The Podcast Where a Church Puts a Marital Rape Victim Under Church Discipline

by | Feb 16, 2023 | Abuse, Podcasts | 65 comments

The podcast where a marital rape victim is put under church discipline
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Today I want to tell you the story of a woman who was the victim of marital rape–and what her church did to her.

She’s an amazing woman. She reached out to me after our posts on marital rape back in November, in the middle of our series about getting out of sexual pits that we’ve built for ourselves. 

As I’ve said on podcasts before, I didn’t mean to write as much on marital rape as I did back then, but after every post I was inundated by emails and people’s stories of what they had endured. 

Many of those stories still affect me, but the woman whose story I share today I thought had to be told because of the church aspect to it. It wasn’t only that she was a victim of marital rape. It was that the church knew all the gory details, and yet chose to put her under discipline when she decided to end the marriage. 

The church didn’t put him under church discipline for abusing and assaulting her; it put her under church discipline for wanting to be safe.

In the first part of this podcast I read a letter that she sent to the pastor, that tells her story in her own words. Then I bring her on the podcast in the second half.

To keep her identity private, I turned the cameras off. So this podcast is only audio; there’s no video today. 

Timeline of the Podcast

0:10 Amazon bestseller?!
3:00 Intro into today’s letter writer
7:00 Abusive marriage story from podcast listener
25:30 How the church handled this situation
29:50 Our letter writer joins the podcast
41:50 Christianity Today breaking article
43:45 Realizing her marriage was not okay, and was over
58:00 What she would say to herself 5 years ago
1:02:00 Keith and Sheila’s concluding thoughts

Trigger Warning

In the first half of the podcast there is graphic descriptions of what her husband did to her. I did mention during the podcast when this was about to occur, so that people could fast forward if they chose to. But the description is horrendous. I wanted people to know what she was facing, and to understand her pastor knew this too.

Listen to her story from her own words.

I read her long letter, and then she jumps in and we talk about the aftermath. 

It’s a great podcast–you have to listen! But I do want to share here the letter that she sent her pastor when it became clear that the “session” of the church was going to debate whether she had the right to leave her husband. And remember–the pastor had already read the letter that I share with you at the beginning of this podcast. 

She wrote to him:

I will tell you that from the moment we came to this church ten years ago, I have LOVED this church. At times throughout the last decade, coming to worship practice on Sunday morning and sitting under your teaching was the substitute for the connection that I longed for in my marriage, but did not have.

I know it is only recently that you have become intimately aware of the struggles I faced behind closed doors. As I’ve told you before, I wish now that I came forward much sooner, but at the time I felt I was disrespecting and shaming my husband if I revealed too much about our intimate life. Hindsight is 20/20.

I understand your desire for us to be discussed before the session next month, and I also understand your church polity; however, I would like you for a moment to consider what this would mean for me.

I, a woman who has been sexually traumatized, will be discussed by a room full of men, many of whom I do not or barely know, and they will consider the most intimate and hurtful events of my life, so that they can judge whether or not I have a right to be free from that.

And what if they decide I don’t? Worse, what if they decide [my husband]  is the one with grounds? Then I am being told that my needs don’t matter and that my feelings are illegitimate. I know that is not your intention, but it is sadly what my broken heart will hear, and I will feel violated all over again.

As much as I believe the men of our session to be loving people, you all were not there when in my early days as a mother I cared for a newborn, dealt with the emotional and practical weight of my toddler’s autism diagnosis, and protected my epileptic husband from himself in his sleep, with very little support even when I requested it again and again. You all were not in the bedroom when I acquiesced to my husband’s desires over and over for more than a decade while I tried to disassociate from what was happening to me just so I could get through it, and you can’t feel how the weight of those years eroded me. You all weren’t there when I repeatedly asked him to go counseling over many years, and went to three separate marriage counselors alone, and then ultimately to an individual counselor as well. You weren’t there in the days when I simultaneously was grieving my father, homeschooling four children in the time of COVID, and caring for my dying mother, while my husband continued with business as usual and could not be bothered to take off work while I sat with her on her deathbed. And the session wasn’t there when he threatened to leave me four months after she passed – and please keep in mind that there are more examples like these that I still haven’t discussed.

I’m not angry with [my husband] or anyone else. I’m brokenhearted. His family has already written me off, my own family of origin (my parents and two brothers) are all already with the Lord, and now I’m feeling an increasing disapproval from my church family which hurts terribly.

I am happy to talk with you more about this if you like, but I did want these things taken into consideration, should the session choose to take up this discussion.

The Marital Rape Survivor

Writing to her pastor before they debated her case

Her story fits in all too well with the John MacArthur debacle.

Right after Keith and I filmed the intro and the outtro to this podcast, I sat down with my computer and went on social media, and saw people talking about the Christianity Today article about John MacArthur’s counselors and staff sending women back to their abusive husbands. So I sat back down and recorded a little insert for the podcast, because the “coincidence” was too much.

I believe that this woman’s story illustrates so well what is happening at Grace Community Church and at all too many churches all over the world. When you have male only leadership and a belief that marriage must be permanent despite abuse, along with a belief that churches should be able to put people under discipline if they violate what the pastor says is right, you’re left with marital rape victims being punished for wanting to be safe. 

I believe that this woman’s story is important, and I hope that it speaks to you today. She is such an eloquent, lovely person, and Keith and I had such a great time meeting her. She deserved support, not condemnation. And instead of the church where she had served and where she had friends coming alongside her and supporting her, they punished her.

I want to say this loudly and clearly: Not all churches are like this. There are churches and pastors that routinely help abused women get help and even set them up in new apartments. There are churches that focus on health and wholeness. But when a church focuses on membership covenants, church discipline, and male only leadership, you tend to have a recipe for disaster.

MacArthur’s church and this woman’s church are different denominations, but those similarities are still there. If you are in a church like that, and you are enjoying it and it’s not hurting you, remember that it could still be hurting others. By supporting that church, you’re contributing to the problem.

We need a wider conversation about what to do to stop this from ever happening again, and I think it begins by stopping supporting churches like this.

A Quick Note about Neurodivergence

Part of this woman’s story, she believes, is her husband’s lack of diagnosis for autism, which she believes contributed to his inability and unwillingness to see things from her perspective.

Plenty of autistic people are able to relate emotionally with their spouses, even if they do it in different ways. And they value connecting.

What is shared in this podcast is merely her story, and we understand that it is not the case with many neurodivergent people, who can have loving marriages.

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Things Mentioned in the Podcast

Marital Rape Victim Under church Discipline--Podcast

How do we make sure this never happens again? Let us know in the comments below!

Transcript

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 sex life and your marriage.  And I am joined today by my husband, Keith.

Keith: Hey, everybody.

Sheila: We are on the road traveling.  We’re doing some speaking.  Well, actually, by the time this airs, we will have finished our speaking events at North Point Church in Woodstock, Georgia.  So that’s exciting for Valentine’s Day.  But, honey, you are talking to a bestselling Amazon author.     

Keith: Yes.  I’m so proud of you.  That’s great.

Sheila: I know.  Our Fixed It For You book launched last week.  30 Fixed It For Yous.  These memes that I do all over Instagram and I put them up on my blog, on Facebook where I take some outrageous quote that an evangelical pastor or author has said—a quote that is making people question God’s goodness, that is making people question whether God loves women, and I change it to be something in line with what Jesus believes.  And so I’ve got 30 of those in a book along with discussion questions and red flag recognition tools so that you can level up your discernment.  It’s just an awesome way to bring home some of the things that you are learning on the Bare Marriage podcast.  And it’s only $4.99.  We got to number one in Christian marriage right after it was released which is really exciting.  So it’s doing really well because I think people just are hungry for healthy, good advice that isn’t toxic.

Keith: Yeah.  I think one of the things that happen a lot is sometimes these teachers say these things.  And you say—in your heart you feel like that can’t be right, right?  But they’re a good Bible teacher.  So they must be right.  And you start to believe these things that are so toxic and, so often, anti women and so bad in so many different ways.  One of the great things about these books—I think is awesome—is it teaches people when they have that little, “This can’t be right,” to teach them why it’s not right so that they can see that in the future.  And they can avoid being deceived.

Sheila: Exactly.  So check out the Fixed It For You book.  You can use it as a discussion tool with your spouse.  Just read one a night.  Use it with your friends.  Even use it as a six-week small group curriculum, and we will put links in the podcast notes.  But speaking about how you may not recognize when something is wrong, we actually, on today’s podcast, have a really heavy story to share with you that came into the blog that I think is really, really important.  People need to hear this.  Pastors need to hear this.  It is heavy.  But boy, this is where the church is at.  And if there is ever anything that needs fixing, it is this.  So let me give you the background.  In November and December, we were writing a blog series.  I think October and November and December actually.  On the blog on how to recover when you were in a sexual pit.  So when everything is all messed up, how do you dig out of that pit?  And I wasn’t planning on it.  But I ended up writing so many articles about marital rape because I would write one thing and then—I would be flooded by emails where this is a real issue in someone’s marriage.  So I would have to clarify.  And I wrote more and more and more.  One of those emails I got was from the woman whose story we’re going to hear today.  And the reason—there’s two reasons that I want to share this story with you.  One is just so that you understand the level of abuse and how difficult some people’s marriages are even when they look great on the outside.  This woman looks amazing.  She is an amazing mom.  She has one of these picture perfect families.  You would look at it and you would look at everything she does, and you would think they’re amazing.  And this is what was going on behind closed doors.  So we need to know that.  But the more important reason that I want to tell her story specifically is how the church handled this.  Well, how the church mishandled this and how they ended up disciplining her despite the fact that she was a victim of marital rape, and they knew it.  And they knew it.  And this is why things need to change.  This is why we’re doing the Fixed It For You.  This is why we wrote The Great Sex Rescue.  This is why we’re writing She Deserves Better, which launches in April.  This can’t go on.  Now you met her with me.  We’d been traveling around.  And we went to her house.  

Keith: You recorded.

Sheila: I recorded with her.

Keith: And I went bird watching.

Sheila: You went bird watching.  But you had a chance to talk to her too.  And she’s just a lovely person despite everything she’s gone through.  And I really appreciate her sharing her time with us.  

Keith: That’s one of the things I’m always amazed by.  These women who have been put through the ringer and been abused in a church sanctioned way because, basically, these churches preach that if he wants it you need to give it to him.  There is no marital rape.  You’re married.  You consented.  And that is ridiculous.  And these women have gone through that, and they come out the other side.  And they still hold on to Jesus.  And they still want to believe in God.  I think that that’s a miracle.  And I’m so impressed by women who hold on to Jesus when everybody around them is telling them, “Jesus hates you.”  That’s what my heart is.  And that’s what I really want to get out there is we need to let women know that God doesn’t love men more than women.  And that’s the message that I see when we say things like, “Oh, well, maybe he’s a little harsh, but you need to love him more,” or those kind of things.  No.  You have a right to have a fulfilling, safe marriage as a woman.  You do.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And you certainly do not need to consent to abuse.  So what I would like to do is read a letter that she wrote to her church in her own words.  So I want to let her tell her story to you.  And then I’m going to bring her on the podcast.  We turned the camera off for that part, and I’m not going to say her name just for privacy reasons.  But I’m going to read the letter.  And I want you all to understand what was going on.  She was a really active member of this church.  She volunteered heavily.  She led several groups.  I won’t go into which ones because it doesn’t matter, and it’s identifying.  Her husband was not that active.  He was the adjunct person.  She was the central person.  She knew the pastor.  She knew the leadership.  And she had been telling them that she was having marriage problems.  They had been giving her really bad counsel.  And it finally got to be so much that she told them that she was going to divorce.  And she sent them this letter outlining why.  And then I’ll let you know what happened after that.  So here are her words.  I have changed her husband’s name to Richard.  That is not his real name.  But rather than saying, “My husband, my husband, my husband,” throughout this letter, I’m just going to call him Richard.  I’ve also shortened it a little bit.  But on the whole, this is 90% of what she wrote.  And, again, the context of this letter is she’s explaining to her pastor the story of her marriage and why she is now getting divorced.  So she starts.

Letter: There’s three big issues.  First, poor biblical foundation.  Richard and I have been taught by the church from a young age that women always need to have sex with their husbands when he wants.  Even if they aren’t in the mood, they do not have the right to say no. This teaching, and other similar and common teachings of evangelical churches, set us up for an unhealthy sex dynamic from the very beginning where we both believed that Richard’s sexual satisfaction was of paramount importance regardless of whether or not my needs were being met. 

Underlying neurological issues, I believe my husband is undiagnosed on the autism spectrum, so he struggles to see things from my perspective and is unresponsive to my needs. Conversely, I have felt a need to compensate for the areas where he struggles creating a caregiver relationship which does not promote a healthy marital bond. I have not heavily confronted him on this. He has always struggled with confidence, and I believed that encouraging him to explore this would emotionally devastate him.  So for the most part, I have just tried to adjust myself. When I did mention it recently, he was horribly offended and angered. 

Sexual abuse within the marriage—I’m now traumatized from forced physical intimacy over the course of about the last decade of our almost two decade marriage. Richard is angry with me and sees my lack of sexual desire as a “me problem” rather than something he has contributed to and bears responsibility for.  He once told me that I’m a “very determined person.  And when I decide to like sex again, I will,” a comment that absolves himself of any responsibility in helping me get there.

MY MARRIAGE STORY

I want to start by telling a story from my first year of marriage that really sums up the second point above.  Richard and I were sitting on the couch watching TV when I realized my dog was due for a walk. “Would you mind walking Rover?” “Sure,” he answered but then remained seated on the couch watching TV without getting up. After about 30 seconds to a minute, I ask, “Are you going to walk Rover?”  He says, “I told you I would. I’m just waiting for a commercial.” After a few more minutes, the show goes to commercial, but he just continues to sit there. He’s forgotten. At this point, I feel like a nag (and wives aren’t supposed to nag their husbands) asking a THIRD time for the dog to be walked, so I just get up and start leashing up the dog. At this point, he gets up and walks the dog.

Now imagine this sort of thing happening almost every time you ask for something to be done for almost two decades.  When I ask him to do something, I have to deal with the uncertainty and the anxiety of, “Will he follow through?” “Did he forget?” “Did he fall asleep?” “Will he run into an obstacle that makes him give up?” “If he drops the ball, how will I handle the fallout?” It is extremely anxiety producing for me and makes me feel like NOTHING is EVER off my plate.

For this reason, over the years, I started to rely on him less and less.  First, I started only asking him for things I couldn’t easily do myself. Then it became things I couldn’t do myself at all.  Over time, even that started to seem like too much for him, so I started hiring outside help or asking a friend.  Basically, my husband’s duty around the house became little more than go to his regular job and bring home a paycheck.  And if I relied on him for more than that, it was overwhelming to him and anxiety producing for me.

 

And this is how it affected our sex life.  I never want it. EVER.  But I was taught that a woman should not deprive her husband of sex. More than that, I was disobeying God and in sin if I didn’t have sex with him.  So out of my love for the Lord I continued to have sex with him when he initiated. He didn’t even seem to really mind at first that I was disinterested and just wanted to get it over as soon as possible.

Sheila: Okay.  Now, major trigger warning.  What follows in her letter is graphic descriptions of marital rape.  I have chosen to read them because I want to honor her story.  She does deserve to be heard.  And also I really want people to understand that her pastor and the leadership team knew all of this, and they still put her under church disciplines.  This is what we are dealing with in the evangelical church.  But this is really difficult to hear.  And some of you it’s probably wise that you don’t listen.  So Katie is going to tell you how far you should jump ahead if you’d rather not hear the details.  You can just hit pause right now and fast forward.  But if you want to listen, back to the letter.

Letter: He always wanted it doggie style. I would tell him that I didn’t enjoy it that way and try to encourage him to at least try missionary style, which was more intimate and pleasurable.  But he would inevitably flip me over.  If I tried to insist, he would usually lose his erection and become frustrated.  The last time we tried missionary and that happened he stormed into the bathroom and punched the vanity mirror making a mess of glass and blood. After that, I stopped trying to convince him to try missionary at all because that kind of a reaction wasn’t worth it. 

So this was what sex with my husband became like. I would enter the darkroom and get under the covers.  I would remove my pants and lay face down on the bed, often with a pillow over my head so I wouldn’t have to look at him. He would come in and straddle me from behind, masturbate for a bit to get hard, and then start jack hammering away while I tried to think of anything else—mentally be anywhere else—until it was over.  Sometimes I would cry under the pillow.  But I tried not to let him know so it wouldn’t ruin the experience for him.  Sometimes I would want to hit him, but would stifle it by gripping the sheets tightly.  When he was finished, he would go to the bathroom while I quickly got dressed and left the room before he returned. I would go downstairs to the other bathroom and rinse off partly because I felt guilty and partly because I couldn’t face him at that moment and I needed some time to pass. 

Looking back, I have no idea how I did this for about a decade.  I eventually did tell him during that time that I couldn’t handle it more than once per week, but he would ask like clockwork every week.  And that whole day I would be anxious and shorter with the children. The only thing I liked about sex days was it meant I had six whole days before it would happen again. 

When I decided I couldn’t take it anymore, I asked to go to counseling. This was about four to six years ago. He refused because he said that counselors “always tell men what they need to do differently but leave the women alone” so I decided to go alone. The counselor immediately told me that I needed to stop having sex until the marriage was back on track because it would never get any better if the sex continued as it was.  I asked my husband to give me a year to see the counselor and for us to work on our issues.  He agreed but never followed through on the homework the counselor gave me for us to work on.

After nine months, he confronted me that he wanted to start having sex again.  He approached it from a very spiritual perspective saying things like, “Married people are commanded to have sex,” and “We are living in sin by not having sex.”  

So, at that point, feeling like I had no other choice, I sheepishly agreed to go back to having sex.  It went on for about another year or two just as it was before. I tried to tell him what it was like for me. I got bolder using words like repulsive or disgusting.  

I again reached my breaking point and asked him again to go to counseling.  And again he refused, so again I went alone. This time I chose a male counselor in hopes it would entice him to come since he thought counselors were biased against men.  Same result. The counselor told me to shut off the sex. My husband never followed through on the homework the counselor would give him to do with me. Eventually, I got disheartened and gave up on counseling but still held to the “no sex” rule.

Sheila: Before I get to the next bit, just another trigger warning.  There is another description of marital rape coming up.

Letter: On January 3, 2021, it all came to a head. I was waking up one morning and started to feel vibes coming from his side of the bed.  I decided that I would try to just get up and go downstairs very quickly before he could try anything.  But when I jumped up, he grabbed my arm and pulled me back into bed and started kissing me.  I thought he might just kiss me and let me go.  So I tried to grin and bear it at first, but then he started trying to get on top of me.  And at that point, I realized he was naked.  My body went into fight or flight, and I shoved him off me with all the strength I could muster and yelled, “NO!” and started crying.

He immediately got up, got dressed and left the room.  I took a few moments to collect myself and then headed downstairs to talk to him but discovered he had taken the car and left the house.  He came back three hours later, and we did talk.  He said he would not continue to stay in a sexless marriage.  He even said the marriage had been sexless for over 10 years, which was incredibly hurtful to me because I had endured a lot emotionally, physically and mentally to keep the sex “on” at a very high personal cost. He basically gave me a one-year ultimatum to start liking sex or he would divorce me.   He was specific that he didn’t want to go back to the old way. He wanted me to actually enjoy it, which felt completely impossible for me to control under the circumstances of having a gun to my head that he was going to leave if it wasn’t fixed in a year.

I immediately went back to therapy. He again refused to go. This time I told the therapist to assume his complete noninvolvement. The therapist tried taking me through desensitization exercises to help me not react so strongly or negatively to his touch. I began to dread the daily homework. There were zero requirements on my husband, and I was going to therapy and doing very unpleasant desensitization exercises every day. After a couple of months, I quit.

In March 2021, Richard approached me again and told me that he didn’t think he would ever actually leave.  This was comforting to me and, for a time, made me think that maybe we could coexist peacefully in marriage, even if sex couldn’t be a part of the picture anymore.  But then in August 2021, he approached me again saying our marriage wouldn’t continue in its current state.

The emotional whiplash of will he/won’t he threw me into a constant state of emotional anxiety. I began to struggle heavily with guilt, anxiety, insomnia, migraines, and memory loss. I am seeing a doctor, and I am currently under care for anxiety. I struggle with racing thoughts about my marriage from the moment I wake until the moment I sleep. I have described it as feeling like I am in a concrete room with no windows and doors, and I spend the entire day mentally looking for the escape hatch that will make our entire family whole and happy. I have never found it. I honestly never would have considered divorcing him had he never threatened to divorce me.  But now that he’s thrown out ultimatums, I’m in a place of anxiety and instability all the time.  And I’m questioning if I can live in this uncertainty for the rest of my life.

I sought help from the church and spoke to a few friends and pastors’ wives. One of the wives told me I should not deny sex out of “revenge.” I was so hurt that she saw my withdrawal as a revenge move. If it was about revenge, I would have called off sex a decade before I did. Another just told me, “I really think you need to have sex with your husband.”   And another friend suggested I agree to sex once per month. To me it seemed as if she thought I would be okay with being sexually abused once per month! No one seemed to recognize that there was abuse happening. 

One pastor called Richard and tried to get him to come to counseling, but I asked Richard to cancel the session before it occurred due to my high anxiety level. I was afraid due to what the pastors’ wives had told me that it would come down to, once again, “you need to have sex with your husband or you’re in rebellion.” I did reiterate that I would be willing to go to counseling with a licensed professional counselor rather than a pastoral counselor, but it was let go at that point.

Since I was now experiencing physical symptoms from the stress, I decided to join some support groups—this time not for marriage but just for my own wellbeing. I joined one for spouses of people on the autism spectrum and another for people in “confusing marriages.”

When I joined the marriage group in January 2022, one of the first assignments was to write out a narrative of your marriage story.  Much of this letter is a copy/paste of that original post. This was the first time I had ever detailed what sexual encounters with my husband were actually like because I didn’t feel comfortable telling people in the church the gory details. That felt like “shaming” my husband which I was taught was wrong. I needed to respect him. 

The trauma counselor and other group members immediately began telling me that I had been sexually abused.  One described it as, “At best, this is coercion.  At worst, it’s sexual assault.” Now let me be clear, I don’t believe it has been Richard’s intention to sexually abuse me, but I believe that the messaging that we both received in our youth about sex within marriage groomed me to accept sexual abuse as my “wifely duty” and necessary to please God.  And it made Richard feel that sex was something he was owed and entitled to regardless of my experience.  And also that respect is an entitlement rather than something to be earned and maintained by consistency and honorableness.

Once I realized my marriage was sexually abusive and I had been traumatized by this dynamic within my marriage, it was both devastating and freeing. On the one hand, I knew that I could not stay in the marriage any longer. This trauma is too deep to ever overcome with the same man who has sexually abused me for over a decade. On the other hand, all of the things I had been telling myself I was suddenly free from. I was not crazy. I was not making a mountain out of a molehill. I was not broken or frigid. I was not displeasing to God and possibly hell bound. I wasn’t experiencing psychological problems (at least not in the way I thought). I was just traumatized, and Jesus had compassion.

So toward the end of January, I determined that I needed to make an escape plan. I told him, and he refused to allow for a peaceful divorce.  He told me if I continued to pursue divorce he would tell the children that, “I love Mommy, and I love you.  But Mommy is breaking up our family and making me leave.” I told him that makes me feel like he is taking away my agency and holding me hostage to the marriage.  And that just like I don’t feel like I have a choice about sex, I now felt like I didn’t have a choice about being married either. I offered to continue to share the home and co parent the children together, but he held his ground. I now feel completely trapped.

Sheila: Okay.  Now this is a separate section.  The sleep stuff.

Letter: This stuff seems pale in comparison to the sexual abuse, but I include it because it was a major point of contention for all of the years of our marriage.  Richard only comes to bed about 50% of the time. Even our very first year of marriage, I would wake up alone at 1 a.m. and go looking for him to find him sleeping on the couch.  When our first child was an infant, I noticed that Richard was sleeping in a lot and going into work late—sometimes not even getting out of bed until 10 a.m.  Meanwhile I was exhausted from doing the great majority of the night feedings with our son, and our son would wake up at 5:00 to 5:30 a.m. and be up or the day. I was okay with doing the night feedings because Richard did work long hours.  But it seemed unfair that he could sleep in to his heart‘s content where I had to get up and take care of the baby at the crack of dawn.  So I started occasionally waking him up around 6:00 and asking him if he would sit with the baby for an hour while I went back to bed.  Whenever I would ask him to help, he would instantly jump up and say, “I have to go to work,” which was true, but I knew full well from watching him over weeks and months that if I hadn’t woke him up he could’ve easily slept much longer.

When our son was seven months old, I even woke him up in tears one morning saying how he was a good husband and I couldn’t understand how as a good husband he could watch me struggling to sleep night after night and not ever offer to help. He got up that morning and sat with the baby, but then the same pattern returned after that.

Fast forward to when we had two children under three. On the weekends, we would be home as a family, and I would suddenly notice that I hadn’t seen Richard in a while. I would go hunting for him and find him fast asleep in our bed having left me with the two young kids. I was home with them every day, so I really wanted his help on the weekends.  But it was a pretty common practice for him to disappear for one to three hours napping while he left me in charge of the kids. I approached him and told him that I understood he naps, and I liked them too.  And I thought maybe we could work out a schedule so that we each had our own special naptime on the weekend.  But again he said he didn’t want to have a schedule, so the result was he napped whenever he wanted.  And I never napped.

The current situation is that he falls asleep very soon, often within an hour of arriving home from work.  If he gets home from work at 7:00, he’ll often be asleep before 8:00, which doesn’t allow us anytime to connect with each other, for him to help around the home, or for him to connect with his children. He also still regularly takes naps on Saturdays and Sundays. He even fell asleep at my father’s wake when just after burying him I had about 30 people back to my home for lunch. Richard sat on the couch hand passed out with all the people around him. It was so embarrassing to me and made me feel so alone that even on the day I buried my dad, I couldn’t count on him.

He tends to downplay the sleeping and the lack of help by saying things like, “Well yeah, I could’ve done a few more dishes,” or “I should try to be awake more.” But these are painted as small things. My refusal of sex is a major problem, and I am ungrateful for the work he does outside the home. He minimizes the financial contributions I make to the family, as I have earned money, in at least some capacity, for all but 1.5 years of our marriage.  And there have been seasons during the marriage when I have earned more than he has in addition to maintaining the home and childcare responsibilities.

I know Richard means well and is a good man at heart which is why I think it has taken me so long to act.  But it has become evident that there is no level of crisis I can reach that springs him into action. Even in the months when I provided 24-hour care to my mother, there was no uptick in his involvement with home management. In fact, on the day my mother died, I asked him to take the next day off.  He told me he couldn’t. I had to call around to family members while my mom was dying and find someone to be at my house to watch the kids the next morning. That was the moment I knew that I could never reach a level of need that would cause him to take action.

I do want to add the caveat that I do not absolve myself of any wrongdoing. I should have spoken up more and sooner. I remained quiet and stuffed things down far too much. I ignored Richard’s use of pornography and excused it because I was not providing sex for him. I have made Richard feel rejected, and he probably bears emotional trauma as well from that. This is simply the story from my perspective.

The goal is not to morally crucify Richard because I do believe he is a good person who wants to do the right thing.  But I want to fully illustrate that the marriage has become toxic, and this is not a situation of a wife not taking her vows seriously.  But one in which I believe that divorce is biblical in that the marriage covenant has been irreparably broken.

At this point, I feel I have been so traumatized by these experiences that I don’t believe I will be able to get back to a place of mutual trust and vulnerability hat would be necessary for a healthy marriage. I believe our only option is to divorce and work on lovingly and respectfully setting each other free to build a new relationship with one another in which we co parent our children as family and friends. I will always love him and support him as the father of my children, my friend, and my brother in Christ. I have never felt like Richard has fully understood what this dynamic did to me, how much I really did try to look out for him throughout the course of the marriage, or how his actions contributed to my hatred of sex. I hope one day he does fully get it because I do think it would greatly improve our relationship and help my healing even though I think it is extremely unlikely that the marriage can be saved.

Sheila: So here is the context.  She writes this letter.  And the reason that she writes it is because when she told her husband that she wanted to divorce him he, who wasn’t very active in the church, went to the pastor and asked that the session—so in their church tradition, there’s a leadership committee that gets to rule on these things.  And he asked that the session would rule on whether her divorce was biblical or not.  And so this is her reaching out to the pastor to say, “Hey, this is the story of what was happening in our marriage.”  And this is what she wrote to him in the email.

Email: I will tell you that from the moment we came to this church ten years ago, I have LOVED this it. At times throughout the last decade, coming to worship practice on Sunday morning and sitting under your teaching was the substitute for the connection that I longed for in my marriage but did not have.

I know it is only recently that you have become intimately aware of the struggles I faced behind closed doors. As I’ve told you before, I wish I had come forward much sooner, but at the time I felt I was disrespecting and shaming my husband if I revealed too much about our intimate life. Hindsight is 20/20.

I understand your desire for us to be discussed before the session next month, and I also understand your church polity; however, I would like you, for a moment, to consider what this would mean for me.

 

I, a woman who has been sexually traumatized, will be discussed by a room full of men, many of whom I do not know or barely know.  And they will consider the most intimate and hurtful events of my life, so that they can judge whether or not I have a right to be free from that.  And what if they decide I don’t? Worse, what if they decide Richard is the one with grounds?  Then I am being told that my needs don’t matter and that my feelings are illegitimate. I know this is not your intention, but it is sadly what my broken heart will hear.  And I will feel violated all over again.  

As much as I believe the men of our session to be loving people, you all were not there when in my early days as a mother I cared for a newborn, dealt with the emotional and practical weight of my toddler’s special needs diagnosis, and protected my epileptic husband from himself in his sleep with very little support even when I requested it again and again. You all were not in the bedroom when I acquiesced to my husband’s desires over and over for more than a decade while I tried to disassociate from what was happening to me just so I could get through it, and you can’t feel how the weight of those years eroded me. You all weren’t there when I repeatedly asked him to go counseling over many years, and went to three separate marriage counselors alone and then ultimately to an individual counselor as well.  You weren’t there in the days when I simultaneously was grieving my father, homeschooling four children in the time of COVID, and caring for my dying mother while my husband continued with business as usual and could not be bothered to take off work while I sat with her on her deathbed. And the session wasn’t there when he threatened to leave me four months after she passed.  And please keep in mind that there are more examples like these that I still haven’t discussed.

I’m not angry with Richard or anyone else. I’m brokenhearted. His family has already written me off.  My own family of origin are all already with the Lord, and now I’m feeling an increasing disapproval from my church family which hurts terribly.  

I am happy to talk with you more about this if you like, but I did want these things taken into consideration should the session choose to take up this discussion.  Love and prayers.

Sheila: Her pastor replied with this.

Response from Pastor: Please know that if this is discussed at the session meeting it will not be to make any kind of a decision on whether or not there are grounds for divorce or who is to blame for where you guys are at.  There won’t be any discussion of any details of a sensitive nature.  The confidential discussion will simply be that you guys are moving towards divorce, that there may or may not be biblical grounds for divorce.  That determination takes time, people, and a process.  What we’ve offered in terms of the process to make that determination and see if you guys can get to a place of flourishing and what, if anything, would be appropriate at this point, from our standpoint, going forward.  Make sense?  Please don’t imagine any more than that.  And this church also really loves you no matter what.  See you Sunday.

Sheila: At that meeting, the church session decided to put her under church discipline.  And so now I would like to welcome her onto this podcast so that we can hear more of her story in her own words and her own voice.  All right.  So that was a really heavy letter.  And I am actually sitting in that letter writer’s house right now.  Hello.

Woman: Hi, Sheila.

Sheila: I am so humbled and grateful that you sent me that.  And it just moved me so much.  It’s so horrific.  

Woman: Thank you so much for reaching out.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I know we were talking by email, and it turned out that I was going to be in a similar part of the world to where you are.  And so I’m actually visiting you in your lovely house, and there are dogs in the background.  So if people hear dogs as we are recording, that’s just life.  But I was hoping that you could continue the story.  So you sent that letter to your church explaining this is the history.  And this is a church where you had been really involved.  The pastors knew you.  You had been leading worship teams.  And then they get this.  And what was their response?  

Woman: Well, their first response was—I had different responses from different pastors because it’s a Presbyterian church, so there is a plurality of elders.  One of the pastors told me they didn’t really think it was that bad because he didn’t hold me down.

Sheila: Oh gosh.  

Woman: And that he had respected my no.  The lead pastor actually was somewhat sympathetic.  And at first, he sounded like he wanted to try to help me navigate their church polity.  But one of the stories that kept coming up over and over again was about another congregant who was allowed to get a divorce after she had shown that her husband had not earned a paycheck for 10 years.  And that kept coming back to me as like—more than one of the pastors told me that story.  And I kept thinking, “Well, if that is the standard, if that’s the bar that I have to meet in order for them to give me their permission to divorce my husband, that’s a really high bar.”  I have to show that my husband hasn’t earned a paycheck for 10 years.

Sheila: Well, I think it is also interesting.  So it’s worse for a husband not to earn a paycheck than it is for a husband to completely check out of any responsibilities emotionally with the family and to be coercing you into sex.  So they think it’s worse for a man not to provide than it is for a man to abuse.  

Woman: Right.  And I had also spoke with more than one of the pastors’ wives, and I got very similar type of instruction as what a lot of the books say.  Like one of them told me that it was wrong for me to deny sex out of revenge.  That was the word she used.  And I told her.  I said, “I’m not saying no out of revenge.  If this was about revenge, I would have stopped having sex with him more than a decade ago.  This is just about me kind of getting to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore.”  And it was like self protection at that moment.  And another one just told me, “Well, I think you just need to have sex with your husband.”  

Sheila: What do they think that’s going to do?   

Woman: I just don’t know.

Sheila: You’d been trying that.

Woman: Yeah.  Yeah.  How long do I have to just keep having sex before we say, “Okay.  This is not working.  We need to try something else?”  It seems endless.

Sheila: But maybe it’s because the definition of what is working is very different because to them what is working is what is keeping the marriage together and keeping him happy even if it’s at your expense.

Woman: Right.  Right.  And I said in the letter, he threatened to leave me a year prior.  He basically told me if I did not start enjoying sex—that was the word he used.  Enjoy.  If I don’t start enjoying sex within a year, that he would leave.  And at that time, I just wanted to save a marriage, so I was like, “I’ll go back to counseling.  I will make this work.”  But then when a year had come and gone—and at that point, I was even worse off than I was the year prior.  At that point, I told him.  I said, “I think we just need to call it.”  And then at that point, I was the bad guy even though he was the one that had initially said he wanted to leave.

Sheila: This is what I want people to understand too is that you were the one who was really involved in church.  You were the one who was reading all the Christian books.  You were the one who was battling in prayer for your marriage.  You were not leaving God.  You were desperately trying to hold everything together.  And you were leaning on God.  And because of that, you were really plugged into your church.  And the church community meant so much to you.  

Woman: Right.

Sheila: And so then when a marriage falls apart, it’s devastating for the one who is really involved in the church—who is really holding onto God when the church community then turns on them.

Woman: Yes.  Exactly.  And my family of origin they were already with the Lord.  So my church family was my family.  And so when they sided with my husband, it really felt like I was truly alone.  

Sheila: So how did you feel when you got that?  What your pastor wrote to you.

Woman: I knew that he was trying to, I guess, navigate the church polity, but I didn’t really feel like he was supporting me.  And that’s one of the things that came back.   Because once he had—once they ruled and the punishment that they agreed on was that I would have to step down from the worship team and that I would no longer be able to take from the Lord’s table for six months.  And that then after six months, they would revisit that.  And when that time was up, he actually took me out to lunch and sat down with me.  And I was able to ask him some questions.  And I told him that I felt like by ruling against me they had empowered my husband because now my husband felt like he had—that he was the one in the right.  The church had ruled that he was in the right.  And I said, “Why couldn’t you have just chosen to abstain?  Why couldn’t you have just not punished anyone?”  And what he kind of said was that once my husband had said he wanted us to be considered by the session and the session had been activated that the session had to rule.  

Sheila: So this is part of the Presbyterian—the way Presbyterian churches operate.  There’s a governing body.  And so I agree with you.  Why did they have to rule?  I find this so infuriating.  And please, pastors, listen to me even if you’re not Presbyterian.  This doesn’t only apply to Presbyterian.  You went through it in a Presbyterian church.  But you are not equipped to rule on whether or not a divorce is okay.  That isn’t your rule because you don’t know what’s going on.  And when we have these rigid ideas that divorce can only take place if there has been adultery for a long time or if there’s been—yeah.  No paycheck for 10 years.  Or when you think you get to decide what is abusive when you have not been trained in abuse which the vast majority of pastors have not, you are—I don’t want to say ruin because your life was not ruined.  In many ways, you have found yourself now. 

Woman: Mm-hmm.

Sheila: But you are traumatizing people.  This isn’t okay.  This is not okay.

Woman: And one of the things that came up was not long after the church had ruled against me, I continued to go to that church for quite awhile because I felt like it was the humble thing to do.  If I was humble and I was following God, I would humbly accept their punishment.  So I continued to go.  And shortly thereafter as we’re going through the divorce proceedings, I received a text from my husband saying that he was no longer going to cooperate with the mediation.  And that he would not be moving out of the house.  And he was also saying that if I pursued it that he would go to the children and he would tell the children, “I love you, and I love Mom.  But Mom is breaking up our family and making me leave.”  So I had this deep fear of being vilified in my children’s eyes.  And so I went to the pastor again.  And I provided the texts.  I let him see them for himself.  And I said, “Look.”  I told him, “I feel like he is holding me hostage to the marriage at this point.”  And I was told, “Well, we’ve already ruled against you, so our hands are tied.”  And I ran into that more than once throughout the divorce proceeding where I would go to them for help just wanting them to talk to him thinking maybe if another man came alongside and spoke to him that he would become more reasonable.  And they just told me again and again that their hands were tied because they had already ruled against me.  

Sheila: Yep.  And meanwhile, let’s just set the stage again.  For your marriage, you had been sexually abused.  You had been responsible for all of the care giving, all of the housework.  Everything.  So you were carrying all of the load of parenting.  You have a special needs child as well.  You were carrying all of that.  Your family of origin is gone.  And now you have to navigate a divorce, and your church isn’t there for you. 

Woman: Right.

Sheila: After you had been there for the church for years. 

Woman: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  We had been at that church for over a decade at that point.

Sheila: And you had been serving, and you’d been pouring yourself out.  And the church wasn’t there for you.  This needs to change, people.  This needs to change.  This cannot continue to be our story.  And I know in a lot of the abuse advocacy groups they are filled with women who had been so involved in church, and now they were left church homeless because the church turned on them when they said, “Yeah.  I’ve been abused.”  That can’t happen.  I just want to interject here and say that this woman’s story is not unique.  There was a huge article that broke on Christianity Today last week that I want to draw everyone’s attention to.  It’s look at John MacArthur’s church, Grace Community Church, and they interviewed eight women that the church counseled to return to abusive husbands even after these women were trying to get restraining orders, were in the hospital because of physical abuse, even when the women had documentation that their husbands were using their children to create pornography.  Please go read the article.  It is stunning.  This is not just this woman’s church.  This is happening all over evangelicalism because we do not understand and we do not value women’s safety.  Here is just one paragraph from that article.  “The woman said that she saw the Lord work sovereignly to lead her through the process eventually coming to see that the failure of the church doesn’t nullify the existence of God or the justice of God.  I need to fear God instead of man.  Just because someone quotes a verse to you and they’re in a position of authority doesn’t mean they’re doing it well.  When she challenged the pastor’s advice to return to and trust her husband, she said she was reminded of passages like, ‘Love believes all things,’ and that Jesus said to forgive 70 times 7.  According to her account, the trauma and warning signs weren’t enough.  The pastors wanted evidence of physical abuse, skin to skin adultery, or a conviction of child molestation before agreeing she had biblical grounds for divorce.  She couldn’t wait for that.”  What are these churches waiting for?  Do they want women to end up dead?  I will put a link to this really important Christianity Today article in the podcast notes.  Please look at it.  Please read it.  Please understand this is what is happening in the evangelical world today, and it needs to stop.  And now let’s return to this woman’s story.  Okay.  I want to switch gears.  And I know that there are listeners that are in the same situation that you were.  And they’re desperately trying to hold onto God.  They want to do the right thing, right?  They’re praying, “God, show me what to do.  Show me how to love more.  Show me how to give more.  Show me how to be like Christ in this situation.”  And I know you felt that way for years.  What changed for you?  When did you realize?  When did you say, “No.  This isn’t okay.  This isn’t okay”?    

Woman: I wouldn’t say it’s just one moment.  There were a few.  But I know one thing that happened for me was I had this image in my head.  It would keep coming back to me where it was like I was standing, and the foundation was just crumbling away beneath me.  And that was, to me, the foundation was like my marriage.  It was just crumbling away.  There was nothing there.  And yet, I was holding on to a rope over my head called doctrine.  And that rope was the only thing that was helping me keep my balance.  And I remember for so long feeling if I look away, if I loosen my grip at all, I’m going to lose Jesus.  And I really felt like if I looked away, if I allowed any kind of deviation from what I had been taught that I was going to be bound for hell.  I was going to be lost.  And instead what ended up happening was I finally did lose my grip on that doctrine.  And when I did, Jesus caught me.  And that was it for me.  It was like I expected to find condemnation.  And instead it was—finally, I felt like I had my Jesus back.  

Sheila: Oh wow.

Woman: And Sheila, you were one of the big ones that really made a huge difference in my life at that time.  I happened to find your podcast.  And I tell people I felt like I was the woman at the well because it was like you—it was as if you had been peeking in my bedroom window for the last 10 years.  And you were able to tell me exactly what I was experiencing, how I was feeling internally, and I couldn’t not listen because you were telling me, like the woman at the well, everything I had ever done.  So once that started to come into play, I got a good therapist, who finally—finally an individual therapist rather than a marriage therapist.  That was a big turning point for me as well.  And that therapist—she’s been amazing.  And one of the things I remember her asking me was, “When you are in the bedroom with your husband and Jesus is there watching, what do you think He’s doing?”  And my answer to her was, “I think He’s weeping.  And I think He’s mad.”  And when I started to embrace that, that Jesus was not okay with what was happening, that Jesus was not pleased, He didn’t see me as—He didn’t see me as, “Oh, very good.  She’s doing her duty as a wife.  I’m proud of her.”  He wasn’t putting His stamp of approval on that.  That was the turning point.

Sheila: Wow.  It’s been so distorted what Jesus thinks.  I remember there’s this one passage.  Emerson Eggerichs says it over and over again in his book about how when you are good to a harsh and unloving man a billion angels in heaven celebrate as if God is pleased when these harsh and unloving men act that way towards women.  And women take it.  Like that that is making God pleased.  And I don’t know where the empathy went.  Where is the compassion?  Where is the heart of Jesus?  It’s missing completely from this.  And I’m just so glad that that counselor helped you see that.  Let me just flesh this out a little bit more.  As many of our listeners may know, marriage counseling is not recommended in abusive situations.  When you go in for counseling, both of you, as a couple, and there is abuse in the relationship, what often happens is the counseling session becomes one of the ways that abuse is perpetuated.  And you can’t actually fix abuse because abuse is not a couple problem.  Did any of the marriage counselors ever see that?

Woman: I had a unique situation in that my husband actually never went.  The first time I asked him to go he refused.  And so I told him, “Well, I’m going to go by myself.”  And the first counselor I went to spoke about creating a new history.  And she did say that I had to stop having sex because she said that the sex was never going to get any better if I just allowed it to continue as it was.  So she suggested that I talk to my husband about taking a year to allow time for us to build that new history between us.  Oh, this is a fun story because it ties in to what I’ve learned from Love and Respect and Emerson Eggerichs.  I talked to my husband.  I asked him to give me a year.  And he agreed.  So that part was all right.  And about three or four months in, he had really not been doing anything that we had discussed.  It was all absolutely the same.  And one night we were up.  The kids had already gone to bed.  We were watching TV, and he says to me, “So,”—he goes, “It’s been a few months.  How do you feel like it’s going?  Do you feel like you’re being more supported?  Do you feel,”—and he’s talking to me like that.  And in my mind, I’m thinking, “What is he talking about?  He is not doing anything that we’ve discussed?”  But my mind goes back to where it says that you should praise your husband for doing the thing that you want him to do even if he’s not doing it.  

Sheila: Right.

Woman: And so I’m like, “I don’t want to discourage him.  I don’t want him to think I’m not grateful.”  So I said, “Well, yeah.  I can tell you’re trying.”  I said something like that.  I can tell you’re trying.  And he goes, “Oh, good because I didn’t think I was doing anything differently.”

Sheila: Oh my gosh.

Woman: And then at that point, I’m like, “Oh my gosh.  I’m such an idiot.”  And so it went on like that until about month nine.  And then at month nine, he decided he had had enough.  And he confronted me one night.  And he said, “Married people are commanded to have sex.  We’re living in sin right now by not having sex.”  And because I didn’t have the language at the time, I didn’t really understand that what was happening to me was actually abusive.  I didn’t feel like I had a choice.  I didn’t feel like I was allowed to say no if he wasn’t on board.  So I just said, “Okay.  Well, I guess we can go back to having sex.”  And things continued the way it was for another couple of years after that.  Then I asked him to go to counseling again.  And his ongoing complaint about counseling is he would always say that counselors are biased against men, and they always tell the men what they need to do differently.  And they leave the women alone.  That was what he would always say.  So the second counselor I went to was a man.  Again, I went by myself.  Again, he told me to shut off the sex, so I did that.  And this time I was more determined in shutting off the sex.  I did have it in my mind, “I am not going to have sex again unless my husband is behaving in such a way that makes me desire him.”  And then that—from that point on, that was where it went downhill really fast.  After that, once he realized that quoting the Bible to me and telling me that I was causing us to live in sin wasn’t going to change my mind this time that was when he started threatening to leave and the rest is history.

Sheila: Right.  I find this really interesting that people think that the biggest sin is not having sex because of that misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 7.  That that is a worse sin than anything else.  And that sex should always look the same no matter what’s going on in your relationship.  So even if you feel alone, even if you’re unsupported, even if you’re emotionally distant, even if he’s being emotionally abusive, you still can’t deprive him of sex because the Bible even though that is a misunderstanding of that verse because sex is not merely intercourse biblically.  And I’ve talked about this so often on the podcast.  Sex is supposed to be something which is mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both.  And if it’s not intimate, you’re already being deprived.  And so those verses don’t even apply.  They don’t even apply.  I don’t even know why we’re looking at them.  But they keep getting thrown up.  And the so often when women do go to counseling to churches or whatever, they’re told, “Well, just have more sex.”  At least, your counselors didn’t say that, so that’s good.  I have heard many counselors who have said that.  And that’s just not okay.  It’s not okay.  The reason I really wanted to share your story was to show the kinds of situations where churches are intervening where they have no right to intervene and how much that hurts people.  So can you share where you’re at now?

Woman: Well, I ultimately decided that I needed to leave my previous church.  

Sheila: And good for you, by the way.

Woman: So I visited around to a few churches in the area.  And I think, at this point, I found a new church home, but I’ve only been there a few weeks at this point.  But one of the things that became very important to me was that I wanted a church that allowed women in leadership because my experience at my previous church—I would never have—I was one of the most conservative, traditional, evangelical women you could imagine.  I would have never dreamed of going to a church that had female pastors a year ago.  But my experience kind of showed me that I had—that I was at a decided disadvantage because there was no women in leadership.  The men of the session could empathize with my husband far better than they could empathize with me.  So that became something that was important to me in finding a church that made me feel safe.  Also just I felt like I needed to step away from some of the more rigid doctrines and just kind of get back to just loving Jesus and just saying—I think of Paul where it says, “I’m determined to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified.”  And that’s kind of where I’m at right now.

Sheila: Yeah.  I love that.  And I think that’s what’s missing.  That’s what’s missing, church.  Jesus is what’s missing.  If we could just get that picture, like you said, of Jesus weeping when we’re being abused.  Listen to what you’re saying, church.  If you think that Jesus is happy when people are abused, you don’t know Jesus.  You don’t.  And we’ve gotten so into parsing the letters of Paul which Paul never meant for them to be used that way, by the way—but we’re so into parsing the letters of Paul and getting all legalistic about this stuff.  And yet, just think about it.  If Jesus were in the room right now, what would He be doing?  He would be siding with the people who were being hurt.  And we’re not going to cure this.  We’re not going to fix this until we get Jesus back and put Him back in the center.  And I just love the way He showed up for you.

Woman: I do too.  

Sheila: I love that.  And that you haven’t lost Him because I know so many women feel like they have because everything they’ve been taught about Him makes Him sound like a monster.  Because quite frankly, someone who is happy because you’re letting someone use your body like that is a monster.  And that’s not God.  That’s not God.  Is there anything that you want to say if you could talk to you five years ago?  If that’s too difficult a question (cross talk)?

Woman: If I could talk to me five years ago?  I know I would tell myself don’t wait so long because I spent a lot of time and a lot of years afraid to rock the boat.  And I think when I think of my part in this and what I could have done differently, what I should have done differently, I was always so focused on trying to make sure that my husband was comfortable and satisfied in marriage that in some ways, I think, that that would be my sin is that I needed to speak up.  I needed to tell him.  When he told me that he didn’t want to go to counseling the first time, I wish that was the moment that I turned to my pastor, and I said, “We need help in our marriage, and my husband will not go to counseling.”  I wish I would have just stood up to him more and just said, “Look.  No.  This is not how we’re doing it.  We’re going to do it this way,” because I spent so many years just trying to pacify him rather than trying to fix the problem because I was afraid that trying to fix the problem would result in the end of the marriage.

Sheila: Right.  And God cares more about the people in the marriage than He does about the marriage.  Just like the story that Jesus tells about the woman—or—was it a woman or a man who was healed on the Sabbath?  There’s multiple (cross talk) that I remember.  He said, “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.”  And in a similar way, we weren’t made for marriage.  Marriage was made for us.  And when marriage is hurting us, God cares.  

Woman: And more than that, it’s supposed to be a mirror of our relationship to Jesus.  So if our marriage is a mess, what does that say about our relationship to Christ?

Sheila: Exactly.  Exactly.  So today—I mean I’m in your house.  And I’ve been talking to you on email and seen you a couple times in person now.  And you seem lighter.  You seem like you’re okay.

Woman: I am.  I am okay.  It’s still a process.  Some of the hardest things is just—honestly coming—getting over feelings of guilt because I actually do feel guilty for leaving my husband.  But all in all, one of the things that the therapist would tell me a lot is whenever I would waver, she’d say, “If this wasn’t you, if this was one of your kids, what would you do?”  And whenever she would say that, I would always automatically say, “I’d tell them they need to leave.”  And so that’s something I always go back to is if this wasn’t you, if this was your kids, what would you do.

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s a good question that we should all ask if you’re in that position.  If this wasn’t you.  And as we’re wrapping up, I just want to say, again, if you’re a pastor, if you’re a friend, if someone is coming to you saying, “I’m in this terrible marriage.  I don’t know what to do.  I desperately need help,” please, please, it is not your place to judge whether or not what they’re going through qualifies as abuse.  Please, church, stop it and just learn how to love.  One of the greatest things about what I do is that sometimes I get to meet people in real life who have such incredible stories and who are so—just are really inspirational in how they clung to Jesus through terrible, terrible things.

Keith: Yeah.

Sheila: And that is her story.  And I was really humbled that she opened up her home and she shared this with us.  And I really hope that this touches you.  I know there are some people listening who are going to be in her situation, and they will have seen themselves in her story.  And I just want to tell you.  You don’t need your church’s permission to divorce.  And she wasn’t seeking that either.  I want to make that clear.  She tried to do everything the right way.  Everybody above board.  She knew she could leave without the church’s permission.  But they still put her under discipline.  And so I hope—one of the things—and we brought this up before on a podcast recently.  When a woman was asking, is this okay sexually to do?  Is God upset at this?  And I made the point.  If ever a woman, a friend, comes to you saying, “Is this okay to do,” they’re looking for permission to say no.  So often people are looking for just someone to say, “No.  That’s not right.”  

Keith: They could be, for sure.  And I think the big thing is validating that because I think in the church women’s needs just aren’t validated.  Horrific things like this happen.  And women are sent back to it.

Sheila: Yeah.  She went to pastors’ wives, and she told them this stuff.  And their reply was,” Are you having enough sex?  You need to have more sex.”  I just want to tell them, “You don’t know the whole story.  You don’t know.”  And so when someone finally has the courage to share even a little bit of their story, assume you are only seeing a little bit of it.  Because by the time she went to those pastors’ wives, she had already been being raped for years.  And so by the time someone comes to you, just assume that their story is 10 times worse than what you’re hearing.  And I didn’t do that.  I had a very close friend come to me with a similar story.  And I reacted a lot like those pastors’ wives.  This was a couple years ago.  And we’ve worked it out.  I’ve apologized to her, and we’re great and everything now.  But it was actually her journey that helped me in my journey and why I’m here right now.  And I realized she hadn’t told me everything because she was still trying to hold on to, “Is it okay to badmouth him?”  

Keith: Well, a lot of people who are being abused don’t realize they’re being abused.  That’s the whole problem.  So what we should be doing in the church is teaching people to recognize abuse.  And we should be teaching people this is not okay.  But every time you write a Fixed It For You that tries to identify abuse people get upset because you’re upending the whole idea that men need to be in charge.  That’s more important.  It’s more important that we hold to the biblical, quote unquote, truth that men are in charge than that we keep women safe.

Sheila: And that’s exactly what this church did because they were looking for letter of the law.  Is it okay for her to divorce?  Are there biblical grounds?  There is no adultery, they said, although he was using pornography, right?  So he is willing to stay married.  He hasn’t abandoned her.  He’s bringing home a paycheck, so there is no biblical grounds.  Doesn’t matter that he’s been raping her.  Doesn’t matter that he’s been completely non available and non present.  Doesn’t matter.  None of the abuse matters.  And that is so not of Jesus.  And this is why I am speaking up because churches need to change.  Pastors, this isn’t okay.  And I know there are pastors that are amazing at this.  And so I’m not talking to you.  But actually, no.  I am talking to you.  If you’re amazing—

Keith: Speak up.

Sheila: – police your fellow pastors.  Make sure that no one that you know would ever do this because this is unconscionable.  This grieves the Holy Spirit.  This breaks Jesus’s heart.  Whatever you do to the least of these, you did to Him.  When they disciplined her because she wanted to get free from abuse, they were doing that to Jesus.  So if you are in an abusive situation, I am going to put a link in the podcast notes to some domestic abuse hotlines.  Please know that you don’t need to stay there.  I will put a link to some wonderful advocates, Sarah McDougal, Gretchen Baskerville, Natalie at Flying Free Sisterhood, Leslie Vernick.  I will put some links to them so that you can get some help as well.  But just know that you are precious.  You matter.  No matter what your church is telling you.  You matter to Jesus.  And I pray that you will find people who will let you know that you matter too.  So thank you for joining us on this heavy Bare Marriage podcast.  Do check out our Fixed It For You book, please, because the more that we start talking about these issues the less likely it will be that toxic stuff like this actually happens in churches.  Ideas have consequences.  So let’s defeat those ideas so that this evil stops happening.  So thanks for listening, and we will see you again next week on the Bare Marriage podcast.  Bye-bye.

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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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65 Comments

  1. Stefanie

    What a powerful testimony she gave. I can relate to a lot of what she wrote, especially about being caught in legalism. Trying to do everything “right” to make God happy. She mentioned hell, so I don’t know if she thought the same as me, but from childhood hell was used to scare me to stay on the “straight and narrow.” Add on top of that scriptures like “the heart is deceitful” and “lean not on your own understanding” and it’s no wonder she submitted to abuse for so long. I have a similar story, although not quite as bad. In the last year I’ve deconstructed my belief in hell, and I don’t believe in it anymore. It’s mind blowing how much dysfunction (I’ll speak for my own life) was allowed in the attempt to avoid hell.

    For me, and I suspect for a lot of people, the fear of hell is the foundation of the legalism. Having to do everything “right” so you’re safe from God.

    I was actually annoyed that she confessed her own “sin” of not speaking up. What? It sounds like she did speak up to pastors’ wives, and got atrocious advice. One of my church friends asked me to consider my own personal responsibility in my own story, and honestly the only thing my conscience will allow me to take ownership of is that I was stupid for listening to people at church. I won’t make that mistake again.

    And lastly, what is it with pastors’ wives giving awful sex advice? I also have the same experience. I’m starting to see that women who give that sort of advice can’t have good sex lives themselves, if the only advice they have is to repeat doctrinal points about not refusing sex. And the men on that board? They must all have similar sex lives if they weren’t appalled by her descriptions of her sexual assault. Like they think that’s normal.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think the legalism does stem from constant threat of punishment if we step out of line. Also by emphasizing so much the eternal it makes you stay in hell here. (Like Emerson Eggerichs talking about how a billion angels celebrate in heaven when a wife shows respect to a harsh and mean man, or Gary Thomas talking about how if we endure bad marriages here, we’ll have our reward in heaven).

      Reply
    • The Woman on the Podcast

      Hi Stefanie, thank you for listening to the podcast. I just wanted to chime in and say that even as I spoke of my own failings in the marriage there was a little voice in the back of my head saying, “The survivor community is gonna hate that I said that!”

      Here’s the thing. So often in this community we are told that a trait of abusers is that they are unwilling to examine themselves and take responsibility for their actions. I don’t want to be that person that can’t own what they could have done better.

      I’m 100% NOT saying that the abuse was my fault or that what he did was OK. I’m just saying I didn’t handle it perfectly.

      I want to add that this is super fresh and perhaps a year or five years down the road I will have a completely different perspective, but I think it’s helpful to share during this messy, “gray” season because that’s closer to where the women who are currently caught in these situations may be able to relate.

      I can hold space for two realities. 1) That my husband was deceived by these teachings as much as I was and, 2) That he sinned against me and that was wrong.

      I hope that helps you be less “annoyed,” but if you are still annoyed, my therapist says I need to learn to be OK with people being unhappy with me, so thanks for helping me in that process! 😂🙏🏻❤️‍🩹

      Reply
      • Courtney

        Thank you for being so brave. I have been married for 18 years. It has been since year 2 that I thought sexually I was being abused. I went to my pastors wife and she said it was my obligation to have sex with him. To never say no. My gut told me she was wrong. We moved to another state again I went to the pastor’s wife. She said to me “Is he hitting me or holding me down” it’s now abuse. Moved countries waited 4 years until I was like you burying my face in a pillow and this was after I said no and he would continue. I went to the pastor and his wife and both said they word was not used to describe what was happening and they told me they witnessed him loving me and it wasn’t abuse. I was taken off church membership because I said I wanted a divorce. I went into complete flight or fight and started telling every friend and they just offered me prayed that I learn to love my husband. A year ago I told him no more I would not have sex with him anymore. Like you he wasn’t partnering with me is raising our 4 children. So we moved back to the states and I told him I was looking for a house that had enough bedrooms for me to have my own space because I needed to just be able to sleep at night. He will not agree to financially support me so I can not leave. I don’t have family support. I feel in distress, depressed and anxious at all times. Listening to this is giving me an inch of braver.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, Courtney, I’m so sorry! Can you call a domestic violence hotline and find out what supports are available in your area?

          Reply
        • The Woman on the Podcast

          Courtney, I am so sorry. Our stories have a lot in common. Financial considerations also were a factor keeping me for many years. I do think calling a DV hotline and seeing what is available is worth it, and just keep talking to anyone who will listen. This is where the church could really make a huge difference by helping victims make ends meet as they move toward freedom. I will pray you find helpers.

          Reply
  2. Nathan

    > > And lastly, what is it with pastors’ wives giving awful sex advice?

    From what I’ve seen and heard, on this site and elsewhere, the whole belief of patriarchy and entitlement sex, etc. is just as often held up by women in those churches as it is by men. Likely it’s because (as you say) their own lives are mired in that, but they see it as normal.

    Also, even if you believe in that stuff (God created sex only for men, husbands are entitled to sex whenever they want), that still doesn’t justify abuse and assault. That’s an extra layer of insanity that claims that the thoughts, wants, needs, and even the safety of women are meaningless. And that’s even more unbiblical than the first part.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, it really is upheld by women. It’s like the modesty message–it’s actually most likely to be taught by women to other women or girls. We studied that on our survey for our upcoming book She Deserves Better, too.

      (Those women are also more likely to be in abusive marriages and to not be in good places themselves).

      Reply
      • Andrea

        There is secular research on this, how women engage in slut-shaming other women more than men do. Psychologists say it’s because historically sex has been the only ounce of power women have had (absent the threat of rape, of course), so if some give it up too easily, that ruins it as a bargaining chip for all the others. Even more interestingly, and I wonder if this is replicated within churches, it is typically wealthier women that slut-shame poorer women even though there is no evidence that poorer women have more sexual partners, but there is evidence that wealthier women are more likely to engage in kink.

        Reply
  3. Angharad

    Pastor’s wife here, and I wonder if a large part of the problem with horrible advice from pastors’ wives is the way in which the church automatically assumes that the wife of a pastor must be equally gifted in leadership among women?

    I got married in my 40s, and it was weird how, the moment I got engaged to my OH, people started pouring out all kinds of theological and emotional problems they were having. And I was ‘hang on a minute – I’m happy to be a listening ear, but if you need any kind of counselling or theological advice, you need to look elsewhere.’ And they would stare at me in astonishment and say ‘but you’re the pastor’s fiancée’. Yes. His fiancée. Not his clone. I didn’t acquire a degree in counselling and theology overnight when we got engaged. Or when we got married.

    Perhaps because I was older when we got married, I had the confidence to push back against people who were trying to turn me into a female version of my husband. But I wonder how many of these pastors’ wives got married in their late teens or early 20s and felt forced by church expectation into a role they were neither qualified nor experienced to do.

    NB: I’m not in any way excusing them for giving such awful advice – but I do think we’d see it happening less often if the church didn’t believe pastor’s wife = qualified counsellor and spiritual advisor.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think this is a huge part of the issue. Absolutely!

      Reply
      • Viola

        Ah ,yes! You caught a Sexually transmitted ministry !😅.
        In my former church, married pastors are considered a twofer. They pay the man a salary , but the woman is expected to volunteer– no training required.
        If it is the woman who is qualified and experienced, they still give the salary /promotion to the man. I had a female friend who was highly qualified and who had worked in the church as a manager in the worship ministry for over a decade (since teenage) . She conducted international music tours, supervised, did technical work etc. ,.they made her husband the worship pastor as soon as she got married. 🙄
        So glad you were able to push back on that expectation. So glad this OP from the podcast is considering a church where women are allowed and encouraged to lead.

        Reply
    • Wild Honey

      I had a similar experience when becoming engaged to my husband (who was a pastor at the time, no longer). Like there was a golden aura suddenly glowing around my head.

      It’s not just you.

      Reply
    • Becky Miller

      This is also a result of not enough churches making women pastors. In the absence of trained and qualified female pastors, often the wives of male pastors are thrust into pastoral counseling positions they are not prepared for.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, exactly. So the “female leaders” of the church are elders’ wives or pastor’s wives. But meanwhile there may be INCREDIBLE female leaders in the church who aren’t married to leaders, and they will be overlooked always.

        Reply
      • Viola

        Very true. Wives are thrust into pastoral counselling, but also, male pastors are thrust into counselling positions that they have insufficient training for. That was true in our church where I grew up. I finally found a professional counselling service in my late twenties. The difference between professional counselling and church counselling was night and day

        Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Forget the church! Why didn’t she take her husband to court over this? This is absolutely pathetic, atrocious behavior that should’ve never gone on as long as it did. If I had my way about it, that Pastor and her former husband would receive life imprisonment.

    Reply
  5. No name today

    I found myself nodding right around with this- everything she said about her husband, right up to the marital rape- my husband seems to “try” with sex. But so many mixed results. He can find the clit. He can’t find the clit. Early in our marriage he told me he figured out he would always be okay, so he should focus on making sure I was okay. I thought, “YAY this is great!” and then spent a decade + trying to figure out why I was still so broken and couldn’t get to climax. It was my fault… Now I understand he wasn’t spending near enough time doing what it takes to get me there. And he didn’t actually know my anatomy (but somehow when he wanted to hammer my clit like what he had seen on porn, then he could find it). He does and doesn’t know my anatomy?

    I have realized I’m parenting alone and have been this whole time. We have both realized that he is a narcissist. He admits it now, which is weird, honestly.

    My counselor wants me to divorce him… At this point he = health insurance, income (not terrific income, but some), and transportation for teenagers.

    Yes, I was raped for many years… Due to both of us believing it was the wife’s duty.

    Part of me feels like I don’t want to go through what it takes to divorce and I don’t want to deal with it. The other part of me says that I’m not at all happy that the only person I ever get to have sex with is my husband. He’s the only man I’ve ever been with and I’m kinda mad about it at this point. I’ve never been with an unselfish man or one that loves me with passion.

    We have all (including the kids) recognized that hubby is incapable of empathy and thinking of other’s wellbeing over his own. I literally have him put calendar appointments in his phone to remind him to do some of the emotional labor of the household… I don’t have security if things will be followed up with, particularly financial things, (well, anything I put him in charge of, really)… THIS IS NOT OKAY.

    I’m grateful to be in a place that I can refuse sex without punishment (at this point I have the higher drive anyway, as I step into my own power). I’m not being physically abused. I’m not being sexually abused anymore. I just don’t have an equal partner in life. (Or a clean house. I don’t have that either. It’s getting bad.)

    Do I have to come to terms with not ever getting good sex? Not having a supportive partner? Parenting alone? Continuing to try to get him to grow up? I’m not even sure that’s my job- getting him to grow up. Isn’t that on him?

    Reply
    • Anon

      Oh, he’ll grow up when you file the divorce papers and he’s alone. Look elsewhere after you’ve gone through the divorce of course, for emotional and relational needs. Your husband had his chance and he blew it.

      Reply
      • No name today

        Thank you so much. ❤️❤️
        Been fighting tears today. It’s almost like, if he was so much worse, then I could justify divorce. It’s like he knows how to be just good enough without actually being a support. Sigh.

        Reply
        • The Woman on the Podcast

          No Name Today, I would just encourage you to get with a licensed counselor and tell your story. Often, it is so our normal that we don’t see it for what it is. Love & Prayers.

          Reply
    • Boone

      I realize that the demons you know can be a lot less scary than the ones you don’t know. Please talk to a lawyer. For your sanity’s sake and for the sake of your children. You may be in a lot better shape than you realize to make a new start.

      Reply
    • The Woman on the Podcast

      I had the thought also about never experiencing good sex in my life. Just sending you love and prayers. You are NOT alone. ❤️‍🩹🙏🏻

      Reply
  6. Sarah R

    I thought I could hack the graphic part — I’ve heard a lot of terrible stuff, and have no personal experience of it. I had to work hard not to burst into tears by the end of her description, as I was driving. Seriously, how could her church not have empathised with her? How did they not step in to stop this evil?! Richard indeed — the short form, though. So glad she is safe.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know! I’m the same way. It just threw me so much that the church didn’t support her after learning that.

      Reply
      • Boone

        This is similar to the case where I sued the church, pastor and elders several years ago. The woman had met the pastor and two elders previously asking for help. The abuse was physical against her and the children.
        On a Sunday morning the pastor asked her to come forward and take a seat in the platform. She thought that the congregation was going to pray for her. It turned out to be an ambush trial. The pastor and all of elders jumped on her because she had filed for divorce. She tried to get up and leave twice but each time was forcefully ordered to sit by the pastor. That poor woman was accused of things that she never even thought of, let alone done. The church video taped all of their Sunday morning services for distribution to their shut in members. They were stupid enough to tape that Sunday. I got a copy of the tape. That church sat over near Dollywood. There are condos built there now. The jury loved that tape.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Is this the kind of work that you do for people, Boone? I often get asked for referrals and I’ll keep you on my list! Are you in Tennessee?

          Reply
          • Boone

            I appreciate it, but this past September marked my 40th year in the practice of law. I also turned 64 years old. Come next Sept 1 I’m locking the door and going home. I have three contested divorces still in the works and I’m filing one Mon for a friend. I have two felony criminal cases set for trial in May and July. Both of those I hope to settle. After those six cases are done. I won’t be taking on anything more complicated than a chicken thief.
            I plan to play with my grandchildren, work on the farm, catch trout and shoot quail.

          • Lisa Johns

            Boone, may God bless you in your retirement! I hope you have a WONDERFUL time!

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes! As Keith is moving towards retirement too, I know what a big change that is. Thank you for all you’ve done!

      • Stefanie

        That’s why I think they think it’s normal. Just a typical Saturday night. It sounds like that clip of Eggerich saying the woman crying in the shower was doing the good, godly thing. They all think that’s what sex is supposed to be, except that if she *really* wanted to be “righteous” she would have pretended to be enthusiastic.

        Reply
  7. Mara R

    As mentioned above, this happens because churches don’t love or value women.

    It also happens because culturally, the pain of women is not taken as seriously as men’s pain. The “Man Cold” video has already been shared here. And there are countless stories of women who were in dire medical circumstances being medically gaslighted. It happens in emergency rooms for physical ailments. It happens in churches concerning emotional, sexual, and even physical abuse. It is believed by most that women are nearly always exaggerating.

    Also, the church has a horrible history of understanding brain disorders and personality disorders. I know in my own personal life, I had to come to the conclusion that God never intended for a woman to submit to a man’s brain/personality disorder. But so many churches who believe in male headship expect just that.

    And lastly, as was also mentioned in the podcast, male headship is far more important than female safety in far too many churches.

    For anyone who hasn’t seen this one yet:
    https://baptistnews.com/article/why-women-talking-has-women-talking-and-complementarian-men-fuming/

    Reply
    • Mara R

      Forgot to mention, loved the podcast. Loved you guest and so glad that she shared.

      Also feel the need to confess my own hardness of heart from living in a coercive marriage with a guy with a brain/personality disorder. I didn’t skip forward when given trigger warnings and was expecting things to be worse that what I heard. I need my sisters around me, like at least one of the above commenters and Sheila to give me the proper perspective.

      It meant a lot to me, Sheila, that you became choked up while reading the guests letter and the abuse she suffered. It reminded me of a time when I told a friend what I was going through with my then husband. I told it cold-stone sober with no emotion. But my friend started crying for me. And this show of emotion from my friend was so validating. It was encouraging, helping me to understand how bad things truly were. I needed her tears because I wasn’t at a place where I could cry my own yet.

      Reply
      • The Woman on the Podcast

        Sheila’s tears meant a lot to me. It is so validating for others to feel your pain.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’m still so honored you shared your story and your home with me! You’re a very brave woman.

          Reply
        • Mara R

          Woman on the Podcast,

          Just to be clear, I did think your story was awful. And it is worse than my story (I know, we aren’t in competition just trying to clarify myself)

          This week I’m dealing with a mental health crisis with one of my children, so this also makes me take on the “Suck it up and deal with life” attitude that doesn’t leave room for much emotion outside of taking care of myself, my child in crisis, and my other children who are also dealing with his crisis. They are all grown. But they are still my babies and I’m on heightened alert as we navigate new waters in this journey.

          So I think that’s another reason I so appreciated Sheila’s tears. She could be open and generous with her empathy. I consider that to be a life goal for myself.

          Reply
      • Laura

        Mara R,

        It’s been almost 21 years since I left a sexually abusive marriage. Whenever I talk about being a survivor of marital rape/sexual assault, I still cannot cry. I tell my story stone-cold sober and probably sound emotionless and disconnected.

        Reply
  8. Michelle

    This doesn’t have to do with church but rather along the lines of Christian counselors giving horrible advice about sex. My husband had just disclosed to me how he had been cheating our entire relationship and lying about it. (16 years at that point) and the counselor asked if we were still having sex. He asked my husband the question and my husband said, “No we aren’t having sex right now. But I understand why she doesn’t want to.” The counselor then turned to me and asked why I wasn’t having sex with him and I said because the thought made me want to throw up and I felt repulsed and unsafe. The counselor then told me I was withholding sex from my husband as a way to get revenge on him for him cheating. He then said it says in the Bible husbands and wives cannot deprive each other of sex and that I was going against the word of God in order to try and hurt my husband. He then went on to say other completely horrific things in that session and as my husband and I were walking to our car afterwards my husband says, “We’re not coming back are we?” And I was like, “Nope!” And that was the end of seeing that counselor. The label of “Christian” does not mean that that’s the best counselor for whatever situation you’re in just because you also are a Christian. I’ve since found a betrayed spouse trauma specialist who is absolutely amazing. But don’t seek a counselor just because they have that “Christian label.”

    Reply
    • Jo R

      “The counselor then told me I was withholding sex from my husband as a way to get revenge on him for him cheating. He then said it says in the Bible husbands and wives cannot deprive each other of sex and that I was going against the word of God in order to try and hurt my husband.”

      This is also in the Bible:

      YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Michelle! That’s just awful. Unconscionable. But a lot of biblical counselors especially teach this. That’s why it’s so important to see a licensed counselor.

      Reply
    • Viola

      I’m so sorry that that happened to you. I’m so glad your husband saw the problem and was willing to make the switch. Praying for your healing 🙏💞

      Reply
  9. Sarah O

    The woman on the podcast: acknowledging your courage in sharing. I am so sorry. And I’m glad you found Sheila and I’m glad you felt like this was a place where you would be seen and heard. I can’t imagine how hard it is to keep speaking up after being ignored so many times by your husband and the church. This has been a place of solid ground for many of us when our paths crumbled.

    I hope God is giving you back what the locusts destroyed with each passing day and may you find many more good, kind friends like Sheila on your journey.

    And in case you need to hear it: the way you were treated was wrong. Wrong. Bad. Sinful. Mean. Evil. You didn’t deserve it, it wasn’t your fault, and no amount of church polity or neurodivergence excuses it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s beautiful, Sarah.

      Reply
    • The Woman on the Podcast

      Thank you so much Sarah ❤️‍🩹

      Reply
  10. JamieLH

    Rape is illegal. Making child porn is illegal.
    Why is this even a ‘church’ issue?
    These abusers need to be in prison!

    When the world out performs the church it trashes our testimony.
    Moses forfeited the promised land by misrepresenting God simply for smacking a rock.
    How do they think God feels about the ‘church’ dismissing and sweeping rampant abuse of his children under the rug?
    This is beyond evil.

    Reply
  11. Bonnie

    I thought I could handle it too…but her description was exactly what I experienced for over 20 of my 25 years of marriage, and I cried while hearing it.
    It was just a way to survive and not rock the boat. I finally told him last year that I will no longer have sex if I can’t say “yes” gladly. Life has been pretty miserable since then, but really, it’s been miserable all along, so why be miserable AND raped?! Interestingly, just as I read these comments, my husband arrived home, and he began saying his usual comments. I feel strong and aware, thanks to your work, Sheila, as well as an excellent counselor and a couple women in my life who keep encouraging me. We tried a marriage counselor. He went 3 times…I agreed with him that it wasn’t really a good use of our money (because I wasn’t at a place where I was “all in” on staying married), so after the final session, I requested feedback from the counselor. His perspective was that I’m being emotionally abused, and my husband is totally closed off to seeing himself.
    Very empowering, since my husband is a smooth talker who has our preachers convinced that I just need to “try harder”, and use sex as the glue that holds our marriage together. My response? In a healthy marriage, yes, sex would be glue. In our marriage, it’s covered with slime, and the glue just makes a bigger mess.
    I didn’t intend to write all this, but thank you, The Woman on the Podcast, for showing me your experiences. Prayers are with you.

    Reply
    • The Woman on the Podcast

      Thank you for writing. My heart breaks. That season when you are no longer having sex, but now you are living with someone who is perpetually angry with you is so toxic. I pray you are able to find a path to peace and healing. ❤️‍🩹

      Reply
  12. TP

    Hello! First of all, thank you so much Sheila for your ongoing ministry! You have had a profound impact! And thank you for this particular podcast (and thanks also to the precious women who shared her story). I was so amazed that it was almost identical to my own. My sexual experience was so similar and continued for 26 years. I also wanted professional counseling, but my husband forbid it. He was somewhat reluctant, but willing to talk with pastors or pastor’s wives. I was also told the same things: be sexier, wear more alluring lingerie, be willing to go out of your comfort zone in the bedroom. (Everything was out of my comfort zone with him!) When I told them I was averse to any kind of sexual contact (my husband was also physically abusive in addition to the mental, spiritual and emotional abuse), I was told that I was sinning by not enjoying it. I was told this by many leader’s wives in the church. So, not only was I feeling like I was raped every time, I now had guilt on top of that. I kept trying to “repent” of the “sin” of not enjoying sex with my abusive husband. My heart went out to this sweet woman, I felt such camaraderie with her. I felt all of her pain. My husband also used our kids to “get me in line”. If I wasn’t performing to the level he wanted me to in the bedroom (or even touching him a lot during the day), he would take it out on me AND our two children. It would simultaneously make me want to try harder, so they wouldn’t suffer, but then make me MORE repulsed by being physical with him. I could not win. He would also threaten to leave me, divorce me, take our kids away from me if I did not be the kind of wife in the bedroom he wanted (deserved)! And, his 15 plus years of pornography use was also my fault. Even though, I never once said no to him in the bedroom. I, like your guest, tried to hang on to the marriage by trying to stay on that hamster wheel and just kept running faster. Thank God I am out now, but my husband (like your dear guest’s) also told our kids that the divorce was my idea, my fault and I was the one not following God. I did eventually leave (mainly to get my kids to safety) but I never mentioned the word “divorce”. But he did many, many times. In any case, God is at work freeing women in our situations and He is SO GOOD!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      “I kept trying to “repent” of the “sin” of not enjoying sex with my abusive husband.”

      Wow. That is so tragic. I’m so glad you’re out now, and I hope your children are okay! Thank you for sharing your story.

      Reply
    • The Woman on the Podcast

      I relate to so much of what you wrote. I used to pray for God to put the whammy on me and make me like having sex. I even looked into hypnosis at one point thinking maybe I could be hypnotized into liking sex. I was ultimately not comfortable with that idea but it was considered. People acted like sex was so important to keeping us “close” but in reality I never felt a bigger gulf between us than right after we had intercourse, and for a long time I couldn’t figure out why. Others would suggest non sexual touching but that also threw me into panic and was in some ways worse because I was always afraid of turning him on and then having to follow through. And kissing felt even more intimate and therefore more off putting than intercourse.

      It was just such a mess and I’m so thankful it’s over and I never have to have obligation sex again.

      Reply
  13. Lou

    Sheila, do you have resources to help women recover from the trauma of marital rape? How to approach new relationships after divorce from an abusive husband? How can women who associate sex with trauma learn to have a healthy, safe relationship?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s a tough one! I’d say first see a licensed therapist who is trained in evidence-based trauma treatments. There are things that can honestly help. Then read books like The Great Sex Rescue so that you can see that this was never God’s will for you, and that what was done was exactly against what sex was supposed to be. And then just talk about it, if you can. Get involved in groups with safe, interesting people. Surround yourself as much as you can with healthy people so you don’t get sucked into other forms of trauma and drama. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this!

      Reply
      • Viola

        Dear Sheila , Thank you for all you do.
        On this topic of Marital rape, would you consider having the therapist Darby Strickland on the podcast. She has written a book to educate pastors on “Oppressive Marriages”. She mentions, that a lot of trauma starts on the marriage night for Christian couples as honeymoon rape is incredibly common. I hope this comment gets to you.
        Keep doing what you do. You bless us women so much

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I appreciate what Darby has said, but I’m very uncomfortable about how she doesn’t come out and say that it’s okay to divorce over abuse. I believe she won’t say this because Focus on the Family won’t have her on if she approves of divorce for abuse. But women in abusive situations need to know divorce is okay. So while much of what she says is great, I’m afraid that she’s being used by a big organization to keep their donor dollars, and I hope that she will reconsider and think of the women. If I am wrong and if she has clearly said you can divorce for abuse, I would love to see it. But instead on her articles and interviews with Focus, I haven’t seen that.

          Reply
  14. Connie

    There was one small comment about his porn use, yet the abuse was more blamed on his mental health. She said he was a good man who wanted to do right. I don’t think so, not if he was into porn. This does huge harm and causes abuse and lying and entitlement.

    Reply
    • The Woman on the Podcast

      Connie, I totally agree. I didn’t talk much about the porn use because I was never sure how pervasive it was. I had a few occasions that I caught him, but he always denied that it was ongoing, and although I think that was probably not true, I don’t have proof.

      The nuance of an abusive relationship is hard to describe. I don’t know if you follow Andrew Bauman at all, but he has an article called “The Spectrum of an Abuser.” If you read his section about “The Unaware Fool” it describes my ex quite well.

      Reply
  15. Laura

    I thought this would be hard to listen to because of similar experiences I’ve had. It was traumatizing enough to endure sexual assault in the last year of my marriage, but for the woman being interviewed, she endured it for far too long and dealt with church hurt trauma as well. I never took my marriage problems to my church because of the fear that they favored men over women which probably would not be true. I just didn’t want to risk dealing with the church and filed for divorce myself. As I look back on that painful time in my life, I realize there were possible warning signs that led me to believe this. In 1999, when my ex and I were engaged and took a premarital class, the book that was used was His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley (a very sexist book). One of the marriage counselors/pastors (a man) would say that divorce should never be an option, yet this man was on his second or third marriage. When my ex and I had marriage counseling through the church during the first year of our marriage, I expressed feeling suffocated by his constant attention and demands and not being able to have some alone time, the counselor (a man) told me I needed to put my husband first and consider his feelings first. To a point, I believe in considering the needs of the other ahead of my own, but my husband would not let me have a moment to myself. He was possessive and demanding of my free time that any free time I had was supposed to be spent with him and him only. No wonder, I stopped marriage counseling through the church and more than a year later, the sexual assault while I slept started happening almost regularly.

    In spite of leaving my ex and having some mixed feelings about church, I clung to my faith in God and knew His Son would not approve of my husband’s behavior even though the church might think otherwise. I changed churches even though that former church probably didn’t even know I left because it was a megachurch. The church I started attending as a recently divorced woman was a better fit for me and they had a support group for domestic violence survivors.

    Like the woman on the podcast, I felt some guilt for getting a divorce even though I know that God wanted me out of that situation for my own safety. It took years before I came to the conclusion that getting a divorce because of abuse was not sinful. I had to repent for feeling like I had to repent when I knew that it was the right thing for me to do.

    Woman on the podcast, thank you so much for sharing your story and moving forward with your life. I am so glad you found a better, healthier church that cares about women. May God continue to heal you and your children. I pray for the best for you and your family.

    Reply
    • The Woman on the Podcast

      Thank you Laura ❤️🙏🏻

      Reply
  16. Grace

    My heart just goes out to you! May you continue to seek the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and may you always find him and be loved and protected by him. ❤️

    Reply
    • The Woman on the Podcast

      Thank you Grace ❤️‍🩹🙏🏻

      Reply
  17. Alisha

    So much of her story was my story. I separated from my ex-husband 3 years ago, for multiple reasons, but mostly because he was sexually abusing me in my sleep. He also had a horrid piece of sexual abuse from his past that I didn’t find out about until after we were married. I received no support from the church when I got abuse. Our small group leader (a man) wrote me a 12-page letter telling me not to get a divorce and that I was in danger of not “finishing the race well” (and also that this would affect my children) if I did get one. He didn’t send a letter to my ex-husband at all. While I was also the one involved in the church (I taught Sunday School and wrote the Christmas programs), the church supported my ex-husband and not me. Our friends at the church also supported him and not me. My family, though they knew the details, did not support me. Choosing a divorce was the scariest thing I ever did because I wasn’t supported by anyone in my life at that time, and I feared as a result that I was displeasing God. I had a therapist, though, who gave me permission. And she saw the abuse and named it. So I stepped out in faith. And today I am so, so healthy and happy. And I’m safe.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you’re free, and I’m so sorry that the church didn’t support you. That’s awful!

      Reply
    • Jes

      I’m very surprised more pastors and people don’t read Jeremiah three, verses one through eight. God gets a divorce from his wife Israel. So why can’t we, mere servants or humans, get divorces from our spouses who miss treat us? Why do people want to preach so much on heaven and finishing the race well and all that, win all this side of eternity has been nothing but hell and misery for them. Frankly, those scriptures are not for those people. Luke chapter 4 is for them, where Jesus says I have come to heal the brokenhearted, set the captives free, etc. to only preach one section of scripture, or to only preach from one part of the Bible, you might as well just ditch the whole Bible in its entirety.

      Reply
    • Laura

      Alisha,

      When I was married to my ex-husband, he sexually assaulted me while I slept. Such a hard, traumatizing thing to go through. Even though getting a divorce was one of the best things I could do for myself, I felt some guilt about it and that I didn’t finish the race well. What I realized in recent years is that God wanted me out of a toxic, dangerous situation and He had told me to leave.

      I am glad that you have left a toxic situation and that you are doing better. Thank you for sharing your story on here.

      Reply

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