PODCAST: How Christian Marriage Books Set up For Failure, with Natalie Hoffman

by | Sep 15, 2022 | Abuse, Podcasts | 16 comments

Podcast with Natalie Hoffman and Christian Marriage Books

What if Christian marriage books are telling you that your destructive marriage is normal? 

We’re in the middle of Marriage Misdiagnosis month, where we’re looking at how some of the messages given in evangelical marriage books actually talk about marriage problems wrong, misdiagnosing the actual problem. Then, because they’ve misdiagnosed it, they give the wrong advice.

Natalie Hoffman is an abuse advocate who survived an emotionally abusive marriage, left, and remarried. And she says the difference between her current marriage and her abusive marriage is night and day! She doesn’t have to turn herself into a pretzel to get her husband to care about her. She’s married to someone who actually puts in effort, and marriage is EASY. 

Yet that’s not what she experienced with her first husband at all–and books told that the problem was her. 

Listen in!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:


Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage Podcast.  I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from baremarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your marriage and your sex life.  And that’s right.  We are at baremarriage.com.  We have done the huge site migration.  So if you click on tolovehonorandvacuum.com, it will redirect you to baremarriage.com.  And you’ll see a whole new website, whole new design.  I love it.  And we’re just really enjoying it.  And I’m also in my new set for our podcast.  I’ve got some of our merch behind me for those of you who are watching on YouTube.  And I just want to do a special shout out to everybody who is part of our Patreon or who has bought our courses.  And I just want you to know that when you support, when you buy our products, when you support us, it really does help us keep doing what we’re doing.  And so we do have some really cool merch I want to tell you about before we get going today.  Biblical womanhood.  Let’s talk about it.  We always picture it as sugar and spice and everything nice.  But is that what it really is?  And so we have two different versions of our biblical womanhood merch.  We have “prayer & tent pegs & prophecy & leadership & preaching the gospel to all that will hear.  That’s biblical womanhood.”  That’s a simple one.  And then we also have a huge list.  What does it mean to be a biblical woman?  Well, maybe it means teaching like Priscilla, leading like Deborah, winning battles like Jael, setting boundaries like Vashti, praying like Hannah.   And so take a look at those.  And, again, when you purchase our merch, you support our blog and our podcast.  And you support our research and help us keep doing it.  And hey, you can buy these in mugs, in canvasses, in T-shirts, in notebooks.  And they make a great gift for someone who has just gone off to college.  So check out our merch.  I will put a link in the podcast notes.  And we are in the middle of our marriage misdiagnosis series where we are talking about some of the ways that the church sometimes misdiagnoses what the real issue is with marriage and then gives us the wrong solutions.  And so I’m going to bring on a special guest today for the podcast, Natalie Hoffman.  I’m excited to introduce you to her and to have you hear her store.  So here we go.  I am so thrilled to bring on the Bare Marriage podcast an actual friend of mine.  Yes.  I do have friends.  This is Natalie Hoffman from The Flying Free Sisterhood.  Hello, Natalie.

Natalie: Hi.  Thanks for having me, Sheila.     

Sheila: Yeah.  And we have known each other—I am trying to think.  Like at least eight years going back emails and things that we’ve written or you guest posted.  I talked to you about your story for one of my books.  So we’ve known each other and been in the same spaces for quite a few years.  And I am—I just think your story is amazing and how—and your voice is amazing in this space.  And so as we are talking this month about the ways that evangelical marriage advice can go awry and can focus on the wrong thing, I thought you were—you would be a great person to share what happened with you.  So can you take us back in time—maybe 15 years?  And tell us what your life was like and what you were doing.

Natalie: Yeah.  Well, 15 years ago I was in the thick of being married and raising kids.  I had nine children.  I was in the homeschooling community.  I was going to Bethlehem Baptist Church, which is John Piper’s church.  And I was involved volunteering, very involved at church, always had been.  I was writing on a blog called Visionary Womanhood and trying—and getting together with women locally.  And we were really heavily into the whole Vision Forum thing.  Doug Phillips.  Vision Forum.  Some people know what that is.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Natalie: And I just wanted to be and wanted to promote the idea of being the best mom and the best wife that you could be for the glory of Jesus Christ.  

Sheila: Right.  And I remember Visionary Womanhood.  I actually—I had one of your eBooks at one point.  Yeah.

Natalie: Yeah.  So that’s still stuck on my Amazon.  It’s still there.  I wish I could get rid of it, but you can’t delete books.  I mean it’s not being sold anymore.  But I can’t delete it off of my dashboard.  It’s like a perpetual reminder of what I was involved in back then.  But yeah.  The problem is that I was married to a guy who was emotionally and spiritually abusive.  And I didn’t know to call it that.  I didn’t know that that’s what it was.  I’d been trying to get help for—ever since the beginning of my marriage.  And the church really didn’t know.  They would just give me more marriage books.  I would talk to the pastors’ wives, and they would just say, “Here.  Why don’t you read this marriage book?  Why don’t you try this?  Why don’t you give him more sex?  You need to understand.  Everyone’s marriage is difficult.  Everyone’s got these problems.”  And I just—I didn’t know what else to do.  I couldn’t articulate or explain what was going on.  And I was confused, and so I would just read the next book.  I’m an avid reader, so I’m like, “Yeah.  Okay.  I’ll read another book.”  And then I would read the next book, and I would try implementing everything that the book said.  And as long as I was good and kind of placated him and went along with his agenda—which he didn’t always have an agenda actually which could—was also a problem because he was supposed to be the leader, right? 

Sheila: Right.

Natalie: He was supposed to be this husband who was leading the way, and he wasn’t that kind of personality.  But he didn’t—also didn’t want me to quote unquote wear the pants.  So it was very confusing to know when decisions had to be made whose going to make them.  And what if we make the wrong choice?  And who is responsible at the end of the day?  So anyway, I got—I took on a lot of responsibility and got a lot of blame and a lot of criticism even though I tried really hard to be the best wife that I could.  And it just—now I can say.  I’m going to jump ahead just really quickly to say this.  I’ve been remarried to a healthy man just—I call him just a normal, your average, run of the mill guy, right?  He’s not abusive.  And my marriage is a completely different animal than that first marriage was.  Just night and day difference.  There is none of the confusion, none of the questioning, none of the who is going to lead and who is going to follow.  That language is foreign to the husband that I’m married to now.  Just doesn’t even—when I tell him stories of that—of what I was immersed in, he’s just—his mind is just blown.  He just can’t fathom it.  It’s kind of interesting.

Sheila: So in those days, what were some of the messages that you remember hearing from the books, from the pastors’ wives that this is going to fix your marriage?

Rebecca: Well, for sure, submission.  It was like they just assumed that the problem in my life was that I wasn’t submitting enough.  I wasn’t—if you weren’t making your husband happy, then—if your husband was happy, he wouldn’t be treating you this way, right?  So you must be doing something to make him unhappy, and it’s probably that you’re not giving him enough sex or you’re not pleasing him in some way or you’re not submitting enough.  You’re doing something that’s not managing his emotions.  If he’s cranky and critical, that’s your job to make him a happy man.  So it’s just impossible.  It’s such a controlling environment.  I’m now expected to control his emotions or manage his emotions.  It’s not our job, but I thought that was my number one job.  And the books all said it too.  I mean I read books like—this is a really fringey book.  But have you ever heard of Me?  Obey Him?  Like super fringey book.

Sheila: I think I have, but I think only because you mentioned it somewhere.    

Natalie: Okay.  Yeah.  It’s just this tiny little book.  It puts in a—it’s the tiniest, little, concentrated nutshell of what all of the other marriage books teach.  But it takes it to the nth degree.  That book actually taught that even if your husband asks you to sin this is God’s will for you.  And you need to just do it, and then God will somehow rescue you or God will somehow bring good out of it or whatever.  When I say fringey, I mean that was the outside.  The other books were more what you’d call moderate maybe.  But they still taught the same thing.  The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace.  That was on my bookshelf.  This is another kind of fringey one.  But Created to be His Helpmeet.  Also kind of fringey, I think.  But I was into that.  

Sheila: I think both those books are interesting because they’re fringey in the sense that they don’t have—I know that the Created to be His Helpmeet was self published.  They have their own publishing company.  And The Excellent Wife is published by a really small publisher. But both those books sell very, very well.  So it’s like they’re fringey in the sense that they don’t have big evangelical publishers.  They’re not associated with main denominations.  But at the same time, there’s a lot of those books out there.

Natalie: Yes.  There are.  And they’ve gained so much traction.  I don’t think Me?  Obey Him? is circulating anymore.  But definitely the Created to be His Helpmeet although that’s gotten a ton of bad press now.  

Sheila: But The Excellent Wife has an amazing—I checked it just this week for some other reason.  It has an amazing Amazon ranking.  And it’s recommended by several biblical counseling groups.  

Natalie: Yes.  Yeah.  Yeah.  That was a big one even at Bethlehem Baptist.  That was another one.  Love and Respect, your favorite book.  That was obviously going to—and I think they had—I feel I went to a conference or something where you—and I think I went a couple of times.  Not just me.  But my husband and I.  Where you learn what love is, what respect is, and how you are supposed to fulfill your part of it.  And it made sense to me in my thinking back then.  It made sense if I just—because I had a hard time respecting my husband because he was mistreating me all the time.  It’s really hard to respect someone who is mistreating you.  And they’re acting like an emotional child really and very petulant and, “You need to think the way I do and do what I do.  And I should be able to tell you whatever I want to.  And you should be able to suck it up and take it.”  But we’re supposed to respect that.  And then he would say, “Well, I love you.  It’s like my love is different maybe from the kind of love that you want.”  I should have just, “Well, my respect is different from the kind of respect you want.”  I mean it’s so weird.  I didn’t have language though or the thinking to wrap my brain around what I was immersed in.

Sheila: Right.

Natalie: Which is why I do what I do now.  I just want to give women that—I want to introduce them to new ways of thinking about this and framing all of it so that they—so that it will tilt their brain.  And they’ll go, “Wait a minute.  Something is definitely wrong here.”

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And I love what you do with your Flying Free Sisterhood.  And I want to ask you about that in just a second because—and I will put a link to that in the podcast notes as well.  Some of the other messages that we often hear is the idea that what you really need to do is commit.  You just need to realize that this marriage is for good.  And if you commit, then everything will be okay.  And I feel like a lot of our marriage books that’s the main message is that the reason that marriages are breaking up is because there’s not enough commitment. 

Natalie: Yeah.  That was—I mean I was committed.

Sheila: I know.  And that’s what I find so interesting is because when I talk to people who have gotten out of abusive marriage commitment was never the problem.  

Natalie: Never.  Never.  That’s why it takes decades for most of them to get out because that’s who they are.  They are the kind of people that are dead set on being committed to this person.  And here’s a thing too.  I see a lot—and this was true for me and true for most of the women that I meet.  We really loved and were invested in seeing our husbands become the best version of themselves possible.  And we believe.  We had faith that could move mountains.  Just not that mountain.  So we tried.  We believed.  We had vision for these—and we did our best to create an environment where they could blossom.  And they just—they just were not capable of doing that.  They didn’t have—they weren’t interested.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think what people often forget too is that God does not override free will.  You can pray all you want.  But if that man decides, “No.  I want to be abusive,” God will not change that.  

Natalie: Yep.

Sheila: So it’s not up to you to pray the abuse out of your husband.      

Natalie: Exactly.  Exactly.  And people will say too, “Well, I don’t know why God is not answering my prayers.  Doesn’t the Holy Spirit live inside of my husband?  How come the Holy Spirit is always working on my life, and He’s not working on my husband’s life?”  Well, the Holy Spirit is always present all around all of us.  But we each make our own choices of what we want to believe.  Abusers are not interested in buying in to the belief that other people are just as valuable as they are, that their wife has equal value, that their opinions are not the only opinions on planet Earth.  They’re not interested in buying in to that.  So they’re very close minded.  I just did a TikTok where—just this morning where I said, “When you speak to an abuser and you try to give them feedback, you think that they’re—that you’re going to have a meeting of the minds.  And if you say it clearly and concisely that they will understand.  And you can have a conversation.  A rational conversation.”  That’s not the way it is with these guys.  When you speak what it—it goes in their ears.  And in their brain, all it is is white noise.

Sheila: Right.

Natalie: It’s just white noise.  They don’t hear what you’re saying.  So as soon as you finally accept that reality, then you will unhook from them.  You’ll stop trying to give them feedback.  You’ll stop trying to tell them what—where you’re coming from or how you feel.  They don’t care.  They don’t care where you’re coming from.  They don’t care how you feel.  Everything you say is white noise.  So why waste your emotional and physical energy on trying to communicate with them?  It just doesn’t work.

Sheila: Right.  So what about the message—another message that we often hear is marriage is hard.  It’s just hard work.  And you need to be prepared to invest in your marriage.  How does that affect people who are in difficult marriages?

Natalie: Yeah.  Well, I love that question because I’m in my second marriage.  I’m five years into that one.  And it’s not hard at all.  It’s not hard.  Oh my word.  And when I got married—here’s the thing.  When you had—whoever is listening, did you ever have a roommate that you loved and you got along with great?  I mean—and was it hard?  Well, just imagine you could actually be married to someone like that.  And it’s not hard.  It’s just a nice relationship where you get along.  I mean sure.  There’s going to be things where you disagree sometimes.  But here’s the thing.  If you’re with a healthy adult person, you just are like—if you disagree about something—my husband and I disagree on things.  And it’s totally okay.  We will talk about it.  I’ll share my views.  He’ll share his views.  And we’ll be like, “Oh, that’s fascinating that you have those views.  I don’t agree.”  And that’s the end of it.  There’s not argument.  There’s no drama.  It’s just very interesting because we’re two adults who can hold space for the fact that not everyone shares our opinion.  And that’s okay.  The world is not going to end if everyone else doesn’t believe exactly the way we believe on everything.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Natalie: Right?  My marriage is not hard.  My former marriage was hell.  And so when people said—and people said that to me all the time.  Well, marriage is just hard.  You just—you’re trying to get to know another person.  You’re trying to—oh, I remember one person said, “Well, Natalie, I mean when my husband leaves his socks on the floor, I just have learned to pick it up and just love him through the act of picking it up.”  And this is after I had been married for 20 years.  And I’m thinking, “Leaving socks on the floor, that is such a nonissue.  That is the least of our problems.   That isn’t even on my radar screen.  That’s on your radar screen because somehow you think that’s tough.”  I didn’t say this to her.  But in my head, I’m thinking this.  And I would be like, “We are not even on the same planet right now as far as understanding of what we’re talking about.  Just not even on the same wavelength whatsoever.”  So yeah.

Sheila: Yeah.  And now how do you think that that idea that marriage is hard—how did that set you up for figuring out that your marriage was actually destructive?  Did it—maybe this is—this is asking way too leading a question.  So I’m sorry I’m doing this badly.  But did it make it so that it took longer for you to realize, “Oh, this is—there’s actually something seriously wrong here?”

Natalie: Absolutely.  It’s almost like abusive people and abusive organizations they like to get ahead of what the arguments could be.  “Well, we know she’s probably going to say her marriage is hard.  Well, marriage is hard.  It’s hard for everyone.”  That’s how they can dismiss any problems that you bring up.  Just by getting ahead of it and saying, “Yep.  Oh, well, sure.  Of course, that’s the case.  Marriage is supposed to be hard.”  That’s how you—they would say, “It’s like iron sharpening iron.  It’s supposed to be difficult and painful.  And you’re supposed to be entering into the sufferings of Jesus Christ in your marriage.”  Really?  Okay.  So I bought it because I was definitely suffering.  And I loved Jesus with all my heart.  You just put those two things together and okay.  I guess I’ll suffer for Jesus Christ in my marriage.  And now I’m not in a marriage like that.  I’ve never—I don’t suffer in my marriage at all.  And the way I show up as a parent in a healthy marriage I don’t have to—I’m not constantly dealing with just the fallout and the recovery process of dealing with an abusive altercation which makes parenting very difficult because you’re focused on your own emotional dysregulation and recovering that you can’t be present with your kids to deal with all of their emotional dysregulation from just being a normal, average child.  Now I don’t deal with emotional dysregulation on a daily basis, so I’m more able to be present with my kids.  And my husband is actually a support and emotionally supports me.  He doesn’t criticize my parenting.  And he could.  Their stepdad could criticize me for my parenting.  I’m not always the best parent.  I let my kids probably play on iPads too much.  My ex would have just been upset about that.  My husband—he’s never, ever once criticized me for any of my parenting.  And that’s—I think that’s amazing.  Yeah.  So anyway, he makes life so much easier.  He’s a support to me, and it’s not difficult.  He makes it easy.  Marriage should be about a partnership where you are going out in the world together and fulfilling a destiny together and changing the world for the better together through your relationship, through your children, through your other—the ways that you touch other people in the world.  That’s what it’s supposed to look like.  And I really believe abuse in Christian homes is such a tool of Satan.  And it’s so ironic because churches will be like, “You should stay in the abusive relationship.”  Yeah.  Let’s keep all the tools of Satan intact so that we can completely wreck more destruction on the world.  Yeah.  I don’t think that’s God’s plan.

Sheila: No.  Definitely not.  Definitely not.  Okay.  Here’s another thing that I often hear in books is that we need to lower our expectations.  Like a lot of the problems come because we have these fairy tales expectations on our spouses and we need to instead learn to practice gratitude and call out the good things that we see because then they will manifest themselves.  

Natalie: Yeah.  Okay.  What I would say to that is it is true that we are responsible for our own selves.  And we can’t change our spouse.   And it’s true that Christian women are constantly trying to change their spouse.  Their abuser.  They’re like, “If I pray enough, if I tell him and not give him enough feedback, maybe he’ll change.  If I threaten to separate or divorce, maybe he’ll change.  If I get help from the other church and loop some other people in, then they can help me get him to change.”  That stuff never, ever, ever works because—change that is motivated by external like, “I’ll hold up a hoop.  And if you jump through it, then I’ll stay with you.”  That’s not real change.  Real change has to happen from internal.  Internally.  Intrinsically.  So we can’t control these guys and make them change.  So I think that what we need to do though and what the church fails to recognize is that we have to accept the reality of who this person choose to be and then we make our own personal autonomous adult decision that needs no validation from anyone else, no permission from anyone else about what we are going to do about our lives in the light of the reality of the fact that this guy is not going to change.  Once you get to that place, then you can say, “Okay.  I accept you just the way you are, Husband.  I even love you.  But I am not—but I also love—accept me the way I am.  And I also love me.  And I need to take care of me because I’m not responsible for you.  I’m responsible for me, so I am exiting stage right even.  I’m not going to hang around for this relationship anymore.  And God bless you on your way.  I hope you get some help.  Therapy is widely available now.  So you figure out your life, and I’m going to go figure out mine.  But this marriage isn’t working.”  

Sheila: Right.  And I know I’ve heard this story.  But how did you come to that realization?  You got, first of all, nine kids.  That’s exhausting, and I know you have some special needs—some of your kids are special needs as well.

Natalie: Yeah.  It is.

Sheila: So this is a seriously exhausting life.  So you’re trying to be the best mother you can for these nine kids.  Plus you have this guy who is making your life so much more difficult.  And at the same time, you’re owning it all saying, “Well, I’m just supposed to be suffering for Jesus.”  How do you get to the other side of that?

Natalie: Yeah.  I think I finally had to—I finally realized what was going on.  That it was abuse.  And I had to accept that.  When I first started learning about what emotional abuse was or spiritual abuse was, I really did not want to believe it because it was too painful although there was another part of me that was relieved to know, “This is a thing.  I haven’t been making this up in my head.  This is actually a real thing, and it happens to people.”  And that was back when it really wasn’t any—much written about it.  Leslie Vernick had just come out with her book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  

Natalie: And it had just been released, and I bought it.  I read it, and then I hired her to be a coach.  So she coached me for a year.  And she basically just taught me how to put my big girl pants on and make my own decisions.  That was really good.  And then from there, it was a matter of okay.  I started showing up as myself in the marriage.  And the more I showed up as myself unapologetically that made him really mad.  He’s like, “This is not the way it’s supposed to be.”  So now I was a rebel, unsubmissive, not caring about him.  I was now, supposedly, victimizing him just because I was setting my own boundaries and saying, “No.  I’m going to do this over here.  I’m going to do that over here.  I’m going to continue to run,”—I was running a business.  And I didn’t really include him.  I started taking—he would require me to give all of my money from my business to him and put it in a joint account that he controlled.  And I opened my own account.  That was a no no.  And I still would give half of it to me.  I thought, “Okay.  I’ll give you half, and then I’ll keep the other half,” because I wanted to control some money.  And that was just not appropriate in his mind.  So anyway, I started taking back control of my life.  It still took me a few years to get out though because I wanted—I didn’t believe divorce was okay.  I was still in the thinking that divorce—that God hates divorce.  And I had to do some more research and reading to figure out that that—I no longer believe that at all.  I think that’s just a total lie.  But I was really drinking the Kool-Aid my whole life since I was a small, small child.  So I had to change a lot of my programming.  And I did try to get the church involved and try to get him to change.  And that just didn’t work.  And I finally just had to go—I—what I just told you.  I finally had to just say, “This—he gets to be who he is, and I love him.  And I don’t want to divorce him, but I also can’t live like this.”  What I did is I went to a hotel for two days and I read through 20 years worth of journals.  And it just slapped me upside the head.  And then I realized five years from now, do I want to be in this same place because that is where I will be?  Five years from now if I stay in this relationship I will be in the same place.  And I decided I don’t.  And I had begged God, “Please.  Have him file for divorce or have him die or something.  I don’t want to file for divorce and look like a horrible Christian person.”  In that hotel room, I got on my knees on the floor and I was just bawling, and I know God was telling me, “Natalie, file for divorce.  I want you to file for divorce.  And I don’t care if the whole world says, ‘God would never tell you to file for divorce.’”  I knew in that moment that God was giving me an instruction, and I had the choice to obey God or to obey, supposedly, spiritual men, who I would now call Pharisees.

Sheila: Right.

Natalie: And I decided to follow Jesus.  And I have never looked back.  And I’m so glad I did.  Best choice—best decision of my whole life.

Sheila: Now I know that there are some people listening who are going to be saying, “But God does hate divorce.  How can you justify that?”  So what—do you have a quick answer for them?

Natalie: Oh gosh.  I wish I had.  There’s this quote that I just read.  Patrick Weaver, on his—are you familiar with him?

Sheila: The T-shirts.  Have you seen the T-shirts?  I love Patrick’s T-shirts.    

Natalie: Yes.  Go to his website.  You can find his T-shirts that say—it says, “God hates divorce.”  And then the word divorce is crossed out, and the word abuse is written underneath it.  And he’s got a page where he sells that T-shirt, but he also explains how the Bible doesn’t even actually say that.  That passage of Scripture is actually saying that God hates men who do violence against women and abandon their wives.  That’s what He hates.  And divorces their wives without cause.  So it’s the—actually, God, in that passage, is actually saying the exact opposite of what the church has drilled into—and notice how—here’s another thing people need to know.  The vast majority of divorces that happen in the Christian church are women initiated divorces. 

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Natalie: And the number one reason—there’s actually three top reasons.  One is abandonment.  One is abuse.  And one is—what is the other one?  Something else bad.

Sheila: Isn’t it porn?  Isn’t it porn?    

Natalie: Maybe.

Sheila: Infidelity?  Yeah.  

Natalie: I don’t remember.  Infidelity.  Maybe that’s what it is.  But the men, who divorce their Christian wives in the Christian church, their number one reason for divorcing their wife is—guess what?

Sheila: That they’re having an affair.

Natalie: Yes.  How do you like them apples?  I mean it’s just so insane.  So this idea that God hates divorce is actually a manmade idea created to make sure that women do not leave men who are mistreating and abusing them.  That’s the number one reason.

Sheila: Yeah.  I will put—I have some links to articles that I will put in there about the proper interpretation of that Malachi verse because it is very interesting how when you look at the concern that God is really giving there is for these abandoned women because the men have been so terrible to them.  And that is what He is upset about.  And then we’ve turned around and we’ve said to women, “You need to stay and allow yourself to be mistreated.”  I think about—I wrote an article on this one too.  I’ll have to remember to post this one.  But similar to how Jesus said that the Sabbath—that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for us.  For humanity.  And I think marriage is the same way.  It’s not like we were made for marriage.  Marriage was made for us.  And we’re putting the cart before the horse, and we’re treating marriage like it’s this idol when God healed on the Sabbath.

Natalie: Right.

Sheila: Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  And He broke all these laws.      

Natalie: Jesus did a lot of things.  He did a lot of things to show that these manmade rules and laws are not—they’re often not loving.  They don’t show or reflect the heart of Creator God for humanity.  And if we are truly going to be followers of Christ, we have to buy into what Christ came to teach us.  He came to show us who God actually was.  This is not who God is.  God is actually a being who has tremendous love and is for humanity.  He’s for the weak.  He’s for the people who are suffering.  He wants to help them.  He wants to sit with them.  He wants to understand their pain.  He’s not—yeah.  I just think that modern Christianity has just gotten—the whole theology is just abusive.  And so it’s—all it’s doing is creating these abusive little microcosms—these abusive little families really is what they are.  When you have an abusive marriage, what you’ve got now is an abusive family, if you have kids.  Now you’ve got kids being raised in a petri dish of abuse.  And those kids are either going to grow up and become future victims because that’s normal to them.  They’re going to think, “Well, this is normal.”

Sheila: Right.  

Natalie: They’re going to either be future victims, or they’re going to be future abusers.  I mean not always.  I’m making a blanket statement here.  But generally speaking, that—if they grow up thinking that that’s normal—either being a victim is normal or being an abuser is normal, they’re going to pick a side.  And that’s what they’re going to end up doing.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I would also argue about the microcosm that it’s not just families and kids.  It’s the churches because often churches breed this kind of behavior.  And birds of a feather flock together.  And so you’ll often get—one of the things that we found with—when we looked at porn for instance.  Our hypothesis is that there is some churches where 80% of the men are watching porn.  And there’s some churches where 20% of the men are watching porn.  It’s not like every church has 50% of men.  It’s like there are some places where it’s almost everybody.  And I think with abuse—and especially where women often can’t get help, it’s because you’re in these churches or denominations where women are so discounted.

Natalie: Yeah.  Exactly.  I remember when I was trying to get help, and I was in meetings with elders and stuff that were supposedly in charge of our case.  They shifted me around to different people.  But I got assigned to two elders, and I remember at the first meeting with them I knew right away.  And by the way, both of those elders had had separations in their past from their wives.  And I knew right away that they were identifying—even though they were just talking to me, I knew they were identifying with my husband.

Sheila: Right.

Natalie: They were looking—I could see by the micro expressions that would cross their faces as I’m talking that they did not like me because they—probably—I’m guessing—had problems in their marriages that their wives didn’t like and would call them out on it.  And they were identifying with my husband’s abusive behavior.  And that this little wife shouldn’t be doing—she shouldn’t be standing up.  She shouldn’t raise her head above the muck.  Get your head back down in the muck, little woman.  That was kind of the attitude that they had towards me.  After that meeting, I was like it’s over.  It’s over.  I am not only going to be—continue to be abused by my husband.  But these people, on the outside, they’re going to just reabuse me.  And they did.  I finally got away from there too.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And you have a horrible story of what happened at Bethlehem Baptist.  How they sent out a letter excommunicating you and—

Natalie: Yeah.  Fun times.

Sheila: Quite awful.  I will link to that story on your website too.  I’ll have to remember all these links.  So what do you think is the reason that Christian marriage books seem to focus on this so much?  Seem to focus on advice which doesn’t actually bring life in many cases.  Do you have a theory?  

Natalie: Well, it is kind of strange because it doesn’t.  The fruit is not good.  It’s not good.  People will pretend that it’s good.  There’s a lot of pretending.  But I was—I was in the homeschooling community.  I would go to these conferences of homeschoolers, and I would see other families with—large families.  And I would see the stair step kids all dressed in the same polo shirt—color polo shirt and all wearing the navy blue pants and skirts.  And I—it was an outward focused kind of a thing.  Okay?  And everyone was—but now at 25 years out, 30 years out from that, I know a lot of these families.  A lot of them are divorced.  A lot of their kids don’t even—they don’t—they’re not Christians anymore.  They’re not following Christ at all.  They’re not going to church.  They’re not interested because they grew up in such—that’s such an abusive controlling environment.  So the long term fruit is not very good.  And I think there’s enough online now—maybe it’s just because of the circles I run in.  But I think there’s enough information and enough—I think therapy has gotten really big now too.  So a lot of these people are going and getting therapy.  And it’s coming out that—you know what?  This is not a good way to raise kids.  This is not a good way for marriage relationships to operate where you’ve got this power over dynamic where the man is the leader.  And he is in charge and dictating instructions down to his copilot and down to the little soldiers underneath like it’s some kind of a military set up.  That’s not healthy.  And so I think as we’re seeing long term a lot of these things are kind of self imploding.  I don’t know why these marriage books are still doing well.  I don’t get that.  I don’t get it.  

Sheila: Yeah.  I don’t really either.  And it’s so funny because when you read secular marriage books what they are focused on is, “Hey, let’s figure out how to create the kind of marriage you love.”  And it seems like Christian marriage books are focused on, “Let’s make sure you never leave the marriage you hate.”  

Natalie: Yes.  Oh my gosh.  That’s such a good sound bite.  That’s so true.  It’s crazy.  What is—are we absolutely insane?  It’s like we can’t have happiness.  You can’t have—that’s selfish.  We need to be taking a whip and self flagellating ourselves because that’s the Christian way.  That’s so ridiculous.  It’s so opposite of what our inheritance is in Christ.  We should be the ones that are bringing the love and the freedom and the joy into this world.  And instead we’re just a bunch of sour faced people walking around.

Sheila: Now the good news is I truly think this is changing.  And I have a lot of faith that it can change and that it will change.

Natalie: Yeah.  I do too.  I do too.

Sheila: I think Jesus is doing a tremendous thing.  I mean even look at the difference in your life from 15 years ago to where you are now, and we’re going to get to what you’re doing now with your life which is amazing in helping so many other women.   I think God is doing a tremendous work.  I just don’t think He’s doing it with the evangelical powers that be.  I think He’s doing it with all the little women.

Natalie: Yes.  I do too.  I totally agree.

Sheila: And the small pastors and the people who are just being faithful and just love Jesus.  And that’s where the change is happening.  

Natalie: Yes.  Because those people are hooked in to Holy Spirit.  They’re hooked into Creator God.  And they’re paying attention to where God’s Spirit is moving in this world, and they are saying, “Yes.  I want to get involved in that.”  These other people—they’ve already got their own agenda.  Like the Pipers and the John MacArthurs and the Doug Wilsons, they have their agenda already.  And they are doing it.  They have no idea that they are off in the wild blue yonder doing work that’s—God is like, “Oh, I’m so sorry.  They’re over there.  They’re missing out.”

Sheila: Yeah.  You’ve lost the plot.  You’ve totally the plot.  

Natalie: You totally lost it.

Sheila: Because one of the things that I see too is you were talking about how it’s all outward stuff.  You see these—a lot of these families, and it’s really focused on outward stuff.  I feel like that’s part of the issue with a lot of the Christian marriage advice is that speak out loud the gratitude that you feel for him or things that you’re grateful for.  And then those things will come true.  Or speak his love language.  Do all of these things that make it look like you’re connecting, but you’re not actually connecting.  So it’s all these outward things, but you’re not actually connecting.  And in fact, the more that you have to speak out your gratitude the more you have to act like you’re totally in love and everything is fine.  And I’m calling out the good in you.  And I’m doing the things that I know that you like.  The more we’re not honest—

Natalie: Yes.  We’re gas lighting ourselves is what we’re doing.

Sheila: Right.  And if we’re not honest, we can’t create intimacy because then the other person doesn’t really know us.  And this is part of the problem is I feel like so many of the marriage books put so much pressure on women to not feel what you actually feel, to recognize, “Okay.  If you’re in a terrible situation, you’re just going to take 30 days, and you’re going to pray.”  We can all think of certain books for women that just talk about how powerful praying is.  And so you’re going to spend all of this time praying, but you don’t get to speak out loud your truth.  And even in our prayers, we’re supposed to be calling forth these things, but we don’t actually go to God with what we’re feeling.  And so we’re—not only do we not have intimacy with our husbands, we don’t have intimacy with God because to admit to God, “I’m in a desperate situation.  I am very, very unhappy,” it seems like that’s a sin as well.  

Natalie: Right.

Sheila: And I feel like what we’re really missing out on is intimacy.  Was intimacy—and I don’t mean a euphemism for sex.  Often people use intimacy—we can go to sex later, if you want to.  That’s not what I’m talking about now.  But did the intimacy that you experienced with your husband, did that just blow you away?  That you’ve never—

Natalie: My husband now?

Sheila: Yes.  Your husband now.  

Natalie: Yeah.  Yes.  Because he is—he does listen to me.  He does hear me.  And in fact, when he—if he does something that is—there have been a couple of situations where he has done something hurtful just because he is caught up in his own opinion about something, he always has repaired on his own.  I don’t have to go and tell him.  He just consents.  I have hurt my wife.  And he comes to me, initiates to—comes to me and initiates a repairing—the repairing process whereas when you’re with a partner who doesn’t do that—an abusive partner—they will—they are—first of all, you would have to go to them.  They would never to come to you and say, “I’m sorry that I hurt you.  I must have,”—they would never be able to enter into your world and imagine, “I wonder what that must have—what that experience must have been like on her end when I said that or did that.  And oh my word.  That must have been so hurtful.  I’m so sorry that I hurt you.  Please forgive me for that, if you can.  And how can I make this right?”  That’s what I would say is part of intimacy is caring.  Truly caring about the experience of the other person.  How did you experience me there?  And this is where I would try to—I did enter into the experience of my ex-husband and was always trying to understand things from his perspective at the expense of my own.  Mine wasn’t important.  But I was told that if I was a good wife and a good Christian, God could meet my needs.  Now I believe that we meet our own—we need to meet our own needs by standing up for ourselves and whatever.  Getting out if we need to.  But I was taught that I had to die—I was to be annihilated, but I was to give life—be a life-giving source to this man.  So if he was offended, if he was made at me, it was my fault.  And I grew up in a home like this too.  If I got—if my mom bashed my head into the countertop and broke my tooth, that was my fault because I must have made her mad.   Too mad.  I must have done something to make her so mad that she was inspired to do that.  So then I would have to say, “I’m sorry.  Please forgive me for being rude to you or for arguing with you,” or whatever it was that I did that caused her to do that.  See how twisted that is?

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s heart breaking.  Yeah.    

Natalie: So I grew up thinking that that was normal.  So I was apologizing all the time.  Even when he would hurt me, I would be the one to apologize.  And yeah.  That does create intimacy if you’ve got two people doing that.  Two people taking personal responsibility.  But if you have one person doing that, that’s not intimacy at all.  That’s an abusive relationship.

Sheila: Right.  So when you read Leslie’s book—Leslie Vernick’s book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, how was that advice different from what you’d seen before?

Natalie: Well, she was telling us to take personal responsibility which is what all the—everyone had said to me.  But everyone else was saying, “Take personal responsibility but also take responsibility for your partner and his emotions,” right?  Her message was, “Take personal responsibility.  And you need to stop trying to take responsibility for him.  Let him be who he is.  That’s who he wants to me.  Here’s the facts, ma’am.  This is who he is.  Time to accept reality.  Put your big girl pants on and decide what you’re going to do about it.  You can manage your own mind around it, if you want to.  Or you can decide you’re going to leave.  But it’s okay to have—it’s not only okay.  But it’s important to have boundaries where—for yourself.  And then if someone is continuously crossing them, you have to,”—how I describe it—I have a podcast episode where I talk about the shin kicker.  It’s like being in a room with someone who—you’re sitting in a chair next to someone who keeps kicking your shin. And you say, “Please stop kicking my shin.  That hurts.”  And they just kind of smile at you and keep kicking it.  What’s the only thing you can do?  They’re just going to keep—or if you say, “Well, I’ll leave if you don’t stop kicking my shins.”  So they stop for a minute.  And you’re like, “Oh, good.  We’re good now,” but then they start kicking it again.  The only way to stop the shin kicker is not to make him stop because you can’t control someone else’s body.  The way to stop a shin kicker is to get up and get out of the room.

Sheila: Right.

Natalie: Now he can’t kick your shin anymore because you have taken responsibility for where your shin is.  And you’ve removed it from his—where he has his feet, so he can’t do it anymore.  So that’s kind of what your book taught me in a nutshell but not in those words.  But yeah.

Sheila: So why don’t you tell us what you’re doing now?  Because I want to transition into some of the other stories.  So right now you run something called?  

Natalie: Flying Free.  And it’s a program for women of faith who are in destructive relationships or who are maybe separated or—there’s actually a lot more women coming in to the program right now.  And I really think that this is due to all of the information that’s on the Internet now.  So they’re coming into the program ready to separate.  Whereas when I first started doing this five years ago, most of the people coming in were like, “I have to stay in my marriage.  And help me.  Help me stay in my marriage and deal with this crap that’s going on.”  And then I would slowly—I would teach them these things.  And then they could—here’s—in my program, I just let people do whatever you want.  If you want to stay, I’ll teach you how to manage your mind.  I mean it’s going to be hard and difficult, and it’s going to take all of your emotional energy.  That’s what you’re going to be spending the rest of your life doing.  But it’s totally fine, if you want to do that.  Or you can separate and see what happens.  Or you can get divorced, and I’ll 100% support any of you in any of that because you get to decide.  I’m not going to tell you what to do.  These women have to finally—and even in the forum, they’ll come in.  And they’ll say, “Well, what should I do?  This or this?”  And I never tell them, “Oh, I think you should do this.”  Don’t you feel like Christians do that all the time?  Oh, it’s like, “I’ll be the guru and tell you exactly what to do.”  It’s like no.  That is not what we’re supposed to do.  We’re supposed to empower people to decide for themselves.  So I’ll say, “Well, what do you want to do?  Well, what do you think you should do?  What are your reasons for wanting to do that?”  There’s no right or wrong answer.  You just get to decide and then have your own back on whatever you decide.  And I’m just going to be here cheering you on.  

Sheila: And I do want to say too there are some good reasons to stay.  If you have a man who is really abusive and you can’t prove it to the courts and you know your kids are going to be with him 50% of the time without you, you may choose to stay just so that you’ve got your kids with you 100% of the time.  

Natalie: Right.  Exactly.  Exactly.

Sheila: And that’s a horrible situation in and of itself.  (cross talk)  

Natalie: Yeah.  And there are people who—it’s interesting because I’ve gotten criticized from people who are—they want me to tell people to leave.  So some people have criticized me and said, “You should be telling people to leave.”  And then interestingly enough, other people are saying, “You shouldn’t be telling people to leave.  You should tell them to stay.”  And I’m like, “I don’t do either.”  It’s so fascinating.  But they’ll tell me that I’m doing—so both sides will tell me that I’m doing the opposite.  But I don’t do either.  I just encourage people to do whatever they think is best for them, and I really—I believe God is big.  And I trust God to—and God’s Holy Spirit to actually guide and direct each individual.  I don’t have to be managing the Holy Spirit and this is what God wants you to do.  And this is what churches do.  Well, I know—because I am the head of the women’s ministries, so I know exactly what you guys all need to do.  Nope.  She doesn’t.  That woman does not know.  She does not know.  God is going to give her wisdom for her life but definitely not for yours.  So you’re going to have to figure that out on your own.

Sheila: Very good.  So in your sessions, what are the biggest things that women need to unlearn?     

Natalie: Oh my gosh.  There’s so many things.  I mean that’s really—I mean it’s rewiring your brain.  Your brain’s program especially if you were raised in a—in Christianity in the modern abusive kind of form of Christianity.  Your brain is literally hardwired or programmed to believe all of these things.  So I mean unlearning the idea—even just unlearning the idea that men are over women is really important to deconstruct that whole idea.  Also deconstructing the idea that—of who God is.  People believe that God is abusive.  I mean they would never, in a million years, say that.  But they do.  But if God is—says, “Women, you need to stay in abusive marriages,” to me that’s totally abusive.  Would you want your daughter to be in an abusive marriage?  No.  But God is all good with you being in an abusive marriage.  That’s putting him—that’s bringing Him down below the level of just base common morality.  Human morality, right?  We’re really going to bring God down to that level.  People only do that—Christians only do that and churches only do that because they’ve made a god—small G—in their own image.

Sheila: Yeah.  I think we also redefine things.  For instance, we redefine love.  We all know what love means.  But then when God—when we think God is acting in a way which everyone else would see as unloving, we just say, “No.  That is loving because God is doing it.”  If God is doing it, it therefore must be loving.  And so it’s actually loving to tell you to stay in an abusive relationship.  

Natalie: Right.  Which is just spiritual gas lighting.  Totally.  Yeah.

Sheila: Yeah.  It’s really sad.  

Natalie: Yeah.  It’s very sad.  And that just deprogramming from all of those thoughts and ways of thinking is—that has to happen first.  And once you—women usually—they start with the marriage because that’s where their pain point is.  They’re not necessarily ready to deconstruct their ideas of God at that point because that’s just beyond them.  They’re just trying to survive the next week with this man that they’re living with.  But once they dig in and start seeing who they are, who they are really are, what their identity is, and how God sees them, then they start—they they can start getting in to deconstructing all of the faith issues and the church—because what they end up realizing is, “Oh my goodness.  The church sides with the abuser almost all the time.”  Yes.  There are exceptions.  So for anyone who is listening is like, “Well, my church would never.”  Awesome.  Your church is an exception.  That’s fabulous.  But the vast majority of churches, at least in the conservative or fundamentalist or reformed—those kinds of theologies, they do not—they are not supportive of women getting out of abusive relationships.  Their view of God is very different.  And those people are going to almost always side with the abuser because they identify—because their theology is abusive, so, of course, they’re going to identify with the abuser.  And they’re going to tell you that God is also on their side.  And that is what is so, so spiritually traumatic for people when they think—if I even go back to that childhood incident where my mom bashed my head in.  If I think God was all for that and He wanted that to happen, now I not only wonder if my mom loves me.  I seriously question if God loves me, and maybe I should just die.  I mean I thought that a lot as a kid.  Maybe I should just die.  Maybe I should just kill myself because I’m just a nasty, ugly person that has no purpose in this world other than making my mom unhappy or making my husband unhappy.  

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s so heart breaking, isn’t it?  

Natalie: Yeah.

Sheila: Have I told you my theory about the divorce rate in evangelical churches?  

Natalie: I don’t know.  Tell me.

Sheila: Okay.  So I did a reel on this on Instagram.  But if you look at the graph for divorce rates in the last 50 years in North America, what you’ll notice is that from the mid-60s to the mid-70s you have an extreme uptick in divorces because that’s when no fault divorces came in across North America.  And then since the late 70s, the divorce rate has actually been declining and getting quick a bit lower.  So what happened was as soon as we opened the gate so that women—so that it was easier to get a divorce, it was easier to get out of a marriage, then all this pent up demand happened.  And the divorce rate went up.  And I think what we’re going to see if you were to look at the divorce rate among evangelical, fundamentalist, reformed Christians, we’re going to see the same thing starting about—if you look at the graph, if you start around three years and then project into the future, we’re going to have 10 years where we’re going to see an almost identical graph as we did in the wider society from ’65 to ’75 because there’s been all this pent up demand.  And what triggered in the 60s was no fault divorce.  And I think what’s triggering it now is this change in theology and the Internet where women are realizing, “Wait a minute.  God doesn’t hate divorce.  God hates abuse.”

Natalie: Yes.  Yes. 

Sheila: And so all this pent up demand—

Natalie: And there’s a lot of abusive, Christian marriages out there.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think some of these more conservative churches are going to be shocked at the percentage of marriages in their pews that are going to break up over the next 10 years.  And that doesn’t mean that Christian marriages are doomed.  I want people to know that.  If we see this huge, huge increase in divorce among super evangelical conservative families, it doesn’t mean that’s necessarily going to keep going.  It just means people are no longer going to put up with this.

Natalie: Right.

Sheila: And yeah.  And I think we better get ready because it’s coming.

Natalie: I think so too.  I think so too.  Here’s the thing.  If you can, churches say, “Oh, we just value the sanctity of marriage,” or whatever.  But they don’t.  That’s not valuing marriage.  When you value abusive marriages, that’s not valuing marriage.  If you value marriage, then what you’ll do is you’ll want to support people who don’t want to be with abusers so that they can then turn around and be with someone who is—like what happened with me.  My kids have done so much healing in seeing a man who has got—who is a healthy human being.  They have a role model that they never had before.  I have a—my healing has—I would have healed anyways.  I was on a trajectory to heal.  But my husband has exponentially increased the rate of my healing just because he’s been—he’s been the arms and legs of Jesus to me.  Or hands and feet of Jesus.  To me—

Sheila: Probably the arms and legs too.  The occasional ear lobe.

Natalie: What else?  Exactly.  I was going to go there, but then I thought, “I don’t know.  Can I?”  But you just went there.  Awesome.  And look it.  That’s amazing.  Now there’s one more amazing, healthy marriage in the world that wasn’t there before.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And I just want to point out that Focus on the Family would say that you’re in sin.  No offense.  But I think people need to realize this is that Focus on the Family does not believe that you can divorce for abuse.  And they also don’t believe that you can remarry at all unless the divorce happened before you became a Christian.  And so they would say that your children should not have the stepfather that they do.  

Rebecca: Yes.  To that, I would say—I actually just saw someone on TikTok.  Some guy was saying that.  And someone tagged me and said, “Well, what would you say to this?”  And I’m just like, “Okay.  So someone has that viewpoint.”  There are so many different viewpoints, and he has that viewpoint.  And more power to him.  I do not share that viewpoint.  I completely disagree with that, and I think it’s unbiblical viewpoint.  But he would probably say it is a biblical viewpoint.  It’s okay.     

Sheila: Yep.  And I know there’s lots of people who think it’s biblical.  I’m just saying we don’t need to continue to financially support big organizations.

Natalie: Exactly.  Exactly.  

Sheila: That are keeping women in bondage.

Natalie: There’s the (cross talk).  Yep.  

Sheila: Okay.  Being on the other side and being in a good marriage, if you were to write a Christian marriage book tomorrow—which I don’t think you have any plans on doing it—    

Natalie: No.

Sheila: – but if you were to, what would you say instead?

Natalie: Instead of what the Christian marriage books say now?  Well, all I’m going to is—I’m thinking of really good Christian marriage books that have already been written.  I would probably just repeat what they’re saying.  I love John Gottman’s book, Seven Principles of a Healthy Marriage?

Sheila: For Making Marriage Work.  Yeah.

Natalie: For Making Marriage Work.  Yeah.  I highly recommend that book.  What he said.  That’s probably all I would say.  That’s all.  It would be one paragraph that said what that guy said.  

Sheila: Which is not about enhancing commitment.  It’s funny.  I looked at the seven principles just yesterday for my series.  I just wanted to see.  Is any of the seven principles commitment?  Because I was thinking I don’t think they are.  I’m pretty sure I remember.  I don’t think commitment is even in there.  And it’s not.  It’s all just how to understand the other person and how to—yeah.  It’s just—it’s great.    

Natalie: Yeah.  I will say this.  I did write a book for Christian women who are in abusive marriages.  And there is one chapter in there where I talk about a healthy marriage.  So I go through—and all I did was go through and talk about mutuality.  So mutual respect, mutual love, mutual—I don’t even remember all of them.  But there are six or seven mutual things that you need in your relationship in order to have a healthy marriage.  But the key word is mutual.  It has to be two people doing it.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  So good.  Well, Natalie, I really appreciate this.  I’m so glad to talk to you again face to face.  It’s been awhile.

Natalie: I know.  This has been so much fun.

Sheila: And tell us—tell people where they can find you.  

Natalie: Well, my public website is flyingfreenow.com.  And I have a podcast.  If you go to your favorite podcast app, it’s Flying Free.  Those are probably the two best places to find me.

Sheila: You have awesome videos.  You’re so funny.  You have awesome videos on—

Natalie: Yeah.  If you want, I do some spoofs on abuse.  I try to make fun of it a little bit just to—because it’s either—you either are on the bathroom floor in the fetal position weeping.  Or you’re laughing uproariously at the absolute insanity of the whole thing.  So we do a little bit of laughing over on TikTok.  So you can follow me on TikTok, and I’m on Instagram too.  I think—I don’t even remember what my handles are.  But if you look up Flying Free and Natalie Hoffman, you should be able to find me on social media.

Sheila: Okay.  Perfect.  Well, thank you so much.

Natalie: All right.  Thank you.  

Sheila: Oh, and, of course, your book, Is It Me?

Natalie: Yeah.  So if you go to my website, I’ll give you the first chapter of the book for free and the first chapter of the companion workbook.  And that way that’ll give you a taste.  Actually, you find—you can read that first chapter, and it will kind of help you figure out if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship or not.  And from there, it’s like a rabbit trail.  I’ve got all kinds of little places that you can go from there, if you’re interested.  So start there.  Just go to my website.  You’ll get a little pop up, and it’ll say, “Do you want the first chapter of my book for free?  And give me your name and email address, and I’ll send it to you.”

Sheila: Awesome.  Well, thank you, Natalie.  And thanks for all you’re doing.

Natalie: Thank you so much.  Yeah.  

Sheila: So grateful for Natalie’s voice.  I have met so many wonderful women in the abuse advocacy community.  Natalie Hoffman, Gretchen Baskerville, Sarah McDougal, and Ngina Otiende, who has a guest post up on the blog this week, and more.  And so just really grateful for these women doing incredible work to help those who are really in need of help in the church.  I want to say a few things before we go today just about last week’s podcast and something that I’ve been thinking about.  So last week we were talking to you about plagiarism.  We were using Josh Howerton, a mega church pastor from Dallas, Texas Lakepointe Church, as an example.  And we showed a number of instances where he did plagiarize.  And he doubled down last weekend.  Julie Roys’s website had an article about the whole dust up.  It was very interesting.  I will put a link to that in the podcast notes too.  But as I was thinking about all of this, it occurred to me how important it is that we do cite and that we do tell you the people who influenced us so that you can go read some of their stuff and so that we can all be part of just thinking more deeply about some of these things.  And so I got to thinking, who has most influenced me that I want to tell you about?  And awhile ago, I did a mental load series.  Some of you have said that’s the most important thing I’ve ever written.  And in that series, I talked a lot about Eve Rodsky and her book, Fair Play.  And I know I mention mental load quite a bit.  I don’t always mention Eve Rodsky.  She was the one who turned me on to this concept, and I have since looked at all kinds of peer reviewed articles that are talking about the same thing.  And so lots of people are talking about it.  But Eve Rodsky was the one that introduced me to it.  And her book, Fair Play, is excellent.  You can get that.  And I’ll put a link to the post where I talked about her too.  Another person who has really influenced me that I just love is Emily Nagoski, who wrote the book Come As You Are.  And both Fair Play and Come As You Are are not in the Christian realm.  But they’re research based, and they’re really good.  And Emily Nagoski really got me thinking about responsive versus spontaneous desire in libido as well as some other concepts that I speak about a lot.  Again, these things are also very much in the literature.  But I’m so grateful that she pointed me in that direction.  And I say thank you to her in the acknowledgements in all of my books, and we often talk about her on social media.  But I just realized I’m not sure I’ve ever told you guys about that book.  And so yeah.  Go take a look there.  Someone else that has really got me thinking along some of the lines that I have thought about is Skye Jethani from The Holy Post podcast.  And he talked about—he was the one who first coined the term evangelical industrial complex about how there’s such a drive within evangelicalism to be bigger and bigger and bigger.  And sometimes profits seem to matter more than people and platform matters more than people when we are really driven by keeping the publishing houses going and keeping the mega churches going and keeping the media going.  And so he’s got some great stuff to say on that.  And Katelyn Beaty that we had on the podcast two weeks ago.  Her book, Celebrities for Jesus, talks about this too.  It’s so important.  I was also thinking about Andrew Bauman and people coming out of the Dan Allender Center talking about the pornified style of relating.  I’ve mentioned Andrew.  I’ve had him as a guest.  And he really helped me to think differently about these things.  Krispin Mayfield that I had on the podcast—he really helped me feel differently about attachment and see how that can relate to our walk with God and to our relationship with each other.  And so there’s just so many great people to learn from.  And I always talk about these people at the beginning, and then we—I look at more and more research.  And so I forget sometimes to remind you that they have some great books.  And so if you want to find some of the books that have really influenced me, I have an Amazon influencer page where you can go to Amazon.  And I’ve got different idea lists.  I’ve got my favorite sex books, my favorite books if you’re in an abusive marriage, my favorite books for getting over sexual problems, my favorite books just for your walk with God, my favorite books when you’re examining gender and faith, or healthy emotions, all of this stuff.  So I will put a link to that there.  But I just want to encourage us.  I’m sure none of you think less of me because I learn stuff from other people.  In fact, I’m pretty sure most of you think that’s cool that I’m learning stuff from other people because we all should be learning stuff from other people.  I don’t need to think of this stuff all myself.  And that’s why we need to cite people, and that’s why we need to tell other people, “Hey, there’s so many neat thinkers in these spaces.  Let’s get more familiar with them.  Let’s engage with these arguments.”  We don’t need to seem like we have every single one of the answers.  And so yeah.  Check out those great authors.  And let’s remember that just like plagiarism was wrong when you were in 5th grade and when you were in 12th grade and when you were in your undergrad, it is still wrong today no matter how it is done.  So thank you for joining me on the Bare Marriage podcast.  Check out baremarriage.com for more of our posts on marriage misdiagnoses.  That series is going to be going on all month, and there’s lots of great stuff to come.  I appreciate you.  I’ll put a link to our Patron too to anyone who wants to support us.  And I will see you again next week.  Bye-bye.

Timeline of the Podcast

0:10 Updates
2:20 Natalie shares her backstory
7:00 How Natalie dealt with the rocky parts of her marriage
14:30 “Marriage is hard”
22:15 Realizing she had to leave
33:30 Why do Christians give bad advice?
44:45 What is ‘Flying Free’?
52:00 Sheila’s theory of the divorce rate
56:30 Advice to give instead
1:00:10 Updated shoutouts and citations

Marriage Misdiagnosis with Natalie Hoffman

I met Natalie when she was still married to her first husband and blogging about what it meant to be a biblical woman. I watched her as she navigated her divorce and remarried, and I’m so thrilled that she’s doing so well now.

As we’re talking about how Christian marriage books can misdiagnose the main problem in marriage, I thought it would be helpful to take it out of the realm of the theoretical that we’re looking at on the blog and turn to a personal story where we can put a face on the problem. 

I talked with Natalie about the messages that she heard when she was married that would fix the problem–and how that advice made things worse. And we talked about the night and day difference with her current marriage. 

Today, Natalie coaches women and has a vibrant community at Flying Free. , which you can also find on Facebook!

Just a Note on How You Can Support Bare Marriage

We rely on all of you to keep doing what we’re doing, and we’re so grateful for your support. A few ways you can help:

Thank you for all of your support, everybody!


Sheila Wray Gregoire

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

How Christian Marriage Books Hurt My Marriage by natalie Hoffman

What do you think? Can the evangelical world find the plot again with marriage? Let us know in the comments below!

The Marriage Misdiagnosis Series


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

Related Posts


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  1. Christina

    I would love to get more information about your views on divorce. I was taught divorce was wrong except for cases of sexual immorality. I definitely think divorce for abuse would be an option. Just wondering how you find freedom to remarry with Jesus’s teaching on it. I am genuinely searching for answers on this. Solid Biblical ones… I want to believe God doesn’t restrict a victim of abuse to a life of celibacy. I need proof though.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You can check out Gretchen Baskerville’s site The Life-Saving divorce; she has lots there. There’s also a great book by David Instone Brewer on Divorce and Remarriage that many have recommended to me, though I haven’t read it. I think the thing to remember is that what Jesus was arguing against was men who would leave their wives, and the wives would now be helpless. He was telling men to stop hurting their wives. But now we turn that whole thing around and tell wives they can’t leave men who are hurting them. It is really backwards.

      • Christina

        Thank you

      • Dennis Hevener

        I highly recommend Instone-Brewer’s book Divorce and Remarriage. He is totally at odds with John Piper, and has different take on divorce than most of Christianity. He shows that the Bible allows divorce for not just sexual sin, but any hard-hearted and unrepentant violation of all the usual marriage vows.

        I wrote an article on divorce that discusses Jesus’ statement about remarriage and adultery. Scripture is not clear on this topic. I show an interpretation that does not punish innocent victims of divorce by denying them remarriage.

        It relies heavily on Instone Brewer. If anyone is actually facing divorce, I recommend buying his book. But this article provides a summary of his position. There are links to several divorce-related resources, including debates between Piper and Instone-Brewer.


  2. A2bbethany

    Every time I hear someone all about the reactions the abusive spouse gives, I’m thinking the same thing. Abuse is abuse!

    My sister gave the exact same kind of arguments for why all of our relational problems were my fault. And I’d spend hours pondering if I was, and how could I not see what she sees??? It kept escalating until I decided to step out of the crazy loop.
    She wasn’t my spouse, but sibling abusers are just as prevelant. I just don’t know of anyone talking about it. It’s been 8-9 yrs since I cut her off and I’m still trying to silence her voice in my head. She made it quite clear how elevated she was and how low I stood.
    I have a hard time not finding satisfaction and a sense of justification in her currently making bad decisions. I know the Bibles says not to gloat or be happy when someone stumbles. But when I remember how she’d tell me I’d never marry and likely be alone for a long time, fat and every other way of being undesired, I don’t know.
    I’m barely able to sound concerned….I do feel sorry for her, but her choices are finally coming home. I just thank God for my blessings.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, it certainly can be just as bad with siblings. I know what you mean about not wanting to gloat–but still feeling some satisfaction. It’s hard sometimes.

    • Nessie

      Same here with a mom, a sibling and his wife, and another SIL. It IS hard to not feel that way when someone has caused so much lasting pain! I do my best to pray for them, and hope that one day my prayers will become less forced. Just sharing so you know there’s one more person out there that gets it. *hugs*

      • A2bbethany

        Thanks! I know in my large family, I’m somehow the only one that went to this level with her. I’m going to therapy soon to process it.

  3. Casey

    Do you have any thoughts on how to find a safe church? Most churches are still teaching these twisted scriptures. I’m trying to recover from 20 years of blindness to my husband’s abuse and unfaithfulness and I feel crippled at the thought of being further spiritually abused. Thank you.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think you may need to think outside your denomination. Gretchen Baskerville has a list of denominations that do not condone divorce for abuse, along with some that do. Ask how they would counsel a woman in an emotional abusive situation, or marriage with coercive control. Ask for an example of a time when they supported a woman as she left her marriage (and that woman stayed in their church).

      See if there are women in leadership capacities where they influence policy. And perhaps band together with others and just go to a small church in your neighbourhood that’s safe, even if it doesn’t have great programs or great worship, and bring people with you. The majority actually believe safe doctrine, but the churches are still hurting people. If enough of us speak up, things will change!

  4. CMT

    What a powerful interview. I have not experienced the abusive situations Natalie has. Still, it was striking to me how familiar the toxic theology and unhealthy emotional dynamics she talked about were. Redefining love, assuming marriage (or anything else really worthwhile) is meant to involve suffering, making less powerful people responsible for managing more powerful people’s emotions… ugh. It’s baked into so many people’s view of God and relationships.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really is! It goes beyond marriage to how we think about relationships in general and what it looks like to be godly. I think we’ve associated being godly with basically being responsible for everyone around you. It’s not healthy.

  5. EOF

    This podcast was soooo good! Thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to check out her resources. Thank you!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad you liked it! Natalie is awesome. And she communicates so well!

  6. Marie

    Thanks for sharing Natalie’s story. I can totally identify with the brainwashing on how a wife’s job is to make her husband happy. That is a such a lie and for someone like myself who is very naturally a people-pleaser, it was easy to think for years that pleasing my husband was my most important job. Now, I still don’t believe that supporting a “man as leader” theology is the primary problem. But I do think that denying who I am and focusing on trying to make my husband was very destructive to me and our marriage relationship. I was actually helped a lot by the book “When People are Big and God is Small.” That helped me to see how I had wrapped up my worth and identity in keeping my husband placated when that wasn’t actually my job. Now that I have given my husband’s happiness to God, I am finding more of my own identity, peace and joy. Our marriage has been more rough in some ways, but I think it’s a positive direction. He’s having to deal with his own issues before God, and that is much more healthy than me trying to prop him up. I think he is growing and I’m sticking with him. I was encouraged to hear Natalie say that too…that she doesn’t just tell everyone to leave their husband. It’s the necessary path for some, but not everyone. I believe I need to stay, but I need to focus on who I am before God and keep leaving my husband’s happiness up to God.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that, Marie! I’m so glad that you’re learning that you can’t fix your husband. I’m glad you found Natalie’s story helpful, too!


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