What’s the Difference Between Authority and Leadership in Marriage?

by | Jun 30, 2023 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 94 comments

Male leadership and authority in marriage
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Can you be a leader without being in authority?

That’s an interesting question–and it’s one that’s popped up a lot in the comments section on the blog this week! I’d like to give some definitions and some broad discussions of this, and then just post some comments where the debate has happened.

Okay, let’s look at authority first.

What’s the Definition of Authority?

“I have the right to make decisions for you, which you must follow along with.”

Someone in authority can set the agenda for those under them.

We see authority in a boss/employee situation; we see it in a teacher/student situation; and we can see it in a marriage which thinks that the husband is supposed to make the final decision.

What about leadership?

What’s the Definition of Leadership?

“going before, showing the way, taking the initiative.”

When a group of soldiers needs to assault a posiiton, the leader is the one who gets up and goes first and the others follow.

You can be a leader without having authority. Leadership is a good quality that can motivate others and get things done. Leadership is based on your internal character and your behavior.

Authority, however, is merely based on your position, and has nothing necessarily to do with your merits.


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Let’s take the idea of spiritual leadership. This is something that Keith and I touched on in the podcast yesterday. I said:

The Danvers Statement's 4 Ways Complementarianism can Go Wrong

From PODCAST: The 4 Ways Marriage Goes Wrong, According to Complementarians

I think when women say, “I just want my husband to be a spiritual leader,” I don’t think they mean leader. I think they just mean I want him to be engaged. I want someone who is actually taking the initiative and being proactive and thinking, “Okay. You know what? We really should be talking to our kids more about God. Let’s just pray after dinner. Or let’s have some neat conversations at dinner where we share our highs and our lows. And let’s connect with the kids.” She’s not looking for a leader. She just doesn’t want to have to do all this herself.

In looking back at this, I think I meant leader interchangeably with authority. When we talk about “spiritual leader”, we’re often thinking of it in authority terms. But I don’t think people want a leader in terms of “they are in a position over me” (or authority). I think we mean leader in terms of initiative–going first. Seeing what needs to be done, and getting it done.

Someone can have leadership without having authority. Leadership does not mean that a person is in a position of authority.

I think what people really want in marriage is certainly not “authority.” What we want is initiative. And just because someone takes initiative does not mean that they are in charge.

Leading by taking initiative is just what a decent, responsible person does.

Here’s what commenter JoR wrote this week:

There are two employees, Bill and Rob, who are part of a largish team. They both sit in the meetings where the team discusses what needs to be done, and they both receive specific assignments from the boss.

As Bill starts doing his explicitly assigned tasks of ABC, he realizes that he really ought to do GHIJ and even PQR as well, which hadn’t been explicitly assigned to anyone.

Rob does his explicitly assigned tasks of DEF, then stops and waits for his next assignment. He never notices that GHIJ and PQR also need doing, or if he does, he decides they’re not his responsibility because they were not explicitly assigned to him. His boss never ASKED him to do those additional tasks, so he simply doesn’t do them. Or perhaps he goes to his boss after completing DEF and asks, “What should I do now?”

Who would you prefer to work with, Bill or Rob? Sure, Rob will do the other stuff IF YOU ASK HIM, but Bill is a self-starter who keeps his eyes open for whatever ELSE needs doing to complete the project—and he just does those extra things.

Is Bill a leader? Or just being a responsible teammate and employee?

Jo R

Great question! And here’s why this question matters:

Sometimes men especially can think that because they take initiative by doing what a decent, engaged, responsible person does, that this means they are proving their authority in the family.

Because they took initiative, they are there leading. And those who lead have authority. So therefore them taking initiative proves their authority.

Here’s how all of this got started.

A man wrote about his much-needed and very positive transformation in his marriage after neglecting his wife and a years-long pornography addiction, like this:

After I got through the [90 day sex fast after quitting porn] (first time I’d ever done something like that post puberty) and she still wasn’t throwing herself at me, I read a secular book on getting your married sex life fixed as a man. The book basically said, “become a better man, so that she wants you again” but had a lot of practical advice. Anyway, one of the things was family leadership. There was absolutely no Christian “she’s your wife so she must submit and encourage you” to lean on, just “start acting and taking initiative.” I mentioned off handedly that I might be taking on more leadership in the home, and she quite literally laughed in my face. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Then, when it kept up and wasn’t just a phase, when I got home from work and was involved, saw things that needed to be done and just … did them, attended to the boys, kept a level head when she was pushed overboard and overwhelmed and calmed her down and helped her plot a course, etc…she got…PISSED.

I took her on a date, she looked across the table from me and said:

“You are capable of THIS, and you have me 15 years of THAT? I wan’t a refund. I want those 15 years back!”

Thank God I had the wisdom to understand what was happening. She was giving me a backhanded compliment: “the change is real, I believe it’s here to stay, so I finally have the freedom to be angry and grieve just how bad things were. I don’t have to pretend or lie anymore.” This anger from her was the fruit of all my work. It was a gift. And I said, “I wish more than anything I could give you those years back. I want them back too. All I can do is make these next 15 so much better that the last 15 pale in comparison- if you’ll have me.”


Now, I’m really glad that he became so engaged! But as several commenters noted–was this actually him leading? Or was it him just taking initiative?

Bernadette said:

From your comments it sounds to me like you stepped up by doing your fair share of the work. That’s not leadership.

Several times you’ve claimed that you and your wife’s relationship improved because you are now leading. But based on your own descriptions you didn’t lead, you started acting like an adult.

Near the end of your comment you describe things that are not leadership while insinuating they are leadership. Addressing all of them would take too long.

Here’s one I will address. You said that your wife wanted to feel taken care of?

You do realize that she’d been taking care of you for 15 years? How come it’s leadership when you do it but not when she does it?

And even if being taken care of was the same as following someone, why should one spouse be designated as the one who needs to be taken care of because of gender?

What if her gender isn’t the issue, it’s that she’s exhausted from taking care of you?

And once she’s recovered the workload will be distributed more evenly?


Then Angharad jumped in:

Why not use a phrase like ‘behaving like an adult’ or ‘playing an active part in the marriage’.

Yet again, all the examples you are giving of your ‘leadership’ are nothing of the kind. You describe selecting a restaurant for a date as ‘leadership’. On that basis, I ‘led’ both my parents when I organised special meals for their significant birthdays. ‘Holding yourself tall’ as you walk down the street is just good posture. Plotting a course for your walk is basic navigation (and if that’s ‘leadership’, then I’m ‘leading’ my husband pretty much every time we go out, because he is a hopeless navigator). I could go on.

You’ve mentioned repeatedly how your wife looks at you adoringly for these things – well, that’s great. After 15 years with an overgrown schoolboy, I’m not surprised she’s loving being around an adult for a change.

But this is not leadership – it’s just being a normal, grownup human being who has (finally) realised that more than one person needs to put effort into a marriage if it’s to work.


This leads me to another question:

Do we need to use the language of leadership to encourage men to be partners?

I wonder if part of what is going on is that many men have put most of the burden of managing the household and the marriage on the wife. She is the one who is engaged, making sure everything gets done, taking initiative to do any “couple” things, and he often gets to coast.

If men are going to become engaged, do they need to see this as more than just “I’m becoming an active partner”? Lasta, the original male commenter, did so when he read a book about a man taking leadership (which basically meant just taking initiative and doing what his wife was already doing). Is the problem that many men will only be partners if they can tell themselves that by doing so, they are “leading”?

I’m honestly wondering here, and I’d love some feedback.

Because, like Bernadette and Angharad and multiple other commenters said, when the wife was doing these things, she wasn’t considered to be “leading”, even though she was doing them on her own. But now that he’s doing them WITH her, he defines himself as leading.

I would love to live in a world where it would simply be enough for everyone to take initiative and be engaged and responsible without needing to feel like the leader to do it. Without needing to feel like they get extra brownie points for merely doing what someone else already has been doing.

I think that would make for better marriages. What do you think?

What's the difference between leadership and authority in marriage?

Chime in in the comments section! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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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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  1. Phil

    What if Lastra read a book titled we are equals and it has the same content but instead where it said man leads it says he is equal? Would he tell you that after 15 years that he is now stepping up and being equal to his wife? When I look at my marriage, there are periods where I have “LED” the way. And there are periods where my wife has lead the way. Now we lead together and sometimes we both need to take the lead of something. However, We always come back to US. I can tell you that without my wife leading in our marriage I would be on my back gasping for air. BTW – loved the use of Letters JoR. 🤣. Numbers and letters. It comes down to the basics lol.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, there are times when Keith is stronger and times when I am!

  2. Mary

    I think of leadership like Jesus did. He lead with thought provoking conversation. He guided people towards his Father. He spent lots of time in prayer to know how best to lead. And he showed lots of compassion and love, while standing up for Gods truth in love. He addressed sinful behavior. But, did not cast people away, but drew them closer. What if marriage was similar. Praying together and alone, encouraging one another to make decisions in Gods best interest. Showing Grace and compassion. Seeking to meet each others needs and desires. But, not being codependent. Accepting our own flaws and making amends.
    If the husband was to lead with compassion, love, and share Gods truth what a family it would be.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think if we were all to act like that, that would be beautiful!

    • Laura


      This is excellent! We (both male and female) look to Jesus as our example of how to grow closer to God. I am all for husbands initiating prayer and actively engaging with the family. I just don’t understand why we have to call it “leading” when the husband does these things, but when the wife does the same things, she’s “usurping his authority.”

  3. Joelle

    I love the journey you’ve taken me on. With every book, podcast and articles of yours I read, I gain so much insight and understanding. I used to think my ex-husband wasn’t a leader, but now I realized he wasn’t engaged, and very immature. God forbid I wasn’t submissive, but I had to figure out and handle almost everything. We adopted high needs children and he would tell me I was parenting them wrong, while he did nothing to help with any of the hard stuff. I read all the books that didn’t help (Christian parenting books are as toxic as the marriage ones), poured over articles, and wondered what was wrong with me that I was so stressed and angry all the time. Every struggle they had he blamed on me, while he only wanted to play video games with them. That marriage wasn’t a happy ending, the IBLP-raised, porn-addicted, passive nice guy turned out to be a pedophile. I’m free of him now, and my children are trying to find healing, and I’m learning so much from you. Thank you. Don’t give up, no matter what the backlash is. You’ve changed my life and I’m so grateful. I see the toxicity and lies that kept me trapped, and I’m free now.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Joelle, I’m sorry for what you went through, but I’m so glad you’re safe now. And thanks for the encouragement!

    • R

      Man, you are right about the doggone Christian parenting books.

      • Lisa Johns

        Ain’t that the truth! Those books are AWFUL!
        (And yes, I did follow them. Nothing good came of that, but God is good and allows me to repair relationships with my children!)

    • Amy A

      Oh, you bring up a good point with the parenting books! It makes sense that they’d be horrible too. Do you know of anyone who does similar things as Bare Marriage does with parenting?

  4. Anna

    This is good and something I need to think on; let it marinate. I think we’ve done a decent job in our marriage of letting each others strengths balance the others “weaknesses”. (Not sure it should really be called a weakness if you just aren’t as good as your partner at a particular thing. I’m proficient at things he is better at and vice versa.) But at times I do think I am the one who is too much. I mean I am home full time homeschooling our kids while he works long hours; so its not like I can wait on some decisions. And when he’s home there has had to be communication about taking initiative with things like correcting behavior or bedtime. I had to let him make decisions about kid extracurriculars even though I’m the one who does the driving around. And his ideas have been so good for them! But Hes gotten more involved and gained confidence in the everyday things too. I try to be aware of how I might be limiting him because of our backgrounds. We both had domineering fathers and I think that is behind the times he’s hesitant to take initiative in parenting things. And the times I forget he’s just as capable. Thankfully he’s really good at doing that with household stuff. Hes also in counseling and that has been great at opening doors to discuss uncomfortable things. (Something that can feel very uncomfortable for people who weren’t allowed a different perspective at home.) Its kind of humbling to walk beside someone through this hard, messy stuff.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It sounds like you’re asking all the right questions, Anna, and you’re aware of the dynamics. That’s awesome!

  5. Codec

    I think the right words to use would be these. Initiative and courtesy.

    Sometimes being courteous means that you take the first move to try and make things right. Sometimes it means putting away your instant gratification to help someone else.

    I know as a man I get tired of seeing men portrayed as being fools. I think that promoting the idea of partnership and courtesy may help with that and with the problems women face.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I like that! Partnership and courtesy.

    • Lisa Johns

      I love those word choices. Courtesy would have been so pleasant to me over the course of my marriage!

  6. Angharad

    I’ve noticed over the years that there is a divide in many churches between those who are willing to just get on and do what is needed and those who feel they have to have some kind of title or position or honour for their service.

    I’m all in favour of expressing gratitude to those who do helpful things for us, but at the same time, I think that requesting/demanding a ‘title’ or reward for ‘good behaviour’ flies in the face of so much we are taught in the Bible. Jesus’ teaching urges us to be meek and servant-hearted because our reward is in heaven, not to seek position and honour in this life and having everyone praising us for doing…what we should be doing anyway! Is someone who is unable to serve alongside another as equals unless they can claim a ‘leadership role’ truly fulfilling Christ’s teaching?

    Maybe instead we should be following the example given in Hebrews, and seeing how we can ‘spur each other on to love and good deeds.’ No vying for authority or position, just supporting and encouraging each other as equals to live the life Christ intends us to live. Sounds like a recipe for a pretty good marriage to me.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


    • R

      Your comment reminded me of how a handful of people are at our church. They think that if someone works hard for the church in a volunteer capacity, that they should be thanked/their efforts pointed out from the front/from the pulpit.
      My husband and I have done quite a lot of volunteer work for our church over the last few years, but we find this sort of public acknowledgment incredibly uncomfortable and awkward. A private word of encouragement is much more appreciated in my opinion.

  7. Ginger

    I would love to read an in depth study of the meaning of authority and specifically legitimate authority. John Rawls’ theory is that authority is legitimate if and only if it acts in accordance with what the subjects agree to. So, the level of authority granted depends on the one who will be in subjection, and when the one in subjection says, “No,” the authority of the other person ends. Others believe that authority is simply the right to rule, the right to set the rules, the right to impose duties on others. In this belief, coercion can be justified. It seems to me that the latter is the definition of authority generally taught and practiced in complementarian groups. And, as we know, it is extremely harmful to those who have no “authority” even over themselves.

    • Bernadette

      One thing I know for sure: If it came from *misinterpreting* the Bible, that’s not legitimate authority.

  8. J

    This is spot on. I don’t want to turn off my brain and have someone always telling me what to do. No where in the Bible is it even suggested that I should do that. I want a partner, a man who’s engaged with me, our family, and our life.

    I spent thirty years with a very emotionally immature man who couldn’t come close. He did some things right: he changed diapers and always started washing pots as soon as he got home. But he couldn’t engage emotionally with me or the kids and he couldn’t play with us. If work wasn’t involved, he isolated. Because we were in a complimentarian church during that time. I used to beg him to lead. I was really begging him to be present. To be engaged. To do all the things I was already doing. To join me in our marriage and family.

    I can so relate to the angry woman who said she wanted her 15 years back. I would have loved to have been in relationship with an adult all that time.

    Are we surprised that we have a generation of man boys in the church? I’m not saying all men are man boys, but there sure seems to be a lot of them. This leadership teaching is really just another layer of infantilization of men: “Look, the women are already doing this stuff, and many of them are working outside of the home as well. But if you, husband. Just start behaving like a grown up, we’ll give you all sorts of titles and accolades. Heck, we’ll even tell your wife she should feel so blessed to have you!! Look at you washing your own underwear! You’re a leader! You’re a rock star! You da man!!”

    The Chuch has redefined basic adulting, which women are doing, as a big special deal when men do it. What a crock. Maybe complemtarians are panicking now that, socially, women don’t need men to survive. How many women have woken up and said, “wait a second! I’m doing everything anyway, and that includes working outside the home!! This man boy is just dead weight!” Instead of telling men to grow up and participate, they tell women to keep giving men power over them.

    Nah. I’ll take the adult man who wants a partnership and mutuality. That way we share the load and both reap the benefits instead of the woman pulling the load and the man boy getting fawned over for doing next to nothing.

    • Laura


      You really hit the nail on the head when you said this: Maybe complementarians are panicking now that, socially, women don’t need men to survive. How many women have woken up and said, “wait a second! I’m doing everything anyway, and that includes working outside the home!! This man boy is just dead weight!” Instead of telling men to grow up and participate, they tell women to keep giving men power over them.

      I have had that feeling for quite some time now, especially lately when the SBC’s most recent crisis was to disfellowship Saddleback Church for ordaining women. That was their current crisis: they just have to keep men in power. I had been attending a Baptist church for several months because of a friend, but when I found out they were part of the SBC and the pastor mentioned his stance on women being in leadership, I was like I’m just not having it so I won’t attend that church anymore, except for Celebrate Recovery and any community-related events they have.

      During biblical times, it was dangerous for women to be single especially if they did not have relatives to support them. That’s why Ruth (a young widow) took a risk by choosing to go with her widowed mother-in-law Naomi. For Naomi, whose sons and husband were deceased, she would be destitute if she was all alone. I have heard men say things like “If you can do things yourself, what do you need me for?” I think my ex-husband said that. He treated me like I was a child and could not take care of myself. That was far from true because I had lived alone before I ever met him. I managed the finances, made the appointments, took care of the dog, and stayed on top of things in our marriage. Yet, he thought because he was the man, he could demand sex at any time and it did not matter whether I wanted it or how I was feeling. He also thought he could make decisions (such as agreeing with his mother to moved to a condo she was buying) without consulting me.

      I guess these men don’t want a partner; they just want a live-in maid who gives sex on demand.

      • Lisa Johns

        I think they are shaking in their shoes because women CAN take care of themselves, and this is also the reason they are so critical of divorce — they DON’T want us women to think we can just leave them if they’re immature and selfish!

        • Laura

          During biblical times, the patriarchal culture made it so that it was nearly impossible for single and widowed women to be dependent on the system rather than learning to support themselves. Yet, I think there were wealthy women who managed well regardless of marital status. I’m just not sure. I wonder if Mary and Martha (Lazarus’s sisters were single). Anna, the prophetess, who had been widowed far longer than she was married spent all her time at the temple. I wonder how she managed financially and if she depended on anyone.

          Thankfully, I can be a self-sufficient single woman in these times. Yet, I have lived with my mother for 16 years now and have lived alone before.

      • Rachel

        Hello! I apologize if this is a bit off topic. Do you have any tips/posts/podcasts/resources for bringing these types of discussions up with your husband? Like how do you initiate talking with him about these topics in marriage, or about an equal, mutually submissive relationship rather than just the conventional man is the authority/leader perspective? TIA!

  9. Wild Honey

    I am 100% with you. “Taking the initiative” is a MUCH more tangible and accurate description for what needs to happen in marriages (from both sides).

    Someone commented on another post that husbands need to “take charge” and change a diaper, among other things. But if “taking charge” is what is needed to get a diaper changed, why has it not been a usurpation of authority for a wife to do it?

    • Wild Honey

      PS – The use of authority-type language simply clouds the issue. Which gives men a cop-out.

  10. Nessie

    I love the iron sharpens iron imagery. While not specific to marriage, it IS meant for the Christian’s walk with God and as such should be part of a godly marriage; marriage should not be the one EXclusion for that.

    I think water becomes murky because some of these words/concepts overlap like in a venn diagram. Authority. Leadership. Initiative (which I think is a great word!) Engagement. Each can be a great thing- in the right context. Like with Ketih’s example on the podcast, a hammer is a tool, not a weapon. Taking that further, it is meant as a tool for a certain task-hammering or removing nails. Not as a screwdriver, not as a garden hoe, etc. E.g. Authority (as a tool) can be either good or bad as with a teacher over a student, but it isn’t going to be good (a weapon) as a husband over a wife. Just my take.

    Disclosure: Have I used a hammer as a screwdriver in a pinch? Yes. And I learned that I did a poorer job, wasted my time when I should have taken an extra miunute to run and find the right tool, and just bascially made a stupid choice and it showed, lol.

  11. Andrea

    I think that’s what the Promise Keepers were trying to do in the 90s. They encouraged men to lead, but it really meant picking up the slack at home. I heard a talk on YouTube by Jackson Katz (it might be his TED talk), he works with men to prevent violence against women, and he said that when men are forced into “sensitivity training” they just make fun of it, but if you call it “leadership” that encourages them to actually change. I cannot overstate how much I hate having to cater to the fragile male ego, but if calling it “leadership” means men will do more dishes and less violence, then I guess that’s a good start. Sigh.

  12. Laura

    “You can be a leader without having authority. Leadership is a good quality that can motivate others and get things done. Leadership is based on your internal character and your behavior.”

    Excellent definitions here! Taking the initiative is great for both spouses and should not be reserved for only one spouse based on gender. Yet, I’ve heard women in Bible studies say that only husbands should be the ones initiating things like leading the family in prayer at dinner, deciding where the family should eat after church, and having ideas about stuff.

    In the past, I’ve asked a few women what they mean when they say they want their husbands to lead. They said they mainly wanted him to initiate prayer, start family devotionals, help out more around the house, and spend more time with the kids. I didn’t have words for that back then, but if I was having this conversation now, I would say, “So, basically, you just want him to be more engaged and proactive, not necessarily in charge, right?” Just like you mentioned in the podcast yesterday that most women want an engaged partner, not a leader. I tried telling a friend that I want a partner, not a leader. She did not understand. I will definitely be buying that toolkit related to last week’s Zoom video.

    Also, Keith talked about how if we believe that spouses are equals, then those we attend church with think we are going against the Bible. I do think that many Christians who claim to believe that husbands are to be in charge really do not operate that way. If every Christian marriage operated that way, there would be a lot more divorces and abuse cases in the church (unfortunately, there already are). Why can’t Christians just be authentic and stop playing church? I don’t think God punishes people for believing that both spouses are equals and should be in unity.

  13. Julie

    This is such a great post! I’m still not understanding where this teaching came from that men should be the authority in a marriage? Based on the definition in the post, women demonstrate the most leadership in the home, yet they are rarely recognized for it. Authority and leadership aren’t the same. Like you said, “Someone can have leadership without having authority” and certainly someone in authority can be a horrible leader. I feel telling a person they have authority in a relationship (based solely their gender) vs someone taking the initiative to be a leader, would possible set that relationship up for an abuse of power at some point. A marriage is a partnership, working together to provide, protect, and nurture a family. Imagine if the partners in every marriage were to focus on being the lead giver/server? That would then lead each person to take initiative and responsibility for things at home because it brings them joy to serve their family. What a great way to become more like Jesus!

  14. Jo R

    So what we seem to be concluding is that men need their … egos … stroked in order to act like a grown-up in marriage.

    Husbands acting like grown-ups MUST be called “leaders,” to give them that little boost of having “followers.” Because, of course, if both the husband and the wife are “leaders,” then who’s doing the following?

    How do two or more men function in any kind of group situation, whether it’s friendship, coworkers, or—and we’ve discussed this topic on this site before—a church elder board? Can they not simply be a group of equals, contributing as makes sense based on skills, knowledge, experience, or other relevant characteristics (those traits besides, obviously, having a penis, since they ALL have a penis)? Does one of the men HAVE to be designated the “leader” explicitly for them to get anything done? Does the leader tell his friends or coworkers or fellow elders how to be a friend or a coworker or an elder? Do the non-leader men feel bad because they aren’t the leader? Do they rotate the leader position at each get-together? Does someone keep track so there’s no mistake? “Well, John was the leader last time and Mark before that, so I guess this time Bob will be leader, then Tom will be leader the next time. Oh, he’ll be out of town? Then should Tom be leader this time so he doesn’t miss his turn?” 🙄

    Is it just me, or does all of that sound like complete idiocy? Is it REALLY so hard for men to just be mature, responsible human beings without constantly getting pats on the back for how great they are because they’re mature, responsible human beings?

    And if men have to be so participation-trophy recognized for it, what does it say about the countless millions of women who have done it for so long with not only ZERO recognition, but with actual DERISION?

  15. Kay

    “Leadership”, in the home, is only a male trait 🤷‍♀️🤦‍♀️.

  16. Nessie

    So many thoughts, haha.

    ‘Is the problem that many men will only be partners if they can tell themselves that by doing so, they are “leading”?’

    I think many people won’t engage in something unless they feel they will get “enough” out of it. They want a payoff greater than the effort. Sadly, in a marriage, doing more simply for the purpose of being more loving to one’s spouse isn’t enough of a payoff on it’s own. I think a lot of people lose sight of sacrificial love and servant-heartedness as being great things in and of themselves. They need an extra “incentive.”

    Is a man doing these things to be more loving? To get praise? To earn bragging rights? To get the active bedroom life he wants? I wonder if men have become so accustomed to thinking in business terms of cost/benefit that it seeps into marriages? In contrast, many women become moms with an understanding that the depth of their love and sacrifice for their children can rarely be returned in equal measure. If both sexes go into marriage with different mindsets simply because they’ve been prepped for different occupational expectations, it makes sense men would demand more payoff.

    If that is true, it could contribute to why more women now are not putting up with as much crap. More women are receiving higher education now than, say, 50 years ago. More job opportunities are available for women now, too. As more women are equipped with the concept of cost/benefit, it makes sense they wouldn’t put up with as much of a tipped-scale dynamic.

    • Nessie

      (I hope I didn’t offend anyone making the jump of women going into marriage with expectations of being a mom. I know that isn’t everyone’s path whether by choice or not. I made that connection based on it being the “approved” path in so many evangelical circles. I apologize if I hurt anyone with that.)

      • Angharad

        I got what you were saying – after all, those women who have been taught to expect little from their husbands are usually also those who have been taught that a woman’s only worthwhile role is of wife and mother.

        Interesting point about men bringing business mindsets into marriage. It’s something I’ve noticed in church settings too. We attended one church where one of our deacons always referred to the minister as the ‘manager’ or ‘director’, complained that he wasn’t ‘managing’ the church and would talk about the ‘cost effectiveness’ of caring for the vulnerable – he just couldn’t grasp that a church should not be run like a business!

        • Nessie

          Thanks for the grace and understanding, Angharad. Yes, that is exactly why I made that leap.

          That is strange to refer to a minister in that way! I get that most churches have a financial side to them, but it certainly isn’t its main focus, or shouldn’t be imo. Although a previous church of ours increasingly tried to run itself as a business, too, which may be why my brain went there. And part of why we left. Interesting.

  17. Lisa Johns

    What does it say about men who need participation awards like a bunch of preschoolers?

  18. Angela

    I totally see why these gals are angry, but they refuse to give their definition of leadership after saying that adulting and initiative isn’t leadership. But I ABSOLUTELY define leadership as initiative, and going first to tackle a project or problem. I have actually pondered this and written about it, and use kids on the playground and equal adults tackling a project as examples of organic leadership that has nothing to do with authority or official position. And argue that all decent and responsible people show leadership in various situations.

    Anyone offering a plan, organization, or going first where others hesitate is showing leadership, and that will totally change around based on the need and the expertise of those involved. (IF I went to a barn-raising, I would totally wait to be told what to do by whoever had experience. If I ended up at a birth where no one better than me was there, I would have the know-how to not only help well myself, but also to guide others in helping and make sure all bases were covered. Normally responsible adults defer to the person with experience, and that can be a different person in each informal situation. Even in formal situations, smart official team leaders, will defer to the advice of their team members who have more expertise. In family and church, leadership shifts around based on the need and can include kids too, because decent kids will also see a problem that needs solving and tackle it, (or an opportunity) and even organize a group to get it done.

    • Bernadette

      Leading always requires initiative but not all initiative is leadership.

      I can take initiative by deciding on my own to clean the kitchen. But it’s not leading because no one follows me. I’m single. No spouse to lead.

      Now if I were married, and if hypothetical husband needed to be shown the importance of cleaning the kitchen, and if he followed my example, that would be leading.

      But if hypothetical hubby had been doing all the kitchen work from the beginning and after years of marriage I finally start to pitch in without being reminded, that would not be an example of me leading.

      I’m curious what you mean by “I totally see why these gals are angry, but they refuse to give their definition of leadership after saying that adulting and initiative isn’t leadership.”

    • Jo R

      “Leadership” implies “followers,” that there are more people involved or present than just the one showing leadership.

      “Initiative” means being a self-starter instead of waiting for direction from someone else. Other people may or may not be present, because initiative is mostly about a person’s internal state or even a character trait.

      Initiative can be taken by someone who is alone. How does someone who is alone show leadership? If someone alone doing leadership means that one is leading one’s own self, how is “leadership” different from “self-control”?

      Why would we use the word “leadership” to mean “initiative” when we already have the word “initiative”? Doing so means a much more nebulous word, with a much wider semantic and connotative scope, has been substituted for a much more concrete term that has very little room for misunderstanding.

      Same with using “leadership” instead of “self-control.” Who would ever hear the word “leadership” and think it’s referring to a person showing self-control?

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Excellent points! (And honestly, “initiative” fits with the Greek word “kephale” for head, as in head of a river. It’s about starting.)

  19. R

    I’ve been thinking about this, and about how being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean you have authority. And that is so true.

    My husband is a natural leader. He gets in and gets things done. At church, he does things that need doing, if he is able, and he is also the sort of person that people feel comfortable talking to about anything.
    A few years ago our church had a bit of a crisis, and people naturally looked to my husband for leadership and guidance even though he had no official role. People had confidence in his good judgement.
    He has since become an elder, so now he does have authority. But the leadership came first. Being a good leader came first, and he is a good elder because he was already a good leader. Being in authority does not automatically make someone a leader.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that! That’s how churches should operate!

  20. Lasta

    Holy crap, Sheila – how did I miss this post? I just did a reply in that thread, but this post doesn’t come up in this link, just the main page:


    Thank you so much for responding, and sorry I’m late to the party. I’ll read this, read the comments, consider it carefully, and respond thoughtfully.

  21. Perfect Number

    Years ago, I read a blog post that said, “We believe the husband has to be the leader- but that doesn’t mean he has to have those traits we typically think of as being like a leader, like being extroverted and telling people what to do. My husband is a leader because he is compassionate and gentle and encourages me.” And at the time, I was happy to read that because I felt it didn’t make sense that Christians apparently have to believe that men have to fit a narrowly-defined role of “being a leader” or else they’re not marriage material.

    But then a while later, I was thinking about it, and I realized, “So, we’re just pointing out whatever good qualities a man has, and calling it ‘leadership’? But if a woman had those same qualities, we wouldn’t call it leadership. So, then the word ‘leader’ is kind of meaningless.”

    (I’m glad I figured out that Christians don’t have to believe “the husband has to be the leader” so I don’t have to participate in these weird word games to convince myself that whatever a man does is by definition “being a leader.”)

  22. Katharine KN

    I think maybe some of this is just about plain old worldliness in the churches. I can understand how if you are running, like, say, a program for male prisoners, you need to think about your marketing, eg “leadership” vs “sensitivity” or whatever, and how you stroke people’s egos. However as a church we are not supposed to have to do that. We are supposed to be appealling to Christian brothers and sisters, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me” – that was about being prepared to die a humiliating death. Nothing much to feed the ego there.

    • Bernadette

      And isn’t it a disservice to puff up someone’s ego, if you care about their eternal soul?

      • Katharine Kofoed-Nielsen


  23. Lasta

    Hi Sheila,

    That’s a fine definition of leadership. Would you object to defining authority in a more benign and less coercive manner?

    ***”the quality of others trusting you for leadership”***
    Someone in authority is looked to for leadership from others. People are willing to follow.

    Authority can certainly be coercive, which means that an institution is trusting the person to exercise leadership, and an individual member does not have the option of directly ousting or challenging the leader. That authority can still be withdrawn, just through a higher-level process. Compare this to my wife being an authority on teaching literature. That means she’s not only good at it, but that I recognize this goodness and am willing to defer to or follow her knowledge on literary matters. I can take this authority away simply by changing my opinion on whether she knows what she is talking about or by being pigheaded and unwilling to listen to her.

    When things are healthy, authority is given in order to leverage the benefits of leadership.

    I have three questions:

    1. Authority and Blame

    Many commenters hate the idea of men enjoying unearned authority and status, and women having their leadership unrecognized. I hate this idea too. But what about the cost of authority? What happens when something goes wrong, when a decision is a colossal failure and people are looking for someone to blame? **What would cause someone to want authority in that situation?**

    An example. As I embraced more of a leadership mindset in my marriage, I found myself inexplicably wanting to drive more when our family went places. My wife enjoys driving, so I don’t want to deprive her of that, and yet unless she is really eager, it feels important for me to be in the drivers seat. I analyzed my feelings. It wasn’t so that other people could see me in the drivers’ seat when we pulled up. It wasn’t status. It was because, if something went wrong, and my wife or children were injured, somehow I wanted it to be **my** fault. Why might I want such a thing?

    2. Pragmatism and Ideology

    You asked if thinking of themselves as leaders might be required for a man’s internal process to end up with the kind of initiative women are longing to see. It seemed like your definition of leadership changed from benign initiative to an ego trip of “getting brownie points.” There we get back to the “unearned authority / unrecognized leadership” problem from before.

    Let me ask a question: what if it were necessary, for his internal process, independent of any external recognition at all, to think of his actions in terms of ownership, responsibility, honor, and leadership? What if he does need to see himself as the captain of a ship to unleash the passion and initiative you want to see in your marriage? What if his mammalian brain is wired to unlock otherwise inaccessible psychological resources from that posture? **If it did not require any unearned recognition from you or anyone else, and did not require you to submit unless you felt like doing so because you trusted his leadership, would you be willing to accept that to get those results?**

    3. Partnership and Romance

    Marriage is certainly a partnership and a friendship, where leadership and authority are free flowing and mutual. But what if the really interesting and sexy parts of marriage start when we move beyond partnership and friendship? Where it really makes a difference that this is a man and a woman and not just two generic autonomous individuals? What if him being strong enough to carry you over the threshold and throw you onto the bed isn’t threatening but thrilling? What if asking him to open the pickle jar doesn’t invoke scorn from him but eagerness and delight (what if it is **fun** that you are so unequal to an equal partner)?

    Could it be that the differences in our libido, where the man needs to gently take the lead and guide a woman through an experience isn’t just a one-off, but has extensions into our physicality and psychology (as it does with other mammals)? What if it matters that a man is psychologically strong, and that a woman feels like she can relax into him, not just for the sake of orgasm, but in times of danger and distress? What if the consummation of our marriage isn’t an isolated exception, but reflects a current running through the entire marriage? If there were no hint of compulsion or obligation, what would make you hate the idea of his strength making you feel safe and free? **What makes the idea of him leading repulsive and insulting, rather than sexy?**

    • Bernadette

      It seems we have different takes on Sheila’s definition of authority. The word “must” is part of it. A word with multiple meanings, according the dictionary. Being compelled. And having a moral obligation.

      So I read Sheila’s definition authority as “I have the right to make decisions for you, which you [have a moral obligation to] follow along with.”

      I’ll try and remember that you and I are interpreting Sheila’s words in two different ways.

      On to the rest of your post.

      I disagree that having authority over someone means they trust you for leadership. People can be trusted to show the way without having authority and can have authority without leading and without being trusted.

      You go on to talk about authority as if it means being a trusted leader, and then use the word as if it means trusted expert.

      Previous posts of yours sounded like you were saying a wife should trust her husband more than he trusts her. Almost as if trusting were a way of life for women and being trusted was a way of life for men.

      Regardless of how you define authority, if the wife should trust more than the husband, that gives him power over her. Which opens him up to the temptation of misusing it. And make her vulnerable to abuse.

      “What if he does need to see himself as the captain of a ship to unleash the passion and initiative you want to see in your marriage?”

      A man who believes he can’t be passionate or show initiative unless he sees himself as “the captain of the ship”? The captain controls the ship. So would his passion be controlling? Would he take initiative to violate boundaries?

      Passion is also shown by men who view their wives as equal partners. Initiative, too. He’d be respectful of her autonomy while being passionate, and also while showing initiative.

      This response is long enough. Maybe later I’ll comment on more of your post.

      • Lasta

        Interesting thoughts. I appreciate how the back and forth is clarifying where we are each coming from and what the concerns are. If you do get time to reply again, I’d love to hear your answers to my questions. They were long winded and the markup didn’t work, so let me put them here:

        1. Why might someone want authority when they are getting the blame?

        2. Hypothetically, if a husband thinking of himself as a leader (though not forcing anything on you) was necessary for him to give you the kind of initiative you want to see, would you prefer that on balance, or would you rather he not think that way and be more checked out? (Are you an ideologue or a pragmatist)

        3. If your husband led in a truly benign way that required no blind commitments from you and flowed from true character and strength, would you find it repulsive and insulting rather than sexy? Why?

        • Jo R

          For your first question, the answer is quite simple.

          When men get to define the game, set the rules of the game, and ref the game while they themselves are playing in it, then it’s quite easy to understand why they want the authority. If a woman does something a man doesn’t like, then he can simply say that she’s not submitting, that she’s being disrespectful, that she isn’t giving her husband enough orgasms on demand, that she’s sinning against God.

          What rational man WOULDN’T want that kind of power?

          Your anecdote from Thursday’s post about your sons ignoring their mother until you show up to kick their butts into gear to do their assigned chores shows that they, at least, have already internalized the message that males don’t really need to listen to females unless another male backs up what the female says. Because, again, it’s men who get to define the rules, and females can’t tell males what to do. I wonder where boys might get this idea from?

          As to your second and third questions, I disagree with the way you’ve framed them.

          You think a man must either be leading or be checked out. Why can’t he simply be pulling his weight in the household? If he lived alone, he’d have to do a lot more than just go to work, so why does the fact that he’s married give him a complete and total pass on those daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly chores of just living?

          And your suggestion that benign male leadership should be sexy to a woman makes me think you’re still having some trouble with what Andrew J. Bauman calls the “pornographic style of relating.” I’d suggest you’d find his website and books helpful, but that’s probably going to tip me over into ad hominems.

          • TMF

            Jo R, I was thinking the same thing about his sons not listening to his wife. And seriously, what kind of leadership is it when you have to micromanage to make sure things get done?

        • Lisa Johns

          1) Why would anyone want authority at all? Blame or no blame?
          What did Jesus say about authority?
          2) Why are those the only two options? What if what I want is someone who is engaged and active, without having to worry about *who’s-the-leader*?
          3) If my husband walked with me and we worked together, who cares? I want a mutually giving and caring relationship with a mature adult. I want someone who can pull in the slack when I’m having a bad day, just as I’ve pulled in the slack for him having several bad decades. Why is pulling in slack “leadership” when you do it but not when I do it?
          The questions are all moot. It’s mutuality I want, not some weird insistence on making things about “leading” and “relaxing into him” — as if a husband could never possibly relax into a wife’s care as well. Mutuality. Not *lEaDeRsHiP*.

          • Jo R

            Jinx, buy me a Coke!


    • Jo R

      From the little I’ve read about porn use, it makes complete sense that post-porn, you’d want to do more of the driving than before.

      Not because of some pseudo-unselfish desire to be responsible if there were a wreck that hurt your family, but because the loss of total control that porn gave you has to be fed via other areas.

      If men have to play these little linguistic mind games with themselves to foster ordinary, decent adult behavior, I think men have a bigger problem than just needing to grow up.

      Multiple women have addressed your insistence on emphasizing traditional male vs. female traits as being what makes marriage sexy (traits which are coming through pretty loud and clear despite your refusal to be explicit about them). Those of us who don’t fit those neat little boxes somehow manage to have great marriages, even great sex.

      While there may be some broad-brush ideas that are generally true, what REALLY matters is what an individual man or woman likes. My husband doesn’t need to know what a typical or average woman likes, but what ***I*** like. So him having all this knowledge about generic women is going to leave him pretty far out in left field, if not entirely outside of the ball park.

      How much better if we all are just free to be ourselves, whoever that may be, so that we stop wasting time and effort.

      • Angharad

        “From the little I’ve read about porn use, it makes complete sense that post-porn, you’d want to do more of the driving than before.

        Not because of some pseudo-unselfish desire to be responsible if there were a wreck that hurt your family, but because the loss of total control that porn gave you has to be fed via other areas.”

        Yeah, not to mention the ongoing fantasies about the husband having to be stronger than the wife so he can ‘throw her onto the bed’…Sounds like this is just a ‘sanitised’ version of the old PSR.

    • Karen

      Lasta: “What makes the idea of him leading repulsive and insulting…?” We’re equals and I don’t need to be led anymore than he needs me to lead him. Is it so difficult to understand true equality and respect in a marriage? I happen to be tall. My husband and I are the same height, so he’s not going to be picking me up and carrying me anywhere. 😂 I’m also strong, so he doesn’t have to open things for me. Like Jo R, I enjoy doing the lawn maintenance and using power tools. I have three professional certifications in addition to my degree, so I’m sure that would qualify me as a “masculine type A” in your book. Thankfully, my husband sees my strengths as an asset, not a threat to his masculinity. I think that’s what it boils down to. He doesn’t need to have power, control, or authority over me to be secure in his identity. I don’t have to be a damsel in distress in order for him to feel like a man. We appreciate each other for who we are, just as we are, and we make a great team.

      • Lasta

        That’s awesome that he doesn’t have to have power, control, or authority over you to be secure in his identity. And wouldn’t that be absurd if he needed you to be a damsel in distress for him to feel like a man? He’d be a fool not to see your strength as an asset. I’m curious though – is there anything – anything at all that you like about him, as a man?

        Is there anything at all that you like about men in general?

        • Jo R

          You, in this thread, timestamped July 3, 10:28 pm

          “What if asking him to open the pickle jar doesn’t invoke scorn from him but eagerness and delight (what if it is **fun** that you are so unequal to an equal partner)?”

          Also you, in the comment above:

          “And wouldn’t that be absurd if he needed you to be a damsel in distress for him to feel like a man?”

          So which is it? Are women supposed to be damsels in distress or not? And if women ought to be damsels in distress, is it a benefit to the men or to the women?

        • Karen

          Lasta, your impression is that l don’t like men in general? Bless your heart. I won’t waste any more of my time on you.

          • Lasta

            Cmon now – if you’re gonna bless my heart, you gotta follow it with something more passive aggressive than “I won’t waste my time on you.” More like, “Why bless your heart, it seems like this conversation is really upsetting you, poor dear. I’ll be on my way, take care now.”

            Nothing personal intended there – I don’t actually think you don’t like men. I’m just becoming curious if “name one thing about men that you like” is an unanswerable question from an entrenched egalitarian position. Let’s pose the hypothesis that the ideology will forbid the adherent from answering.

          • Jo R

            Lasta, you must not be from the south!

            “Bless your heart” is code. 😄

          • Lasta

            I’m absolutely from the south.

            Grandma: “Well bless her heart, but she can’t sing at all. It’s just unkind to everyone at church for her to volunteer for choir solo.”

            My wife: “Grandma! That’s an awful thing to say!”

            Grandma: (confused) “Why, I said ‘bless her heart’…”

          • Lasta

            And Jo R, I’m actually pretty amused that, of all the nasty things you’ve said about me, the one that successfully baited me into a response was to accuse me of not being southern. That was just over the line.

          • Jo R

            “I’m just becoming curious if “name one thing about men that you like” is an unanswerable question from an entrenched egalitarian position. Let’s pose the hypothesis that the ideology will forbid the adherent from answering.”

            Nope, we simply don’t look at PEOPLE, male or female, “according to the flesh” as much as other people seem to want to.

            And honestly, how much of a 24-hour day vitally depends on whether one is male or female?

            If a couple has PIV every day, then adding that time to urinating, it’s what? An hour? So a woman’s whole life and outlook are supposed to revolve around the four percent of her day that really only affects her peeing posture and being a vagina bearer?

            Apart from the obvious reproduction-related differences, what spiritual or personality traits are exclusively male or female? None that I can think of. THAT’S why we aren’t answering your question the way you seem to be insisting we should. It’s just not even in our mindset.

          • Jo R

            What nasty things have I said about you?

            I don’t think any of my responses to you were disallowed by the moderator.

  24. Jo R

    If you need to completely redefine words and fall back on the male mammalian brain, maybe you need to rethink your theoretical arguments as well as your practical, actual approach to life and marriage.

    • Jo R

      Sorry, this should have been a reply to Lasta.

  25. Lasta

    Bernadette had some good thoughts that deserve more engagement.

    First off, you may be right that my definition of authority was too benign. I still think Sheila’s is too harsh – not something I recognize from my boss and the president of my company, both of which are fine Christians whose oversight I love working under. Thinking of the Bare Marriage survey (I’m enjoying reading “The Great Sex Rescue” at the moment), the idea that “his opinions matter more than mine” isn’t actually something I feel about their authority at all.

    “Previous posts of yours sounded like you were saying a wife should trust her husband more than he trusts her. Almost as if trusting were a way of life for women and being trusted was a way of life for men.”

    I don’t know if you saw this post – I explained my view most thoroughly here:


    It’s “proving himself trustworthy” that’s the central thread for men with respect to women in a sexual relationship. She should trust, only insofar as he has proven himself trustworthy. It can’t be a way of life, because it’s actually a vice to trust someone who is unworthy of it (foolishness).

    I see these central concerns in your post, as well as in others:

    – We should not give men power that they will misuse to abuse women
    – We should not give men control that they will use to violate boundaries
    – Men should respect women’s autonomy

    I completely agree with this, and it’s really ugly to learn of all the ways that women have been wounded and traumatized here.

    I’m three chapters in to “The Great Sex Rescue” and I’m rather befuddled at the whole “am I my wife’s orgasms’ keeper?” attitude I’m reading about. Here more than anything so far I wish I could interview the men. Actually, that probably wouldn’t work. I wish I could truly understand them. I find it hard to believe that so many evangelical men truly don’t have a drive within them to care about the wellbeing of their wives. It’s heart wrenching, fists shaking at the heavens stuff. But my hypothesis would be that many of them simply don’t think they can be good at that. That there shrugging off of this essential vocation to (**looks nervously over his shoulder**)…um…”gently guide” their wives through this wonderful experience is rooted in inadequacy and insecurity, as well as a coldness stemming from lack of hope. I donno – obviously some of these guys sound like absolute animals, but I gotta believe there’s a hook to reach some of them.

    Yesterday I hosted a coaching call with a man whose wife has had it with him, and wants either a divorce or an open relationship so that she can get at least some sex. I talked to a man who just relapsed after listening to his wife open up about her frustrations for the first time in years and didn’t know what to do with that. I talked to a man who admitted he doesn’t know how to motivate his family other than criticism and playing into their insecurities. All of them are trying to quit porn, and all of them have trouble seeing themselves with anything but loathing.

    Sheila asks if the language of leadership is necessary for men to do what y’all call “adulting.” For these guys, and the redemption arcs that I’ve been blessed to oversee, I would hate to be deprived of the conceptual and emotional toolkit of “leadership.” I understand that that word has been used to deceive and abuse women in the evangelical world – Sheila’s book and the testimonies are fascinating. But can y’all believe me when I tell you that, “sons of Scotland, let’s go adulting” just isn’t gonna awaken the fire of love in these men’s hearts?

    At the end of the day, I am NOT proposing we give men power. I’m saying we need to acknowledge that they already have power within them. Pretending men aren’t dangerous isn’t actually going to protect any women. Their latent untapped power, untrained by love and undirected by wisdom, simply will cause harm. And what I’m teaching men, which is the same path that I’ve walked, is not how to be nice boys, but how to become good men. I ask nothing of any woman connected to them, except to judge for herself if she likes the results.

    • Jo R

      Unfortunately, I appear to be the only one left who is willing to converse with you.

      “But my hypothesis would be that many of them simply don’t think they can be good at that.” (Meaning learning how to bring their wives to orgasm)

      That could be true, but I think a much bigger issue, and one that ought to be addressed first, is that men (and women) have been taught for sixty years that sex is for men and that women’s experience of sex doesn’t matter. Oh, and the corollary that “sex” means PIV.

      Of course, you may not be aware of this, because it’s mostly women who read the “Christian” marriage and sex books. I know for a fact that the two books I read early on (Act of Marriage and Intended for Pleasure) both said that women need to learn to orgasm through PIV only rather than through manual or oral stimulation. Otherwise, the women are childish and immature.

      Guess what else they are? Unfulfilled sexually.

      Since nearly two-thirds of women need more than the “magic penis” (https://baremarriage.com/2022/11/the-myth-of-the-magic-penis-podcast/) to orgasm, that widespread teaching has left three generations of women deprived of the fantastically mind-blowing experience that men take for granted.

      Other books don’t even MENTION that women can orgasm, let alone that they SHOULD, and repeatedly if they like.

      But so many women simply need more than PIV, and so many men think that they shouldn’t have to do anything “extra.”

      Let me put it in generic terms.

      Spouse A needs activity T to orgasm, but activity T doesn’t stimulate spouse B ***at all***. Should spouse B do activity T anyway?

      The answer depends completely on who is spouse A and what activity T is, doesn’t it? Because in one direction, spouse B gets bawled out for depriving spouse A of activity T, and in the other direction, spouse A is told to just enjoy the “emotional closeness” that activity T “provides.” 🤮

      Now, suppose you can get men on board with the idea that women can and ought to orgasm. And that you can even get them on board with the idea that the men will have to do activity T that doesn’t stimulate the men at all (at least not via direct touch of his penis).

      The next hurdle now appears: he will have to listen to and LEARN from his wife. Because he will have to allow her to tell him—and then DO—things like “slower,” “less pressure,” or “a little to the left.” And THAT is going against centuries, nay, MILLENNIA, of the “Christian” belief that does not allow a woman to teach a man.

      These are not small issues. They will not be fixed quickly. In fact, the more I read about the mess the church has made of sex, the more I’m reminded of a line in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Sidney Poitier says to his father, “You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it’s got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs.” I think we may have the same issue with evangelical sex.

      • Lasta

        This picture of evangelical men just doesn’t resonate with me at all, Jo. I mean, I’ve lived in the evangelical world my whole life to some degree or another, and it’s hard for me to imagine any one of the men being like “meh – lovey dovey stuff – whatevs.” But I sure don’t think those women in Sheila’s book are lying. I just shake my head in bewilderment. Seriously, what guy doesn’t want to do this WELL? I mean, even at the crass level, who wants to say “that’s what she said” when what she said is “please, I beg you, just listen to me, I want this to be good, but can you help me out?” and then cries herself to sleep. That would eat away a man’s soul.

        But I understand that it could be like porn. I know what porn does – I was addicted to that for 25 years. And what that gives a man is an easy way out. An escape. A route to live out a fantasy that you are Genghis Kahn or King Solomon and tell your limbic system that you have won the genetic jackpot and all is right with the world. You get to feel like everything is great, at least on the primal/emotional level, when all is not great at all. “Bow down and worship me, and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.” The cross is hard. The rite of passage to manhood means embracing the suck, getting comfortable with discomfort, going on the hero’s journey, looking unpleasant truths in the face and saying ‘bring it on’, and above all, saying to your heart, with all it’s crazy passions and urges, “I love you, you have what it takes, and you are worth sacrifice.” Porn, especially porn addiction gained in puberty, is a way of opting out of manhood. Quitting porn is the rite of passage for the modern man.

        Now, what I hear Sheila saying (though again, I’m only through chapter 3), is that evangelical culture basically gives men something similar. Your wife has to pretend she adores everything you do. She’s not to tell you any unpleasant truths. She’s to give you no feedback loop to get knocked flat on your face and learn better. She is to shield you from knowledge of your own failings, to say nothing of the suffering she’s going through. I’m not sure how much this resonates with my experience of evangelical wives. Most of the ones I’ve observed are pretty clear to their husbands about what’s going wrong – though I don’t deny Sheila’s research findings. I also don’t deny that evangelical men as a whole are not challenged or inspired by something compelling.

        I really do believe men are almost begging for something to be expected of them. Someone to not coddle them, to present them with a daunting challenge, to not give them any easy way out, and then to say, “I believe in you, you have what it takes.” My gut tells me that women already get this with childbirth and the Via Delarosa of childrearing. But men actually really want it. They just need someone to show them the way, close off the escape routes and false promises, and say “show me what you can do.”

        • Jo R

          “Seriously, what guy doesn’t want to do this WELL?”

          Plenty of the husbands of the female commenters here. It’s too much work because the man is getting nothing that helps him get to his own orgasm. Or “she just needs to catch up to him.” Or he refuses, absolutely, to take instruction from her. (I see you, Jane Eyre, and I’m so sorry.) Especially when the vast majority of porn apparently shows that the women get turned on by whatever the guy is doing, even if the guy is completely focused on himself.

          Most such husbands don’t realize their wives ARE crying themselves to sleep, because the men fall asleep immediately after their own orgasm. Sometimes it can take a woman an hour or two to calm down enough physically, let alone mentally and emotionally, to even be able to go to sleep. After all, if you’ve personally experienced getting halfway to orgasm and then abruptly stopping, you are probably aware of a certain amount of difficulty in winding back down.

          “Quitting porn is the rite of passage for the modern man.”

          So every man is going to experience porn addiction? Starting as a teenager, or even younger? Apparently you don’t realize that this attitude, which is prevalent in lots of church youth groups, is what CAUSES lots of boys to start looking at porn? Because a boy who’s not looking at is being told, subtly or explicitly, that EVERY boy will struggle with porn, and since he isn’t currently struggling, he winds up thinking he needs to start looking at porn so he’ll just be “normal” and struggling like everyone else.

          “Most of the [evangelical wives] I’ve observed are pretty clear to their husbands about what’s going wrong – though I don’t deny Sheila’s research findings.”

          Wow, that’s great! Unfortunately, most of them do not hang out here in what is essentially an enormous online group therapy session. Lots of the women here have been told taught that the fawning trauma response (which you capture quite well in your third para) is not simply the proper way to treat a husband. Oh, no, we’re also told that if we don’t coddle our man, then we are actually sinning against God. 😱 (I’m trying very hard to not 🤬 over the “I don’t deny Sheila’s research findings” part.)

          “My gut tells me that women already get this with childbirth and the Via [Dolorosa] of childrearing.”

          So you don’t know any couples that are infertile, such that the wife has never had to travel that road? Several of the women who’ve been trying to engage with you have, including me. One more strike against my (our) ability to be female or feminine or justa woman. And several more commenters are still single, so they haven’t achieved womanhood yet, either, I guess.

          Your statement is borderline saying that a woman’s highest calling is marriage and motherhood. Funny, but i cant think of one post-pentecost New Testament woman who is praised for being a mother or even a wife.

          “I really do believe men are almost begging for something to be expected of them.”

          Yes, doing all the things they’d have to do around the house if they were single. That’d be a good start. (And we use the admittedly made-up word “adulting” as a shortcut for “behaving like a mature, responsible, involved grown-up.” It seems like everyone knew what it meant right off the bat, without laborious explanations.)

          Look at it this way. The husband is not engaged at all with any tasks involved in running a household: cleaning, cooking, shopping, paying bills, changing diapers, juggling after-school activities, running kids through bedtime routines, taking kids to the doctor, none of it. After all, he does all the big, important, paid work outside the home, so she can do all those easy, trivial tasks inside the home. One day on the way home from dropping the kids off at school, she gets killed in a car wreck. Actually, she could just wind up in traction for two months. Let’s say the kids range from six to twelve, so no babies, but no teenagers either. The husband, now the only—cough, cough—adult in the house, is all of a sudden going to have to be in charge of AND DO those tasks he dismissed so out of hand. He won’t even know where to start, because he’s spent his evenings and weekends being uninvolved in the day-to-day running of his own home.

          Imagine what would happen if such a man’s wife simply stopped doing anything for him, even without being in traction. Stopped dropping off and picking up his dry cleaning, completely ignored his meal preferences and focused on what she and the kids like, stopped doing his laundry, didn’t pick up his beer and snacks for the big game on Saturday, didn’t pass on phone messages. She just stopped being his housekeeper, maid, and secretary. How long would it take him to notice? A week or two, or maybe until he opened the drawer and no clean underwear was left? How mad would he get when he finally did? How much would he yell?

          Well, guess what. If she’s been running a household for two adults and several kids by herself for several years, or even decades, she’s pretty mad too. She’d like to yell too. But she can’t. Because she’s trying to live out her feminine mandate or some such bull pucky by doing it all, and with an angelic smile, and gratitude for having to do it all, having all the responsibility, and having her efforts completely ignored or even actively trivialized.

          And while your circles may not treat wives that way, I’d say you’re in the fourth standard deviation.

          • Lisa Johns

            Jo R, in addition to “cleaning, cooking, shopping, paying bills, changing diapers, juggling after-school activities, running kids through bedtime routines, taking kids to the doctor,” I would add, as well, doing the budget (because you’re better at it than he is and it frustrates him to no end), overseeing food sensitivities, and generally trying to train the children to be functional adults and decent human beings … and being CRITICIZED and deliberately put down through all of it because you CAN do it all, just not ENOUGH… no, most of these men will not get that. It addition to the wife in traction so they have to pick up the slack, they need a harsh critic with a whip standing by their left shoulder as they try to function through all this.

            Thanks for being in our group session. You’re awesome. 😉

          • Angharad

            ” (I’m trying very hard to not 🤬 over the “I don’t deny Sheila’s research findings” part.)”

            Be reasonable, JoR – obviously Sheila’s survey of over 30,000 people is suspect wherever it doesn’t match the personal experience of Lasta and his wife.

          • Lasta

            Lisa, Angharad, and Jo R:

            I’m shocked and appalled by the stuff I’m reading in Sheila’s book and am really saddened by hearing your stories. My goodness, I don’t want to dismiss them – I really regret if I gave that impression. It’s not necessarily clear how you square research with your own experience, and so I’m grateful to hear what you all have to share. I’ve been rearranging my life these last few years to put serious effort into helping make real change against the forces that caused this mess. I want to make sacrifices so that less stories like these happen.

            If y’all need me not to be here, if I’m crowding in on the group therapy session and making anything worse, I’m happy to bounce.

  26. TMF

    The more that Lasts types, the more concerned I am with his recovery and what he is doing to his wife, and what will happen to the couples of the men he is “leading.”

    Any recovery program that blames a relapse on a wife sharing their frustrations is a big problem. I was told early on in recovery that a relapse happens because the addict wants to act out. Maybe they faced something frustrating and big, but they acted out because they wanted to.

    These last comments also make me wonder if he is involved with the Eldredges’ Wild at Heart and Captivating coaching and/or message. It really sounds similar. “Going on a hero’s journey” what is this? His comments about women having something to do because they go through childbirth and also raise the kids are truly alarming. And men waiting around for somebody to tell them what to do? And women are supposed to respect that and want to be led?

    • TMF

      Should be Lasta not Lasts.

    • Angharad

      Yes, I’ve got strong ‘Captivating/Wild at Heart’ vibes too – the sweeping statements about ‘all men are…’ and ‘all women like…’, plus the insistence on men being ‘dangerous’ are all right out of Eldredge’s books. He’s the guy who talks about men being ‘bad in a good way’. Um, can we have a Bible verse to back up the claim that it is ‘good’ for a Christian man to be ‘bad’ in any kind of way?!!!!

    • Jo R

      Thanks for weighing in again, TMF.

      I had reread the various threads and really appreciated your take on porn recovery—or not, as the case may be.

      • TMF

        Thanks Jo R! It has been a long journey and I am always happy to share my experience with it. I want people to be healthy and free.

    • Karen

      Lasta’s Twitter trail from one of Sheila’s posts shows him praising Mark Queppet. From what little I cared to read about his program, it looks like he’s even worse than Eldredge.

      Thank you for your comments, TMF. My husband agrees with you.

      • TMF

        I hadn’t heard of this Mark Queppet before. Looked at some of his stuff and if Lasta is praising him it explains a lot.

        Thank you for putting this on my radar so I can share with other recovery people something to be on the lookout for.

  27. Lasta

    Sheila, I know that I am not ideologically aligned with your egalitarianism. However, I’m deeply pragmatically aligned with your goals, and I’m impressed with your book. I’m also very troubled by the bewildering misery that Jo R, Angharad, Lisa, Jane Eyre, and others are testifying to having been subject to. Their anger is just and screams to the heavens, and I’m glad they have a place to process and find hope. I’m here because I’m growing more and more convinced that I want your ministry to succeed and have a wider reach even among people with whom you are not theologically aligned.

    This gentleman TMF has made several personal attacks against me, raising “concerns” about my mental and spiritual health over and against his humility, and presuming to judge what’s really going on in my life. I expect this sort of thing in internet discourse and choose not to respond to it as a policy (though an ignore feature would be lovely). However, he is now expressing interest in protecting my wife from me and identifying the specific ministry that I am involved in. It’s true that I am pseudonymous for now, as the choice to go public with my ministry and all the details of my past is a weighty one that I’m actively considering. If I do that, my wife and others associated with me may have to deal with this kind of thing all the time.

    I’m not sure the blog comments are a place I can have these conversations while I need to keep my personal identity private.

    I’d like to talk directly. Would it be impertinent, as valuable as your time is, for me to ask for a call? I’d like to discuss how our theological and pragmatic approach affirms your message and mission from across the partisan aisle. For me, the value is simply in understanding more clearly where our mission fits in the evangelical landscape, and especially differentiating us from the toxic stuff that is all too common. My sense is that there’s value for you in the makings of more reach and impact, across divisions of sex and confession. I hate that the Focus on the Familys and the Nancy Pearceys of the world see what you are doing as a threat. I’d be happy for you to ask any questions you like about our fledgling ministry. My wife is also happy to talk to you privately, and you can judge for yourself if she’s in any danger.

    Whatever you decide, God bless you for your efforts. My wife and I consider you an ally and a partner in the Gospel. May he establish the work of your hands!

    • TMF

      Lasta, nobody here has attacked you. Just because we say things you don’t like, it doesn’t mean anybody has attacked you.

      Also yes, if I knew what ministry you were involved with, I would let my recovery people know about it and that we should be on the lookout for people coming from that ministry needing extra help. It sounds very unsafe and unhealthy.

    • Lisa Johns

      Lasta, I think you took his comments way beyond what was intended. Nobody was making threats, and chitchat/speculation about what influences you is not exactly digging into your background in order to protect your wife from you. (I suspect when she wants to she can do a fine job of protecting herself.)
      What concerns those who have tried to engage with you is that you simultaneously try to express “sympathy and support” for us, and then get quite offended and defensive if anyone questions anything you say. Offense and defensiveness are not the signs we would expect to see from one who has really acknowledged the issues he has caused or what he is struggling with. Those who have acknowledged and are really doing the work are pretty consistently humble and engageable. This is not the case with you.
      This is not an attack on you. It is an observation of the fruit you exhibit. Anger, trembling, heart pounding, feeling like you must defend your position against people who are really being quite reasonable — these are signs that you still have work to do. You have started well: six years of sobriety is nothing to sneeze at, and the fact that you are trying to engage with your wife and family is significant. But don’t assume that you have arrived. There is a lot more to learn, and you still have a ways to go. Go the distance.

    • Bernadette

      1920’s, Female mechanic hops from one plane to another in order to install landing wheel mid-flight.

      A woman does this, and how is it characterized? Lots of facebook comments are basically calling her a man because she did something impressive.


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