How Bad Christian Marriage Advice Hurt a Good Couple

by | Sep 30, 2022 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 5 comments

You don't have to be in a bad marriage to be hurt by harmful marriage teachings! Here's a look at how bad teachings about marriage from evangelical churches harmed this woman's marriage--even though she was in a good one! We can do better, church!
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You don’t have to have a destructive marriage to be hurt by bad marriage advice. 

We’re ending up our series on Marriage Misdiagnosis, looking at how all too often Christian marriage advice misdiagnoses the problem, and gives the wrong solution.

We’ve talked a lot this month about the impact of that on abused spouses (our podcast with Natalie Hoffman about this was a big hit!).

I want to end the series, though, with a comment that as left by a woman who wasn’t in an abusive marriage. You see, I was never in an abusive marriage, and this type of advice still hurt me. That’s what we found in The Great Sex Rescue too–the advice that we internalize can hurt our marital and sexual satisfaction, EVEN IF our spouse is wonderful and trying hard.

Here’s a story of how the advice didn’t work for either of them, and made things worse: 

 

She starts by explaining that she has recently received training to be an abuse advocate. 

My husband is an abuse survivor, but kids of abuse do not grow up to be absusers. That is a common myth, BUT we did have some unhealthy dynamics and I couldn’t figure out why or what they were exactly. All I knew is that the christian teachings we were getting were harmful.

Here’s an example: so men are told that they should love their wives like Jesus loves the church and give his life for her.

How might that translate if you do not also teach self care and boundaries?

My husband only was modeled a co-dependant love (the love his mom showed to his evil father.. I don’t say evil lightly, his father was horribly physically abusive) but if your idea of how to sacrificially love is to ignore your own needs and betray yourself and your own desires ALL THE TIME for another.

Well…

You might be able to imagine that as a person who wanted to love him back, this sort of being loved didn’t feel good.

If someone can’t or won’t show up and say what they want or like.. how can you love them back? Who are you loving if they aren’t showing up?

Then when he would be doing “loving things” like doing the dishes when he got home from work, well, it seemed like a nice thing, right? Except that he wasn’t doing the dishes because I had asked for help or because we were doing what need to be done together. No, he would stop me from doing something and tell me to sit down and he would do it. But I wanted to spend time with *him*. I didn’t want all the forced service that he felt he had to do.

It is confusing to try to explain because it ends up sounding like I am complaining about a great guy and what every wife would want, but… the dynamic wasn’t right. He treated me like an abusee that needed appeasement (because that is the “love” he knew), and because I was taught to submit to my husband, I didn’t know how to change the dynamic that we had going.

Basically I was taught how to love codependently as well too!

So we had this cycle of “love” where we both ignored what we needed ourselves in order to serve the other and neither of us were happy.

We ended up making some decisions that neither of us really wanted because we were trying so hard to serve/follow the other.

In one way, I am thankful for what I was taught because I can see how it kept me from squashing him, but I also wish that marriage advice had been better back then. No one talked about how marriage is a gift and comfort. The books we read seemed to always point out how marriage was hard and a sacrifice and for suffering.

Well, we did suffer. My husband more so because he didn’t have a sense of “this isn’t right” like I did. I at least had a memory of a healthy attachment love and an amount of independent gumption that came into me before it got squelched with extra conservative teachings of obedience and submission.

Hearing outright what is wrong or off like Sheila’s “fixed it dor you” stuff is so helpful! Also, when teachers point out boundaries and what is harmful and what is good without muddying the waters it’s also helpful! Even in non-abusive marriages, we don’t get it right, and we might not KNOW what marriage should look like intuitively.

Picking out the good from the bad isn’t possible for those of us who believed harmful messages about hierarchy (like me) or those people who only experienced unhealthy relationships with no boundaries (like my husband)– we are both two people with good intentions who wanted to love each other well.. and honestly, we would have been better off getting no advice or interference from anyone for the first 10 years that the “help” we did get.

But GOOD advice and solid interdependent teachings would have been helpful.. Like how to love the other as yourself... so what does loving yourself well look like then? Becuase if you ignore your own needs you aren’t able to love others well at all. We have to start with the individual persons before we work on the couple together. Every problem in a marriage is not a couple’s problem! And enabling the other person is not loving.

 

I love her description about how their backgrounds took them into marriage and developed an unhealthy dynamic, even though they were both loving towards each other, and they both had commitment. 

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It isn’t just about love and commitment, you see! It’s about wholeness and health.

We need to stop telling people that all that matters is ignoring your own needs and sacrificing for the other, and instead paint a picture of what health looks like.

That’s what we’re going to try to next month, as we start our Research Series. 

We’re going to be sharing with you some awesome new studies that have recently been published, as well as some new stats that we’ve run from the dataset we used for The Great Sex Rescue. We want to tell you some more truths about what makes a healthy marriage and a healthy sex life.

Because all of us suffer when the advice is bad–and all of us benefit when we focus on the wholeness, freedom, and health that is found in Christ Jesus. 

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You don't have to be in a bad marriage to be hurt by harmful marriage teachings! Here's a look at how bad teachings about marriage from evangelical churches harmed this woman's marriage--even though she was in a good one! We can do better, church!

What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments!

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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5 Comments

  1. Mara R

    I know I’m one of the cranky, jaded ones. Just understand that this was after years of slow. ‘frog in the pot,’ downward spiral.

    Things didn’t start out awful. And maybe if the church hadn’t been in such a bad place concerning giving marriage advice, things might have been different. We read “The Act of Marriage”.

    But another thing that happened that I think contributed to our relationship going from okay/so-so to abusive (besides his other issues) was the ex going to a “Promise Keepers” convention. I was excited about him going. But that was because I didn’t know what they were teaching these guys. They were, straight up, teaching them male headship. And this definitely wasn’t good for us.

    http://frombitterwaterstosweet.blogspot.com/2012/05/promise-keepers-hurt-my-marriage.html

    Reply
    • Laura

      Mara,

      Thank you for sharing your blog post on this. I read that Tony Evans quote somewhere. I have read books by his daughters Priscilla Shirer and Chrystal Evans-Hurst. I don’t know if they ascribe to complementarianism because I had not read their books on relationships. They don’t sound extreme like Douglas Wilson’s daughters who are staunch complementarians like their dad.

      Reply
  2. Laura

    Thankfully I did not seek any advice from the church regarding my marriage because I had the feeling the advice would be focused on the importance of the husband’s role as the head and I just needed to shut up and submit. I got out of that marriage due to abuse and am so glad I didn’t seek the guidance of the church.

    Unfortunately, I devoured Christian books about dating, marriage, and sex after my divorce because I wanted to do things God’s way by abstaining from sex. I also heard bad advice from the pulpit and women’s Bible studies. In one women’s Bible study I attended many years ago, a retired woman talked about feeling overwhelmed trying to do everything to tend to her husband’s needs. He was also retired and even though his health was not the greatest, he was capable of doing things himself. I told this woman to not neglect her needs. By taking time to care for herself, she would have more energy to help her husband. I thought that was reasonable advice. Another woman cut in telling me that this advice was not biblical and I needed to get alone with God and pray for Him to change my heart. I was younger than all of the women there, so they probably thought I was naive and didn’t know anything about being a “biblical” woman.

    The problem with Christian marriage advice is that it’s treated like one-size-fits-all advice. What may work for one couple is not going to work for everyone else. An example would be how to manage finances. I’ve heard plenty of Christians say that all couples should have a joint account, but I know several couples who found that does not work for them. They have separate checking accounts but pay their bills jointly or one person is responsible for the utilities and groceries while the other person is responsible for the mortgage.

    Reply
    • Anon

      I heard a lot that the wife should pay the bills because she probably earns less so it helps her keep tabs on the finances. This was a nightmare for us. I’m not good with the nitty-gritty of budgeting and finances so bill paying and bank account monitoring was so stressful for me. And my husband wouldn’t let it go because he’s anxious and obsessive about money…but he’s also great at the finer points of money managing. Not only that, he ENJOYS it. Finally I gave up and said he could take care of bills and budgeting. He doesn’t hide anything from me, I have access to all our accounts and know what’s up, but I don’t run that show anymore.

      Reply
      • Laura

        Money management should never be left to a person based on their gender. Thankfully, you and your husband have found what works for you and you still know what’s going on. My ex didn’t care about what was in the account as long as he got money from me. Back then, this was done before online banking and direct deposit. Each time he got paid, he handed me his check. I took it to the bank to deposit x amount of it into the checking account and gave him x amount of money to last him until the next payday. Well, he did not know how to manage his cash and often needed more money. Then he got himself a credit card which thankfully was never in my name. He just did not want to do the hard work of balancing a checkbook and paying bills, which I always did. Looking back, I realized I married a man-child. We were both in our 20s so I thought that was normal. I’m in my 40s and will not put up with a man-child. I might marry someone younger, but he needs to act like an adult.

        Reply

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