husband (wonder how that reflects on the Psalms?)
In my posts about biblical counseling, I was talking about how the movement’s approach to mental illness is a huge red flag. They tend to hold that all mental illness and anxiety is due to lack of faith and lack of spiritual understanding rather than a biological problem or the result of trauma (such as abuse). If you are struggling with depression, then, and you see a biblical counselor like this, you’re told that it is your fault because your faith is not strong enough, and this is a sin. So now not only are you depressed; you feel guilt and shame, too!
5. She must only ever focus on keeping the home and the kids (ie not work outside the house), oh, and she should use cloth napkins.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the dad-breadwinner-stay-at-home-mom arrangement (I did this for years, though I always earned some income from home as well), but not everyone does it or can do it. I know many physicians’ families where the wife works and the husband takes care of the kids. I know other families where they have a family business together (including my daughter Rebecca and her husband Connor). But these materials assume that the correct way of doing things is for the husband to work outside the home and earn all the money.
And what should the wife do?
Here are a few things:
So meals should be attractive (I wonder if they could be offensively attractive as well?)
And you should make sure that you use tablecloths and paper napkins and serve your husband first.
And the husband’s responsibility?
- Helping wash and dry dishes at least twice a week (E6)
So the dishes are her responsibility, but he’s being loving if he helps her and now and then.
And then there’s the garbage (which she shouldn’t grumble about):
- I grumble about gathering up the trash so he can carry it out. (D35)
He’s carrying it from the garage to the sidewalk, after all!
By the way–we use cloth napkins. I don’t like the waste of paper ones. And sometimes I do get the tablecloth out. But this shouldn’t be the prerequisites for a happy marriage! And what the heck is this doing in a handout for marriage counseling?
6. The house is his castle–and don’t you forget it!
Does anyone find that a weird way to talk about the family home? Let’s remember, too, that if this is a castle, he is the king. But you’re not the queen, because queens don’t look after the castle. You’re merely a servant, which actually goes well with this concept:
7. The family money is his, too, since he earned it.
The way these documents talk about money is really creepy. Even in the updated Scorecard for Husbands from Faith Biblical Counseling, the husband is asked:
- Do I handle the finances responsibly?
- Do I give her money to spend as she wishes?
So HE has to give HER money–it’s not THEIR money where she’s assumed to have equal access.
8. He can choose to help her with the kids, but she had better not expect it of him.
In fact, it’s a sin if she finds parenting tiring.
- I allow the baby’s crying to make me irritable (D34)
If she’s tired, she has to look after the kids. But if he’s tired, he gets a pass:
- I expect him to spend a lot of times in the evening with the children, even if he is very, very tired (D32).
My biggest problem with this: CHILDREN ARE NOT A CHORE. They are people–people who need both of their parents. While it’s okay if housework is done by one person, it should always be the expectation that BOTH parents will be actively involved with the kids whenever they can be.
Parenting is exhausting, especially for mothers who tend to do the middle of the night work more. Just because you’re tired doesn’t mean you get out of reading the kids a bedtime story.
9. He needs to make the decisions, and she needs to honour that.
This is likely the most common theme that crops up, over and over again, in all the documents. We read it’s a sin if:
- I make decisions without first asking you for guidance. (C)
And on the scorecard for wives:
- Are you willing to let your husband make the decisions and have the last word when you disagree?
I demolished the argument that biblical submission means that husbands win in the case of ties here.
10. She should make sure he’s the centre of attention.
Finally, the home, and even the dinner conversations, should reflect the husband and his wishes.
This one is so important they’ve even underlined it: family conversation should be about HIM.
In fact, that’s what all of these instructions and questions lead up to: the husband should have an easy, convenient life, while the wife ensures she follows him, caters to his every whim, and does not upset him.
I have a better idea. Let’s all just love Jesus and love each other.
Every relationship will look different, because we are all unique. We have unique personalities, unique giftings, unique circumstances. We don’t have to look like one another. What we do need to do is love God, listen to Him, and then love our spouse–which involves both loving mercy and acting justly.
Seriously, if we focus on those things–love, by showing mercy and also pointing them to Jesus by standing up for what’s right–we’ll all be fine. And you can do that whether you’re a man or a woman or a girl or a boy or a HUMAN.
If you go for marriage counseling, and your church tries to get you to examine 98 ways that you may be in sin, while your husband does not have to do the equivalent, and if your ways of sinning are simply not accurate or right, then understand: this marriage counseling is not safe.
And chances are the church that promotes it is not safe, either.
Walk away. Find a real body of Christ that promotes everyone’s dignity and worth as being made in the image of God.
And if you’re struggling with understanding all of this, my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage will show you how many of these things we’re taught in church don’t contribute to intimacy at all, and aren’t even biblical. Let’s look for the better way!
Are you GOOD or are you NICE?
But in the meantime, What do you think? Anything jump out at you? Let’s talk in the comments!
PS: Just a few creepy things in the documents to notice, too.
Several of the lists for husbands that I found said that he can show love to his wife by giving a wolf whistle or patting her “on the fanny”. It makes me wonder if women vetted any of this.