Do you know who reads marriage books and seeks out marriage advice?
Usually it’s people having trouble with their marriage! And yet often the advice that’s given isn’t helpful for unhealthy couples, and can even be harmful. And then authors say, “but it’s not meant for couples in unhealthy relationships!”
Now, I do believe that counseling for people in abusive situations needs to be done by a licensed counselor, but there is no reason why a pastor can’t get trauma informed and learn about abuse and preach on it well; or why they can’t have a team in place to help people in abusive situations access the help they need; or why they can’t train people to help those in need.
This all reminds me of the kerfuffle over Love & Respect with Focus on the Family.
When people wrote in telling them that Love & Respect was a dangerous book and enabled abuse, they replied that it was only meant for people in healthy marriages with goodwill. But Emerson Eggerichs, on page 2, even says that it’s meant for:
“This book is for anyone: people in marital crisis…spouses headed for divorce…husbands and wives in a second marriage…people wanting to stay happily married…spouses married to unbelievers…divorcees trying to heal….lonely wives….browbeaten husbands…spouses in affairs…victims of affairs…engaged couples…pastors or counselors looking for material that can save marriages.”
He also talks later in the book about couples who are “drinking or straying.” So he says the book is for people in toxic and destructive marriages, but then when confronted about how the book harms those marriages, he says it’s only for couples with goodwill.
That’s the same approach Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta took about their new book Married Sex, when they were told that it handled power dynamics and porn very badly (saying that taking nude photos will neurologically help him not look at other women; talking about men with rage issues demanding angry sex and not mentioning coercion; talking about breasts resetting power imbalances), they replied that their book was meant for people in healthy marriages.
Why are we creating so many resources that are only meant for the healthy and that will hurt the sick?
Jesus said that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Jesus left the 99 and went after the 1. Shouldn’t the sick matter to us?
And the sick are not just the 1–the sick are a huge percentage of people in our congregations, and we are leaving them behind.
In our new books The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex we talk a lot about consent and what it looks like and how to recognize when something is not consensual, and we talk about how to address porn use, and when you need a licensed counselor to deal with things. We try to help people identify when there are “normal” issues, and when things go beyond normal and actually need some serious boundaries and some help. We don’t just tell people to try harder.
I think this is a very real problem, and I hope that pastors and authors will start remembering that most of those who really need advice are not in super healthy relationships. And so the advice needs to take into account those who are in very unhealthy ones and need to be told, “that’s not right, and it’s okay to need some help.”
The All New Guides to Great Sex!
Launch March 15!
Imagine building a great sex life–from the ground up!
What would it look like to build a picture of sex that was MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH–with no harmful messages?
Welcome to the The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and the ALL NEW Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.
Pre-Order Now! (Helps us out a ton)
And if you email your receipt, we’ll send you a special pre-order BONUS
What do you think? How can we help pastors consider this when preaching? How can we change the emphasis in our teaching? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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1/3 of people walking out. That’s a pretty powerful image.
I’ve been in evangelical spaces for my whole life, except for the past couple years, and IMO churches don’t have a clue about abuse, trauma or mental illness. In marriages or otherwise. I’d suspect that just mirrors the broader culture. Up until recently society in general didn’t know what to do with these issues (still doesn’t in many respects, but at least people are talking about it more). Since the church resists social changes as “of the world” and it’s no surprise it lags the rest of the culture on this. Misogyny is also likely part of it.
But, I wonder if the deepest reason is that we’re uncomfortable with problems that don’t have quick fixes. It challenges our model of how God operates and what a Christian’s life should look like if a person can’t proclaim “victory” over their struggles in short order. It’s true that there are some deep-rooted issues that are “acceptable” to have, like lust or addiction, but maybe that’s because we think we understand them and “success” seems straightforward to define, at least from the outside.
Ultimately, I wonder if the reason we’re uncomfortable with problems that don’t have quick fixes is that we are too comfortable in our first-world consumerism and too shallow in our thinking. It’s messy to get involved in someone’s deep, long-term problems and getting involved might challenge our thinking. Those are sacrifices most aren’t willing to make.
Your idea makes sense, yet I’ve never seen an impoverished country be good at dealing with abuse because abusers manipulate whatever culture they are in to turn people against the victim. You’d think a “family-centered” culture would support the victim more than “selfish-American” culture, but not if the abuser has a higher status in the family. Then, the victim would be pressured into silence for the reputation of the family, whereas in the US, she is pressured into silence for the reputation of the individual. I feel like the individual culture is the lesser of 2 evils, although I admit to being biased by my experiences.
Also, I’ve heard stories that people without money learn to value other people more, but they’re not always true. Some people without money view other people as property, which increases abuse. Additionally, even if a family in poverty chose to support the victim, they’d have more difficulty doing so because when basic necessities are uncertain, everyone has chronic high stress.
Money can make people selfish, but poverty doesn’t force them to be unselfish.
Yes, I think that abuse flourishes everywhere, in every culture. But they have found that the more egalitarian a culture is–so the more opportunities for both justice and economic independence everyone has–the less people put up with abuse.
I’ve voiced this same sentiment many times and in many spaces. Why are we writing marriage advice books for people in healthy marriages? They aren’t the ones buying the books. (And if you are really writing for them, then put a disclaimer on the front that states “This book is for healthy marriages only”. But that wouldn’t sell many books, would it?)
I emailed a blogger who is doing a marriage conference this week and is having Gary Thomas on it about his new book (she is SO excited to have him she said.) that I was disappointed because his new book had wrong and harmful information. She did send me a nice reply but the end all of it was that this book was for healthy marriages so it was fine. I emailed her back thanking her for her response and that I would love to discuss reasons it was not if she would like to hear, but never heard back from her. I really want to send her this blog post.
Another issue (that somebody brought up somewhere) is that most Christian marriage advice centers around (and obsesses over) the power and authority of the husband over the wife.
In a marriage where the husband is abusing the wife, a message that talks only about how the husband is in charge, the wife is a voiceless submissive afterthought, and the husband should never have his failings pointed out, will only make things worse.
That’s pretty much the message I felt has been given in women’s Bible studies and some marriage sermons. The way the church portrays marriage turns me off from it and I think how much happier I am single.
Because pastors have trouble believing that men might be doing a bad job at being a husband (which implies the pastors themselves may not be doing a good job at home).
Because many of the women that pastors have counseled were right and the pastors were wrong.
Because the only possible leaders in the home and the church (men) aren’t as good at it as has been assumed.
Because husbands and pastors would have to admit they don’t, by simple virtue of having external genitalia, know everything and—horrors!—might actually have to listen to and—yikes!—learn from women. A husband might have to actually listen to and learn from his wife! A pastor might have to listen to his female congregants! And even believe what they say! And that what women say just may be accurate! 😱 😱 😱 Can’t have any of that, as it would destroy the myth of male superiority that’s been preached for two millennia.
Because the misuse of scripture is so ingrained in the “Biblical teachings on the family” that few can think outside that man made box.
Because the misuse of scripture includes imposing modern thinking on ancient texts.
Because making Ephesians 5 the “trouble-shooting” section for marriage in the “Big Owner’s Manuel from God (BOMfG)” is a misuse of scripture that cannot be questioned. If you do question this misuse then you don’t respect the Bible (BOMfG) and are therefore an ignorant heathen.
Because over the years, using Ephesians 5 for troubleshooting a broken marriage has failed time and time again. But no one can admit that it is due to misusing that section (and similar sections) of the Bible.
Therefore, since the Bible can’t be wrong. And the powers that be refuse to understand how they are misusing scripture, they have to start claiming that it is only for healthy marriages.
Which, carried further, should also prove that Ephesians 5 is NOT a marriage trouble-shooting section of the Bible.
BOMfG!!! Love it. I just stopped capitalizing the bible when I stopped worshipping it. But I may adopt BOMfG.
Since the Great Sex Rescue research was done I have become more sensitive to number statistics when people start throwing numbers with no survey or research quoted. So I have 2 questions. 1st one has no bearing and I am just more curious than anything – was wondering if this is the same Bethany that hangs around here and if so hey! Again just curious. 2nd. Is that really true? Only 1/3 of marriages are generally healthy? I appreciate and get the point of what was written. I am having trouble with a healthy marriage is RARE statement but yet there is certainly a believable aspect to that quote to some degree. I can certainly say the I have stood in the shoes of going through ongoing problematic situations and even destructive garbage…heck I literally just came out of a 2 year long struggle of many kinds! My marriage suffered along the way but feels quite strong as a result of the trudge. Maybe I am just rambling here but certainly curious on the 1/3 number given and the healthy marriages are RARE comment.
I wondered about that too. I thought maybe she was referring to the divorce rate – ie if a marriage ends up splitting, it’s assumed it wasn’t healthy. But then that would have 4+ in 10 walking out not 1 in 3.
The part about healthy marriages being rare, idk. I guess it depends on what circles you’re moving in and how you define healthy. If you mean a couple that really stands out, that you look at and think, yeah I want what they have, then I could see that being pretty rare.
Bethany didn’t say 1 in 3 marriages are good. She said that many are abusive. She said good ones are RARE. And looking around at the married people I know, I can only think of one or two that I might want to emulate— and that’s me looking in from the outside. If I knew what was happening between them at home it might change things. When my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary, I really didn’t want to go. Their marriage isn’t healthy or good. I didn’t want to celebrate my mom being treated like that for 50 years. My marriage ended over addiction. My siblings….. did better, but have their problems. church people….. as someone said, church women are more likely to put up with abuse. Or not be able to identify abuse.
The problem with saying, this advice is only for healthy marriages ( aside from healthy marriages not really needing advice) is that Christians will usually assume their marriage is healthy. I was decades in before someone (a complementarian pastor, ironically) heard about an exchange we had and said, “He said WHAT to you?!?! That’s verbal abuse!” And I had never thought of myself as an abuse victim before. We need to not only say, get help if your relationship is abusive (like, duh, like, I would never condone abuse), but we need to say what abuse looks like. Verbal, emotional, spiritual (oops, most churches are guilty of that one, though), and physical is more than just punching and kicking. Show the Power and Control Wheel and send people to DV resources.
Yes! We really do need to do a lot more teaching on this, especially to teens, so that young people are really well informed before they even think about getting married.
I’m horrified at the number of people who tell me about their ‘good’ boyfriend, fiance or husband…and then go straight on to tell me something really abusive that he does.
Or that they view basic human decency as amazing. I have a dear friend who has been dating a guy for years who constantly belittles her and takes her for granted, but she thinks he’s amazing because ‘that time I was so sick with flu I couldn’t get out of bed, he picked up some groceries for me when he went to do his shopping’. Sorry, but that’s basic human decency. You should be setting the bar higher for a life partner.
I didn’t think I was in an abusive marriage while I was married to my ex. Yet, I felt like I was being mistreated, but at least he never hit me. However, there was a lot of verbal abuse, control, manipulation, sexual coercion, and eventually sexual assault. It got to the point where I no longer felt safe, but I didn’t think I had a legitimate or “biblical” reason because there wasn’t any adultery (at least that I knew of) and he never hit me. So, I prayed about it and God guided me out of the marriage. I didn’t go to marriage counseling at church because their mindset was that “divorce should never be an option.”
After the divorce, I learned that abuse is not just physical violence. Thankfully, the new church I went to had a support group for domestic violence survivors and that’s where I learned a lot.
Phil, I really appreciate you and your comments, and I am very grateful for your honesty.
What if you hadn’t yet come out of the struggle? What if you had never realized that you had things you needed to struggle through? I’m going to assume that you have improved as a person and a husband, so where would Grace be if those changes had not happened (assuming I have my Phils right)?
That’s part of the problem, I think. Just because a woman isn’t being abused doesn’t mean she has a good marriage. She may stuff her feelings, she may not think she deserves anything more than the most basic consideration, she may have realized things are never going to get better because her husband refuses to struggle to make changes to himself.
So she does, well, a cost-benefit analysis, and while things aren’t as good as she had hoped, at least she has a reasonably stable situation that she has adapted to. She assumes the state of her marriage is her cross to bear, so she keeps dying to self (though the verse actually says “deny,” not “die”) because she thinks that’s her God-given duty. People keep telling her that she can do all things through Christ and that she should wait for her husband to make improvements so she can follow his lead. Everywhere she turns she hears the same message, so it must be right, right?
On that basis, and with the state of the evangelical church in North America anyway, I think one in three is kinda low-balling reality.
Jo R – thank you and yes you have the correct Phil….I like to think I have improved….most days it feels that way…and I must give Grace credit for improving too. And oh by the way you TOTALLY opened a can a worms….Bethany said 1/3 marriages meaning all marriages – she did not specify christian or secular D’oh! 🤦🏼
I’d say the fraction would be higher in church, because in the secular arena wives aren’t told to sit down and shut up. Those wives feel free to call their husbands out for crappy behavior and, I would assume, would leave a bad marriage years or even decades sooner if things did not improve.
But I’m just guessing.
That’s what Gretchen Baskerville told me, and she’s done the research. It’s not necessarily that Christian men are more likely to be abusive, but that Christian women are more likely to stay.
If we look at the divorce rate for evangelicals, a Baylor University study found it to be higher than the average in America (which was about 50% at the time of the study). Which is one of the clearest reasons why I say most of us aren’t in generally healthy marriages (regardless of who is damaging the health of the marriage). If over 50% of evangelical marriages are ending in divorce, I’d say the church needs to start paying attention to the individuals in those marriages and start caring for them.
I know I went to church with some level of fake smile for most of three decades. The times I couldn’t, my overt tears were either ignored or pat-Christian-answered out of importance or even out of reality. (And that would count as gaslighting, right?)
How many men are completely blindsided when their wives file for divorce? A good part of men’s stupefaction is certainly due to the ability of women to put a good face on a bad situation, even for decades.
That’s why I think the one-third is lowball, because a whole lot of women want to look good in their church. I can’t imagine what the pressure to appear happy and satisfied must be like for church women who are also on social media like Facebook and Instagram. 😯😯😯
(I don’t think women necessarily want to look good in a showing off kind of way, but because it’s more or less expected that Christians ought to be happy all the time. That whole “content in all situations” thing, so discontent is therefore sinful.)
When I hear, “I don’t know why she left”, I wonder if she told him what was wrong and he didn’t listen?
I read one article in which the guy thought that he shouldn’t have to listen to his wife because no one else had the same complaints about him, so the majority must be right and the minority (his wife) must be wrong. Immediately, I wondered why it was a good idea to compare those who don’t live with him to the person that does live with him. Especially, when she was bringing up issues that happened IN THE HOUSE 🤦🏾♀️🤦🏾♀️🤦🏾♀️. He got the point after she left, which is more than some do.
Sometimes, the wife explains what’s wrong, gets yelled at or ignored, waits a few years to explain again, then gets told he had no idea there was a problem because she didn’t talk about it. So, he wants her to keep talking while he’s yelling or ignoring????
I’ve read similar things on another site lately (are we talking about the same one: must be this tall to ride dot com?), and one commenter there said in a recent post that men don’t pay attention to a woman’s words, just her actions. When challenged for an action a wife could try between (1) trying to speak up about the relationship’s issues (and doing so a zillion times) with no result and (2) finally just getting fed up with being ignored and belittled, then walking out and wanting a divorce, the response was … crickets.
Add in Keith’s point the other day in the comments that men too often don’t listen to women, and there you are. She tries to talk about issues, he denies and ignores, and eventually she just gives up. Since she sees there’s no relationship, that the marriage is essentially a fraud, what else can she do but divorce?
Oh, and then add in the whole threat of being told that she’s disrespecting her husband if she tries to talk about any issues, and what in the world is a woman to do? She can’t talk, she can’t suggest, she can only do so much by herself. Eventually, all that’s left IS leaving.
I think this is also why increasingly marriage counselors are recommending that women in destructive marriages stop having sex with their husbands.
For many men, sex is their way of “checking in” on the relationship. If they’re having sex, everything’s fine, no matter what she actually says.
So often the only way to convince him that something is really, really wrong is to stop having sex. But then 1 Corinthians 7 is often brought up to say, “she’s not allowed to do that” (which as we show in The Great Sex Rescue is an improper application of those verses). But basically all tools that she may have to get him to take her seriously are taken away, and it does lead to defeat.
The site Jo R mentioned sounds familiar.
Regarding Sheila’s comment-I’m not denying that guys do that, but it makes me mad for at least 2 reasons.
In that kind of a relationship, she’s probably having sex reluctantly due to pressure from him and/or her own internal guilt. He SHOULDN’T count that as “everything’s fine”. At least he shouldn’t if her reluctance is visible.
Also, he shouldn’t wait until she refuses sex to listen. He shouldn’t marry someone he won’t listen to.
Of course, some non-listening defies logic, like when my friend’s abusive ex constantly sent her texts to which she replied “stop contacting me” again and again and again, until she blocked his number. Then, he told a mutual friend that he had no idea why she blocked him after they were having fine conversations. I never knew that “stop contacting me” 10 times was a fine conversation. 🤦🏾♀️🤦🏾♀️🤦🏾♀️
Totally agree that he shouldn’t–but unfortunately that’s the dynamic in many relationships! I think that’s why we need to keep teaching women about consent as well.
Women are so conditioned by society at large and the church in particular to “be nice” and “not rock the boat” that this poor women felt like she couldn’t block HER ABUSIVE EX after the FIRST time she told him to not contact her anymore.
That is a major problem.
It’s not this one! But I’ve seen other Bethany’s post. Hence my nickname for clarity.
I think we certainly found a higher number of healthy marriages. But I would say that about 20% of marriages we found were seriously destructive, if not more than that. And there are a lot just in that messy middle too! I’d have to ask Joanna to let me know!
I’m guessing a lot of preachers tell people in abusive marriages to ‘go and get help’ because they don’t feel qualified to deal with abuse situations. Which is ok. But wouldn’t it be much better to say ‘if you are in an abusive marriage, you NEED help. Please come to us. We don’t have the professional expertise you need, but we can point you toward those who do, and we will also support you and encourage you in any way we can.’
Yes! That would be so good!
That can be a great idea. but use discernment- a previously-attended church recommended a nearby counseling center and offered to help offset some of the costs for those in need, but I think that christian practice may have had some less than stellar counselors… held similar lines of thinking in the church as male leadership push, etc. Minus spiritual abusiveness though, it would be a great service to offer!
So much of the evangelical marriage culture (which is not necessarily the teachings) is just toxic. There are all these two-steps that are just maddening:
1. Don’t ever speak badly about your spouse or your marriage in public.
2. How can you want a divorce? Everything you have said about your husband is so positive!
1. Don’t divorce just because. It has to be very serious.
2. If your marriage is so bad that is making you depressed, you need medication. (Ignore the fact that people without a MD or DO have no business saying what medications you need.)
1. People in healthy marriages do X and this doesn’t apply to people in bad marriages.
2. If you aren’t doing X because yiuur marriage is not healthy, maybe it isn’t healthy because yoh aren’t going X!
At this point, I just do the opposite of whatever the Official Script says. Fixing someone’s marriage is like fixing their health. “Run more! It helped my cousin who had high blood pressure.” Actually, the health issue is needing a knee replacement and bone-on-bone grating is contraindicated for this health issue.
Books for ‘healthy’ couples sell. Books for unhealthy couples would be very short. As in, run and hide, or, call the police, or, you can’t change it, you can only change yourself. Nobody wants to hear that. We want hope, so we buy book after book after book, hoping that this one will give me the power to change it.
What is the definition of a healthy marriage? We, the church, can’t even get on the same page on that. How can anyone preach/teach/write about healthy marriage when definitions aren’t clearly stated? It’s almost like we need to read a whole lot of books about how Jesus loves us, go to therapy, and have supplemental material, like little pamphlets, that we can hand out to good willed couples.
“How to find and enjoy the clitoris.”
“How to talk about mental load and work together to enjoy your lives.”
“Quick reminder: Be polite and kind when talking to your partner-even when you’re mad.”
“Whoop, there is it: the joy learning each other’s arousal cycles.”
“You’re not a child- you’re an adult- how to practice self-control, self-reflection and self-regulation.”
“Oops I did it again; how to apologize, hear your spouse’s hurt, acknowledge it without dismissing it, repair and truly try again.”
“Your partner is a meany so if you need help, quick, follow me!”
“How to fight, keep it light, and grieve together.”
“How to help you talk to your spouse when you actually really do need another dog; and other silly things that you should just have an honest, personal, conversation about by clearly and kindly stating your wants and needs and being heard and validated. Respectful conversation to build up the unity of the relationship should follow.No trump cards allowed. Should also be applied to mutually orgasmic intercourse.”
Just a thought.
Are there any Christian resources available for a couple dealing with the husband’s porn addiction? I need some help, but I don’t know where to turn. My husband has always had a very high sex drive. We have sex almost every day and sometimes more than once, but it’s not enough. He masturbates to porn 1-3 times a day and doesn’t even try to hide it from me anymore. He’ll even finish with that, turn over, and ask for sex. It’s killing my sex drive to know what he’s doing and to know that the things he asks for in sex (repeatedly even though I have told him SO MANY TIMES that I am not comfortable with them) are things he saw in porn. I am partly at fault for this situation though because I knew he was looking at porn a long time ago and didn’t say anything because at least he was finally giving me a moment’s peace instead of constantly badgering me for sex.
Anonymous, please don’t have sex with a man who is using porn constantly! That can cement a porn addiction. Right now he is using porn and distorting sex and objectifying you, and that isn’t okay. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t say anything before; you can say something now. Look up Sarah McDugal on Facebook, or Betrayal Trauma Recovery on Facebook. Those are both great communities for things like this!
In addition to what Sheila said, I don’t blame you for the time you were silent because I’d want to be left alone, too!! Also, his current state sounds abusive. If it’s more dangerous to refuse sex than not to, please consider finding local domestic abuse experts. ☹️❤️☹️
Anonymous, you are 0% to blame for his porn problem. He was and is treating you like a prostitute. That is his mindset, not you.
Pure Desire has a course for wives of sex addicts, called Betrayal and Beyond. It’s best if you can find a local support group, but I think they still offer online support groups. One of the things you learn in that is how to create a Safety Action Plan to protect you from his bad behavior. I’m afraid you will have no choice but to divorce him, but that will be your decision if and when you get there. I’m open to talking about it, if you’re ok with talking to a stranger on the internet.
I can’t stand it when they throw gender stereotypes into “helping marriages”. I read Every Man’s Battle a couple years ago (about half of it actually before it made its way into the garbage)… and it literally was like “women don’t lust, so they don’t understand. You have to be porn for your husband or he’s gonna cheat. That’s just how God made men.” Um, excuse me? I had never heard so much false propaganda for enabling sexual compulsion and even predatory/abusive behaviors from a supposedly Christian book that was supposed to help women through betrayal (which is itself a traumatic experience, then to be retraumatized by that piece of garbage, ugh). And it’s true. All of the stuff I read online about being empathetic/understanding, not arguing while mad, being selfless and honest and open, and talking in terms of my feelings instead of accusations… those were things I did naturally because that’s how I was raised… and I did everything right in my relationship according to these self help gurus… and it literally got me betrayed and traumatized because I was with a partner who didn’t respect me as a human being… and the finger is always pointed at the woman in the relationship isn’t it? All the advice is always for women on how to “do better” or “change yourself” to fit what the man wants/values. Never do I see relationship advice titled “Fellas, time to grow up and be a partner!” “For The Guys: How to be a more loving/understanding Partner.” No it’s always about how women can change or accommodate a man, even if he is fundamentally unfit for a healthy relationship with anyone. Rant over.