DIRECT COMMUNICATION Series: Why Is It So Hard to Say What You Want

by | Aug 3, 2021 | Series | 48 comments

Why is Direct Communication so Hard in Marriage?
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Why is it so hard to tell your spouse what you’re thinking? What you want? What you need?

For the month of August we’re going to talk about direct communication–how to be up front with your spouse so you actually know what each other is thinking, rather than having to second guess and beat around the bush.

Last week we were talking about that helpless feeling when you’re single and someone is stringing you along, and how so many in that situation have a hard time speaking up for various reasons.

But it’s not just in friendationships that this is a problem. It can happen in marriage, too. We don’t say directly what we think. Maybe it’s because of fear; maybe it’s because of shame; maybe it’s because of weird spiritual beliefs that connect both.

I’d like to encourage us this month to learn how to speak directly–how to make your needs known, how to ask for what you want, how to have healthy disagreements.

And I’d like to encourage us to ditch passive-aggressiveness, where we beat around the bush or manipulate to try to get what we want. Let’s learn to speak up!

That’s hard for a lot of people. It feels unnatural, like we’re being pushy. It feels scary. But it’s really the only way to have a healthy marriage.

Intimacy means that you both have to truly know each other, and you can’t know each other if you’re not speaking directly about what you think, feel, and need. If you’re holding back, then your spouse is only seeing a part of you. How can you be truly loved if they only see a part of you? Intimacy is each of you seeing all of the other person, and still saying, “I love you. I accept you. I’m sticking with you.”

It doesn’t mean you love every single part of each other; but it means you see the flaws and the scars in context, and you say, “I want to be here. I want to know you, every part of you.”

Isn’t that the heart cry that God put into each one of us–to be truly seen and truly accepted? That’s why direct communication is so important in a marriage. You can’t have real intimacy without it.

Unfortunately, many of us have big stumbling blocks when it comes to speaking directly. So let’s start this series with 4 big ways that we hesitate to say openly what’s on our minds: 

Skill Issues in Speaking Directly: We can’t identify what we want and don’t know how to talk about it.

When we don’t know how to identify our own needs

Did you grow up hearing that any time you wanted something you were likely selfish and in sin? That your life was supposed to be spent making sure other people were happy?

Many of us did. And there is a kernel of truth there–we aren’t supposed to obsess over what we want, and we are supposed to care about others. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t matter!

When you were a child, though, if you felt that you were responsible for making sure everyone else remained happy, you may never have asked yourself what you actually wanted. Your needs and wants were so far down the list because you spent your emotional energy trying to figure out what everyone else was thinking and feeling so that you could react and adjust accordingly. It may have been an abusive environment where you taught yourself to “read the room” in order to do your best not to make anything worse (though you can never “provoke” abuse). It may have been that you had very self-absorbed parents who never cared about your own needs.

Whatever the situation, you were never encouraged to speak out loud what you were thinking and feeling or even to identify them. And today, you often have a vague sense of malaise, like things aren’t going right. But it’s hard for you to put words to what you’re feeling, or to what exactly is wrong.

When we don’t know how to speak up

Sometimes identifying your feelings isn’t the issue; it’s learning how to actually speak up. Maybe in your family whenever people expressed their needs they yelled and huge fights ensued. You never had it modelled how to have a healthy disagreement, and so you shy away from speaking up, even about innocuous things, because you genuinely don’t know how to do it.

Maybe you associate telling the truth about your internal life with causing strife. And so you back away because it seems too scary.

Relationship Issues: We’re scared that the relationship isn’t solid enough to handle our needs

Maybe you don’t speak directly because you’ve tried it in the past and it backfired. You didn’t get what you need; and instead it just seemed to prove to you that you never will.

You’ve given up trying to get your needs met, and you throw yourself into just keeping the relationship on an even keel. But that becomes increasingly difficult, because you spend your life hiding. Anger and resentment build, because your spouse seems to have no idea what you’re actually thinking and feeling, even though you feel as if you’ve given them lots of hints. You’re trying to meet their needs, and they seem to be doing very little in return.

Are you PeaceKEEPING or PeaceMAKING?

There’s a huge difference between the two. And if you don’t get it right–you’ll never be able to feel truly intimate in your marriage.

There’s a better way!

Vulnerability Issues with Speaking Directly: Revealing ourselves makes us feel unsafe.

It’s a lot more vulnerable to ask for what you want than to hint. Asking directly means that you can be rejected or mocked or disregarded. Some of us don’t feel safe revealing too much of ourselves, even separate from relationship issues.

Maybe we’ve got some big hidden secrets that we’ve never shared with our spouse, and so sharing ANYTHING that touches on something very personal seems scary because it means we may have to reveal even more than we want (this is often how porn use, for instance, gets reinforced. To become vulnerable about anything is too scary because the porn use may be revealed, or the shame that is contributing to the porn use in the first place could have light shed on it. Light can be scary.

But it isn’t always sin issues that we’re running from. When we’ve never been truly accepted in our families of origin, or we have insecure attachment patterns to people, then becoming vulnerable can almost paralyze us.

In these cases, a licensed counselor can be a godsend. Go by yourself first, and then go as a couple. You weren’t meant to go through life feeling as if you have to hide.

Couple learning direct communication

Practical Issues: You don’t have the bandwidth to bring something up

Perhaps it’s not that you can’t speak directly and ask for what you want; it’s that you honestly don’t have the energy or the time to even deal with the issues. Maybe you need to have a big talk about toxic in-laws, or about how in debt you are, but the whole thing is just overwhelming because you also are working separate shifts, or you have three kids under three, or you have some special needs children or parents who need caring for.

You’re at the end of your rope, and even though you could ask for things or talk about how you’re feeling, what would be the point? You’re exhausted, and it would just show you even more vividly that you can’t have the life you want or need right now.

We’ll be talking about this through the month of September, when we talk about how to stop doing life on hard mode (as much as possible).

Spiritual Issues: Women hesitate because we feel it’s not our role and it’s a sin to speak directly.

Finally, here’s a big one that affects many of us: you don’t speak up because you feel like it’s disrespectful or unsubmissive to do so. To talk about what you need or want is actually a sin, or at least verges on it. Your role, as a wife, is to submit to what your husband wants, not make the marriage about what you want.

The only problem is that you do actually have legitimate wants and needs, and so the only way to get them met is to speak passive aggressively, rather than directly. To be direct is a sin, and so women try to beat around the bush and try everything else they can to ask for what they want–without actually asking.


Whether it’s Emerson Eggerichs in Love & Respect telling women they must ignore their intuition and follow their husbands’ authority, or John Piper telling a woman that she can’t give a man directions to the highway; she should instead give “suggestions” so as not to demean his masculinity, many of us don’t have a clue how to speak directly without sinning.

We’ll look later this month at how this whole idea that women must respect men unconditionally actually fosters passive aggressive communication and manipulation, and doesn’t lead to healthy dynamics at all.

How to learn to use direct communication

This month we’re going to focus on #1, or learning the skills for speaking directly, and #5, or why women often feel inhibited from speaking directly. We’ll concentrate on #4, or bandwidth issues, in September. I’ll also make passing reference to some of the other ones, but for those, I’d focus on these two series:

We’ll look at the difference between being direct and being mean; how to ask for what you want, and more!



5 Reasons why speaking directly is so hard in marriage

So as we launch in, I’d love to know: Which of these 5 issues do you think  most affects you (assuming one of them does?) Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

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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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. Anon

    “Did you grow up hearing that any time you wanted something you were likely selfish and in sin? ”

    Oh yes! Not growing up, but in adult life. Career advice was non existent when I left school, so I ended up stumbling into the first job available. After a few years, I realised how much I hated it, and started to think about changing careers. Every time I mentioned this to someone in my church, they would ask me for my reasons for changing, and when I said ‘I think I would find the new job a better fit for my skills and I would enjoy it more’ they would pull a disapproving face and say ‘oh, you’re changing jobs for your own satisfaction then? I don’t think that’s a good idea’. I’m sure if I’d said I wanted to change jobs because I thought I’d be more miserable in the new one, they would have urged me to go for it because it would make me ‘more spiritual’!!!

    It really made me doubt I was taking the right path. Was it really SO bad to choose between two equal paying jobs on the basis of the enjoyment you’d find doing them? Maybe I should stick with the job I hated. Then I went on a Bible study weekend and shared with one of the other guests on it – she stared at me like I was crazy and said ‘how do these verses fit in with the ‘do whatever makes you miserable’ teaching then?’ – and handed me Luke 11:

    “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

    • Anon

      NB: Of course, I know this is referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit – but I think the first part of the passage is still relevant. An earthly father does not deliberately give his child something horrible instead of the longed-for good thing that has been asked. So why do we expect our Heavenly Father always to give us things that are unpleasant?!

    • Jane Eyre

      I’m going to be pragmatic here: the sooner you can find a career in which you thrive, the better for everyone. Your old employer can find a good fit for the position. Your new employer gets a motivated employee who enjoys using her skills. You get to do a job you like. If you are a bad fit in a job, you won’t advance.

      I’m guessing that people said this to you because they don’t really believe in married women having careers. The more unhappy you are, the larger the chance that you will just leave and your husband can be the sole breadwinner. Even if you weren’t married then or now, they just don’t see the need for a woman to succeed. Being miserable at work is normal for women! Why would advancing be good for you?

  2. Bek

    This series is what I needed!! I have a feeling I will need September’s series even more!!!!
    Thanks, I’m excited for this!

    • Rachel M

      Me too! My husband and I are horrible communicators. We both fall prey to several of these topics. So glad my friend Jen passed the link along, which I promptly shared with my husband. Sincerely praying this helps us somehow. We are definitely in a tough season, extended winter as they say.

  3. Laura

    When I first heard that John Piper said that a woman should not “give a man directions to the highway; she should instead give “suggestions” so as not to demean his masculinity,” I about laughed out loud. I work at the reference desk at my local library so many people (both men and women) come to me for questions. If they want to know where to find a book, I give both sexes the same answer. I doubt that any man thinks I demean his masculinity when I tell him what area to go to if he’s looking for books about a particular subject.

    If we are direct with people in our customer service jobs, we should be able to speak directly to those we have close relationships with. Yet, I think that can be harder to be direct with our loved ones. As a long-time divorcee, I’m sure learning a lot here about communication. I don’t think women’s Bible studies have done a good job in that area. A while back, a married friend of mine who teaches marriage classes with her husband at their church gave me some advice on how they communicate which I did not agree with.

    Here’s the example she told me. Before she ran an errand, she told her husband, “I would like the dishes to be put away before we go to my parents’ house for dinner.” As she was telling me this, she said, “Notice I did not specifically ask my husband to put away the dishes. I just said I wanted it done.” She sounded very proud of herself for not being direct with her husband who put away the dishes when she returned from her errand. I wanted to ask her what was wrong with asking him directly, but I didn’t. I imagine she would have probably said that asking him to do something was not proper for a submissive wife. So, I’m sure it would be perfectly acceptable for her husband to ask her to do something.

    When I told my mother about this, she thought this sounded like manipulation or passive/aggressive behavior. She told me that my dad (rest his soul) would not have tolerated this kind of communication. He would often say, “Just say what you mean and quit beating around the bush.”

    That quote from My Big Fat Greek Wedding always cracks me up.

    • Anon

      Who are these ‘men’ who are so pathetically unsure of themselves that they feel undermined by a woman giving them directions to someplace? They must be hugely insecure.

      My husband would never dream of being ‘undermined’ if I gave him directions – in fact, he is proud of my navigational skills and acknowledges I am a much better map reader than he is. But then he is secure in his own identity – he doesn’t need to run me down all the time to make himself feel important.

  4. S

    I’m not sure which numbers they are but “Relationship Issues” and “Practical Issues”!

    I’ve tried for years to improve our marriage but it’s the same old problems over and over because my spouse says they, while they agree we have issues, they “just can’t motivate themselves” to do better.

    Plus we have a small baby and we only seem to talk in 5 minute windows these days. I know it’ll get better as the baby gets older, but I’m a little worried as to what state our marriage will be in by then.

  5. Katydid

    It has been “proven” time and time again my adult life that my wants and even needs don’t matter. I am just here to serve. From childhood needs being unmet to hearing, “no,” and “we can’t afford it,” over and over again, to warnings of impending problems if I wanted to join a school club or team or visit a friend because neither parent had the bandwidth to deal with having to drive me, I learned early on to shut up and be invisible.

    I saw over and over again my mom and dad refusing help, because, “you don’t bother other people or be a burden on society.”

    I also had to “be nice” to be a good christian witness. People soon learned that I was an easy target and doormat. Even at work requests for basic human needs like leaving my station to go to the bathroom were denied while others would get smoking breaks every 2 hours. And being underprivileged they knew they could threaten to fire me because I needed the job.

    Under fundamentalism I learned that God (through my husband) would provide my needs and wants if I earned them. Needless to say, I went without. Sometimes, my husband would clue in and ask me if I needed anything, but I would be clueless. I had learned to block everything out to the point of not being articulate about it. Other times I would be able to speak up but it was in one ear and out the other, shot down, or a defensivness occurred.

    Even my church emphasized this. I was asked to do a ministry. No details given. Just “I’ve got a ministry for you.” I asked what it was and my pastor said, “You don’t question when God gives you a ministry. Now, come on.” Thankfully, it was a simple handing out of palms on palm Sunday, but I was crushed under that level of coercion and control.

    Basic human dignity and boundaries I didn’t even know about and felt like I was looking out on a world where other women functioned, thrived, had needs met, wants achieved, and I couldn’t figure out why none of it happened for me.

    The Bible says if a child asks for bread a father doesn’t give a stone, but to this day I feel like God not only gives me stones, but throws them at me.

    I’m learning to take up space and use my voice, but I admit I am struggling under a literal lifetime of being silenced and invisible.

    • Estelle

      Katydid, I noticed that in just about every encounter where Jesus healed someone, first he would ask them what they wanted or what could he do for them. I hope this thought is helpful.

  6. Nathan

    > > ‘oh, you’re changing jobs for your own satisfaction then?
    > > I don’t think that’s a good idea’.

    Part of this may be based on the idea that suffering builds character. I believe that it does, but only if it’s suffering towards a good purpose. For example, if you choose to stay at a job you hate because it’s closer to home and has a flexible schedule allowing you to spend more time with your children.

    On the other hand, deliberately putting yourself into a suffering situation just for the sake of doing it builds nothing.

  7. Jane Eyre

    I grew up in a home where problems were not solved until they were a crisis. This often meant that smaller, solvable problems built up until they became gigantic messes. It also meant that I was ignored when I asked for help in a normal tone of voice. Ignored, ignored, ignored, then everyone acted like it was some massive shock when the house of cards came tumbling down.

    It resulted in a lot of dysfunctional behaviours as an adult. I mentioned pressure to stay in bad relationships (I guess as long as I was breathing, it wasn’t bad enough to trigger whatever “Jane needs out” threshold existed in their minds). I also let people walk all over me because I don’t push bad early enough. When have finally had enough of someone’s garbage, the relationship is unsalvageable, when it might have had a fighting chance earlier.

    In marriage, I have to constantly remind myself that my husband does not want things to reach a crisis point. I have to remind myself that, despite what I was taught, bringing up problems is not an inherently antagonistic behaviour: kind, reasonable people can say that things need to change.

  8. Stefanie

    It’s #1 and #5 for me . Early in my marriage I got advice to not correct him when he helped around the house, or he would stop helping. So when he “washed” dishes but the dishes were still dirty after he washed them, or he put my wool sweater in the dryer and shrank it, or wanted to make our bathroom renovation a DIY project, I didn’t feel equipped on HOW to express myself. All I knew was that I couldn’t say anything. I was never taught how to say hard things that could potentially hurt his ego.

    Related to this point, in the bedroom, I also was hesitant to speak up. I was told to make him feel like a good lover, don’t damage his ego, and if you have to speak up say, “I like this” and not “Don’t do that!”, or take his hand and move it. Implementing this advice has resulted in 10 years of no orgasms for me.

    I was reading the post “How Can I Stop Being Self-Conscious About How Long it Takes for Me to Orgasm?” from Oct 16, 2020, where a reader is quoted saying, “But he’s not getting it. Or he gets me so close and then moves, and I want to scream and rip it out of his hand and finish the job myself. It’s so incredibly frustrating. How do I teach him what to do?”

    This letter writer could have been me, except she was only married two years and it’s been 10 years for me. Here’s an example of our experience:
    We’re in bed. My husband is trying to please me, but he’s not doing it right, or sometimes even hurting me a little. (He goes after my clitoris way too hard. Maybe he thinks the harder he rubs the more likely I will be to orgasm, IDK), and I tried to speak up, show him by taking his hand, and when it is obvious that this isn’t working I finally say, “OK, that’s enough of that” and he moves on, but within a minute is back to hurting my clitoris. I don’t think his problem is malice, but I don’t know why he’s so hard to teach – when I show him to stroke this way, but he continues to stroke that way. He resists my instruction.

    The other night, thanks to you Sheila, we had a conversation (while not in bed), and I told him straight up. “I haven’t had an orgasm in 10 years. And I try to show you what feels good, but you don’t listen and it’s frustrating to me because I don’t know how to communicate so that you’ll touch me the right way. And sometimes you hurt me. Like the other night when you were using your tongue? It felt like this. (And I took my finger and jabbed his ribs really hard moving my finger in a circular motion.) Also you can’t touch my clitoris directly, you have to keep your fingers on top of the labia…”

    After this blunt conversation he’s been much better at listening to my instruction in bed, and doing what I say/show and how I say/show. Our sex has improved. Haven’t orgasmed yet, but getting closer.

    • Kate

      I would love to know the best way to respond to a passive-aggressive spouse.
      And how to respond when the desires they communicate are not within boundaries I have set.

    • Rose

      Oh wow. I wish I could be that direct with my husband. The irony is that I have a very attentive and receptive husband who would probably memorize what I told him and genuinely try to learn it, but I still have so much of my own baggage that I’d then feel deeply guilty every time he got it right! (This is from experience: a couple of other small areas I’ve tried “coaching” him on were technically successful but I now feel even worse about it??? Why are brains/hearts to easily messed up?!)

  9. EOF

    I’m excited for this series!

    Where am I coming from? I grew up with a narcissistic parent, so I learned early on that my opinion doesn’t matter. I also became keenly aware of the shifting moods of others – it was a necessity. As a child, I was *told* to stand up for myself outside the home, but never had any practice since I was regularly shut down and put down at home.

    Then I became a Christian and got married. We learned L&R style teachings. (This was before the book, but we were given other books to read that essentially said the same things.) Everything I did or said was seen through the lens of disrespect. I couldn’t tell my husband to treat me like an adult without receiving a sharp rebuke. I couldn’t speak up for legitimate needs without being shut down. All of this was backed up by our church – I was constantly told my only job was to submit, then he would change. (Spoiler alert, that isn’t what finally got him to change!)

    Even now that our relationship has improved and he wants me to speak up, I often find myself unable to. Either I don’t know how to verbalize my thoughts, or I’m worried about coming off angry and starting a fight, or afraid of getting shut down. While L&R isn’t ruling our marriage anymore, I still don’t have the tools necessary to engage in healthy conversation.

    • Katydid

      People wonder why we women put up with this L&R style of relationship, but they fail to realize that oftentimes it is reinforced by the church and even made into a salvation issue. Not only is your soul on the line, but those of your husband and children.

      • EOF

        And also when we’re told that obeying our husband = obeying God.

        Where do these people get this stuff??

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you, EOF! I know it’s really confusing and difficult, especially when you were never modelled it properly and told that having feelings was somehow being selfish. I hope I can say some helpful things this month!

      • EOF

        Thank you, Sheila. I’m sure plenty will help!

        The funny thing is, I was planning on filling out your contact form to ask exactly this. Then it turned out to be the month’s topic!

  10. Nathan

    > > not correct him when he helped around the house, or he would stop helping.

    I have to admit that I’m guilty of this. I often say “let me do it my way or do it yourself”. That’s not very healthy. Sometimes, there is no “right” way to do something, and should just be personal preference. Other times, though, there is a right or best way, and it should be discussed openly and equally so that both are on the same page.

  11. Nathan

    > > why we women put up with this L&R style of relationship,
    > > but they fail to realize that oftentimes it is reinforced
    > > by the church and even made into a salvation issue.

    And this can be tough to overcome. When you’re taught this way, from day one, by everybody you know, parents, other relatives, older friends and neighbors, church leaders, etc. and they all live it, and they act with absolute certainty that this is what God wants, and that the salvation of your entire family depends on you doing it, it can be nearly impossible to fight against, even when your gut is telling you that it isn’t right.

  12. Jo

    Women are brought up to be soft, gentle, yielding, and considerate of others, even outside the church. In the church? About a million times more so.

    That means that when a wife tries to talk calmly and dispassionately about some issue, large or small, her husband often doesn’t think it’s all that important. Especially for issues ***he*** isn’t very affected by or doesn’t think are important.

    Fast-forward a couple years…or decades. After having been ignored for so long, a wife will finally explode with pent-up anger and hostility, as she realizes all her “niceness” and “submission” isn’t having any effect.

    Closely related is the fact that if a woman is direct, even if she is perfectly polite and completely unemotional, she is perceived as bossy, aggressive, or just plain bitchy. A man being direct is merely assertive.

    And no, I have no answers!

  13. Nathan

    > > “I’ve got a ministry for you.”
    > > “You don’t question when God gives you a ministry”

    Am I reading a bit too much into this, or does that pastor have quite a high opinion of himself?

  14. Nathan

    > > A woman being direct versus a man being direct
    > > (even if the woman is polite and the man is red faced screaming in anger)

    True, and I have no answer, either. This is a problem that society must work on, both Christian and non-Christian.

    • Stefanie

      Which is funny because I’m a New Yorker, and I have ZERO problems speaking up for myself in public if someone tries to cut me in line, or steal my parking spot, or tries to tell me, “Ma’am, you can’t take the grocery cart into the restroom.” I can be quite the Karen (not in a racist way, just I will keep asking to speak to managers until I get what I want, and I usually get what I want).

      Why this doesn’t translate to my marriage is probably because I’m trying to be a good Christian and following marriage advice.

      • Anonymous305

        It’s harder at home because if he gets angry, you have to live with him, but if grocery store people get angry, you don’t live with them.

  15. Anonymous305

    Logically, indirect manipulation should be considered more sinful than anything direct, but practically, we don’t even think of that when being indirect is our only experience of normal.

    My biggest reason for not addressing problems is that I want him to choose on his own to love me and not just pretend to love me when I get emotional. Of course, that doesn’t address the fact that he could love me, but not know what I’m thinking, yet it’s often my default mode. I feel like he shouldn’t only be responsible when I ask him to, but should have his own desire to be responsible.

  16. Ati

    Yes yes! I remember when we got engaged I was given complementarian books to read emphasizing male leadership and womens following (why are they usuly given to women only??). One day we created a gift list for our wedding and I didnt dare say what I wanted as I had read this in one of Pipers books. It felt really weird, we hadnt been like that before. Eventually I told him what I wanted too and he of course was more than happy about that. He doesnt do indirect communication thankfully. He doesnt have a fragile ego, and the sort of books that were given to me teach women to walk on egg shells even when they re not there!! Still learning to actually being able to verbalise what Im thinking though!
    Great series, thank you Sheila!

  17. Laura

    It’s so interesting (not sure what adjective to use in this sense) how a lot of Christian marriage books like to take the very few verses in the Bible that specifically talk about marriage and turn them into the be all and end all for the only way to manage a marriage. Why isn’t there more emphasis on the famous Love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 (often quoted at weddings), the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) or Jesus’ greatest commandment (love the Lord your God first, then love your neighbor as yourself) in these marriage books?

    As I’ve skimmed through L & R (which I’m so tempted to rip apart) and researched and evaluated through other Christian marriage books that I realize are toxic, I get the feeling that there’s an unhealthy agenda behind this Christianese propaganda: to emphasis a male hierarchy in marriage. I get that we are in some trying times where gender and sexuality are getting complicated and the church wants to keep the status quo of how they believe things have always been (heterosexual marriages with husband at work and wife at home). Maybe that’s why there’s a push in the church to hold onto gender stereotypes and roles. This is NOT helpful at all!

    Whatever biblical principles we are taught to apply in how we treat others, we should use those to apply to marriage instead of just focusing on that one “love and respect” verse that became the foundation for E.E’s book.

    • Anon

      I think a lot of books are written by people who are just focusing either on their own marriage or the kind of marriage they want. So they write about people who are like themselves (or like the person they want to be married to), and portray those people as the only ‘right’ way to be.

      It’s a bit like me saying ‘I’m a woman and I like eating strawberries. Therefore, if you are a woman, you must like eating strawberries. Eating strawberries is what defines your womanhood’ Yes, I know – sounds totally crazy, doesn’t it?!! Yet it’s really no different to many Christian marriage books which portray the authors’ own preferences as rules which define Christian marriage.

      • Anonymous305

        Raspberries are only better when ripe. When not ripe, they are too sour to win over strawberries.

      • Anon

        Oh dear, Sheila, you’ve obviously been damaged by the false ideas that society portrays of womanhood – if you hadn’t, you’d be able to acknowledge that you really preferred strawberries. Because you do, deep down, it’s just that you have been too damaged to be able to admit it (And believe it or not, I came across an almost identical sentence to this in a ‘godly womanhood’ book, only that was talking not about strawberries, but about all true women needing to acknowledge that they want to be princesses awaiting rescue by a handsome prince. Yeuk!!!!!)

      • Laura


        I like your analogy about the strawberries. That’s just so clever. The book about how all girls want to be princesses and have a man rescue them, that sounds like Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge. John’s also the author of Wild at Heart which is about stereotypical biblical manhood.

        When I read Captivating, I thought I must have been weird because I never thought about wanting to be a princess nor be rescued by a man on a white horse. I never even thought about my wedding as a 5-year-old girl. Another thing the Eldredges wrote in Captivating was that every little girl wanted to be called “beautiful.” I never even thought about that when I was a little girl. My parents did not emphasize on physical appearance as much as they did on character.

        Sheila, did you and your team ever read and analyze the Eldredges’ books I had mentioned?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          We actually didn’t because they didn’t meet the criteria for inclusion in our study (we only looked at the top 10 best-selling Christian marriage books on Amazon, and then the best-selling sex books of the last few decades). But i can tell you that Connor and Keith both HATED Wild at Heart. I never got through Captivating.

      • Anon

        Thanks, Laura, that sounds like the book – although it was a long time since I hurled it across the room, and I’ve tried to block the whole experience from my memory, so I can’t be sure!

        I’ve never been a ‘girly’ girl and my pet hate is ‘Christian’ books that tell me I have to be girly to be Godly! Weird thing is that the friend who lent it to me said she thought it was brilliant, and yet she is a very practical, down-to-earth kind of girl, who does a manual job, likes DIY, hiking and wild swimming and is definitely not the ‘princess’ type the book insists all women want to be. I did wonder at the time if she REALLY agreed with the book or if the constant ‘all normal women feel this way’ message made her feel that she to pretend to agree to be ‘normal’. It’s really hard to keep being yourself when someone keeps telling you that isn’t a normal way to be!

  18. Kay

    I am grateful my therapist gave me “permission” to email my husband about the hard things. I kept trying to bring it up in person but I still freeze every time. I don’t have the skills to overcome that freeze response just yet. I hear so many folks saying things about how Millennials/Gen Z can’t even have conversations anymore, so I thought email wasn’t the “right way” to have hard conversations. But my therapist reminded me that talking about those things “the wrong way”—-by email—-is better than not having the conversation at all. If email is working for me, then work it!

    It also gives both of us the space we need to process some of our emotions first so we can be more intentional in our responses. All around, this works for us until we can develop more skills in our in-person communication.

    • Nessie

      I’ve done this as well and had some of the same hesitations about if it was “right.” I’ve found it’s easier to go back and review what I wrote (he has ADD and can forget I actually said a particular thing because he was focused on another part), what he writes back, easier to keep my emotions from coming through in my literal voice (while I work on that in myself), and the time to process emotions as you said. It works well for us as he learns with the help of a therapist how to have an actual conversation and not shut down. We have in-person convos now, too, but sometimes email makes it more effective for us. Really glad to know others have used this communication method.

  19. Rose

    I wonder did anyone else experience being accused of being “manipulative” growing up or by partners? Because, and yes I know this term is overused at present, but in the actual sense that it was intended, “gaslighting” is a real problem for women growing up in the church when it comes to their sexual safety!

    As I’m reading through more of the posts and discussions on this blog, I’m starting to hone in on some of what contributes to my own struggles, and a lot of it is SO rooted in the vilification of female desire. And not just sexual, but ANY desire! So I absolutely relate to feeling guilt or shame for having expressed needs, and in fact for even HAVING needs! What – aren’t women magical robots who provide love and care to everything around them with no need for basic things like sleep, friendship, or even healthcare? On closer examination so many of these beliefs are literally insane, and yet if you’ve heard it often enough, it’s so hard to shake out of your psyche!

    Bizarre how much we’ve normalized abuse, projection, and victim-blaming. It’s deeply contrary to the character of God.


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