Can You Marry the Wrong Person? Why it Matters Who You Marry

by | May 20, 2020 | Uncategorized | 84 comments

Can You Marry the Wrong Person?
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Can you marry the wrong person?

When Keith and I started speaking at marriage conferences in 2004 and 2005, we were still using curriculum from FamilyLife USA. And the emphasis in that curriculum was in preventing divorce. I remember one of the major teachings was this:

You didn’t marry the wrong person; once you’re married, they become the right person.

And then much of the teaching in the conference focused on how the reason that people feel distant in marriage is that you have expectations. Let go of expectations, and you’ll feel better. Divorce doesn’t actually make anyone happier. God meant for marriage to refine you to be like Christ; He’s more concerned with your character than the fact that marriage makes you feel fulfilled.

Of course, there’s elements of truth in all of that. But it is not the complete picture of why people have problems in marriage.

FamilyLife Canada moved away from that curriculum within a few years, and instead of talking about how to keep marriages together, we started talking about practical ways to build oneness, and it’s a much healthier conference today.

But for years, the emphasis in the evangelical church was talking people out of leaving their marriages.

I know I leaned to that side, because at the time I didn’t understand the dynamics of being married to someone of really bad character. I still do lean to that side quite a bit, because I do believe that in most cases, children do better if parents stay together, if the problem is that one spouse is lazy, or takes the other for granted, or doesn’t invest in the relationship at all. When the marriage problems are more about anger issues and abuse, children actually do better if the parents split up.


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What I have come to believe over the last few years is that it matters who you marry.

When you marry someone with bad character, who is selfish or lazy, then there is very little that you will be able to do to create a marriage which is nurturing and life-giving. No matter how giving you are; no matter who much you let go of expectations; no matter how kind you are; if someone has bad character, you can’t change that.

You can change the dynamic in your marriage so that you stop trying to appease your spouse, and start drawing boundaries, as I talked about in this two-part series on what to do if your husband won’t change, and in our January series on how iron should sharpen iron. But it’s going to be a long hill to climb.

Here’s what I said in another post on how it’s actually healthy to have some expectations in marriage:

From 3 Things You Should Expect from Your Spouse

Why does Christian teaching often focus on how expectations are wrong?

I think that we’re so scared of couples getting divorced that when a couple has a problem that is difficult to solve, the better course of action seems to be to deny the problem is real. If solving the problem involves one spouse changing their behaviour, and that spouse truly doesn’t seem interested, then we’re stuck. So the only solution is to take the miserable spouse and tell them they’re wrong for being miserable.

Ironically I think that philosophy actually harms marriages far more than it helps. When people are miserable because of how they are being treated, you can certainly tell them, “You’re wrong for wanting to be treated well.” And they may push down their misery for a time. They may be able to throw themselves into The Word and grow closer to Jesus (which is definitely a good thing!). They may be able to find other outlets for their needs, for a time.

But ultimately when we are living a lie, that lie catches up with us, even if we’re growing closer to God at the same time (and I would say that growing closer to God often makes that lie harder to live with).

Read the rest here.

Now, I have seen marriages where someone is lazy or immature change over a 40-year period as a spouse grows up. Sometimes we’re wounded and broken, and it takes a while to deal with our stuff before we become a person who is nurturing to those around us. In those marriages that I know, I’m so glad that the spouses did stick it out to see that transformation.

But quite often that transformation doesn’t happen when the problems are not related to immaturity, but rather due to downright selfishness.

I am not trying to argue for divorce here, though. What I am trying to say is that character counts. We need to teach people to recognize red flags BEFORE these marriage crises happen.


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Over the last 15 years, as I have been writing and speaking and blogging in the marriage field, I have seen many marriages blow up because a husband had an affair on an unsuspecting wife. What makes a lot of this even more tragic is that often these wives have made being a good wife and mother the main aim of their lives. Their identity has been invested in doing this family thing right. They poured out all of their energy into this, and taught other women how to love their husbands well, and this is what they got in return.

Yesterday I read about a woman I once followed online whose husband divorced her a decade ago, out of the blue, after some serious moral failings on his part (which she didn’t name). She said that after that divorce, she put herself back under the authority of her father and her brother, and then a few years later she met a man they approved of and she remarried.

Now, this woman had been a Christian her whole life. She had children.  She was almost 40 years old. She was more than capable of making her own decisions. Yet she felt that she had to go under the authority of her husband and brother again, which I find concerning.

But more than that, I wonder if in the Christian world we often elevate people of bad character because we misread red flags?

Let’s say that a man is very opinionated, and knows Scripture well, and loves being in charge in church? We’ll say that he’s a natural spiritual leader, and that he’ll lead his family well, and that this means he’s great husband-material. He’s a go-getter.

But these things–being opinionated; spouting Scripture to show others why they’re wrong; yearning to run things rather than to let others run things are also classic signs of very controlling personalities who do not like to listen and who do not take correction well. Speaking as someone who does tend to try to run things and who is also opinionated, I’m not saying this type of personality is wrong, any more than any type of personality is wrong. But it isn’t necessarily RIGHT, either. How people react to correction, and whether people are willing to listen to others are both so important in making a good marriage. And yet we often admire the “go getter”.

We also often look for head knowledge before we look for people’s actions. My personal theory is that because modern evangelicalism defines itself by what people believe rather than by how people act, we’ve reduced Christianity to a set of right beliefs.

Just because we believe salvation is by grace alone, though, does not mean that works shouldn’t matter. Yet we’ve tended to over-emphasize beliefs, and as long as someone can explain doctrine, we don’t notice if they never wash a dish, or if they never help others, or they don’t think to get up while others are clearing the table (seriously, the number of church events I’ve been to where my husband is the only man clearing the table or offering to wash dishes is astounding).

But again–what’s going to make a good marriage? The fact that someone can quote Bible verses to tell you why you’re wrong, or that someone is willing to jump in and play with a baby, change a diaper, or do the dishes? Is it that someone can explain doctrine, or is it that you feel like a team?

There are so many other issues, too–whether or not a person will work, either at a job or at home. Whether they will share the load. Whether they will take care of themselves and responsibility for themselves. And the list goes on and on.

But when it comes to our rhetoric about marriage, I don’t think we emphasize red flags enough.

And if we’re going to tell women that they pass from the authority of their fathers to their husbands, we also teach women to ignore red flags. “Let the men decide.” We teach women that if they think something is wrong, then likely they are the problem, because men are supposed to lead, and thus the man is usually right. And if other people are telling us this guy is a great catch, we listen to them, rather than to our own reservations.

And then we create marriages that are not life-giving, and so we have to create conferences to convince very unhappy people to stay.

This is why I get so frustrated. This is why I often find myself very sad when I look at the comments and the emails that I get–that it all seems so very avoidable if people were taught to watch for the marks of real good character, and not just the marks of “biblical manhood” or “biblical womanhood”. And if women were taught that it’s okay to confront a man when you think he’s doing something wrong; that they don’t have to defer to their male peers; that their thoughts do matter–then maybe we wouldn’t marry people who didn’t care about our thoughts or experiences.

What do you think? Can you marry the wrong person? How can we stress character more? Let’s talk in the comments!


I tried to balance this idea that you shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations with the fact that we should have some expectations in Thought #4 in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage–my husband can’t make me happy.

Sometimes that means that we’re expecting too much. But sometimes it also means that God wants us to take responsibility for doing what we can to address our own legitimate needs.

And quite often that means setting boundaries around what we will accept and what we just can’t.

If you have trouble navigating this in marriage, take a look at 9 Thoughts!

Do you have a hard time asking for what you want?

You can change the dynamic in your marriage and make talking about your own needs easier!

If your marriage is in a communication rut, it’s time for some change.

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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84 Comments

  1. Ina

    I think this is a huge part of why having a friendship with your spouse before marriage is so, so critical! You get to know their character before it all gets blocked by rose coloured glasses. If you don’t have a solid answer for your boyfriend/girlfriend’s biggest flaw, I don’t think you’re prepared to marry them.
    I’m incredibly grateful that I grew up with my husband. Because we knew eachother so well, we had two sets if expectations: what struggles we’d have as well as what we expected of the other in marriage. We both approached making our vows very logically and did not agree to marriage until we were certain that we could live with the good and the bad of the other. Doesn’t sound very romantic, but I’ve seen too many people swept off their feet by romance only to really struggle after the wedding because their perfect significant other suddenly isn’t a perfect spouse.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen! Totally agree. I married my best friend; so did Rebecca. Katie married someone she had known her whole life who later became her best friend. And so far it’s worked out really well for all of us!

      Reply
      • Csab

        The rose coloured glasses helped us to choose each other. We were deeply in love at the marriage, now it’s calmer, but we still love each other after 14 years.
        Passion was important at the first years of the marriage, later love is more dominant. I think, it is normal.
        Our kids don’t understand this love. They always ask my wife why she married me and not someone else, who is better? (girls)
        They like me, but they expect a handsome prince with tons of money like in the tales. They expect mom to marry the perfect guy.
        I think, that Disney love is boring in the long term: always kissing, sweethearting, … good for a few years, but later boring. I prefer the normal love.

        Reply
    • Cynthia

      Agreed! I had known my husband for eight years by the time we got married, so there weren’t a lot of surprises. My sister married the brother of one of her best friends, so she knew his character well too.
      My middle daughter is currently dating someone that she’s known for years through summer camp and then school.
      Typical date settings are highly artificial, and I don’t have any magic list of questions or way of reading small behaviors that really substitutes for the deep knowledge that you get just by seeing a person for a long time in their natural environment.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Completely agree, Cynthia. How someone acts on a dinner date or out to see a movie is so different from how someone acts day to day!

        Reply
      • Madeline

        Its so true that typical date settings are so artificial! I don’t have any magical list or anything either, but I will say it helped my now husband and I to spend time together just doing every day things, like grocery shopping and cleaning. I think that really helped our transition from dating to marriage.

        Reply
    • Maria

      Ina, that sounds like really wise example. I can’t imagine saying to a stranger “how about a romance?” Women are perfectly capable of initiating and have every right to, so that’s not why. It just seems foolish and disrespectful to not know who a person is but then start discerning marriage with them.
      Not saying you should only marry someone you knew from childhood. But if my initial instinct upon first meeting a man was “potential mate!” I would want to get my (emotional) passion under control. Passion is good. It just needs to be properly ordered beneath sound discernment. Better to see him as a person first and a potential husband second.
      Sure, thinking someone is “hot” does make a difference. But it plays second fiddle to “does he have good character?” “Can our life goals be reconciled? Can we be a team?” Or, another question : “Am I ready to date right now?”

      Reply
  2. Sarah

    Thank you for talking about healthy expectations! My husband and I interned for a church where we as interns and everyone who worked or served there was held to very high expectations but whenever we had a marriage problem I was told I must never expect anything of my husband because that leads to disappointment. It never made sense to me that if marriage is supposed to reflect our relationship with God, and He has expectations of us, why we weren’t allowed to hold each other to reasonable standards.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great question! We should expect that our spouse will have goodwill towards us; that our spouse will work for the good of the family; that our spouse will stay faithful in every way. These things are okay to expect. I really think a lot of our rhetoric around marriage has more to do with preventing divorce than it does building a healthy marriage.

      Reply
      • Lisa

        Yes! I thank you SO much for these thoughts- looking back I wish I had been looking for character over time instead of professed beliefs. I remember thinking how impressed I was that he knew scriptures when other guys in college just played video games. But I think about (per your example) how at retreats etc there were the guys that stayed to help clear the table, and the guys who got up to shoot hoops right away. Thats not a fool proof test- but those guys with whom I”m still friends with their wives have shown themselves to be great, loving husbands. Oh the things I wish I had known. Thank you for sharing these important thoughts. I esp resonanted with the quote you inserted (I’m paraphrasing)- we tell people to lose their expectations- when we see someone else won’t change, we tell the miserable person it’s their fault for being miserable.’ Thank you once again for your ministry!

        Reply
  3. Doug Hoyle

    I guess my first thoughts on this comes in the form of a question?
    Is it your assertion that if we marry the “wrong” person, that gives cause to divorce? Where do you draw the line? You brought up laziness as an example. Is it ok to divorce a lazy spouse? What if one were selectively lazy? Did most things pretty well but fell way short in others?
    Let me throw a curve ball. What if you are married to a sexually selfish or lazy spouse, or even jist one that has issues. Clearly that interferes with the other spouses happiness. Is that reason enough to divorce?
    I could easily draw that line of question out a long way, but I don’t think I need to. I think you get the idea.
    I appreciate the fact that you also examined things from the perspective of expectations, becasue that is where I have gotten myself into a mess in the past. You mentioned unrealistic expectations. I had some that I thought were reasonable and I was certainly not happy when they weren’t realized. If that happens often enough, is that cause for divorce?
    Another example. I was a very angry person for a long time. You mentioned the effect that has on children, and I can’t dispute that it is bad. When the scales fell from my eyes, I could see the impact it had on my son. Was that cause for my wife to divorce?
    I don’t have any good answers. If I point out the verses in the bible that spell out grounds for divorce, none of what I mentioned is there. If I go the other way, and say that if there is behavior that is deeply displeasing, such as laziness and selfishness and say that in SOME cases, divorce is justified, because clearly, those impact a marriage in a negative way, where is the line and who gets to draw it?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Doug, I don’t have any good answers, either. The truth is I don’t know. I can only share what research says and what I think Scripture says, but in the nitty gritty, for individual couples, I would always say the same thing: See a licensed professional counselor and talk through these things, and consider the kids. I can’t give blanket statements, because we’re all individuals. I know some couples where divorce would have been justified, but they stayed together, and God did an absolute miracle. I know others where they’ve stuck together, and it’s been a disaster that has sapped the life out of a spouse. I know some women who have stayed with addictive husbands (and some men who have stayed with addictive wives) where they kept the marriage together, but the kids want nothing to do with either parent now. Everybody is different. We need help, we need community, and many of us need a lot of healing. But we do need people who can help walk us through and help us see clearly what path we should be on for our own sake, for our spouse’s sake, and for our kids.
      One thing I do know is that God does not intend the marriage vows to enable another spouse’s selfishness. That’s not how he works.

      Reply
  4. Purplecandy

    I understand what you are saying. It is important to take responsability for who we choose to marry. God or other people are not choosing a spouse for us, we do.
    However, I don’t like how it sometimes sound ” You have a lazy husband ? Well, you chose him so deal with it.” It’s not like we could pick our spouse on a catalogue, when we marry we get the whole package, the good and the bad. We can’t tick or untick options.
    Add to that the fact that we marry while young and unexperienced. I certainly have a different opinion of what is good “husband material” now as a wife and mom in my mid thirties than when I married in my early twenties. Not because of my husband but because I know myself much better, I grew and have different priorities now.
    Finally, people change. Life happens, job loss, children, health concerns. Sometimes it affects how a personne character will evolve. Some things get better, some things get worse. It is an ever changing relationship.
    Marriage cannot be limited to a choice made once. It does take everyday choices afterwards too. It’s not like there is an absolutely perfect spouse out there but we can grow to become perfect for each other.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally agree, Purplecandy. My husband and I have changed so much, and we’ve changed each other, for the better. But even though we were very young and immature when we married, we both genuinely had good character and loved Jesus, and that meant that when we did change, we tended to do it in the right direction. I do worry about those who marry who don’t have that character.

      Reply
    • Faith

      I really understand what you are saying. It’s taken a lot of trials and emotional pain for me to realize how inexperienced I was when I got married. I married someone with poor character. Anger problem, selfish, and lazy. I was 22 when we got married. I was a believer but he wasn’t . My mother didn’t want me to be with him at the time , but I married him anyway.
      But it took me until my thirties to realize that the family dynamics in the home I grew up in partly influenced the spouse I chose.
      I grew up in what I would say is a Christian home, but my parents left our church when I was about 7. They became a part of a small Bible study group that had issues. When it split they never went back to church. My siblings and I were also home schooled. We went to some home school events but we didn’t have a church home so I didn’t grow up with any close Christian friends. I didn’t grow up being taught about how Christian marriage is supposed to work, and what to look for in a person. I got the basics which is , don’t have sex until you’re married and don’t ever get a divorce.
      My mom’s father died when she was 5 and her mother ran the home. My dad’s father was in his life but his parents divorced, so his mother was in charge at home. Neither one of my parents grew up in home with a functional marriage. My mom was the stubborn person with a temper , and my dad the quiet, meek one. My mom was always telling dad what to do, and he would whatever many times not to deal with her anger. When I look back I see that my mom verbally abused him, and he took it most of the time.
      During my teen years my dad was mostly uninvolved and didn’t seem happy .
      I knew something was off , but didn’t know what. Come to find out later on, dad had cheated on my mom for 17 years with prostitutes. My parents didn’t have a normal relationship at all and slept in separate rooms . No wonder my dad was so uninvolved. And then my brothers came and tell me our dad told them it was because my mom refused to have sex with him for years.
      Probably til I was about 13 I saw my parents be amicable at times and it seemed normal , except for the time my mom would have her bouts of anger over minor things. But after that it really changed.
      I didn’t really start having meaningful relationships with my peers until I got my first job at 16. I had been home schooled the entire time. Most of the kids at work were worldly. By the time I was 18 I still had never dated anyone. I was really close with my mom , like best friends close. We did everything together. I think it’s good to be close to your mom, but I think we were too close and it inhibited me. My mom was always the one that was strongly opinionated, had a temper , and made it always seem like she was right about everything. I was always scared about what my mom would think.
      My mom was fine as long as I did everything she wanted or did everything with her, but if I didn’t she could be controlling. I was calm like my father.
      My mother always would tell me since I lived at home I had to follow all the rules. I wanted to be a good daughter so I tried to. I just thought when I became an adult she naturally would let go but she didn’t.
      Fast forward years later and I realize I married someone a lot like my mom, only not a Christian so that makes it worse. I have had to deal with verbal abuse just like my dad did, as well as other issues like addiction. It took me being over 30 to realize my marriage mirrors my parents in a lot of ways. I had no tools or knowledge to have seen ahead of time or understand some of the choices I made.
      I didn’t start really learning about what a healthy marriage is until I found this blog.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Faith, I’m so sorry! I think your story is very, very common. People grow up with a very poor example of marriage, plus they’re not given a chance to socialize well and learn to notice who has good character and who doesn’t. I think this generation’s big job has been helping women in abusive marriages realize it; I think the next generation’s big job will be teaching kids to recognize good character and not make bad marriage decisions in the first place (not that you can ever totally prevent it, but just so that people are more emotionally healthy and prepared than you were). I’m so sorry you’re walking through this. Please get a good support system around you, and don’t be hesitate to call an abuse hotline if you ever feel unsafe.

        Reply
  5. Amy

    I have been struggling with this for years. My husband is completely checked out; lazy both physically and spiritually. I could expound on this but that sums it up. I have often told myself that there is no way I would stay and put up with this if I were not a Christian. The Pre-Christian me would have been long gone! We do have kids and I do believe it is better for them to have mom and dad in the home. He is not abusive or a cheater and I can not justify leaving, although I have become extremely bitter, and it affects me spiritually, which in turn is extremely depressing. I am fearful to even to pray about it because of the guilt I feel NOT wanting him and having ZERO desire to be with him and yet knowing I have no real license to leave and that God would desire forgiveness and perseverance on my part — wounded as I am, I just can’t get there yet. There is no intimacy, physical or otherwise and it has been this way for several years now. I feel trapped and like I married the wrong person, or should never have married at all.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Amy, I’m so sorry. Have you seen a counselor about this? It sounds like you really could use some help. And don’t be afraid to tell a few friends, either. We do need support when we’re in difficult situations.

      Reply
    • Jenn

      You might benefit from the book “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.”

      Reply
    • Cynthia

      Amy – only you can know if your marriage can be saved, but as a family lawyer I would give a few pointers:
      1. Develop your own life, so that you are less dependent on him and so that your happiness is less tied to him. Financial stability is important, but so too is having your own friends, interests and confidence in yourself. I’ve had clients who even after a divorce struggled with anger and/or poor self-worth and a feeling of helplessness, and it sabotaged their happiness and ability to got on with their lives.
      2. Check in with your kids, and try to see if your bitterness or the tension between the two of you is affecting them. A bitter divorce can certainly affect children, but so too can a parent who is dealing with heavy emotions that makes them less able to focus on the kids’ needs. Kids can also react to lack of communication between parents. I had one case where the couple were separating but living in the same home, and the husband told me that it was fine because “we don’t fight, we just don’t talk to each other”. Then he told me that his 13 yr old daughter wasn’t around much, because she would sleep over at a friend’s house 3-4 times per week. I realized that she probably hated the cold atmosphere of being an only child living with two parents who never said a word to each other. When we finalized the divorce (which was amicable) and the parents started living separately, they reported that the daughter had started to spend a lot more time with them.
      If you work on yourself and work on ensuring a good relationship with the kids and positive home environment, including at least a respectful co-parenting relationship with your spouse, then whether or not the marriage lasts, you and the kids will be in a better position.

      Reply
  6. Rachel

    I married a man at 18 who ticked all the boxes–said he was a strong Christian, came from a seemingly good family. In my immaturity I overlooked what I see now as red flags, and paid for it dearly over the next 14 years. His words were a thin cover for deep character issues. Please keep spreading this message Sheila! You are a blessing.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Rachel, and I’m so sorry for the pain that you endured!

      Reply
  7. B

    Had I paid more attention to the red flags in our dating relationship, I would likely have not gotten myself into a marriage that has shown over and over that there are worse character flaws than immaturity. A marriage that has, at points, endangered life, body, and spirit. The barely-16-year-old boy that my daughter is getting to know is already showing promise of character that my mid-30s ex still lacks.
    I was made to feel childish because I struggle with adult-diagnosed ADHD. He has multiple addictions, including sex and alcohol, which led to him seeking prostitutes and coercing me. I poured myself into being a respectful and agreeable wife. He devolved into an angry, abusive, suicide-threatening, dare I say narcissistic wreck who makes sure he’s at church and suddenly says bedtime prayers with our children.
    Yes, you *can* marry someone who should not be married (yet/ever).

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, B, I’m so sorry! I’m glad you’re out of there, and I’m glad that your daughter is showing great wisdom. That’s wonderful. I always say that God protected me, and the only commonality that my husband has with my father is that they shared the same birthday.

      Reply
  8. Pamela

    Another great post, Sheila, and it reminds me…. I just got a stack of books by Aimee Byrd that I think you might like! Are you familiar with these?
    “Recovering FROM Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose”
    “No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God”
    “Housewife Theologian”
    “Why Can’t We Be Friends: Avoidance Is Not Purity”
    Interestingly, Byrd is part of the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), and is working within that confessional profession (Westminster Standards) which would be labeled “conservative” by most everyone. Yet, she highly values the contributions and education and presence of women in the church and she’s calling out some long-held beliefs/traditions that are not at all in line with Biblical teaching (like “avoidance is not purity”, which I know you agree with 100%!).
    Congratulations on finishing your book — looking forward to reading that too!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I am familiar with Aimee, yes! And I’ve seen all the ridiculous controversy about her recent book. It feels as if a lot of those high up who believe in patriarchy are going a little bonkers lately because they feel that their grip on power is slipping, and it’s causing them to sound ridiculous. I can only imagine what they’ll say about our new book!

      Reply
  9. Arwen

    You hit another one out of the park Sheila. Pinned it!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks, Arwen!

      Reply
  10. Kim

    This is so true!! I went to a Family Life marriage conference in Indiana back in 2008 or 2009. I remember that line “your spouse becomes the right person to be married to once you say I Do”. That struck me then and kept me (along with other things as well) in an abusive marriage for 14 years. I’ve been divorced for 3 1/2 years now and have tried several times to contact Family Life about this very thing. Each time I called them to comment they seem to half-heartedly note it. The last time I called (maybe 8 months ago?) the man I spoke with was going to send an email to the group that works on marriage conferences. I was suppose to hear back but never did. Still waiting 🙄. Thank you for talking about this! – and side note- I’m marrying a man in 3 weeks who serves and does the Jesus work that others just talk about:)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! That’s wonderful.
      And let me just say publicly–I’m sorry that I ever said that line (because I did). I shouldn’t have done it. I know better now.
      Also, FamilyLife USA is under new leadership, and I do believe that they are updating their materials.

      Reply
  11. Anon

    I never thought about this quote this way. I always thought that it was about couples who realized that they were very different.
    But I see now how this can be used wrong. Specially for women who are in abusive marriages. That quote shouldn’t be applied there.
    But I wonder, what happens when the person changes a lot after marriage because life becomes difficult. When is it ok to let go? Even if it there isn’t abuse? When I don’t feel happy anymore because we are too different?
    Reading some of your posts has challenged my views on divorce.
    I used to think that divorce was only an option when infidelity and abuse happened but I have seen a lot more the idea that divorce isn’t as “sinful” as I thought. That divorcing because of general unhappiness isn’t that bad.
    And I don’t know personally if that’s good or bad.
    Mostly because that seeing divorce as something bad has often motivated me to work more on my marriage. My marriage didn’t start as I thought it would. Sometimes I wonder if we should have gotten married. If we really were “right” for each other.
    But this quote and the idea about divorce being wrong has helped me to want it to become as great as possible. And I see more and more how our marriage gets better and better with the theses and I thank God for that.
    But I don’t know how that would have been possible if I would have seen divorce as an option And that she wouldn’t be the “right” for me. And I needed to find the “right” one

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Anon,
      I would never counsel that couples get divorced for general unhappiness, especially if they have children. Once you have kids, you owe it to them to try, and divorce is so disruptive on children. (when there are abuse issues or high conflict marriages, it’s a totally different story. Then children do better if you split). But parents’ unhappiness does not make kids unhappy necessarily; and divorcing also does not necessarily make parents happy. Also, studies have shown that people who are unhappy in marriage, if they stick at it, tend to be happy five years later. So unhappiness is something that I would say should trigger a couple to seek out a licensed counselor and get some help! And, as I always plead with people, remember the kids. They really do matter in things like this.
      But then there are issues that are not just general unhappiness, and that’s where this type of saying can be so harmful. I think feeling that divorce is bad and that we should work at it is, for most, a very, very good thing. But for others, it has made them stay in abusive or dangerous relationships, and that’s not good, either.

      Reply
    • Jenn

      Are there really a lot of people divorcing for “general unhappiness” though? Divorce is HARD in so many ways. You have to be really motivated to seek out a divorce.

      Reply
      • Anon

        Well that depends on what we mean with general unhappiness to be honest.
        There are many today that divorce because they don’t feel the spark. They want something new and fresh. They feel that they as a couple aren’t compatible anymore etc. I personally don’t think those things are valid reasons for divorce unless there is abuse or infidelity in that.
        I guess I maybe still have the Old idea that if there isn’t abuse and infidelity divorce shouldn’t be an option. If one constantly has divorce as an option I guess it’s easy to take it when things are tough, again I’m
        Not talking about if there is abuse or infidelity.
        I think the church has been wrong about divorce when it comes to infidelity, abuse and addiction. Partly because of selfish and egoistic men but also because in its pursuit of following Gods ways it has become legalistic.
        At the same time I do believe that having the mindset that divorce is bad has helped people to fight for their marriage. I guess I hope that Christians adopt a balanced view where divorce is only the option where there is sin like abuse, infidelity and addiction. And that we somehow can be the difference in a world where people don’t believe in life long commitment.
        Or maybe I am just fooling myself to believe that there should be life long commitment in a world where morals and Christianity is slowly fading.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Hi Anon,
          I’m just wondering about this statement: “There are many today that divorce because they don’t feel the spark.”
          To tell you the truth, if I think of all the divorces I know (and I know quite a few), I wouldn’t say that any were like that. Two were someone who married but then later came out as homosexual and didn’t want to be married anymore; a few were abuse issues; but the vast majority were adultery, where the offending party chose the lover over the spouse.
          Now, I’d argue that the adulterer had the affair just because they had lost that spark, but I think the idea that people are getting divorced because they don’t have that spark is actually not as true as we may think. I think often one person has an affair because they don’t have that spark, and then that affair breaks up the marriage, but when we hear “they divorced because they don’t have that spark” it sounds like two people who decide not to be married anymore. That’s just rarely the case. Usually one person wants to blow up the marriage because of an affair or addiction or something else, and the other is left reeling.
          Do you know what I mean?

          Reply
          • Doug Hoyle

            Divorce is at an all time high, in both Christian and non believers homes. Statistics say that 2/3 of divorces are filed by women. I’m currently attending a webinar for christian men who are trying to be better husbands, and several of them are dealing with separations and divorces at their wives choosing. They have owned up to a lot of faults, but none have mentioned unfaithfulness (well, a few have mentioned their wives unfaithfulness).
            The common thread is that their wives are unhappy.
            I don’t know the true details in these cases, but these are men trying to hang on to marriages amd trying to acquire the tools to be better husbands.
            I don’t believe for a second that many, many marriages don’t end for no other reason than they have lost the spark and fallen into conflict. It happens all the time.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Actually, Doug, the divorce rate is far lower today than it was years ago. It’s been falling for a few decades now. That’s not to say that divorce isn’t sad; only that there are some encouraging signs.
            And, yes, more women file for divorce, but often that’s because of abuse/adultery issues. In the cases of abuse, mental illness, and homosexual husbands, it was all the women who filed so that they could get custody finalized, but it was not them who broke up the marriage. The reason women tend to be the ones who file is often because they tend to be the ones who want the custody issues settled.
            In terms of which sex is more likely to break up a marriage, that’s really not clear. Both men and women can blow up relationships and do stupid/selfish things. No spouse has the monopoly on that. And certainly women can leave for virtually no reason. But that tends to be the minority if you look at studies, that’s all I’m saying.

          • Anon

            Yeah I agree. That was what I meant. Usually its not both but one person. One person doesnt see the spark or only focuses on themself and then wants to leave the marriage. While abuse and addiction is a main cause I think that the idea the couple isnt “compatible” anymore has become more and more popular. I have even seen ideas becoming popular like “love ends and its ok, you are not a bad person, its just the end of that love and you need to continue” and stuff like that. Or people who start to want other things and chose that over their spouse.What I means was that when divorce becomes an option that isnt wrong its easier to take that option.
            And somehow I would like to think that we christians should be different. That we should see divorce as somethig bad UNLESS there is abuse, infidelity and addiction. I like to agree with Gary Thomas and what he says in his blogpost The ongoing sin of divorce. He shows that divorce is like a surgery when a person has cancer.Its horrible and difficult but its necessary when there is cancer which would be abuse, infidelity, addiction.
            But when thats not the case, putting someone through that is horribly mean and evil. Specially when it is because we decided we want something or someone else. So I still want to believe that divorce is something bad and sinful as Gary Thomas mentions. I think the church has done wrong not teaching when divorce is ok in the right way for example when it comes to abuse. Sadly pathriarchy and other misogynic ideas has let this happened. But IMO it shouldnt make divorce less bad.
            To answer the divorce rate thing. The divorce rate is low but thats also because people stop getting married. Many people dont see the point of it. And to an extent I guess I get that. If marriage isnt holy and divorce isnt seen as bad, why get married when you can just do the exact things that married people do and then just split up when the relationship stops working. Many people treat their marriage as a normal relationship anyway, then why get married? So I dont think the lower divorce rate shows that people are more committed, it just shows that less people get married. Specially in my country, where the divorces are higher than the marriage rate.
            Another reason people dont divorce is because they also get married much older. People are more mature hopefully but also we dont know wha will happen in the coming 10 years. IN my country most people who got married at 25 were divorced at 35. Most people were married tops 11 years.
            I know not everything is black and white. At times they should be, specially when it comes to abuse, infidelity and addiction. Divorce should happen there without question. But in other cases I dont know. I want to hold on to the idea that divorce is sin or else its so much easier to leave when things are difficult. Also because if divorce isnt bad then why is marriage good? Why should it be seen as special when I can go from one relationship to another as soon as things get tough.

          • April

            I just wanted to chime in here and respond to Doug, specifically. Doug, you say that the men in your group say that their wives are unhappy. I think it’s great that they are working towards being a better spouse. But, I wanted to offer the possibility, that if there were any issues of abuse, porn, cruelty, I don’t think that they would be super quick to admit that. Because guys like that have to keep up their image, and want to be seen as the victim. “Well, my wife was just unhappy.” I would also offer that if their wives are unhappy, well, why? Perhaps, they have been fighting the same battles year after year and without much change or improvement and they don’t have anything left in them.
            I could be wrong, but I am willing to bet that in cases of divorce, that it isn’t as nearly as black and white as we think it is. I think that the “we fell out of love, incompatibility, unhappiness” trope is largely a myth. Do they happen? Of course! But I would be willing to bet it is far, far less than we are led to believe. I think it’s one of those sound bites that Christian leader spout to keep us married, but they don’t have any real evidence or research to back it up. I have known several couples that divorced, and of all of them there were serious character and/or abuse issues and the innocent spouse (although unhappy) stayed in it far longer that they probably should have.
            When we make keeping the marriage together more important than the people in the marriage, and more important than bearing fruit as individuals, we make marriage an idol, and we don’t really know how to have good marriages or be good spouses.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Completely agree, April. I used to teach the “people divorce because their unhappy” line at FamilyLife conferences (it was part of the old curriculum), but the more I look at the numbers, the more it’s not true. And of all the divorces I know, maybe one was like that. The rest were all abuse/character issues/affairs/addictions.

          • Madeline

            Doug, your comment suggests that women are more likely to leave because they are just unhappy. I get that that’s what you’re seeing because you’re in a webinar with men who are trying to be better husbands, because those men would probably not be in a webinar if they didn’t care about their marriages. In my life I haven’t actually seen any divorces that boil down to “well, they were just unhappy” and that’s it. Its always one person is actually a narcissist (probably full on personality disorder) and refuses to work on the marriage, or one spouse was unfaithful or something else that while I guess you couuuuld argue that the one that cheated or the one that is a narcissist is just “unhappy,” its still such a gross understatement.
            I’m going to be honest Doug, with you it always feels like its about gender. You always want to make it seem like “well men have their problems, as everyone does, but WOMEN are the ones who x.” That’s pretty unfair.

          • Madeline

            Sorry, I need to edit my comment. The word I was looking for was “oversimplification” not “understatement.” I’m trying to say that to chalk up the divorce to “they were unhappy” is a gross oversimplification in the vast majority of divorces.

  12. Bethany#2

    I’ve seen and heard stories about many levels of healthy and unhealthy marriages. My dad who builds houses, almost every house is for a middle aged or elderly couple. That’s the interactions that reveal to outsiders the true happiness level of the marriage! Seeing them really made me understand the vital importance of choosing wisely. Also my parents told me that they knew of one marriage that was rekindled after years of innappropriate behavior and immaturity in the husband. That was they’re reason for trying to be forgiving towards an absusive narc of a son-in-law. Because my sister still “loves” him. But the results this far are of a manipulating man unwilling to change. He even flirted with a second sister! That’s when they stopped being forgiving. So yes, I’m an advocate for my sister divorcing and being a single mom of 5 kids. And I have another sister-in-law who’s mother stayed with an EXTREME narcissistic man because she was afraid of being alone.
    That teaches me to make sure I don’t get too attached to married life! If he becomes evil, I’m leaving immediately! I care to much about myself and my daughter. (I would also tell her the truth, I’m not building him a false image.)
    That said I love him and hes a A+ husband!

    Reply
    • Madeline

      Gosh, I’m sorry to hear that about your sister. Divorce is a terrible thing but sometimes its less terrible than living the rest of your life in a toxic marriage.

      Reply
  13. Melissa W

    Great post Sheila. I agree 100% that character is the most important thing when it comes to picking a spouse. The older I get the more convinced I am that core character doesn’t really change. It may present differently but doesn’t typically change. For instance, my husband has changed a lot in 23 years of marriage but his core character is one of being other focused and completely selfless. Although he is very different in so many ways, that core character is still there and is reflected in everything.
    One thing that really stood out to me in your post though, was the 40 year old that had to come back under the authority of her father and brothers after divorcing and in order to marry again. How messed up is that. The twisting of scripture that takes place to even support that point of view is mind blowing. Especially in light of the story of Mary. If God intended all women, for all time to be under the authority of a man (husband/father/brother) then why did God send an angel directly to Mary, a teenage girl, and allow her, all on her own, to make the most important spiritual decision the world has ever known in being the mother of Christ? If that was the way God designed relationships to be and what he expected, would he not have sent the angel to her father or fiance and let the decision be there’s as opposed to Mary’s? This husband/father authority teaching exposes the power and control idolatry in the hearts of those who continue to spread these doctrines.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally with you, Melissa. That made me so sad. And that woman makes her living giving marriage advice and parenting advice, too. It’s just really sad. Also, presumably she was under her father’s authority when she married the first guy with bad character. I think this idea that only men can decide for women lets women ignore red flags, and is just wrong on so many levels. And I love your point about Mary, too!

      Reply
  14. Jane Eyre

    So many thoughts.
    Context matters. If you have a functional marriage, but are “unfulfilled,” then your goal is to make the marriage joyful and become the right people for each other. You don’t leave because it’s boring.
    If your marriage is dysfunctional, then the dysfunction gets fixed or the marriage ends.
    Speaking as a “married late” person, there was a lot of familial pressure on me to get married. I remember being in a relationship wherein I cried at the end of every date we went on, and my parents were still cranky and upset when I broke up with the guy. See, he is smart and stable and wanted me, so clearly, I was “wrong” to leave. Pout pout!
    I talked to an older friend of mine about that. “Why would you take relationship advice from someone who has been divorced three times?” Point taken.
    But that’s ancillary to figuring out how someone is a good person. Interestingly, marriage is but one component of that. Look at how the person behaves when it does not benefit them to behave well – this is everything from how they treat the waitstaff to how they FOLLOW Scripture.
    Dated a guy who was just so, so Christian and great and amazing, if you listen to him. Wasn’t a virgin, but his awful heathen ex-girlfriend coerced him into it. Pressured me for sex. Taking away everything he *said*, he was not someone who was a good person.
    Get used to sizing someone up (friends, co-workers, potential bosses), and it will be easier to figure out if the new person you’re dating is a good potential spouse.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great thoughts, Jane! (And the number of people who “say” they are great Christians but then act totally differently is just so sad).

      Reply
    • Madeline

      Wow, your parents giving you a hard time for breaking up with someone who made you cry after every date is just so sad.

      Reply
  15. Meghan

    I have always agreed with the “the person you marry becomes The One” idea personally, because I don’t believe in soul mates. But I totally see how it can get twisted and taken out of context and turned into a weapon to make people stay in unhealthy marriages! That statement, to me, meant that there’s no one perfect person out there for me and that I was able to exercise good judgement when choosing a spouse – since I wasn’t seeking out The One Spouse God Has For Me but instead a spouse who loved God, I had a lot of freedom during my single years. (Basically, I wasn’t going to mess up God’s great plan for my life by not finding the very specific person God put on the earth just for me, if that makes sense.)
    How about this phrase: “Marriage is a serious decision that affects the rest of your life, so make sure you do your due diligence before saying I Do!” Due I Do diligence…get it? I’ll see myself out for that terrible pun. 😉

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That sounds a lot healthier to me!

      Reply
  16. MinnesotaMrs

    I’m not sure why there wasn’t any talk of what the Bible says about divorce (or maybe I missed it) but I think that’s important to include. The Bible is pretty black and white on the type of person we should marry and the ramifications for divorce. I do however totally agree character flaws should be assessed prior to engagement. I see this far too often where the couple or spouse realizes into the marriage that a characteristic their spouse holds is too much. I don’t think that’s grounds for leaving a marriage – simply because they failed to fully assess the situation over their courtship. “But we wanted to get married ASAP so we wouldn’t be sinning” is a common theme. So maybes that’s the bigger problem here: Christians getting married hastily so they can have sex. Totally reasonable thing to do but not at the expense of dissolving marriages and families down the road. I see Christians throwing their marriage away more than I’d like to admit and generally it’s those who married too soon.

    Reply
    • Phil

      This is an interesting point. Sheila has discussed the topic of getting married quickly with regard to having sex and sinning before. The discussion went along the lines that IF you know that this is the person you want to marry then doing so quickly is a good idea. I identify with this conversation because while my wife and I both had premarital sex in not only our relationship but priors as well, we both knew from day 1 that we were going to marry each other. All that being said my wife and I dated for 3 years and were engaged for 1 more year after that for a total of 4 years. I had control issues around the idea of marriage I wont get into here but something that has struck me within the realm of this topic is if I knew she was the one I was going to marry then why did I/we wait? I can bet you without a doubt had we waited for marriage before sex I would have pulled the trigger much much sooner. Why? Ok Sex but the bottom line is I knew she was the one. She knew I was the one. I cant really tell you how I/we knew We just did. And honestly? I thought that is how marriage worked. You just knew that God sent this person into your life and you just knew. (I dont think it was puppet stringed but rather God using circumstances of sort if that makes sense.). So this topic has memorized me for sometime mostly because to me it seems you only marry someone only if you know they are the one. I say this because it is the only experience I have thankfully. This is not to say divorce couldnt have happened because trust me it could have. It just seems from hanging around here that I see that many people get married for different reasons other than this is the ONE. And honestly I just dont get that.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I did link to my post about divorce, but you can find it here.
      The problem with character flaws is that they often lead to things that endanger the marriage–addictions, affairs, refusal to work. That’s more it.
      I don’t know that the problem is that Christians get married to have sex either. I think that may be it in some cases; I think it’s more likely that many people are wounded, and so they choose bad people in their woundedness because we haven’t helped people find real healing. And that’s what we need to do–is help people recognize red flags, realize they don’t have to settle for that, and work on their own health.

      Reply
  17. Mark

    I feel you should really look at the parents. My marriage hasn’t been easy, but t a lot of the time my marriage is like my father married my mother-in-law. I wish someone would have told me that when I was dating my wife. I still would have married her, but we could have dealt with issues way sooner and it would have been way less painful.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you. Dealing with issues earlier is always better, and yet usually we wait far too long.

      Reply
  18. Amy

    As a happily divorced domestic violence survivor, what a horrible quote. Looking at that quote through my survivor lense, even though I married an abusive person, he becomes “right” for me solely because I married him? Eek!
    Something I find so fascinating is that historically, discussing domestic violence was something the church avoided – it was almost exclusively addressed by secular organizations. It seems like the church couldn’t address domestic violence because that might lead to divorce, and heaven forbid someone in the church get divorced.
    So, we have quite a bit of marriage material that is just fodder for domestic abusers, but since the Christian community is hesitant to even acknowledge that domestic abuse even exists, this material hasn’t been screened for how it impacts victims. Domestic abuse victims don’t read abuse material – they read marriage material, so that’s where we have to get these issues right. And, this quote doesn’t get it right.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think you’re exactly right, Amy.

      Reply
    • Andrea

      I have been thinking about this as well. If you’re trying to prevent divorce, shouldn’t you preach extra loudly against domestic violence instead of avoiding the topic?
      I don’t mean to start a debate on homosexuality here, so let’s just imagine a church that opposes it because most evangelical ones do. I’m sure all of you have heard anti-homosexuality sermons in your life, if not recently, then surely in the 80s and the 90s if you were alive then, and some pretty fiery ones too! But how many of you have ever heard a fiery sermon against domestic violence? I ask this because while 5% of the American population identifies as homosexual, 25% experiences domestic violence in their lifetime. So what I’m saying is, for every sermon or pronouncement against homosexuality, there should be five against domestic violence.
      Why is there a Danvers Statement against feminism and a more recent Nashville Statement against homosexuality and transgenderism (less than 1% of the American population identifies as transgender, by the way, so just compare that to the DV percentage!), but no statement against domestic violence??? WHY?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Totally agree, Andrea! It’s like so many in the evangelical world insist on seeing women as the source of all of the problems, even in the midst of sex abuse scandals. It’s crazy.

        Reply
  19. Lucy

    Thank you for another great post, I really enjoy reading your blog!
    I think it is so important to watch out for red flags during dating and that is why I have a question: I have come across some men latley that do not want to have children. They are kind guys that love to serve and want to do good for their communtiy but feel like they are not cut out for being a father or say the never had the desire to have a family. They think you need to have a special call to become parents. What are your thoughts on this? Is this an character issue?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I do think it’s a sign of what is happening in our society, where children aren’t valued.
      If you want children, don’t marry someone who says they don’t want them. I will say that for sure!

      Reply
      • Lucy

        Thank you, Sheila!

        Reply
  20. Chris

    Red flags can take many forms. For me a giant red flag is the word “patriarchy” being used, or rather misused. It seems like the people who use the term are so bent on getting rid of history’s bath water that they forget that there is a baby in there.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Chris, patriarchy means a society where men rule and women are excluded from power. This is not Christlike. This is pagan. As a woman, being told that it is good that men would rule over me is a little troubling. In Christ there is no male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. We’re happy saying that Christians shouldn’t be racist and that slavery is bad, but we still think it’s good that men should rule over women. I do find that difficult, to be honest. The societies where women are treated well are those in which they have the most rights. The societies in which women are treated badly, and endure more abuse, sexual assault, child marriage, etc are those where men tend to be in charge over them.
      One red flag I think women need to be far more aware of is that if the potential thinks he should have power over you, that’s a HUGE red flag, and get out now.

      Reply
      • Chris

        Sheila, I am not defending “patriarchy” i am just making an observation that these “equal” societies of which you speak are the same ones that are dieing off due to low birth rates. The countries will still be there of course, just replaced by more prolific cultures. It is not up for discussion, it is not up to debate, it just is what is. And “power” Sheila is not equality. Like you said above with men who seem to be “go getters” who want to lead, and have “power” are frequently the last people who should have it. Here in the states, in the 2016 election, i only heard a few (mostly older women) say they “wanted a women to be president”. The rest would say “i want a woman in power”. Do you see the difference? One is an expression of equality in office, the other is “i want command! I want to boss others around! Women cannot make bad decisions! Women are not corrupt!” And all manner of associated nonsense. “Patriarchy” like “power” to me no longer holds its dictionary definition. But has since become a political term used by the malicious to mislead the ignorant. Sheila, western society use to charge men with the provision and protection of women. Did that have some downsides for women? You bet. Women were not fighter pilots or supreme court judges. But it came with upsides too. They were put in life boats first and were cared for physically more. (And the life boats issue is a true metaphor. It showed rather clearly where society’s priorities were). Did mens provision and protection of women come with some upsides for men? Ya sure, men could vote and handled the money more etc. But it also came with massive downsides. You were shamed into oblivion if you did not work to the point of breaking your back, down in a mine or on a farm. And of course you didn’t live as long because of this toll, a fair amount of which was obtained by doing things so women wouldn’t have to. In the late 1960s early 70s western women decided that they wanted to be out from under mens provision, but didn’t understand that also took them out from under men’s protection. They fed themselves to the wolves in effect and 50 years later we have things like the Me Too movement to protest the bad treatment they are receiving from men. This harassment and assault is aweful of course! But it was the inevitable afterbirth of freeing men of their traditional responsibilities. I feel so aweful for women today around the world who are suffering from harassment, abuse, and neglect. But I hold no illusions. It is not “patriarchy” causing these problems, but rather the lack of one. In a real “patriarchy” strong male leaders would be holding these abusive and bad men accountable for their actions, and not shifting that burden on to women.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Chris, are you really saying that women would be safer in a society with “real patriarchy”? That the problem is not with patriarchy, but just that it’s never been done properly? Kind of like the argument about communism–it’s only failed because it’s never been done right?
          And are you saying that men can’t be responsible unless they have power? Women are responsible when we don’t have power. It sounds like you’re saying that women are more virtuous than men, and men can’t act with virtue without power? Or they can’t be expected to do the right thing unless there’s something in it for them.

          Reply
          • Chris

            Sheila, no not at all. I am saying the term has lost its meaning because its being used to describe every evil that has ever befallen women.

        • Melissa

          Chris, you are looking at “patriarchy” through rose colored glasses. For the vast majority of women patriarchy was a necessary evil in order to survive, for food, clothing and shelter. It was not what most of them would have wanted if they had any say in the matter at all but because of patriarchy they didn’t have a say. Don’t white wash history and make it look like something it wasn’t. Abuse, both sexual and physical was rampant because of patriarchy and many wives were nothing more than sexual and domestic slaves. Women are the ones who get to decide whether life out from under patriarchy is better than the life lived by those who came before us under patriarchy. Men, and you, do not get to tell us if our lives or better or not. We get to decide that for ourselves and I for one am so thankful that I live in this time and not that time!

          Reply
          • Chris

            Melissa, life for men in pre modern times wasnt that great either. Its not like men lived in mansions and the women lived in huts in the yard. Men were enslaved and used too, just differently.

        • Madeline

          Chris, I’m trying to follow your argument and I think you’re saying that men harass women in the workplace because in a true patriarchal society men would be more accountable? And it’s the women’s liberation movement that caused men to harass women? Firstly, the mistreatment of women at the hands of men didn’t suddenly come into existence because women started working outside the home. If anything women actually have far more rights and protections now because they have more freedom. Before women could provide for themselves financially, they had no way of escaping abusers (although abusers today still try to interfere with their partner’s ability to provide for themselves or make connections with people who might help them leave). To argue that women should just accept that we’ll be abused at work because men don’t protect us anymore is 1) just morally heinous and 2) historically inaccurate. It isn’t a misuse of the term “patriarchy” to say that historically men have been in power and used their power to oppress women. Of course I don’t mean that every single man who lived through the 50’s or before was evil to the women he knew, but that doesn’t change the fact that he did have major advantages and benefits that women were not given.
          Seriously Chris, you sound like you’re saying “well that’s just what women get for being in the workplace; of course you’re going to be assaulted for upsetting the natural order.” And Chris that is so devastatingly wrong. That attitude empowers men to abuse women because it gives them an excuse and makes it so much harder for women to see their abusers brought to justice. The takeaway from the Me Too movement should be that we need to work to make the world a safer place for women, not that women belong at home. I can’t tell you how hurtful that mentality is.

          Reply
        • Madeline

          I’m still thinking about your comment Chris and I have to say, as a survivor of sexual assault your words are incredibly troubling. I can’t speak for all survivors but I do speak for myself. I wasn’t abused at my workplace; I was abused in my own home as a child. To tell women like me that I should just look to men to provide and care for me or accept that I’m going to be “fed to wolves” in the workplace is so out of touch and disempowering. Yes, it could happen again if I work outside my home, but that doesn’t mean I should give up on my dreams and aspirations out of fear. Not to mention what happened to me happened at home, so there’s no guarantees that staying home will always protect me. You make it sound as if women are naive or delusional when we want equal opportunities, which is untrue and frankly disrespectful. The workplace harassment and assault is the “natural consequence” of men’s sin and depravity, not of the consequence for women wanting rights and opportunity. You say that in a “true patriarchy” the blame wouldn’t be shifted to women, but your own logic shifts the blame for women’s assault onto them.
          You don’t get to tell us that we should just be grateful for the upsides we had under men’s “provision and protection.” That is very demeaning. You say you are not defending patriarchy but you also hold that a “true” patriarchy would hold men accountable. This means that men can’t be held accountable unless they are in power. Even if one doesn’t find your stance morally objectionable, you contradict your own logic.
          I’m telling you this as a fellow Christian and I really hope you hear me, because these attitudes DO hurt women and you need to realize that. I don’t want power for the sake of wanting power.

          Reply
  21. Bre

    This was another good article! I have 10,000 thoughts running through my head right now (many of which are angry and screamy) but I guess my main thought is…how did we get to this point, where we’re just now realizing ‘huh, maybe character does make a difference’? I mean, Jesus and the New Testament talk a lot about character; all the lists of what to look for in candidates for various church positions literally say that good character and a spotless reputation are prerequisites! Even in my public school growing up, we were taught as kids to look for character in people who we wanted to be friends with; a big part of my high-school sex-ed class was actually on what makes good romantic relationships, how to build them, what red flags there are, and what you should do if you’re in an abusive relationship. It’s basically a no-brainer in any human relationship; most people wouldn’t want to work for an amoral company/boss with zero integrity and there’s a reason why there’s the term “toxic friendship.” Everything you wrote makes so much sense; especially the part where we’ve made gender roles (which, actually, aren’t in the Bible and vary by culture) more important than character. It makes so much sense! I feel like, despite talking about how character is important, we don’t really build or judge it well in the church; hence all the abuse scandals that have been coming out in the last few years . I also find it totally bonkers that we even need to bring this up…you would think that finding someone who is a life partner and actually lives out the theology instead of just quoting it would be a ‘no, duh’ thing but…Okay, rant over. Sorry, I don’t know how much my thoughts make sense… I am very tired and I think it is time to sleep.

    Reply
  22. Anon

    Your comment about misreading red flags really struck home – the church is SO bad at this! In my early 20s, I dated a young man in our church who led prayer meetings and Bible studies, preached and led outreach work among young men on a rough estate. The whole church saw him as a wonderful, Godly young man to whom it would be a privilege to be married. So did I – until I found out that his ‘business trips’ away were actually visits to his other girlfriend.
    Looking back now I can see how selfish he was, and how his readiness to teach and lead came out of his desire to control. He was incredibly controlling in our relationship too, but that was portrayed by both him and the church as him showing ‘spiritual leadership’. Interestingly, the only person to caution me was a friend who had a lot of experience ‘reading people’ but who was not a believer – of course, I was encouraged to ignore her cautions because they were ‘from the world’.
    I’m not surprised that I didn’t spot those red flags – I was very young & inexperienced and all the ‘wise’ Christians around me were telling me there WERE no red flags. But looking back, I’m amazed the church didn’t see them. (And you’re right – he never once cleared tables at a church meal!)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This really is all too common. We in the church need to realize that narcissists naturally gravitate to churches, because it’s a place they can easily get power. We need to wake up!

      Reply
  23. Lottie

    Welp, there’s my whole life story in a blog post…

    Reply
  24. Betsy

    Expectations are not good or bad – they’re neutral. It all depends on what you’re expecting. A friend of mine is struggling in his marriage because he wants his wife to be a lot more like him, more passionate, intense, confrontational. But she’s quiet, non-confrontational, doesn’t get easily riled up about things. He wants to change her, but honestly, she’s not really going to change that much. To him, I say lower your expectations, and learn to accept your wife as she is. My own husband is much like that woman: quiet, peace-loving, content. I could be annoyed that he’s not a go-getter, ambitious, driven, etc. But he isn’t those things and I knew it when I married him, so I choose to celebrate his good qualities and appreciate even those things that I could be annoyed about. I don’t expect my husband to change his personality in a major way, and I am thankful for the various areas where he’s grown since we’ve been married. He’s kind and loving and shows it in many different ways, so I am content. My friend is married to (I think) a kind and loving woman who is very different from him, so it would be better for him to celebrate who she is now, who God made her to be, and get rid of his expectations that she’s going to change in any major way. But of course we should have expectations that our spouse will not purposely sin against us, and will treat us with love and kindness and respect. So basically all marriage advice needs qualifiers! haha

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true, Betsy! And it sounds like you have a great attitude in your marriage.

      Reply
    • Madeline

      Thank you for writing this Betsy, it’s a really good reminder for me. Like you and your friend I married someone who is very peace-loving and laid back. He is wonderfully empathetic and usually understands all sides to any conflict. His relaxed and understanding nature is one of the main things that drew me to him. I hate to say that sometimes I get angry with him when I don’t feel like he’s “on my side” enough which makes me sound pretty immature, I know. If I’m being really honest I think for me that some of it goes back to my childhood and feeling like no one cared about my protection or safety. Obviously that’s an exaggeration of what actually happened and leaves out my parents’ side of things entirely, but sometimes we have to admit how we feel in order to assess how true those feelings are, if that makes sense. When I was a kid I wanted so desperately for someone to believe me and to stand up for me even if it meant rocking the boat. I have to remind myself that when my husband chooses to be understanding and temper his response to conflict he’s actually being wise and gentle and I should be grateful that he’s such a mature person. That was a ramble, but thank you for that reminder, Betsy.

      Reply
  25. This is a Pseudonym

    I think another way that women are taught to ignore red flags is the notion that “real men” aren’t kind. We’re told that if you want to marry a “masculine” guy, you have to give up the notion that he’ll want to talk to you, show kindness, gentleness, meekness, etc.
    Never mind that those are virtues extolled in the Bible…

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true! Men are asked to be gentle and kind, too. Those are not female virtues.

      Reply
      • Maria

        Is there even any such thing as female virtue or male virtue? Virtue is a function of the soul, not biology. Yet our society continuously insists that those virtues that are best suited to living out female gender roles are feminine virtues. Same goes for male gender roles.

        Reply
  26. Daniela

    I enjoyed the different perspective of this post, although it’s all things I already thought, it’s nice to see them written down coherently.
    The only opinion I have to add is that whilst you can marry the wrong person, because some people are just bad news in relationships, I also think the notion of ‘the one’ is very damaging. I have spoken to multiple friends and family members in the lead up to their weddings worried about if they have actually chosen ‘the one’ and what if they havent?!? Does that mean their marriage is doomed to fail because they picked the wrong 1 in billions?? I have told each of them that I don’t believe in ‘soul mates’ and ‘the one’ I believe you meet someone, you get to know them, you help each other be more like Jesus, you love and you make a choice to spend your life with them. Obviously, you look for all those important signs you talked about but after that, you make a commitment and build a life together. Not at all costs… Abuse and toxic behaviour are not acceptable in a marriage and no one should stick around for that.

    Reply
  27. Ashley

    Thank you for writing this. I need all the help I can get. I’ve been divorced long enough that I feel ready to date again, and I actually have a crush on a really sweet guy. He’s not ready to date, because he’s still healing from his divorce.
    I’m trying to remember everything I learned the hard way about red flags and paying attention to character. I do NOT want to repeat my past mistakes.

    Reply

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