I Figured Out Why Christian Marriage Advice Can Be Shallow!

by | Sep 6, 2022 | Resolving Conflict, Series | 44 comments

Why Christian Marriage Advice Can Be Shallow

What if our marriage advice doesn’t work because we’re diagnosing marriage problems wrong?

This month we’re starting a new series called Marriage Misdiagnosis, looking at how often our marriage advice doesn’t work because we’ve got the wrong aims, and thus our advice ends up hurting, rather than helping.

I’m excited about this series because it’s one we’ve been thinking about for over a year, as we’ve been formulating our thoughts on it.

To launch it, I’d like to run a post I actually wrote in 2017, when I started trying to articulate my discontent with a lot of our advice. So here we go–why so much marriage advice is trite!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Do you ever find marriage advice kind of, well, shallow?

I’ll be on social media, and I’ll see something interesting: “What to do when you find your husband watching porn.” And I’ll think to myself, “Okay, that might be really good! Let’s see what she has to say.”

And I’ll click through, and I’ll read about how the wife needs to get on her knees and pray.

Then I’ll see a post about “What to do when you feel lonely in your marriage.”

And I’ll click through, and I’ll read about how the wife needs to get on her knees and pray.

And then I’ll see a post on “What to do when you disagree with your husband on how to raise your kids.”

And I’ll click through, and I’ll read about how the wife needs to get on her knees and pray.

Then I start to wonder why people read marriage blogs at all.

I know I’m being really sarcastic here, and I really don’t mean to be. I actually believe in prayer, after all! It’s just that I finally was able to put into words this week something I’ve been feeling for a few years, and it’s this:

Instead of seeking out God’s will for our individual marriage, too many people think that we must seek out marital stability.

Ironically, we are sacrificing our marriages on the altar of marriage.

I think that the reason that there is so little practical help for the nitty gritty in marriage is because we are aiming for the wrong thing. We are aiming to preserve a certain view of marriage rather than trying to see God’s will done in marriage. And we feel very threatened by anything that may rock the boat of what we believe marriage should be.

Let me explain how this works, and it’s going to take a little bit of a history lesson.

In the 1960s, when the feminist movement grew in strength, it was aiming specifically to attack male privilege. And one of the places where male privilege was so obvious was in marriage. Marriage, some feminists said, was a trap. Men basically owned and used women, and women were chattel. The solution was to let women choose relationships on their own terms.

Christians felt like their whole value system was being attacked. In response, the Christian evangelical church started writing more and more books about what a Christian marriage should look like, and started trying to preserve marriage against the onslaught of feminism and secularism.

Whole evangelical movements grew up in the 1980s fighting for “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” and biblical marriage, where a husband leads and a wife submits. The movement tried to position itself as the opposite of feminism. This was the ground we were going to hold at all costs. This was the hill we were going to die on. Christianity was being attacked, and the family, and marriage, became the focal point for that fight. We began equating our faith with preserving a hierarchical of marriage. The two became hopelessly intertwined (so much so that the doctrine of the Trinity was rewritten to promote male hierarchy).

It reminds me of this tweet from the late Dallas Willard: 

We’re promoting marriage over godliness. It’s scary.

Growing up in the 1980s I read less about wives doing a husband’s will than I do now. It’s way more prevalent today. The whole quest for “biblical womanhood” just wasn’t there in the same way in the 1970s and 1980s, at least in Canada. And because it’s such a strong Christian cultural current, many people have based their whole identities, and even their faith walks, around living up to this ideal of marriage.

There’s just one problem. It doesn’t work, because it’s entirely the wrong focus.

When you pray the Lord’s prayer, you pray, “Your will be done, Your kingdom come…” You pray for God’s will to be done.

When it comes to marriage, though, we seem to be saying, “the husband’s will be done.” We could look at a given marriage and think, “even though God wants oneness, humility and health, this husband would rather be a workaholic. And since God demands that wives honour the husbands, then God obviously will be pleased if the wife puts up with his workaholism.”

The husband’s will now trumps God’s will.

That is the underlying assumption in so many marriage blogs and marriage books. That’s why when they’re confronted with a problem of a husband’s selfishness or sin, they have no answer. Sure, no one actually wants him being a workaholic. But ultimately, it’s his choice, because he’s the man. That’s how we glorify God, you see–by letting males choose how to live their lives.

But this isn’t just a problem when husbands sin. It’s a problem when wives sin, too.

Wives can treat their husbands in horrible ways. I do believe that this is a more acute problem in one direction than the other simply because our theology says that a husband’s will goes, not that a wife’s will goes. But in this quest to make marriage our idol, we’ve put men who are in difficult marriages in a bind, too.

We’ve told those men that their marriages matter more than anything. We’ve told them that if their wife is treating them badly, it’s because they aren’t leading their wives well enough or praying for them properly or loving them as Christ loved the church. If they just did all of those things, then the marriage would be better. And we’ve told these men that marriage is a sacred covenant, and so they need to preserve it all costs.

Then what is a husband supposed to do when his wife won’t lift a finger around the house, overspends so that they’re heavily in debt, or is verbally abusive towards the children?

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You know what makes all of this so much clearer? Asking the question: What does Jesus want from this situation?

We tend to ask the question: “How can I fix this marriage?” That really limits our options, because it’s all about not rocking the boat.

But if we ask, “what does Jesus want in this situation?”, the answer is quite different.

Jesus wants God to be glorified. And when is God glorified? When people look more and more like Christ.

How is that supposed to happen?

By loving mercy, acting justly, and walking humbly before our God. (Micah 6:8, paraphrase)

That was what I was trying to hammer home, over and over again, in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. God does not want marriage to look great. God wants GOD to look great, and the way that that happens is by loving mercy (showing love and grace, first and foremost); acting justly (standing up for what’s right and not enabling sin); and walking humbly with our God (getting our relationship with God right first so that we can tell what actions are appropriate in each situation).

When we’re having problems in our marriage, then, the question becomes, How can I look more like Jesus, and how can I act in such a way that those around me are led more to Jesus? It’s not about how can I protect the marriage. It’s about how can I bring God’s kingdom here on earth.

And ironically, that’s the best way to preserve the marriage! The only way to really solve marriage issues is to allow sin and selfishness to truly be confronted.

Let’s just look at a few scenarios where this plays out.

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Let’s say that a husband is watching porn all the time and won’t stop. 

If we ask, “What glorifies Jesus in this situation?”, the answer is obviously that the husband stops watching porn. So the question becomes, “how can we confront sin and do something about this?”

If we ask, “How can we honor male leadership in marriage in this situation?”, though, there’s really nothing she can do about his watching porn. She’s stuck.

 

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Let’s say a wife is overspending on credit cards and driving the family into debt.

If we ask, “What glorifies Jesus in this situation?”, the answer is obviously that the wife stops her materialism and selfishness and cares for the family. So the question becomes, “what should the husband do to protect the family’s finances and help the wife stop this addiction?”

If we ask, “How can we preserve the marriage in this situation?”, though, there’s really very little the husband can do. He has to love her and cherish her, and that’s taken to mean that he may be able to talk to her about it, but do little else.

 

Or what if it’s something more mundane?

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What if we’re simply wondering, “I’m better at looking after money than my husband is, and God has gifted me with attention to detail. So is it okay for me to look after the finances in our marriage?”

If we ask, “What glorifies Jesus in this situation?”, then the answer is, “that each person use the gifts they’ve been given by the Holy Spirit to help build the family, and that each participate as they feel called.”

If we ask, “What preserves a husband’s headship in this situation?”, we may answer, “that the husband bumble through doing the finances while the wife is frustrated.”

 

You see, the questions we ask matters. If we’re aiming to glorify Jesus, often the whole situation becomes clarified, because we know that Jesus is not glorified where gifts are not used, where sin is enabled, where families move further and further away from him. But if we ask, “how can we preserve a given view of marriage?”, then we’re often left with a very empty and unsatisfying answer of what we should do in many situations.

And that hurts marriage.

Whenever we put something before God, we ruin that thing.

If we’re asking “what does Jesus want here?”, and that conflicts with what you think about marriage, then that is a problem. God does not contradict God. If you know Jesus wants something, and then you choose to work only for marital stability, then you have made marriage an idol. It has come before God, and that’s simply wrong.

Let God be God. Pray for HIS will to be done. Act as Christ wants you to act, not to fulfill a certain role. Let Him in. Until we do that, we’ll never have real answers for the real messiness of life.

And, ironically, we’ll likely never save a marriage.

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Why Christian Marriage Advice is Shallow

What do you think? Is this something you’ve noticed? Let’s talk in the comments!

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

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44 Comments

  1. Joy

    “That’s why when they’re confronted with a problem of a husband’s selfishness or sin, they have no answer.”

    Whoa–that really just sums it up, doesn’t it. I’m looking forward to this series!

    Reply
  2. Tim

    Kind of on this topic: do you have an opinion on whether/how Matthew 18:15-17 applies in the context of marriage?

    “15. “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.” (Mat 18:15-17, NET)

    Reply
  3. Scary Ary

    A while back I heard a TED Talk that categorized said there are two kinds of individuals: those who favor people over ideologies, and those who favor ideologies over people. I think we forget that Christ is not an ideology, but a Person as well. I think marriage is wonderful! I’m 29 (so 48 in Christian years, lol) and I hope to one day be married. But it’s my prayer that I never value the idea of Marriage™ over my God or (if He so chooses) the husband He gives me. Both of those people are of more importance than upholding an ideal. Especially since one of them is, y’know, God!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! I think that’s an excellent way of putting it–people over ideologies.

      Reply
  4. Laura

    “We are aiming to preserve a certain view of marriage rather than trying to see God’s will done in marriage.”

    This here is pretty much what Christian marriage advice is about. This has some good meat here!

    It’s good that I did not follow Christian marriage advice when I married my ex. If that had been the case, I’m afraid I would have stayed in that marriage far longer than I did. After my divorce, I did want to remarry someday and read the Christian marriage and dating books which unbeknownst to me pulled me into a purity culture mindset. I began to think it was a “sin” to date unless I believed I would marry this person. This caused me to not date until 15 years after my divorce and I was 41. I do believe in dating, but I’m selective. If I know I’m not interested in someone, I am just not going to waste my time.

    Even though this post is about marriage, I want to point out how Christian dating advice is just as cliched as Christian marriage advice. They try to make it a one-size-fits-all and do not consider how one piece of advice (wives need to get on their knees and pray and submit more) does not apply to every situation. I agree that as Christians, we always pray, but with prayer, there also needs to be action. Christian dating advice is often geared toward childless, never-been-married singles under 30.

    I’m looking forward to the other posts in this series!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Totally agree about Christian dating advice! It is really geared at only one age group, but there are so many women who have escaped toxic marriages who would like to find a real mate, and it’s too bad more books don’t cater to that.

      Reply
      • Kate

        I found it didn’t cater to me as a 30+ year old woman who had never been married either. The rules I was taught in my teens and early twenties were really quite patronizing for a more mature couple. I found that really frustrating too.
        Ive found dating advice in the church to be unhelpful at best and harmful at the worst.

        Reply
  5. Connie

    My first marriage started in 1972. That is when ‘Total Woman’ came out, and it was wildly popular. It told wives that they had to ask permission of their husbands for everything, even whether they could go grocery shopping that day. That is also when Bill Gothard was in full swing. So yes (and we lived in Canada) it was already a big deal then. That is why so many marriages of people my age have fallen apart. Just saying. thanks for doing this. I appreciate so much of what you write.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, the divorce rate was HUGE for Boomer women. Total Woman was so horrendous too. I honestly didn’t see a lot of it in the churches I was in in the 1980s, but perhaps I was just sheltered!

      Reply
  6. Codec

    I want to see If I have this straight by means of a little story of sorts

    *Somewhere in the 60s-70s*

    Guy 1- The whole world seems to be flipped upside down. People basting out eardrums with these songs, people keep saying I should vote for Gandalf, people keep asking me if I “grok” them and I have no idea what it means.
    Guy 2- It is pretty weird out there, but we still have the Bible the word of God as a guide. We can pray and try to figure things out.
    Guy1-I suppose your right but how exactly are we supposed to do it? Being salt and light and all?
    Guy 2- Well uh- we are supposed to love our enemies and wives and enemies.
    Guy 2- True, but how do we do that? I mean folks are calling marriage a trap.
    Guy 1- I guess we should tell folks to get a grip. I mean it cpuld be worse our parents had the great depression. If we could preserve that then by God we can try and figure this out.

    *Present Day*

    Guy 1- Did we suceed?
    Guy 2- I’m not sure. I mean society didn’t explode and all, but things are still weird.
    Guy 1- Did we vecome better husbands?
    Guy2- Well I hope so. Theres a lot of new info out there. I learned about this thing called vaginismus.
    Guy 1- Whats that?
    Guy2- Its a painful muscle spasm for women.
    Guy1- Well I mean we have the blue pill is there nothing like that for it?
    Guy2- Its more psychological. I suppose its like a rabbit getting all froze up when it dont feel safe.
    Guy 1- Why have I never heard of this?
    Guy2- I dunno it surprised me too.
    Guy1- Well did we teach future generations?
    Guy 2- I hope so but I dont always think we did it well.
    Guy 1- So what now?
    Guy2- I guess we keep learning and praying.
    Guy 1- You know sometimes I wonder if maybe some of those folks back then might have had a point.
    Guy 2- The might have, but they were also wrong about a lot of stuff.
    Guy1- Yeah, I figure though that we have our own screwups to deal with. God help us
    Guy 2- Amen.

    Reply
  7. Lisa M

    Yes, and it seems to have started with Paul Popenhoe, the eugenicist who started the American Institute of Family Relations. Eugenics had lost favor with the public so he focused his attention on marriage stability and reproduction within the “desirable” class. James Dobson helped him, learned from him, and respected him. Then James Dobson started Focus on the Family with an emphasis on marriage stability in his “desirable” couples. And so many have followed suit.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      The history of James Dobson and Focus on the Family is truly fascinating. I had no idea of all of that until that big article was published last year. It makes a lot of things fit.

      Reply
      • SW

        Sheila, I know you are well-informed on many topics regarding Christianity and thankful as you try to further God’s kingdom. I’m so curious if you’ve read “Jesus and John Wayne” by Du Mez. It was quite eye-opening for me and this blog post including your James Dobson comment prodded me to encourage you to read it.

        Reply
  8. Debi S

    Excellent!!

    Reply
  9. Jane Eyre

    Some of the issue is that people tend to take other people’s marriages personally. Not in the sense that marriages are both public and private, which is why we have weddings with the entire family and all the friend groups. In the sense of people get really scared and afraid when they hear about “good people” having problems in their marriages. In a rush to protect their vision of the world and to make themselves feel better about their own marriages, they offer easy and trite solutions. See? It’s EASY to fix this! Middle class, churchgoing Christians don’t have REAL problems in their marriages!!!11!1!1!1 This means their own marriages are secure, too!

    It’s hard to hear about seemingly happy marriages on the verge of destruction. The couple was so happy! So much like us! The divorce rate is high because of “frivorce,” not actual problems!

    So they reach for easy solutions, easy solutions to match what they desperately want to be easy problems.

    I think a lot of self-help books come from that perspective, too, and are eagerly lapped up by people with that perspective.

    Reply
  10. CMT

    “When we put anything ahead of God, we ruin that thing.”

    Yes!

    A thought: I have often heard people say that “marriage is a picture of Christ and the church.” Usually they point to Ephesians 5:22-33. Then they imply or explicitly state that enacting a specific vision of marriage is part of Christians’ witness, especially for women. Emphasis is often laid on the “countercultural” nature of the wife’s submission as well. I think this kind of interpretation reinforces the tendency you’re talking about to value the symbolism or the form of the marriage over the health of the people within it. Does that ring true for anyone else?

    Reply
    • Laura

      People often fail to quote Ephesians 5:21 when they just love to quote the verses on wives’ submission and husbands loving their wives like Christ loved the church. This is why we cannot isolate Bible verses. Then, what about the original languages the Bible was written in? I point those things out to other Christians and am met with silence.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! Plus, women’s submission was NOT countercultural when Ephesians was written. It was assumed; it was obvious. It was men’s attitudes that were actually countercultural, which is likely why Paul devotes so many more words to what men should do rather than what women should do. Women already were submissive; now it was men’s turn.

      Reply
  11. Mara R

    “Whenever we put something before God, we ruin that thing.”

    We ruin it and make it a idol.

    So much truth in today’s post.

    One of the times that I was separated from the ex before I actually left him and divorced, his sister came at me with “Created to Be His Doormat” er… “Helpmeet”.

    The ex had already been caught in his chronical infidelity by me but I wasn’t making that public knowledge yet because… I really don’t know why.

    I could have told her then and there that I had ‘biblical grounds’ for divorce. But she was his sister and I didn’t feel like having that discussion. But I did tell her about his rage and some of the emotional abuses he was guilty of. Her response? Well, what Corrie ten Boom experienced at Ravensbruck was worse than anything I had ever experienced.

    Talk about making marriage and idol.

    Reply
    • Mara R

      And as far as what Corrie ten Boom dealing with in a Nazi Concentration camp being worse than what women deal with in abusive marriages…

      First off, how did we ever fall so far that comparing marriage to extermination camps becomes the response to women in abusive marriages.

      Second, how can people be so sure that prison camps are worse when we have stories like this:

      https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/july-web-only/naghmeh-panahi-mariam-ibraheem-persecution-domestic-abuse.html?utm_medium=widgetsocial&fbclid=IwAR0P9JRQ1L4sFsyyjvUOO8YwqYUJPRN2UEyUGhWmfbaWkYOQQEHBZDs5lSY

      Reply
      • Laura

        Mara R,

        Thank you for sharing this article from Christianity Today. When I was in an abusive marriage, I felt like I was living in a personal hell almost like these two women. Since my ex never hit me, I did not think my marriage was abusive until he began sexually assaulting me while I was asleep. I endured constant criticism, being told what to do as though I was a child, him making decisions without consulting me because he thought he was entitled to make decisions, etc. I learned that verbal and emotional abuse is bad and traumatic. It has made it harder for me to trust men and it was fifteen years after my divorce before I was in another relationship which was a much healthier one and we’re still friends.

        I have known several Christian women who continue to remain in abusive marriages because they are praying and believing that God will change their husbands’ hearts. No, if they feel they are in danger, they need to get out. Next time I hear a woman talking about being in an abusive marriage, I will put my foot down and tell her to consider the safety of her children, pets, and herself first.

        It’s awful how these two women did not get much needed support from their churches, but the church would help them when it came to religious persecution, which is a real thing in other countries.

        Reply
    • Mara R

      Also, recently, I have come across a new term for people minimizing abuse in Christian circles. It might tie a bit into what Jane E. says above about taking other people’s marriage problems personally.

      The Term is “Spiritual Bypassing”. It has to do with using spiritual excuses to gloss over our own and other’s sufferings. There’s a lot more to it than this simple definition.

      For those interested in more information:
      http://frombitterwaterstosweet.blogspot.com/2022/08/narcissism-and-spiritual-bypassing.html

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes! This is something Joanna (one of my co-authors for The Great Sex Rescue and our upcoming book She Deserves Better) loves to talk about. We included it in She Deserves Better because it’s so important.

        Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        That’s fascinating, Mara.

        I’m a firm believer that you don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors and it’s easy to blame people for their problems. So it takes a lot for me to say this: the people prone to taking other people’s marital problems or impending divorces personally are those who have had VERY easy marriages or those whose problems are mainly self inflicted.

        Think, people who never experienced health problems, sexual dysfunction, sexual selfishness, infertility, job loss, hard decisions (e.g. one person has to give up their career or dreams for the other), sick parents, sick kids, financial stress, etc. They know, deep down, that big problems could roll in and break their marriage, so they need to “know” that their marriage will be okay anyway. “This stuff breaks even good marriages” scares them.

        Then there is people like the person who committed adultery, hates holding down a job even though the family needs the money, etc., who doesn’t want to believe that kind of bullheadedness and selfishness can wreck a marriage. It’s all but “don’t be an example to my spouse that singleness and living your best life as a divorcee can be better!”

        Objectively, it is threatening to their conception of their marriages, but rather than sit with uncomfy emotions, they lash out and try to get an unhappy friend to shut up and continue to be miserable in a marriage.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s just awful, Mara! I’m so sorry. I’m glad you got out of there.

      Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      “Created to be his Doormat.” Brilliant.

      Reply
  12. CMT

    Oh, totally. That’s why I didn’t reference 5:21 in my comment! It frustrates me no end when that crucial bit is left out. It totally changes the picture if you let it!

    Reply
    • CMT

      This is supposed to be a response to Laura, above. Looks like it got separated somehow!

      Reply
  13. Stefanie

    I had always wondered about that. In my 20s I remember having questions about living out my faith, and if you took certain doctrines out to their logical conclusions, things got very messy. And that’s how I feel certain marriage advice is. It leaves me wondering, “Is that the best answer God can come up with? Does our faith not know how to handle this situation?”

    Reply
  14. EOF

    This is so on-point, I can’t believe I never saw that before. But then again, churches and church culture are the ones telling us to ask the wrong questions and look to the wrong savior.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yep! I’m really excited about this series this month. I’ve got the whole series pretty much written out already and I have so much more I could say! It’s going to be good!

      Reply
  15. Codec

    Mrs Sheila I have to ask are you ever going to write a book to and about single people? Honestly, as a single guy coming here feels nice. Still I feel somewhat out of my element. A lot of the folks here are married and well I have never even put myself out there. Still I would like to hope that being here has helped me grow as a person.

    Reply
    • A2bbethany

      While you are probably quite a bit older than the intended audience, how bout her puberty course? Lol I know! But her 2nd half for the older teens 14-16(?) Is supposed to be about the conversation of dating and relationships. You might get something useful…..even if you are an adult! Iand I believe there’s a guy version, so it’s at least a bit less odd.

      Reply
  16. exwifeofasexaddict

    Unfortunately, I think there are way too many people who would answer the question “What would honor Jesus in this marriage problem?” with “Follow the so-called biblical guidelines for marriage, of course” and we’re right back where we started. I know that’s how I thought for a long, long time.

    Reply
  17. Larry

    Hi Sheila, first time reader as this was recommended to me by my wife. Thank you for the article and I appreciate the thought and time you have put into it. My two cents: Anytime you put two sinners together, you will have problems. And you rightly point out that when marriages have their issues (which all of them will) the correct focus is what will glorify Christ. I think an even better question is, “How can I glorify Christ?” We cannot control our spouses and their actions. We can only control ourselves and what the Lord has directed us to do. Prayer is also important, and we are supposed to always be in prayer. It seems that churches today are inadequately equipped to handle hurting marriages and I feel there is a plethora of “bad marriage advice” – focusing on how YOU can fix your marriage. Truly, it is only Christ that can fix issues in a marriage. This is not just a “marriage issue” but a general overall issue, but I believe that because marriage is such a beautiful thing and has the potential to be a shining example of Christ’s marriage to the church, that Satan is intensely focused on tearing marriages apart. Looking forward to reading the next article and as I have time looking at some of the other things on the blog. The discussion of hard things is important and it’s great to have a place to engage in that conversation.

    Reply
    • Mara R

      ” but I believe that because marriage is such a beautiful thing and has the potential to be a shining example of Christ’s marriage to the church, that Satan is intensely focused on tearing marriages apart.”

      Hey Larry,
      You seem like a decent fellow. So please understand that what I’m about to say is in the spirit of healthy conversation and in no way an attack.

      I believe that one must be very careful about this approach to marriage.
      To me, the verses in Ephesians were written by Paul to correct men concerning their attitude and treatment toward their wives. It is not to try to set up, explain, or be a testimony or picture of how Christ and the church are to relate.
      Setting it up this way feels like a, ‘putting the cart before the horse’ instance.
      These verses are about men learning sacrificial love for their lives, not about making sure our marriages look like this picture so that we can be a testimony to the world concerning Christ and the church.

      Making it about that is what leads many ministries to fall down the slippery slope of making marriage and idol, setting it up on a pedestal and doing all we can to keep it (outwardly) picture perfect.

      Sorry if I’m not coming across very well. I’m struggling a bit trying to explain this in an understandable way. But I’ve seen men just swoon over this idol and all that we need to do and sacrifice in order to serve it. I’ve seen too many people, especially women, sacrificed, erased, thrown under the bus in order to give this idol the worship these men(and women) believed that it was due.

      I appreciate the other things you said and agree, it’s not just a marriage issue etc.
      Sorry if I’ve not explained what I mean well.

      Reply
      • Larry

        Hi Mara, I’m a huge advocate of open and honest discussion. I never take offense to people honestly trying to discuss topics and work through things together, even if there is disagreement. I actually love interaction and opposing ideas from all different sides and the discussion of God, in my opinion is one of the best things that can be pondered/discussed, since he is the author of life and creator of all things, including us and marriage.

        I don’t disagree with what you are saying. I would go further and say that we must be careful about ANY approach we have in our lives, whether it’s marriage, relationships with others, ministry etc. As Christians we are representatives of Christ, created for His glory unto the works he has laid out before us. If I didn’t state it clearly, I apologize. I was not that trying to say we should focus on marriage BECAUSE it is a picture of Christ and his bride the church. To be clear, our focus should only be on God and His glory and how we can best serve Him, or even more specifically how we can let the Spirit work through us to serve Him for His glory, whether it’s marriage, talking with family, co-workers, friends, whatever it is, with the focus being on the Lord. As Sheila pointed out, putting anything before God is going to lead us down the wrong path and get us into all kinds of trouble. I spent many, many years putting myself before God, trying to steal His glory. Thankfully, he broke me and I “saw the proverbial light.” 🙂

        I do 100% agree that there are verses written to men specifically to “Love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it.” This means unconditional love. Even while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Whether a wife is acting in rebellion to God or not, we as husbands are called to love our wives. I’m curious what your thought is on the verse regarding a wife “Submit to her husbands as she does the Lord.” I have a feeling there is discussion/articles about this on the blog. I just need to get some free time to look them up.

        Once again, thank you for the conversation and my wife and I lead a marriage recovery ministry at our church. We have seen God to AMAZING things for marriages, when couples focus on their discipleship to Jesus and their relationships with Him. Marriage health can be directly correlated to spiritual health. Hard things happen in this life. Things get messy, well meaning efforts can be misguided, but God can work through it all. We always say we don’t have a “fixed” marriage or a “better” marriage, we have a New marriage. A marriage that has God at the center. Happy Friday-eve to everyone!

        Reply
  18. Angharad

    I think the advice to pray about your marriage problems is excellent. The problem is that all too often, the advice stopped there.

    In the Bible, you often read that people who were facing difficulties prayed…and they then ACTED out of those prayers. Marriage advice that tells you to pray but doesn’t tell you to also act is only half advice. Imagine if Nehemiah had ‘just prayed’ about rebuilding the walls, for example!

    Prayer is meant to be something out of which our actions flow, it’s not meant to be the only action we ever do.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! Prayer is not just the battle; it’s usually the preparation for the battle (not that marriage is a battle, but you know what I mean!). Prayer is preparation for action. It doesn’t replace action altogether.

      Sometimes all we can do is pray. But usually we pray to prepare and get our hearts in line with God’s.

      Reply
  19. Faith

    I think this is my first time commenting. When I read the examples you gave about shallow marriage advice, I thought, “YES, YES, YES, to all of this.” Experienced marriage counseling advice, where the suggestion was for me (as the wife) to get the Power of a Praying Wife and use it. Never mind that I’ve had that book on my nightstand for years, and have used it repeatedly, have given it as a gift, etc. The religious leader said that their wife uses it regularly, but he (the leader) has only read Power of a Praying Husband one time. I’ve never been so infuriated. Why is it always the wife’s responsibility to pray when something is not working well within a marriage? I fully believe in the power of prayer in relationships, to bring us closer to God. But when a marriage has a history of real problems that are not being worked on by both parties, telling the wife to pray more does nothing to solve them. I also experienced a close friend who was struggling in her marriage, and I often gave her the same advice given to me, to “pray more.” I later found out that her spouse was being physically abusive. My heart was so grieved, as if I had fully understand the marriage dynamic, I would have encouraged her to put an exit strategy in place sooner. Thankfully, she is no longer in this situation and her children are safe! Prayer is important, but it doesn’t answer the right questions, as you described here. Thank you for shining a light on this!!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So glad you chose to comment, Faith! Always great to meet new people. And, yes, it frustrates me too how this is always on the wife. I’m glad your friend is safe!

      Reply
  20. Lisa Johns

    I eagerly await the blogs and podcasts!
    I lived that whole “marriage-and-family-are-sacred-above-EVERYTHING!” ideal for many years, and it very nearly destroyed everything I hold dear. Still working on recovery (and getting my theology right!)
    I am very sad for my younger self and my children, for what they endured because I adhered to this garbage. I have been deconstructing for quite some time now, and feel I’m in a better place than I’ve ever been before.
    Anyway, thank you for all you do. It’s amazing.

    Reply
  21. Skip

    There is no perfect person so there can be no perfect marriage. The only way to have a perfect marriage is to never be married. The only way two people can come close is for the husband to always put his wife first and for the wife to always put her husband first. Since that is virtually impossible the marriage is already in trouble. If the husband and the wife both were able to put the other first there would be no abuse. Abuse comes from relationships that were raised witnessing abuse or being abused. Hurt people hurt people as the old saying goes. No one should stay in a physically abusive relationship ever. Verbal abuse can be harder to define. Yes calling names and bad language and bullying are aspects of verbal abuse, however there can be cases where the wife for example feels her physical O is being ignored by her spouse and she expresses anger about it, and the reverse might be true and either or both spouses could consider it both physical and verbal abuse. In other words anything outside of just physical could be a form of abuse in the eyes of the other spouse. She wants sex too often or he wants sex too often could be abusive. He never attends to her needs is sexual abuse. She never attends or withholds it is also a form of sexual and mental abuse too. If a couple is unwilling to put the other first, the only option if one is unhappy is to both go your own way separately. Marriage only truly works if we accommodate the needs of the other as close as we can to equally or negotiate the differences lovingly without anger or malice. Otherwise we will always have one or the other just staying to get along or not be alone. An example could be the sex free or sex absent sex starved marriage where one spouse has had to be content with solo sex or sex on birthdays.
    Andy Stanley rightly says the wives submit to you husbands statement was written to wives exclusively not to husbands to use against their wives. Husbands are to give their lives to the marriage and their wives as Christ gave His life for us. Does that mean the husband can then claim abuse in the sex absent marriage and have reason to divorce his wife? If he or she gets angry about the situation and refuses outside help what is the option left? Physical Health and past abuse from past relationships are the exception with help.

    Reply

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