PODCAST: The Marriage Misdiagnosis Podcast!

by | Sep 22, 2022 | Podcasts, Resolving Conflict | 5 comments

What if common marriage advice MISDIAGNOSES the problem in the relationship? here are some common marriage misdiagnoses and what we should be teaching instead!

What if the evangelical church is diagnosing the problems with marriage WRONG–and so offering the wrong solutions?

That’s what we’ve been looking at on the blog all month, and there’s lots more to come!

Today on the podcast I walk Keith through the highlights of all our posts–including some that are yet to come–so we can summarize the series all in one place. And Keith gets pretty fired up, too!

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 we like to strip away everything else and just lay bare what God actually intended for marriage.  And we are in the middle of marriage misdiagnosis month.  All month we’ve been talking about some of the ways the messaging around marriage can go really awry in the evangelical church.  And today we’re going to dive into that more deeply with my husband, Keith—

Keith: Hey, everybody.

Sheila: – who is joining us.  But before we do that, I just want to give a special shout out to our patrons.  We appreciate all of you so much.  We have a group of amazing people who support us every month sometimes for as little as $5 a month.  They get access to unfiltered podcasts and to an exclusive Facebook group and more.  Merch if they’re higher tier patrons and the money that they give actually allowed us and gave us the freedom to write our new book that’s coming out in April, She Deserves Better.  And it allows us to do all kinds of fun projects even like funding Joanna to do the stats for the new Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and the all new Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.  So we have a lot of other projects coming up so thank you to our patrons.  And you can join us there.  There’s a link in the podcast notes.  And of course, there’s also links to where you can get some of our merch as well.  We have awesome canvas prints to put on your wall.  We have notebooks.  We have canvas totes all about what it means to be a biblical woman.  What it really means to be a biblical woman.  It’s not sugar and spice and everything nice.  It’s like Jael and tent pegs and leading like Deborah and teaching like Priscilla and all kinds of fun things like that.  So you can take a look at those things because they help us do what we do.  All right, Keith.  Last week we had an awesome podcast with Natalie Hoffman from Flying Free.  She told us her story of being in an emotionally abusive marriage and hearing all of this Christian advice, which told her just to submit more, to have more sex, to be nicer, to be more forgiving, to not let things bother her, to lower her expectations.  And none of it worked.  And her marriage just kept getting worse until she finally realized she had to get out.  And now she’s remarried, and she’s finding, “Hey, all of this stuff—told me marriage was hard.  Marriage is actually really easy when you are married to a good person who actually cares about you.”  So that was a really great conversation.  And if you haven’t listened to it, please do.  But that was kind of an example of how the marriage advice can go wrong.  Today what I want to do is go more in depth at some of the reasons why the marriage advice goes so awry.

Keith: Mm-hmm.

Sheila: So I’m just going to walk us through some of the blog posts this week and get your take on them.

Keith: Okay.

Sheila: Okay.

Keith: Yeah.  Because we’re busy getting ready to go away, so I haven’t had a chance to read a lot of the posts this week like usual. 

Sheila: Yes.  In fact, when this podcast lands Thursday morning, we will be getting off a plane in Venice.  

Keith: Hopefully.

Sheila: Yes.  We hope.  So that’s very exciting.  All right.  Let me tell you a story.  You know this story, so you’ll be happy.  There’s a guy in our social group who is quite well educated and a deep thinker.  And he used to go to men’s retreats for years, and he would teach on Love and Respect.  And then after he heard a lot of our critiques of Love and Respect, he was like, “I don’t want to teach on this anymore, but then I don’t know what to teach on.”  And so I recommended that he read John Gottman’s, Seven Principles for Marking Marriage Work, which is the best selling secular marriage book.  And I said, “Just teach on the four horsemen of the apocalypse even if you do nothing else.”  John Gottman has this great concept of the four things that can most wreck a marriage.  Really good.  And he read it, and he was blown away.  He was like, “This is such a good book.  Why aren’t Christian books like this?”  

Keith: Yeah.  Because this book is based upon look at the evidence of what’s out there and formulating an idea of marriage based upon the evidence that you see with your own eyes as opposed to having a preconceived notion of how marriage should look and then saying, “You should do that.”  And any evidence that shows it’s a bad way of doing marriage we just ignore or gaslight people.

Sheila: Exactly.  And he’s someone who is used to reading business books and other nonfiction books.     

Keith: Yeah.  A smart guy.  

Sheila: And he’s like, “This is—there’s no reason why Christian books can’t be like that.”  And I’m like, “Exactly.”

Keith:   Well, it’s like you said before.  I mean Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  So if it’s true, it honors God, right?  This is just true.  If you do marriage like this, you are successful.

Sheila: Exactly.  Okay.  So let’s look at how things go awry.  I remember a couple years ago I was just on social media.  And this is when I started recognizing the problem.  And I would see an advertisement or a graphic for a post on what to do if your husband is using porn, right?  And I would click through because I’m like, “Yeah.  Let’s see what they’re saying.”  And it was like, “You need to pray more.”    

Keith: Yes.

Sheila: And then I would see a post on what to do if your husband always disappoints you, right?  And I would click through, and it would say—

Keith: You need to pray more.

Sheila: You need to pray more. 

Keith: Right.

Sheila: And then I would see what to do if you feel really distant from your husband.  And I would click through, and it would say—  

Keith:   I guess it’s going to say you need to pray more.

Sheila: Yeah.  Or you need to lower your expectations or whatever.  And it’s like—I’m starting to realize like, “Why do people even read this stuff?  This doesn’t give you any actual steps to take.”  And I’m not saying you shouldn’t pray.  We’re going to get to that later in the podcast.  But it’s like this isn’t actually helpful for the vast majority of people.  You think that people who—women who their husbands use porn and they’re desperate to give it up, you think they haven’t prayed yet?  

Keith: Even if they haven’t, we know there are a lot of women who prayed a really, really, really long time.  And we know a lot of men who don’t want to be addicted to porn who prayed really long and hard to not be addicted to porn.  It’s not that simple.  I mean God is good and God is powerful.  But there are things that we can do to make things easier or more difficult to get better.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  Exactly.  But I think part of the problem is that we are asking the wrong questions.      

Keith: Mm-hmm.  That’s right.

Sheila: And this is why things go awry because the questions that we are asking are how can we maintain a certain view of marriage.  And the two areas where I see this the most are, first of all, the idea that you can never, ever, ever divorce, so you must keep this marriage together no matter what.  No matter how bad it is you cannot divorce.  Remember that Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention, most large denominations—evangelical denominations in the United States, at least, do not condone divorce for abuse.  So when you believe that the marriage must stay together no matter what and also that we must maintain a hierarchy in marriage where the man is over the woman, then you get some of these problems.  And you have no answers.  One of the things that I find so funny is when you’re saying the Lord’s Prayer let’s—how does it start?

Keith: Our Father in Heaven.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Keith: Hallowed be Your name.  

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Keith: Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Sheila: Right.  So we’re praying for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  And yet with marriage, we turn that around for women.  And we say—

Keith: Well, yeah.  They say that God is going to speak to your husband, and he’s the leader.  So you need to listen to him.  And if you think that God is telling you something and your husband disagrees with you, you need to really examine yourself because maybe God has just not told you yet what He’s told your husband.

Sheila: Right.  And so the way that a woman follows God’s will in her life is to follow her husband’s will.  And so what you’re basically doing is you’re equating the husband’s will with God’s will.  In fact, you’re even putting the husband’s will over God’s will because she’s supposed to follow the husband, not what God tells her to do.  

Keith: Yeah.

Sheila: And so the—

Keith: Well, certainly, yeah.  I mean—and they always give these caveats like, “Well, we’re obviously not telling you to go into sin,” and stuff like that, right?  But if really—if it’s really that God is telling him something, if he’s the leader and God is going to speak to him that He’s not going to speak to me, as the wife, right?  How do I know?  When he wants to do something that I feel is sin, how do I know it’s sin?  He obviously wants to do it?  And he’s obviously the leader in this household?  And I should listen to him?  And then women do these things.  And then the people say, “You shouldn’t have done that.”  But it’s like—but she was just trying to follow your teaching which is she’s supposed to follow her husband.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  And so let’s just think this through in a practical example about why the questions we ask matter.  Okay?  So if the question that we’re asking is how do we glorify God in this situation and bring about God’s will on earth as it is in heaven and a husband has been using—has a porn habit that’s been lasting several decades—okay—we know that God’s will is that the husband stop.  And so when we’re trying to figure out what we should—what she should do in that situation—we know—okay.  Well, she’s got to draw boundaries.  She’s got to seek out some help because God wants him to stop.  But if, on the other hand, the question you’re asking is how do we keep this marriage together no matter what and how do we make sure that he stays the leader, you get advice like this.  So I have something from John Piper that he had on his podcast and on his Desiring God website just this month.  Okay.  So this is new.  This isn’t something he wrote 10 years ago.

Keith: This is not 20 years ago.

Sheila: Exactly.  

Keith: This is current stuff.

Sheila: Right.  So he was talking about a wife who was married to a husband with a 20-year porn habit.  Okay.

Keith: 20 years of a marriage.  He’s been—okay.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so the question that John Piper was trying to ask is how do I address my spouse’s ongoing sin.  

Keith: He was trying to address—answer her question.

Sheila: Okay.  And so he spent the majority of the article talking about submissiveness and how you’re still strong if you’re submissive and blah, blah.  And his—and after saying all of that, this was what he told her to do.  This was his only practical advice of what to do.

Keith: Let me guess.  He said, “If you submit to him, then he will rise to be the man that you want him to be,” or that kind of stuff which is what they always say.

Sheila: Yeah.  Here is what he said.  “If they can’t seem to make progress together, then it might mean seeking the husband’s agreement that they would bring a wise biblical counselor into their lives.”

Keith: Okay.  Massive problems with that.  

Sheila: So many.  I didn’t a fixed it for you of this on Instagram already.    

Keith: So the first one is—and I don’t know what happened because I haven’t read this article.  Does he go on after that to say if the husband doesn’t agree what do you do next?

Sheila: No.  He says—  

Keith: No.  Of course not because the whole point is it’s about following the husband.  

Sheila: Right.

Keith: Because they give lip service to the idea that we are trying to follow Christ and we are both trying to follow Christ.  But when you make male hierarchy the trump card like no matter what we do we also have to do—we have to keep this male hierarchy thing, right?  We can’t damage that at all.  Then it’s going to skew what you do because the healthy thing—or this would be the healthy thing to do.  We all know this would be the healthy thing to do, but he might feel slighted as the man so, therefore, we won’t do that.

Sheila: Right.

Keith: No.  That’s ridiculous.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so she can only get help if he agrees.      

Keith: Yeah.  And the help she can get is from a biblical counselor, who is going to teach her it’s your fault.  You need to submit more.  If you had more sex with him, he wouldn’t watch porn.

Sheila: Now not—obviously, not all biblical counselors do that.  But—  

Keith: But this is what we see all the time.

Sheila: Yeah.  I receive messages like this constantly.  And the problem is so many biblical counseling programs are set up exactly that.  Marriage together at all costs.  They don’t believe in divorce for abuse and hierarchy.  And when you have those two things, then you can’t give real help because you can’t actually upset the apple cart.  You can’t deal with the actual problem because if she were to deal with the actual problem of porn the marriage might be in jeopardy.  And we can’t have the marriage in jeopardy.  And so what we’re trying to do is we’re going to paper over everything, and we’re not going to be honest.  And you can’t get intimacy without honesty.

Keith: Well, it’s like Townsend and Cloud, right?  The boundaries books.  This is going counter to God’s law of how the universe works is that what a man reaps he will sow.  And this is just ways of making it so that men don’t have to reap what they are sowing.  And it’s not appropriate.  If a person has a porn addiction, this is sin.  It needs to be addressed.  And telling the person who is not sinning that they have to pussy foot around and coddle and build up the person who is sinning is ridiculous.  And you get called anti man because you say, “Men shouldn’t sin.”  Really?  Is that where we’re at now?  You get called for your sin, and you say that you’re being attacked.  No.  This is about being a follower of Christ, doing the right thing.  It’s crazy.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I want to say this hurts men too.  I mean it hurts women worse, I believe, because they also have that hierarchy teaching.  But the idea that you can’t upset the apple cart—men also get it.  You have to love her as Christ loved the church.  You have to be kind to her.  You have to put up with anything.  And so then he can’t adequately address when she is being emotionally abusive or dangerous as well.

Keith:   Well, yeah except for the fact that these churches do teach he’s in charge.  So he does have the right in these churches to say, “Listen.  You’re being toxic.  Stop it.”

Sheila: Right.  But if she doesn’t respond to that, there’s still nothing he can do.  And that’s the problem.

Keith: Well, he can get the elders board involved.

Sheila: Yeah.  But it can—  

Keith: But she can’t do any of these things.  She has five or six levels that he can escalate it if she’s being toxic.  But she has nothing.  She can ask him.  If he says no, she can talk to him about whether they might go to a biblical counselor, who is likely going to side with him.  And if he says no, then they’re just done.  It’s just not right.  It’s inappropriate, and it’s not healthy.  And even if you believe—if you do believe in a—that men are supposed to have some level of authority or ownership of the relationship over a woman, you’ve got to see that that is a complete and total extreme and unhealthy version of it.  And the people who think of these things should be fighting to say that’s not what we mean.  And I would like to see more of that.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  Exactly.  Okay.  So when we ask the wrong questions, we get into these problems.

Keith: So how do we preserve the marriage?  And how do we preserve male headship?  As opposed to how do we make this better?

Sheila: Yeah.  So the next problem becomes what do we think is the key issue with what is hurting marriages.  Okay.  And this is where I believe the church really massively misdiagnoses the problem because if you read books over and over again what they’ll say is you need to commit.  Do you remember—

Keith: Yeah.  It’s commitment.  It’s all commitment.

Sheila: Yeah.  Do you remember when we started speaking with Family Life?  Way back 2005.  And we were using the Family Life U.S. curriculum at the time.  The new Family Life Canada curriculum doesn’t do this.  And I don’t even know if the U.S. curriculum does as much.  But at the time, there were three talks on the Saturday morning.

Keith: Right.  All about—

Sheila: And they were all about—it was like God’s plan.  

Keith: Locking the back door.  Not giving yourself an exit.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And how the person that you married is the right person.  And that that—and that divorces are happening because people are being frivolous.  And it’s like well no.  Most divorces are happening for life saving reasons because this marriage is killing me.  And that—and instead of—

Keith: Well, certainly in the church.

Sheila: Yes.  Mm-hmm.

Keith: I don’t think in the conservative church there’s a lot of like, “Well, I’m just tired of you.  I’m going to leave,” because people who are in horribly toxic situations are not leaving.  Right?

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Exactly.  So when we do that—when we think commitment is the problem, then, again, our solutions to marriage issues are to paper over things.  So instead of telling guys, for instance, to totally heal from their problem of lust, we tell them to bounce their eyes, right?  Instead of dealing with the problems in sex life, we tell people to just have sex more, right?  And we do all these surface level things.  I took a look at John Gottman because I wanted to see.  Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  Is one of the principles commitment?  

Keith: Okay.

Sheila: What do you think?

Keith: I’m going to guess no.

Sheila: Yeah.  It is not.  It is not.  And I said this on social media—

Keith: It makes sense because if you’re buying a marriage book you want to make this marriage work.  That’s why you’re buying the marriage book.  So the entire book is about you should really want to make this marriage work and that will make the marriage work—you have not told me one single thing that’s helped me.

Sheila: I know.    

Keith: I bought the book.  I obviously want it to work.  Give me some tools here.

Sheila: I know.  I reread Gary Thomas’s A Lifelong Love this week.  I looked at Love and Respect.  And both of them talk about the tremendous blessing that awaits you—reward that awaits you in heaven if you put up with terrible things.  And it is a problem now.  Gary does say that you can divorce for abuse which is great.  But the book is really around staying in these difficult marriages because you’re going to get rewards in heaven.  And I said last week on the podcast and I turned it into a social media thing.  The bestselling secular marriage books are focused on helping people create the marriage they love.  And evangelical marriage books are focused on helping people stay in a marriage they hate.  And we can do better.  We can help people create the marriage they love too.

Keith: Absolutely.

Sheila: We just need to change the way we approach the whole thing.  Okay.  So you were talking about who is buying these marriage books to begin with.  

Keith: Right.

Sheila: Okay.  So the next post in our series of marriage misdiagnosis actually goes into that.  So what percentage of self help relationship books do you think are read by women?  

Keith: Okay.  I’m going to lowball it and say 80%.

Sheila: Okay.  It’s actually 74 overall.  

Keith: Oh, I would have thought it would be a little higher than that actually.  

Sheila: I think it is higher in the church because—  

Keith: Yeah.  But it’s the majority.  It’s not just 51%.  It’s the sizable majority.  

Sheila: Right.  Right.  And remember that many women’s—and there are far more women’s Bible studies and book studies than there are men’s in North America and many women’s Bible studies, book studies do relationship books.  And I want to say too.  Little plug.  We do have a free eight-week video series that you can take for The Great Sex Rescue.  So we have that.  That is free.  It is on the website.  It’s a great resource.  Rebecca and I did those videos, so you can look at that too.  So yeah.  So the majority of them are written to women.  Okay.  That’s first of all.  Now second of all, if you’re going to buy a marriage book, why are you buying that book?     

Keith: So typically, I think that most people are buying it because they are having trouble.  Now you may be buying it because you want to make things even better, or that sort of—or someone recommended it with—it would help your marriage be even stronger.  But I think a lot of people are buying them because they’re in crisis.  They either want things to get better, or they are just at the end of their rope.  And they’re trying to find something to make things livable.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  I think in the evangelical church there’s sort of three groups of people.  And I would think that’s the majority.  Then I think there’s people who read them just at the beginning of their marriage because—  

Keith: Oh, yeah.  Yeah.  Get off to a good start.  Yeah.  That makes sense.

Sheila: Yeah.  Get off to a good start.  And then, of course, there’s just the people who are reading them because they’re doing the book study, right?

Keith: Yeah.   We’re all in it together.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Kind of thing.  But I think the majority of marriage books are written by people who—exactly.  They’re in troubled marriages.  Now Marshall McLuhan, Canadian sociologist, in the 1960s—I think he was at UFT.  I can’t remember.  I took sociology in Canada, so you would think that I would know this.    

Keith: He’s pretty famous.

Sheila: He had this one famous saying.  And you know what it is, right?

Keith: The medium is the message.

Sheila: Yes.  Exactly.  The medium is the message.  And what he meant by that is that the way that we hear the message, the way the message is communicated can actually change how we interpret and hear the message.  So if the message that is given in marriage books, if our advice is primarily to the person who is hurting in marriage as to how they can make their marriage better, that is giving a message.  So if you’re reading a book, for instance, about affairs, about—or you’re reading a marriage book and it gives an example of an affair and as they talk about the affair and the resolution of this and how the marriage was rebuilt what they focused on was how she forgave him.

Keith: Mm-hmm.  Or he forgave her if she had the affair. 

Sheila: Right.  What’s the takeaway from that for you?

Keith: Oh yeah.  Of course, it’s obviously that when you’re wronged you need to smooth it over to make it better in the future.  Right?  And it makes sense because—I mean the people that are writing these books know it’s not the people who are messing up the marriage that are buying the books.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Keith: So I could talk about how you shouldn’t have an affair and you should stay faithful and if someone is unfaithful to you that’s terrible and horrible.  But that’s not the person who is reading this book.  The only person reading this book is the person who has been sinned against most likely, so I’m going to tell them—if I could talk to the other party, I would tell them they shouldn’t have done that.  But I can’t talk to them.  I can only talk to this person.  So I’ll tell them try to forgive, right?  And so the whole message becomes try to forgive.  And we forget the whole that’s a sin.  You shouldn’t have done that.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  And so if the main message around affairs is forgiveness for the affair as opposed to, “Holy cow.  What did you do?  You need to totally rebuild trust,” then that is going to change how we view the responsibility for fixing the marriage.

Keith: Absolutely.  And the whole idea—in many churches, adultery is considered a breaking of the covenant, and you now have the right to divorce.  That is what is taught in a lot of churches.  Churches that don’t allow for abuse, don’t allow other reasons for divorce, they do allow it if there is adultery.  But then they tell these stories of how she could have divorced him.  But she learned to forgive him.  And now they’ve got an amazing marriage, and they’re doing so well.  And so the takeaway is, “Well, you can divorce.  But the truly spiritual women forgive their husbands.”

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Keith:   And they don’t say that, but that’s the message that comes across because the medium is the message, right?

Sheila: It is the message.  Exactly.  And you see this over and over again in our books is that the—because we’re aiming at the person who is hurting in the marriage, we are now putting responsibility on them.  Okay.  Let’s take it out of the realm of affair because that’s really big.  Okay.  Let’s put it in the realm of what most people are going through.  So there was an article on Focus on the Family recently that they shared again.  I think it’s three years old, but they shared it recently.  And a reader sent it to me because seriously.  Thank you, readers.  I get my best stuff from you.  And it was saying—it was written by a guy name John Trent.  And he was giving the example of how at one point he was very emotionally distant from his wife, and he was ignoring.  And the wife would try to get through to him, and he didn’t understand until one day she painted this word picture for him.  She grabbed one of his textbooks from school, and she put it in front of him and said, “You are treating me like I’m this textbook.  So you study this textbook a ton for your exam.  And then as soon as your exam was over, you got rid of the textbook.  And that’s like what you did when you married me.”  And he said that turned it around because suddenly he understood what she was thinking.  And so the whole article was on how people could build word pictures that would get through to their spouse.  And it was like this five step process on how to build a word picture so that finally they would understand what you’re feeling.

Keith:     Right.  Okay.  

Sheila: Do you have any thoughts on that?

Keith: Okay.  So first of all, did he address the fact that what he was doing was really wrong?  And she was—it was appropriate for her to set boundaries on him.  

Sheila: No.

Keith: Yeah.  And see?  That’s the point.  Is if you say here is one strategy that can help you deal with this problem, which is that sometimes people are emotionally distant in marriages, and that’s a bad thing.  And we shouldn’t do that.  And here is one way you could reach a person like that.  That would be fine.  But he’s basically saying this is the key.  This is the solution.  If you just do this, then your problems will be solved.  

Sheila: Well, yeah.  Well, I think it was so funny.  It was like—I’m trying to think.  Okay.  I’m a fairly creative person.    

Keith: You are.

Sheila: I’m a writer.  And the thought of trying to create a word picture to get you to understand—that is a lot of work.

Keith: Well, and the other thing to is that like every individual human being is going to respond to things differently.  So having something where you talk about the—this is an idea would be fine if you gave 16 other ways of doing it, right?  Because it worked for him, this is the answer for everybody.

Sheila: Well, I mean it is a creative—I think it would work great in the workplace.  It’s a great skill to have when dealing with children.  But the problem is now this—this completely complicated thing—if she tries it and it doesn’t work, now the problem is not that he’s not listening to her.  The problem is that she didn’t think of a good enough word picture.

Keith:   Right.  

Sheila: And so she has to go back.  So again, it places the blame for the problem and the responsibility for fixing it—    

Keith: Yeah.  So if it was presented as this is an option of something you can try—and actually, it’s kind of even got some biblical precedent because God used word pictures like that a lot, right?

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Keith: So this is an option of something you can try.  But if it doesn’t work, try something else because this is not an appropriate situation.  

Sheila: Right.  

Keith: But that’s not what he said.

Sheila: No.  No.  And so, again, this is how the responsibility for fixing it goes on the wronged party.  And it gets even worse.

Keith: Oh no.  Okay.

Sheila: Okay.  So let’s move on to the next blog post we did.  So what I’m doing is I’m just running through all the blog posts we did this month.  And I really—I’m going to put a link to the series.  And I encourage all of you to check it out because I put a lot of work into this.  I’ve been thinking about it for a year trying to build the argument on it.

Keith: Absolutely.  And I just want to say if you guys all signed up for her email, newsletter, then at the—because at the end of the week, you could get a list of all the blog posts.  So if you don’t have time to read a blog post every day, you can get on her weekly mailing list.  And at the end of the week, you can see all the blog posts for the week.  That one looked interesting.  Maybe I should read that one.  It’s really great.  Yeah.

Sheila: So we will put a link to how you can sign up.  And by the way, people who sign up also get coupons for stuff and lots of things.  So that’s fun.  Okay.  So then the next problem is they literally do put the responsibility for reconciling when there’s been a big problem on the shoulders of the person who is wronged.  And I want to read to you a quote from Every Heart Restored.  

Keith: Okay.  This book is terrible.  

Sheila: I know.  This is part of the Every Man’s Battle series by Fred Stoeker and Brenda Stoeker.  And here is the quote.  Ready?  “Why shouldn’t you expect to make sacrifices even in the marriage bed?  On the battlefield of broken sexual trust, your husband must become trustworthy, and you must eventually choose to trust again.  And that will mean sexual sacrifice.  It’s self defeating to worry about which should come first.”

Keith: Yeah.  See?  This is why this book is so toxic because basically it’s talking about sexual sin.  It’s talking about a man who has acted out and done what is wrong.  And they buy the lie that if she had more sex with him he would be less likely to act out.  Men do not act out sexually because their wives are not having enough sex with them.  Women tend to not have sex with men who are acting out sexually because men who are acting out sexually disgust them.  That’s the truth.  Okay.  And it may be a truth you don’t want to hear, but it’s the truth.  So it’s the chicken and egg, right?  So what they’re saying instead of he needs to get his stuff together and show her he’s trustworthy so that she can trust him again, and then he needs to wait until that happens.  They’re saying one of you has to start first.  Why shouldn’t it be you to trust the person who has shown they are untrustworthy?  That’s ridiculous.  

Sheila: And, again, okay.  So we’ve look at the worst possible scenario.  Let’s take it down a notch now.  But this also is done even in less extreme circumstances.  So basically what Every Heart Restored was saying is if you want him to be trustworthy, you need to trust him.  So if you trust him—

Keith: Yeah.  That’s right.  As opposed to if he wants you to trust him, he needs to show that he is trustworthy.

Sheila: Right.  

Keith: That’s a different—

Sheila: Now how many times have we heard this kind of advice?  What men really need to hear is that you believe in them.  You need to show them that you believe in them.

Keith: Yeah.  Do you know what?  That’s not bad advice if it’s like you both need to show each other that you believe in each other and you both are going to live up to that.  But what we hear is men somehow need to be told they’re great even when they’re doing bad things which are not appropriate.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly. 

Keith: As a man, I’m offended that Christian marriage books say that about men.  That men are so weak that we can’t do the right thing unless we are being coddled and told how awesome we are.  That’ ridiculous.  And then they talk about how men are supposed to be leaders and women aren’t because men are strong.  You are not strong if you need your wife to coddle you instead of doing the right thing because you know it’s the right thing to do.  I’m sorry.  That sounds harsh. 

Sheila: No.  You go for it.  But we’re reading this article on The Fierce Marriage site where it talked about the four things that men need to hear, and it was like, “I believe in you.  And I respect you,”—all these things.  And while it’s great to say those things to your spouse and I think it’s wonderful to say those things to your spouse, to say them in the absence of your spouse’s good behavior is not appropriate.  And this is what we’re often told is if you want him to be a leader treat him like a leader and call it out in him.  So if he’s watching video games all day, then if you—the reason he’s doing that is because you’re usurping his leadership role.  And if you put down the leadership role and you talk to him as if he’s the leader, he’ll become the leader.  Maybe he just wants to play video games all day.  

Keith: But what’s going to happen is you put down the leadership role and he doesn’t do it, and then nothing is getting done.  And you kind of have to hint and sort of—around the corner kind of make some suggestions.  And then eventually if he doesn’t pick up the leadership role then you go to him and say, “I need you to be the leader.”  And he just basically says, “Be quiet because I’m the leader.  And shut up and leave me alone.”  I don’t know.  It’s ridiculous.

Sheila: It’s stupid.  Do you remember?  There was a book that Oprah got really into in the late 90s, early 2000s, called The Secret.  I don’t know if you remember this at all.  

Keith: I know—I remember the book, but I’ve never read it.  I don’t know anything about it.

Sheila: Yeah.  It was basically—it was basically how you can manifest goodness in your life and manifest—so if you think and you act as if you are rich, you can become rich.  And I’m simplifying.  I don’t—I never read the book.  I don’t know.  But it’s this idea of manifestation.  So if you want something to happen, you act like it is happening.  And it will happen, right?  And I think a lot of Christian marriage advice is telling women to manifest stuff in their husbands.  It’s like it doesn’t work.  So I compared it with Gottman.  I said, “Does Gottman teach this?  Does Gottman say that you should call out stuff in your spouse even if they’re not like that?”     

Keith: Well, I think he—I don’t think he says it quite like that.  I think he talks about giving people—noticing when people do things well and encouraging them every chance you can to say the things that they’re doing that really make you happy.   

Sheila: But that’s a difference.

Keith:   Absolutely.

Sheila: Because he talks about scanning for things to praise.  So looking for things that your spouse is doing that are praiseworthy and then praising them.  He doesn’t say praise your spouse regardless.  He says look for things your spouse is genuinely doing and praise them.    

Keith: And that’s one of the things I think that does happen is that—the flip side—we talk a lot about how this whole patriarchal, man in charge, kind of thing harms women.  The flip side for the guys is is that men are supposed to be strong and men are supposed to be this like made of stone, no emotions, that kind of stuff.  And so a lot of times women assume men don’t need that kind of encouragement, and they don’t give it.  And so to say to wives, “Hey, when your husband is acting in a way that is praiseworthy, praise him,”—I did this early in our marriage to you.  I said, “It really—when you say things to me that you’re proud of me the way I did this or you’re so glad that I’m such a good dad or things like that, I feel like 10 feet tall.”  And when you try to say that more because you know how much—important it was to me.  And I think that that’s the one thing I would say to the women is I’d say, “When your husband is acting honorably and doing things that are very Christ like, seeing that and calling that out and saying that’s great, I think that’s really encouraging.”  I think we should do that more.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.

Keith: And not assume that he’s strong and doesn’t need that stuff because he’s a—a man doesn’t need encouragement like that.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  But to say that you’re supposed to say I believe in you regardless of what the guy is doing— 

Keith: Well, because the great thing is then—because then if he stays—it doesn’t matter what he does.  If he’s playing video games all day long, not helping around the house, not working, not contributing to the family whatsoever and you try to manifest him becoming this amazing leader for God and he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter—it’s still your fault.  You must not be manifesting right.  It never comes down to he’s being a jerk, and he needs to change, right?  Because the message is all about what she needs to do differently because he’s the leader.  It’s ridiculous.  And if she wants to get him to change, she needs to get men to go talk to him so that he’ll change because men can only hear from other men.  

Sheila: Right.  

Keith:   What happened to iron sharpens iron?  I mean marriage should be iron sharpening iron.  I mean you have insight that I don’t have.  I have insight that you don’t have.  We make each other better because we don’t have all this nonsense about you have to be very careful about the way you talk to me because I’m a man.  And I need to be spoken to in a very specific way because I have this masculinity which is so strong that you need to not damage because if you damage it it will all fall apart.  Come on, people.

Sheila: Yeah.  My strong masculinity is so fragile.  

Keith: I know.  It’s ridiculous.

Sheila: And they actually say that.  Shaunti Feldhahn says it.  Well, she doesn’t say it.  She quotes a guy in her book saying it.  That a man’s egos are the most fragile things on the planet.      

Keith: Yeah.  But the thing is I think that there are men—I think that sometimes women—because we have this myth that men are strong and men don’t have emotions, women—some women feel like they can say anything they want to men.  And that is wrong.  And that really hurts men.  And men aren’t allowed to say, “I was hurt by that,” because then they’re not men, right?

Sheila: Right.

Keith: So because there is a bad thing that happens on this side, you don’t fix that by making this tremendously, horrendously toxic, horrible thing that makes the other 95% of the time go really, really, really bad for the woman because 5% of the time the guy might have a hard time.  Come on.

Sheila: Well, this is actually why I really appreciate Gottman and why I think we need to do things more like he does which is he does—he’s not gendered about any of this stuff really.  He’s like this is what a healthy relationship looks like, and this is—they’ve studied marriages for decades.  And they’ve figured out this is what couples who are going to stay together—this is why.  This is how they act towards each other, right?  They don’t show contempt.  They remember the good things.  They have a story that they tell about their relationship.  They do bids to connect.  All this really great stuff.  And it’s not—and they scan for things to praise and all of that.  And it’s not gendered.  It’s just this is what health looks like, and it’s really refreshing.

Keith: I think that men and women are different, and we do tend to show those things a little differently.  And that’s great, and that’s fine.  And it’s wonderful that God has made us different.  But when you prescribe that all men must act like this and all women must act like that to the exclusion of just what is healthy, you’re missing the point completely.    

Sheila: Yeah.  One of the things Gottman says is that we actually tend to get into gendered things when the marriage is bad.

Keith: Yeah.  Stereotypical behavior.

Sheila: When the marriage is bad and the way you fix it is just, again, by going to the health.  So women tend to get defensive.  Men tend to stonewall.  We react to negative things in more stereotypical ways.  And of course, Emerson Eggerichs took that to mean that the stereotypical is the good thing.

Keith: Therefore, God made you that way.

Sheila: But Gottman is actually arguing the opposite.  So it’s not that he says men and women are exactly the same.  He just says this is what healthy looks like.  And this is what everyone should be aiming for.  And when we get into these negative patterns, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, et cetera, we often—men and women often adopt different horsemen.  We ride our horses differently.  However you want to say it.  But we can all aim towards health which is really good.  

Keith: Right.

Sheila: Okay.  I have one more thing for you.  You ready?

Keith: Okay.  Good.

Sheila: The last thing I want to talk about is the idea of really holding up marriage miracles as something which we should aspire to.  So the whole idea if I pray hard enough will God fix my marriage.

Keith: Yeah.  I kind of took your thunder a little bit earlier when I talked about those divorce stories, right?

Sheila: Yeah.  Well, that’s okay.  That’s okay.  We’ll get into them.  And one of the marriage books that I actually read in a book study many, many, many years ago—I think Rebecca was a baby—was Stormie Omartian’s—I think that’s how you say her name.  I’m not entirely sure.  The Power of a Praying Wife.  

Keith: Right.

Sheila: And I don’t remember much about it except that it seemed very pat answer like.  And I remember not really liking it at the time, but I didn’t have the words for why way back then.  And I do now.  But I was—we looked at it again for Great Sex Rescue.  And it did—we did rate it on how it treated sex, and it did fall in the harmful category.  And you can see the score card and the rubric for that.  I will leave the link in the podcast notes, so you can download that.  But I want to read to you what she says about her own marriage.  She says, “I confess right now that there was a time when I considered separation or divorce.  This is an embarrassing disclosure because I don’t believe either of those options is the best answer to a troubled marriage.  I believe in God’s position on divorce.  He says it’s not right, and it grieves Him.  And the last thing that I want to do is grieve God.”  So this whole book already is set up like divorce is a bad thing.  And it’s not the best option.  I would argue very much that if you are in an abusive marriage it is absolutely the best option.

Keith: Well, it’s not just that.  They say it’s not the best option, but that’s code for it’s not an option at all, right?  Because if it’s not the best option, is it an option?  Because it isn’t, right?

Sheila: Now she did update the book, and her last chapter is now like if you are in an abusive marriage I think she says you can separate.  And that does matter.  But it’s not—  

Keith: Okay.  Well, that’s good.  That’s better.

Sheila: But still this sentence—this all is still in this updated version.  And so this is the way she’s framing it all.  She’s already setting up the situation, and she doesn’t believe that she should divorce at all.  

Keith: Regardless.

Sheila: And I just want to point out too that the research does show that children do better if parents divorce when they are in an abusive situation.  And remember that if someone wants to hurt you the worst, what do they do?  They torture someone you love in front of you.  And so even if the spouse is not being abusive to the kids, if the kids are watching the mother be abused even if it’s emotional abuse, that is torture on the children.

Keith: Mm-hmm.  Or if they’re watching their father be emotionally abused by their mother too.  

Sheila: Yes.  It’s torture on the children, and that does matter.  And so this whole idea—the whole painting—how she’s painting marriage problems is problematic.  So here’s how she describes her own marriage.  Okay?  “I’ve experienced the degree of hopelessness that causes a person to give up on trying to do what’s right.”  In other words to give up on trying to keep the marriage together because that’s how she defines what’s right.    

Keith: Right.

Sheila: “I understand the torture of loneliness that leaves you longing for anyone who will look into your soul and see you.  I have felt pain so bad that the fear of dying from it propelled me to seek out the only immediately foreseeable means of survival escape from the source of agony.  I know what it’s like to contemplate acts of desperation because you see no future.  I’ve experienced such a buildup of negative emotions day after day that separation and divorce seemed like nothing more than the promise of present relief.  The biggest problem I faced was my husband’s temper.  The only ones who were ever the object of his anger were me and the children.  He used words like weapons that left me crippled or paralyzed.  I’m not saying that I was without fault.  Quite the contrary, I was sure I was as much to blame as he, but I didn’t know what to do about it.  I pleaded with God on a regular basis to make my husband more sensitive, less angry, more pleasant, less irritable, but I saw few changes.  And after a number of years with little change, I cried out in despair saying, ‘God, I can’t live this way anymore.  I know what You’ve said about divorce, but I can’t live in the same house with him.  Help me, Lord.’  I sat on the bed holding my Bible for hours as I struggled with the strongest desire to take the children and leave.  I believe that because I came to God in total honesty He allowed me to thoroughly and clearly envision what life would be like if I left.”  And then she goes on to talk about how instead she began to pray.  “And God showed me that Michael was caught up in a web from his past that rendered him incapable of being different from what he was at that moment.  But God would use me as an instrument of His deliverance if I would consent to it.”  And that’s how she frames this.  And then she goes on for several pages talking about how important it is to just take on this job of praying.  And she says, “You have to trust that what has swarmed over you such as abuse, death of a child, infidelity, poverty, loss, catastrophic illness or accident can be relieved of its death grip.  You have to determine that everything consuming you and your husband such as workaholism, alcoholism, drug abuse, or depression can be destroyed.  You have to know that whatever has crept into your relationship so silently and stealthily as to not even be perceived as a threat until it is clearly present such as making idols of your career, your dreams, your kids, or your selfish desires can be removed.  You have to trust that God is big enough to accomplish all this and more.”  And so this is how she’s framing this whole book.  

Keith: I think about the analogy of medical problems, right?  So God does miracles.  God does amazing things.  

Sheila: He does.

Keith: God has cured people of cancer.  God has done all kinds of things.  If you wrote a book which said, “No matter what your diagnosis whether it’s chronic arthritis, whether it’s metastatic cancer, whether it’s whatever it is, you need to believe that God will heal you and stick to it.  Otherwise, you’re just going to fail.  But as long as you pray and stick to it, you’ll be fine.”  That’s ridiculous.  

Sheila: And there are books like that.

Keith: Yeah.

Sheila: But it’s true.  I think this whole idea that we are presenting a miracle—because this is essentially a miracle.  Okay?      

Keith: What she’s saying is no matter how bad you have it, I had it worse.  And God worked through me to make it better.  So if it doesn’t work out for you, it’s because you wouldn’t let God work it through you.

Sheila: Now she does change the—the very, very, very last chapter she does say there are some marriages that can’t be fixed even with a lot of prayer.  But that’s the last chapter.  That’s after you’ve worked through everything.    

Keith: Well, not just that.  It’s the medium is the message.  If you say no matter how bad you have it, I had it worse than you and God used me to make my husband a better person.  And that can happen for you too if you just believe.  Well, who is not going to want to believe that?

Sheila: Exactly.

Keith: Who is not going to want to believe that?  And in desperation, they believe it.  And then when it doesn’t happen because he continues to be abusive, he continues to be an alcoholic, he continues to do these things, it’s because—I guess I don’t have enough faith.  I haven’t prayed hard enough as opposed to you should have drawn boundaries.  He broke this covenant a long time ago.

Sheila: I also think we forget what prayer is.  Do you remember Bruce Almighty

Keith:   Yes.  I love that movie.  It’s great.

Sheila: Great, great movie.  And you can quote it much better than me.  But do you remember when he’s desperate to get his girlfriend to love him? 

Keith: “How do you make someone love you without messing with free will?”  “When you figure that out son, you tell me.”

Sheila: I knew you could quote it.  Exactly.  Because that’s the whole point of the movie.  Yeah.    

Keith: Exactly.  Yeah.  

Sheila: Is that you can’t mess with free will.  And you can’t get someone to love you.  And that’s the way that God made the universe.  Now what you, all listeners, do not understand—

Keith: We’re not saying you should go to Bruce Almighty for your theology.

Sheila: No.  But there is so much good stuff in there.  But Keith is a total science nerd.  You love reading science books.

Keith: Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Sheila: I’m sure on the cruise you’re going to read some science books.

Keith: Okay.  So my sister-in-law did a biology course, and I saw her biology textbook on her—I said, “Oh, hey.  Can I borrow that?”  And I read her biology textbook because I hadn’t read the most recent stuff about cell division.  I just wanted to know what the latest discoveries were.  So it was funny.  Who reads textbooks for fun, right?

Sheila: But one of the things that you read awhile ago about physics is how free will is actually baked into physics.  

Keith: Oh, okay.  

Sheila: Like how we can’t know—how things were—

Keith: Oh, so things aren’t determined.  Okay.  So back in the 1800s, the thought was we now know—understand the laws of physics.   Every effect has a cause.  So even something like when you crack billiard balls and it looks totally random.  It’s not random.  Depending on the angle of the way the ball hit them, how fast it was going, what spin it had, all that stuff, you can predict mathematically where all those balls would go.

Sheila: Right.

Keith: And so the thought was that there could be no God.  Or if there is a God, He is, in effect—you can factor Him out of the equation because all of science goes a certain way.  And so everything goes in a certain pattern.  And so it’s like—it’s irrelevant.  And you have no free will because it’s chemicals in your brain going a certain direction which they’re going to go anyway.  And you have no choice.  But with the discovery of quantum physics, we now know that the universe theory is inherent parts of the universe that are unknowable.  Not just we don’t have the technology right now.  We don’t have the resolution.  It’s too microscopic for us to see.  It is inherently unknowable.  And that, to me, is the hand of God, right?  There’s things behind the veil.  There’s things that we don’t understand that are going on behind things.  As a Christian, that’s what I think anyway.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so we know—so God has set the world up so that it isn’t predetermined in the same way.  And part of the way that He did that, I think, is to give us free will.  And so we need to understand that prayer does not override free will.  And I don’t think we totally get that.  I know as teenagers you’re praying, “Oh, God.  Please let him love me.  Please let him notice me.”  Or her.  Or whatever it might be.  And God doesn’t work that way because He doesn’t override free will.  Now there are some things—we know that He hardens and softens hearts.  He convicts people of sin.  He can talk to people.  Saul on the road to Damascus.  Balaam through his donkey.  He talks to people, right?  

Keith: But if you believe that you can make God do those things to your husband or your wife if you pray hard enough, then you believe you control God, and you believe you are God.  Right?  So to say that you just pray harder and it will be fixed, I just don’t buy it.  

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s another form of manifestation.  No.  It doesn’t—it isn’t right.  That’s not the purpose of prayer.  God can work amazing—and do amazing things.  And He does.  But He is not going to force a man or a woman who doesn’t want to change to change.  He can put circumstances in their life.  He can speak to them and give them dreams.  God does all of these things.  But He doesn’t force anyone to change, and you could pray your whole life for your whole spouse to stop drinking.  And it may not happen because your spouse may not want to stop drinking and may just decide, “No.  I am going to keep drinking.”

Keith: Yeah.  And that’s not your fault.

Sheila: Exactly.  It’s not because you didn’t pray hard enough.  And what really bugs me is when people hold up these extreme stories of terrible situations in marriage that totally turned around as if they’re inspirational and as if we should emulate them.  Gary Thomas did this last month just as an example.  He had a story on his Facebook page of—so a couple—so two people had an affair.  They were both married.  They had an affair.  And then at the end of it, both spouses forgave so well that everyone now—the four of them are all friends, right?  And it’s like okay.  That’s radical.  But should we be holding that up?  Is this the message that we’re supposed to be giving I guess is my point.  Because if it was about—I think that’s a miracle.  And I’m not saying that’s not good.  I’m not saying that that’s not wonderful that that happened.  But there are such things as miracles where God does an amazing thing and the person totally repents.  Both of those things need to be present, right?  God has to do an amazing thing.  And the person totally has to repent.  So God has to give you a special measure of grace, and the person has to repent.  And all these amazing things have to line up for some of these big miracles to happen.  Let’s say that you’re at a children’s hospital, and there is a support group for parents of kids who are dying of cancer.  And let’s say the speaker comes in and talks about how God healed this person’s child.  The parents would rightly be devastated at that speaker.  And yet, we don’t do that about marriage, and I think we need to take a similar approach.  I saw something on social media where it was like, “God makes good marriages great and broken marriages whole.”  And I really didn’t like that because there’s a lot of marriages that do not get to be whole.  And what I would rather say is that God makes good people great and broken people whole.  Broken people whole.  Not broken marriages whole because that makes all the difference.

Keith: Yeah.

Sheila: And sometimes the miracle that God does is He gives you great peace and freedom, and He provides for you.  And He gives courage and bravery to leave a marriage you need to leave.  And that should also be a success story.    

Keith: Well, I mean because it’s like Natalie Hoffman was saying last week with your podcast, right?  So if you have a destructive marriage, the Christian teaching is keep it together no matter what.  So what you do then is you raise children in a destructive environment that then creates another generation of destructive marriages.  Whereas if you said, “This is a destructive marriage.  I am not going to let you treat me like this anymore,” and you got out and remarried to a person who is healthy, like Natalie’s kids doing so much better now.  Right?  So how is keeping things—keeping the appearance of wholeness while you’re causing destruction, how is that glorifying to God more than saying, “No.  I am a child of God.  I deserve more than this, and I’m going to set boundaries on you.  And if I have to find somebody else, I will.  And I will raise my kids with a person who cares for them.”  Why is that not glorifying to God?  That’s what I don’t understand.

Sheila: I know.  I don’t get it either.  Okay.

Keith: We’re not talking about because they left the toilet paper roll around the wrong way.  We’re talking about destructive marriages here, right?  We’re talking about abuse here.  And they still—they just double down every time.  And they present these extreme cases and say, “If you just pray harder, it will be just like what happened with me.”

Sheila: Yeah.  And it’s not like that, and it shouldn’t have to be like that.  Okay.  I want to end this podcast with a story from a woman who wrote in.  So we’ve been talking about how bad this marriage advice is when you’re in a bad marriage especially because those are the people who suffer the most, right?  The people who suffer the most for the marriage misdiagnosis are the people who are really in desperate straits, right?  It’s going to be worse if you’ve got lung cancer and then tell you that you have bronchitis.  Then if you have strep throat, they tell you you have bronchitis.  So the people that it hurts the most are the people who have the worst things wrong with them.  But there are ways that a marriage misdiagnosis—just the giving the wrong advice and diagnosing the problem wrong can hurt even couples that are good.  

Keith: Relatively healthy.

Sheila: Yeah.  That they want to love each other.  And so I want to end with a comment that was left on the blog.  So this is actually going to be the last post.  This post isn’t even live yet.  So you guys are getting a preview, but it is coming on the blog at the end of the month.  But I just want to read her story.  She frames this by explaining that she recently back and got some training in being an abuse advocate because she wanted to understand some of the dynamics that were going on around her better.  And she says, “My husband is an abuse survivor.  But kids of abuse don’t necessarily grow up to be abusers.  That’s 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 harming us.  Here’s an example.  Men are told they should love their wives like Jesus loves the church and gives his life for her.  How might that translate if you do not also teach self care and boundaries?  My husband only was modeled a codependent love.  The love that his mother showed to his evil father, and 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 what they like, how can you love them back?  Who are you loving if they aren’t showing up?”  Yeah.  So what she’s saying is her husband felt like the way to love her—his wife was to totally empty himself of everything, of all his desires.  And so she’s like, “I can’t love you back because I don’t even know what you want.  You’re not even here.  You’ve become a shell of a person all in the attempt to love as Christ loved the church, right?  “Then when he would be doing loving things like doing the dishes when he got home from work, well, that 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 needed 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’m 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 only 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 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 and follow the other.  In one way, I’m 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 taught about how marriage is a gift and a comfort.  The books we read seemed to always point out how marriage was hard and a sacrifice, and it was meant 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.  At least, I had a memory of healthy attachment love and an amount of independent gumption that came into me before I got squelched with extra conservative teachings of obedience and submission.  Hearing outright what is wrong or off like Sheila’s fixed it for you is so helpful.  Also when teachers point out boundaries and what is harmful and what is good without muddying the waters, it’s always helpful even in nonabusive 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 than the help that 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?  Because if you ignore all your own needs, you aren’t able to love others well at all.  We have to start with the individual person before we can work on the couple together.  Every problem in a marriage is not a couple’s problem and enabling the other person is not loving.”

Keith: That’s great.

Sheila: Yeah.  And they’re doing great.  She’s a frequent commenter, and she’s doing well now.  But again, the advice didn’t help them because it wasn’t focused on how to be healthy.    

Keith: Yes.  

Sheila: It wasn’t focused on what healthy looks like.  It was just telling them, “Marriage is hard.  You need to sacrifice.  You need to suffer.”  And they just didn’t have any idea how to get out of that.  

Keith: Mm-hmm.  

Sheila: And you know what?  Jesus came to give us life and give it abundantly.  We can get that, people.  We really can.  And so what we’re going to do in the next month—we have one more podcast in this series.  But in October, we’re going to spend the month going through new research.  It’s going to be a lot of fun.  Rebecca is going to be here mostly on the podcast since we’re on our vacation.  But we’ve pulled a bunch of new peer reviewed research to tell you here is what healthy looks like.  And let’s get on the right track.  And then in November on the blog, we’re going to talk about how to get out of the hold that you dug for yourself in your marriage even if it was inadvertent and how we can start climbing out because we aren’t meant to stay stuck because of all this bad advice.  We can thrive when we get healthy.  So thank you for joining us on the Bare Marriage podcast.  I will put the links to our marriage misdiagnosis series in the podcast notes so you can check them out.  And, again, thank you to our patrons.  Please check out our merch too.  And we always appreciate all your support.  We will see you again next week.  Bye-bye.     

Keith: Bye.

Sheila: Sex is supposed to be great but sometimes just getting in a bubble bath sounds a lot more appealing.  If you are wondering where your libido went, we have a Boost Your Libido course that can help.  Rebecca and I have recently totally redone it with all of our new research.  And it can help you figure out why your libido is sub zero and all the different components that go into building desire.  So check that out if you want to revitalize your marriage and start having fun again because you were meant to have fun.  The link to our Boost Your Libido course is in the podcast notes.

Timeline of the Podcast

0:00 Introduction

3:15 Where the advice goes array

9:00 John Piper’s recent advice

14:00 Is commitment the culprit?

19:00 Flipping the responsibility

25:40 Reconciliation responsibility

35:20 Marriage miracles and prayer

44:00 Prayer vs Free will

52:00 When advice CAUSES problems

How has the church misdiagnosed marriage problems?

In general, we focus on two big picture things that then impact everything else:

  • The marriage must stay together at all costs
  • We must maintain male hierarchy in marriage

These two things are the “sacred cows” that make evangelical marriage advice unique. The church wants something to offer that is different from the world, something that makes our marriages unique. And these are the two components that are stressed, then, so that we know it’s “Christian” advice.

There’s only one problem. If these things are stressed before everything else, there is no way to truly address marriage issues in a healthy way, as this “Fixed it For You” from John Piper shows:

John Piper Abusive Husband

In the rest of the podcast, we go on to show the problems with this thinking, including some issues with the book The Power of a Praying Wife.

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

  • Our Patreon! Our patrons have helped us have the time and flexibility to write She Deserves Better (out in April), along with the stats for The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. Right now Joanna is working on two different peer-reviewed papers, and our next big project we’d like to fund is creating a database of good and bad books. You can support us for as little as $5 a month, and get behind-the-scenes access! Support us here. 
  • Our Merch! Check out our merch, including our Be a Biblical Woman merch, and you’ll help support us too!
  • Our Marriage Misdiagnosis Series. Start here, and then you can follow the links on the bottom of the posts for everything else.
  • Our rubric and scorecard of how the different books fared, including The Power of a Praying Wife.
  • My Instagram post of John Piper’s horrible advice. Follow me there for more Fixed it For Yous!
  • Our Boost Your Libido course for women who enjoy sex when it happens, but just want to want it more!
What if common marriage advice MISDIAGNOSES the problem in the relationship? here are some common marriage misdiagnoses and what we should be teaching instead!

What do you think is the biggest marriage misdiagnosis? Did you agree when Keith got passionate in this podcast? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


Recent Posts

Want to support our work? You can donate to support our work here:

Good Fruit Faith is an initiative of the Bosko nonprofit. Bosko will provide tax receipts for U.S. donations as the law allows.

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


We welcome your comments and want this to be a place for healthy discussion. Comments that are rude, profane, or abusive will not be allowed. Comments that are unrelated to the current post may be deleted. Comments above 300 words in length are let through at the moderator’s discretion and may be shortened to the first 300 words or deleted. By commenting you are agreeing to the terms outlined in our comment and privacy policy, which you can read in full here!


  1. À2bbethany

    Changing the world one day at a time! You can do it….if God is for us, who can be against us? I’ve been recently encouraged by the Bible story of 2 chronicles 20.

    We’ll done today

    • Amy A

      Sheila I really appreciate you pointing out that this advice also hurts men in abusive marriages! My father is in an abusive marriage, so bad I moved out as a minor, but the teaching that only adultery is biblically grounds for divorce means he refuses to end the marriage.

  2. Andrea

    It is so refreshing to have peer-reviewed research in a Christian setting!

    I’m starting to wonder if it is mostly unhappily married Christians who write marriage books. That part from The Praying Wife is heartbreaking, she’s clearly describing an abusive marriage without calling it such. Andy Savage who assaulted Jules Woodson was about to publish a book on marriage before that news broke and the publisher backed out. Bill Hybels and his wife published one shortly after he abused their housekeeper. I can’t imagine Gary Thomas has a happy marriage with how he writes about it and about his wife. These best-seller books must be like therapy for the authors AND they make big $ on them — so unfair, I have to pay $150/hour if I want therapy.

    *Men will rather write terrible marriage books that make abusive relationships worse than go to therapy.*

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Honestly I think you’re onto something. My hope is that these authors start to recognize that what they write about marriage and sex, when they do not write from a research-based perspective, simply gives the world a front-row seat into their own homes. And maybe they’d take a step back and actually consider the impact it has on others.

    • Laura

      Emerson Eggerichs sounds like an abuser from the way he wrote L & R. To me, it read like a manual for husbands on how to control their wives and for wives on how to tolerate that control. Debi Pearl’s marriage sounds abusive. Created to Be His Helpmeet should be retitled “Created to Be His Doormat.”


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *