PODCAST: How Iron Sharpens Iron

by | Jan 9, 2020 | Resolving Conflict | 29 comments

Iron Should Sharpen Iron: marriage should make you better people!

Are you using your influence in marriage so that iron is sharpening iron?

We’re starting our January series on the blog, and I’m really excited about it! We’re talking about how marriage is supposed to help us grow to be better people, and I introduced this yesterday in my post on iron sharpening iron. But just as we can influence each other to be better people–we can also inadvertently influence each other in the opposite direction!

Here’s the podcast.

Main Segment: Iron Sharpens Iron

I started explaining two big principles:

  1. Change is hard. We tend to do things by habit, and we also tend to move in the direction of least resistance. So once we develop a habit (whether it’s good or bad), we’ll gravitate towards it and we’ll tend to keep it going. That’s why, if we enable selfishness, someone will tend to become more selfish.

  2. We’re made to live in community because we’re supposed to influence each other.

What does this mean for marriage?

If you want to have change, we have to stop making it easy for a spouse to the WRONG thing, and make it easier for a spouse to do the RIGHT thing.

Connor and Rebecca shared how they had to do this early in their marriage.

I also reiterated that some people will do the wrong thing regardless, because some people have bad character and are abusive. But in other cases, we can create dynamics in the marriage that either foster growth and good behaviour, or that foster immaturity and selfishness (and, to the extreme, could even culminate in abuse).

Posts mentioned in this segment:



Reader Question: You should tell women to have more faith in a miracle if they’re being abused, not tell them to get divorced

I spent the first bit of the podcast talking about how we can, and should, influence our spouse towards good behaviour (and they should influence us that way, too!). But I wanted to balance that message with this one: you can’t actually change someone’s behaviour, and if someone is being abusive, that is not on you.

A while ago I received quite a long email (that I condensed a lot in this podcast) that basically said this:

Sheila, I like your blog, but you are wrong in telling women in abusive marriages that they should divorce. Divorce is not permitted for abuse.

But, also, you forget that God can work miracles. You should tell the women to have faith instead! I was in an abusive marriage, and I prayed hard and sought godly, biblical counseling. We separated for a few weeks, and then God changed my husband’s heart, and he repented. God worked a miracle, and we are now reconciled. You are causing women to miss miracles. Tell them to have faith and to pray.

I replied in length to her question, but I think she is missing the mark on several things.

  • Scripture permits divorce for abuse
  • Abusive spouses must show they are repentant over time. We need to beware of the phenomenon of “love bombing”, where an abusive spouse will often say whatever they need to in order to get the spouse to reconcile
  • God does not force someone to change. He draws people, he softens hearts, He speaks to people, but ultimately we choose whether to listen or not.
  • Praying and having faith does not mean that your marriage will necessarily be saved. Praying and having faith means that you rely on God no matter what happens. Sometimes the miracle is what He does in your life and your children’s lives even if the marriage doesn’t survive.

Later this month I’ll also be running a post on how Wayne Grudem has changed his mind and agrees now that divorce is permitted for abuse–but why he doesn’t go far enough, and why he needs to issue an apology.

What I want people to get from my iron sharpening iron series is this:

It’s okay to speak up when something’s bugging you. Marriage should make us better people! A great book to go along with this series and to read as you work through this series with me this month is 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. Plus–did you know that I have a FREE video Bible study to go along with it (either 6 weeks or 8 weeks)? Check out the Bible study here!


Are you GOOD or are you NICE?

Because the difference matters!

God calls us to be GOOD, yet too often we’re busy being nice. And sometimes, in marriage, that can actually cause problems to be even more entrenched.

What if there’s a better way?

Let me know in the comments–do you think that we can enable bad behaviour? What does that look like? How do we stop? Let’s talk!


Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Nathan

    Great stuff as always, Sheila! It’s great for a marriage when both of you improve! This relates to some of your other posts that talk about how two people should have some common interests, but also some differences, as those differences can help both learn and grow. Too often, many people want to marry a clone of themselves, just with different body parts.
    I’m of two minds about the post from that woman who was abused and then her husband repented. I’m very happy that it turned out well, and I encourage people to pray and have faith.
    On the other hand, there’s no guarantee of this. As she herself said, God CAN work miracles, but that doesn’t mean that He always WILL. In the case of abusive husbands, history shows us that this rarely happens. Abusive husbands almost never reform. Telling a woman (and her children) to stay in the marriage no matter what, on the small chance that he MIGHT reform is very dangerous.
    I also agree with what you said in that the miracle is usually God sustaining through whatever happens, good or bad. It doesn’t mean that as long as we pray, we’re on easy street forever.
    Jesus himself said “in this life, you will have trouble”. Deliberately keeping yourself in a known harmful situation is just not a good idea at all, though.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I agree, Nathan. What scared me about the letter was that she hadn’t waited for the husband to show that he was safe and that he had truly repented. He had just said the right words. And that often signals that more danger is ahead. We need to be wise and discerning. Unfortunately we’re not always taught how to do that! And I do believe that miracles sometimes are just learning to rely on God and to flourish anyway, even when things don’t turn out as we had wanted them to.

  2. Andrea

    I hope you do talk about what Tim LaHaye’s The Act of Marriage book did to you. I had a very different reaction, I actually credit it for my happy sex life, but it’s been decades since I read it. I discovered it in my parents’ attic at age 14 and that was the sex education I had. (My parents were open about the topic and described it as something good and pleasurable in marriage, but it was defined by PiV and they would have never gone into the kind of detail the book did, most certainly not about the clitoris.) So it was from LaHaye, the future end-times fantasy novelist, I learned that I had a clitoris, that my husband should rub it if he wants to give me an orgasm, and that 75% of women do not come vaginally. He also cited Masters&Johnson a lot, and this kind of validation of secular scientific research gave me permission to seek it out and learn even more about sex that is not male-centric. I went to a Christian college and it was so common for young brides to be disappointed in sex, mostly because they thought they were broken for not enjoying PiV so much. (And I was too embarrassed to tell them all about the clitoris because revealing too much knowledge about sex made people question your purity, even though I was a virgin who had only kissed one guy at that point.) So I credit Tim LaHaye for giving me proper knowledge of female anatomy and arousal instead of biologically impossible expectation about sex that leave so many women thinking there is something wrong with them. Maybe reading it now, almost half a century after it was first published, I would notice different things (and a lot of those older books written by men sound condescending to women in the 21st cen. context). I’m not at all passionate about defending him , I just think of him fondly and am simply curious about how the book affected others.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, LaHaye definitely did that, and that was great. I actually want to reread the book and see what it actually says (it was almost 30 years ago now), but the big feeling I had was that it was all so clinical, that I wouldn’t have a choice, that Keith “needed” this in a way that I did not, and it just turned something that I thought would be fun into an obligation. Several people said the same thing in the survey. So I’d like to read it again and see what it was that bothered me so much at the time. I’m actually quite curious!

      • Andrea

        OK, i can totally see how his generation of men would have portrayed it as a need men have and the only reason really to please your wife’s clitoris is so you can get your much needed release in. I guess we can credit old LaHaye for introducing evangelicals to the clitoris while acknowledging his limitations. I don’t have time to reread the book, but since you’re working on investigating the church’s teachings on sex anyway… I can’t wait to hear more 🙂

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I really do need to reread it! It is good that he showed how to make a woman feel pleasure, but I just remember it sounding so formulaic and intrusive, and I tried to be the exact opposite in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex!

  3. Janet

    I was in a verballyabusive and controlling marriage I stayed and prayed anb saw God trying to get my husband’s attention. But he didn’t change for the better, at 8.5 yrs he became physically violent so I left. We stayed married for 5.5 more yrs, went to marriage counseling on and off. I prayed and hoped he would change, but eventually he decided he didn’t want to get back together, but he didn’t want a divorce either. So I filed for the divorce, he just wanted to have some control over me. I asked God many times about getting divorced, but he always said no, until my husband came to the revelation that he didn’t want to live with anyone and admitted he didn’t want to change, then when I prayed I heard an almost audible “let him go” and the scripture about releasing an unbeliever popped into my head. So praying and waiting doesn’t always work like Sheila said the spouse has to want to do the work to change. And those that do wait need to do so safely, leave and cleave to God!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Janet, I’m glad you’re free now, and I hope that you feel God’s love with you everyday as you heal. That’s so tough! And, yes, a person has to want to change. God does not force moral choices on us. It just doesn’t work that way. We can pray for God to lead someone, to draw someone, to speak to someone–but ultimately that person has to choose to repent. And some just don’t. They like doing what they’re doing. And that’s just the truth of it, however tragic it may be.

      • Doug

        “They like doing what they’re doing. ”
        That is often the case, and it is tragic, as you said.
        Just as often, they don’t know they can change, or how, and that is probably more tragic.

  4. Nathan

    Janet, I’m sorry that you went through that, and I hope that you’re in a good place now.
    You’re right, of course. A person has to WANT to change then have the will to go through it. God can nudge the person in the right direction, or sometimes just cause a miracle and make the change directly for that person, but that’s very rare.
    > > he didn’t want to get back together, but he didn’t want a divorce either.
    This sounds like a HUGE red flag. Definite control issues

  5. Lois

    I love that your podcasts come out on Thursdays! I always have a long drive Thurs mornings and the podcast is a great way to start my day!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Cool! We were thinking of moving the day in 2020, but maybe we’ll just keep it. 🙂

  6. Phil

    Becca & Connor – Thank you for taking on the honesty of your marriage and the problems within and of course the resolutions. You continue to feed one of my primary reasons that I continue to come around here. Great stuff. Thank you for teaching me and being an example.

  7. Jane Eyre

    Re: praying for relief from abuse and a changed heart.
    What if it takes the abused spouse walking out to get the abuser to see that their behaviour is not acceptable?
    A few years ago, I counseled a friend whose wife was basically checked out of their marriage. His other friends all advised divorce. My advice, which he took, was to stick it out if possible, but *do not go down with the ship*: their kids need at least one parent who can function.
    Everyone has a breaking point. Your kids will have a breaking point. Figure out where that is, do what you can to salvage the marriage until that point, and then walk while you and the kids are still able to put the pieces back together. You can even live separately, cut communication, and pray for a change of heart and mind, if you still truly feel that divorce is off the table.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true, Jane. A parent simply MUST be strong for the kids, and get the kids to a healthy place. Of course, sometimes that’s really difficult if splitting up means that the courts give joint custody to an abusive parent, which is very common. I hope we can teach people to recognize red flags in potential mates before they tie the knot!

      • Arwen

        Woooooh, Sheila the last part needs to be repeated again and again. I’ll also add not only to recognize red flags but to act on them. Because many do recognize the red flags but they turn around and make every excuse in the world as to why they can’t end the relationship. We have all witnessed such relationships and shake our head in disappointment. Too many people are just afraid to be alone.

        • Lois

          Wow your response at 34:30 to the lady saying you should just tell women to have faith and pray their abusive marriage will improve is bang on! You make it so clear and easy to understand. Thanks

          • Lois

            I actually think you should pull that clip out and make it a stand – alone clip that could be easily saved and shared on social media.
            We hear that SO often in our Christian circles – that divorce is not an option in abusive situations and women should just pray more and have more faith and wait.. for years… And years…. And years. But it’s such a dangerous belief and I think many times victims and their children end up in these situations so much longer because of this belief.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Great idea, Lois! Okay, thanks. I’ll try to make it into a “video” on Facebook. I think I can do that!

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thanks so much, Lois!

  8. Arwen

    The millennial segment was great! That’s the whole point of being a helpmate to your spouse is all about.
    Regarding the divorce Sheila you reminded her of some truthful facts we believers seem to forget in redemption. The SINNER/Culprit is the one that needs to repent not the victim in order for change to take place. You can’t fix what is not broken. Gary Thomas’s recent book speaks on this a lot! You’re also dead on when you say miracles are RARE, even in the Bible we can count on our fingers how many miracles actually took place, very, very rare.
    Enjoyed the podcast as always.

    • Maria

      “You can’t fix what’s not broken.”
      Love that line! It really puts it into perspective, when someone tries to save a marriage by “fixing” the abused spouse.

  9. NicoleC

    I love your podcasts, Sheila! Thank you for posting such encouraging and challenging content!

  10. Maria

    Catholics believe that a valid marriage between two baptized Christians forms a bond that only God can break (and that he’s chosen for death to break that bond). Even so, civil divorce is permitted in the Catholic Church. Because we recognize the difference between legally tying yourself to an abusive person and (when necessary) honoring your vows from a safe distance.
    (And even though we believe that non-Catholic Christians have an unbreakable bond in marriage, that belief doesn’t affect them. It would only come into play if one or both converted to Catholicism.)

  11. anu

    I grew up believing that it was wrong to divorce as it will destroy children and alienate family and friends so when my marriage started showing signs of distress, I did not think of separating or divorce. I felt that there had to be adultery for divorce to kick in. However even after I caught my husband having an affair I could not start the divorce process for fear of stigma and impact on my children.
    Unlike many women who comment on this blog, I do not have the option to divorce and a chance at re-marriage. I feel like I am stuck to this marriage. My husband used to constantly pick quarrels with me, criticize me or my family and steal money from the joint account and withhold sex. I cannot trust him. I fear him as he can shout and make life an absolute misery and bully the children. I have always been a timid person but I have become worse in the marriage.
    I will have to stay well in this marriage and trust God to help me live it the best way I can.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I am so sorry, Anu. That’s very tough. But what you can do is cling to God, and grow in God, and become a strong person yourself. You can still draw boundaries, and you can show your children that you are strong in the Lord. Also, I’d really recommend getting some help through a counselor or something, even just someone to talk to. I don’t know the particulars of your situation, but that sounds really tough, and we aren’t meant to go through these things alone.

  12. AspenP

    So good Sheila! My husband and I definitely fell into the bad habits & enabling category. I read Love & Respect in the first year of our marriage and it only feed the purity culture & legalistic gender role beliefs I thought were the only biblical model to follow. Total disaster! I can see now that I completely ignored and subdued my conscience where the Holy Spirit was practically screaming at me that this was all wrong, but I clung to a few scriptures that seemed to support the gender role model and kept dying to myself over and over “in the name of Jesus.”
    Jesus WASN’T glorified. I became a quiet doormat and he grew in selfishness and despised me. Disaster.
    Several years later, I stumbled across Leslie Vernick’s ministry and FINALLY I saw an alternative. Whole Bible teaching about emotional abuse and making an idol out of our marriage. No more squelching my conscience for incorrect doctrine that sounded Christian but didn’t yield healthy godly fruit.
    Another ministry boldly challenged me that I could not set any healthy boundaries until I was willing to give up my own control. I had to choose health over the idol of my marriage. He had to be free to choose us as a family or to choose not to change. Scariest thing I’ve ever done, but it was the path to health and freedom for both of us.
    He chose us. It’s been a long road back to health and we still have more to go, but we sure aren’t where we were (either of us)! Thank you Lord!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      What a great story, Aspen! And I want to highlight something that you said: So often we do treat marriage like an idol. We don’t want to endanger the marriage or rock the boat, but in doing so, we’re not putting Jesus first. He wants people transformed. He wants people looking like Him. If we enable the opposite, we’re working against God, not with Him. That’s why so much of this teaching doesn’t work.

      • AspenP

        Totally agree Sheila. I also needed to see how I needed to let him be free to make his own decisions even if that meant he didn’t choose our marriage. I can’t be both sides of the commitment. I know that sounds silly to say out loud, but I was living as if I COULD.
        It was such a healthy step that put us on the course to be equals in the marriage and not a parent-child dynamic that I feel like we learned from Love & Respect (husband being the adult figure that makes the decisions for the wife or child figure).
        Just last week my husband and I were praying together and he said “Thank you Lord for my wife’s counsel and coaching.” And I MARVELED at all that the Lord has done. What a shift has taken place in the dynamic of our marriage.
        He no longer feels like he has to shoulder the weight of everything because he has an equal partner to consult with instead of another dependent.


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