Valentine’s Day: What If Marriage Isn’t Supposed To Be That Hard?

by | Feb 14, 2024 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 59 comments

Marriage Isn't That Hard

What if marriage isn’t supposed to be that hard?

This is one of those weird years where Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday land on the same day. For non-liturgical folks who don’t follow the church calendar, Ash Wednesday is the day that Christians confess their sins and purify themselves (putting ashes on your forehead in some traditions) as the period of lent begins, leading up to Easter.

It’s a solemn time of repentance and reflection and contrition.

It’s holy. It’s heavy. 

That’s sounding like it has a lot in common with all the messages I’ve been hearing about marriage lately!

There’s News That Elisabeth Elliot’s third marriage was likely abusive.

Elisabeth Elliot became famous when her first husband, Jim, was killed in Ecuador while serving as a missionary. Her second marriage, which was likely her best, ended quickly when he died too. And her third marriage, according to two new biographies, sounds very abusive.

Yet Elisabeth Elliot became famous authoring books about what Christian womanhood looked like.

Think about that for a moment: the time in her life when she wrote all the purity books, when she wrote about how women’s purpose was sacrifice and death to self, when she wrote about staying in terrible situations and glorifying God through suffering–she was being abused. 

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I want to ponder the significance of this revelation about Elisabeth Elliot’s marriage.

When we were talking on our podcast last week about the book Lies Women Believe and what it said about suffering in marriage, it was all so heavy. It feels as if there is so much weight put on Christian women in our resources.

We have to put up and embrace suffering without complaining, or else we don’t love God enough.

We must lower our expectations of our husbands, so we don’t expect them to be nice to us or to love us, or else we don’t love God enough.

We must give up our rights to think that he should be kind to us, or else we don’t love God enough.

We must submit to abuse, or else we don’t love God enough.

We must look after everything and everyone in the home even if we’re exhausted and we want to drop, or else we don’t love God enough (and if we are exhausted, we also likely don’t love God enough).

It all needs to stop!

None of this is biblical! None of this is okay. But over and over again, everywhere I look, this is what I see in our best-selling resources.

And now that we know this about Elisabeth Elliot, I’m left with a haunting question:

What if most of our self-help writers were writing to make sense of awful situations?

What if these books and articles and blog posts and talks were all about helping women process an untenable marriage or life, and make sense of it? And our female speakers and writers processed it the only way they knew how, telling themselves they just needed to rely on God more? And so this became our main evangelical message to women. 

Think about it for a minute, because I think I’m on to something (and I’d love to study this in more depth).

In evangelicalism, we have four trends working together when it comes to marriage advice

1. People tend to be drawn to write and give advice/self-help when they have gone through a lot and they have things to share.

People for whom life has tended to be quite easy don’t tend to gravitate to writing relationship books, because they don’t have a lot to say.

2. We don’t require people writing self-help to actually be qualified.

We tend to publish people who have large platforms, and who can get the message out there that the church has decided that it wants out there. We don’t demand that people use research or data or have qualifications. Someone’s opinions are perfectly sufficient.

3. We believe in marriage permanence above all else.

The church is highly invested in making sure no one divorces, and large organizations like Focus on the Family don’t even condone divorce for abuse.

4. We tend to believe that men should have authority over women.

The evangelical church wants to make sure that in marriage, women submit and men lead and make decisions and get what they want from their families, often with very little effort on their own part.

What does all of this add up to?

When a woman in a destructive marriage who is a good writer and has communication skills needs to process what she’s going through, and speaking opportunities are open for her, and then soon book deals, it’s natural that these women will write about relationship advice. And so it shouldn’t be surprising if our marriage advice is disproproportionately written/given by women in destructive marriages.

They’re saying what the evangelical establishment wants said: You stay in marriages and submit to men no matter what, and the problem is actually with you and your attitude. And because some writers said it and their books became best-sellers, this becomes the “official evangelical take”, and then writers coming after them tend to toe the party line.

I’m not saying that writers write deliberately to process their situations. I’m saying that when you’re in the midst of an untenable situation, and you’re desperate to make sense of it, you tell yourself fervently a lot of stuff about God. And teaching it becomes another way to prove to yourself that everything is actually okay and you’re fine. 

I talked about this when I was analyzing the Trad Wife influencer accounts a few weeks ago, and I told you all the story of when I started blogging.

 

I started blogging in 2008. At the time, “mom blogs” were all the rage–women writing blogs about parenting, booking, organizing, housework, general faith. People were posting pics of their kids, and recipes, and their cleaning routines. They were showing how they taught their kids to do chores. How they homeschooled. How they kept their marriages strong.

These blogs were BIG. The biggest bloggers were getting book contracts. And I was in that group. I knew a lot of them. We sold bundles of resources together. We linked up on each other’s blogs to find new traffic and new friends.

But what I noticed was that the vast majority of them were teaching one-sided submission in marriage, where the secret of a great marriage was in how they deferred to their husband and followed his leadership…

Over the years, though, I watched as many of the biggest names in those circles eventually divorced. Many had husbands who left them or had affairs. Many discovered porn use. Or many, like Natalie Hoffman or Alyssa Wakefield or Tia Levings, eventually disclosed that they had been in abusive marriages, and did a total 180…

If you were to go back in time and see who was big in the Christian wife space in 2008, I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 50% of them are divorced now.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Bare Marriage, Why My Heart Breaks for TradWife Influenceres

And we see it in some of the books that we’ve reviewed too. Dannah Gresh wrote all of her books about purity and telling young girls to be modest, and now we know that all the while her husband was deep into escalating porn use. Shannon Ethridge, author of Every Woman’s Battle and Every Woman’s Marriage, was in a destructive marriage that she has since left. As we talked about in our podcast about Power of a Praying Wife, Stormie Omartian admits in her book that her husband had rage issues, and honestly sounds abusive to both her and her girls.

What if part of the reason that marriage is portrayed as a hard slog, with suffering, that you just have to get through, is that we have chosen people to write about marriage who are in destructive marriages?

And that’s tainted everything! It normalizes abuse and suffering. It makes it sound like marriage will always be hard. And then, when someone’s in a hard dating relationship, they don’t see that as a red flag that maybe they should break up. They just assume all marriages are like this, and they marry anyway. We’ve normalized relationships being awful, soul-killing things that leave you despondent and feeling like God is all you have (except that He’s angry at you too).

So on Valentine’s Day, I’d like to make an admission: I love my marriage, and it’s not hard.

I do not wake up thinking, “today I have to die to self in order to love Keith well.” I wake up, and see that Keith is already awake, and when he hears me moving around he usually comes and finds me and gives me a hug and warms me up (because our bedroom is always cold).

I do not spend my prayer life asking God how he is refining me through my marriage; I mostly just thank God for Keith and then move on to the things that are actually eating at me, because marriage is something that makes my life easier, not something I have to be constantly bringing to God in prayer.

I do not have to constantly check my attitude about my husband and tell myself that bitterness and resentment aren’t okay, because, quite frankly, he doesn’t do much to cause me any bitterness or resentment, and I don’t do much to cause him it either.

Now, much of this is because we’ve been married over thirty years, and we’ve worked out the difficulties. But also, marriage just isn’t that difficult. It really isn’t.

Marriage does not have to be the hardest thing you will ever do.

Marriage does not have to be the thing that causes  you to learn how to suffer. Marriage does not have to be the thing that drives you to your knees in prayer about your attitude.

Marriage can be fun and easy.

I know it’s not easy for everybody, and that’s why I do what I do, because I think part of the reason marriage is hard is because we’ve been giving everybody such horrid advice, and listening to the wrong people. And so I will share what we know from data actually leads to flourishing relationships.

But I just want to say publicly, today, on Valentine’s Day, that I’m so grateful I have my husband.

He’s wonderful, and he makes my life easier.

And I hope for all of you that Valentine’s Day feels the complete opposite of Ash Wednesday, not the same thing.

And I desperately hope that the evangelical church stops treating them like they’re the same thing.

I hope your marriage isn’t something that makes you want to weep and pour ashes on your head, but rather something that makes you feel lighter and full of joy. And if it isn’t–then I hope you’ll stick around, and listen to some advice based on evidence of what actually brings flourishing!

I’ll leave you with the words of the wonderful Beth Moore, who is also married to a man named Keith. In the middle of the online discussion about Elisabeth Elliot’s marriage this week, she tweeted this:

The distorted dogma to which I was referencing was my OWN belief that submission meant having almost no control over my own life/decisions in a marriage. That what a husband wanted was what God wanted no matter how it seemed contrary to the ways of Christ. That I would honor God by putting up with anything. I have been married for 45 years and love my husband deeply and we have been far healthier people this side of a distorted view of marriage.

Beth Moore

On X (formerly Twitter)

Marriage doesn't have to be hard Elisabeth Elliot abuse

What do you think? Have we elevated the wrong people to give self-help advice? How do we fix this? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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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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59 Comments

  1. Kathryn

    In your list of four things you could maybe add number five – a LOT of “marriage and family counselors” or “sexual health counselors” or “life coaches” all seem to be divorced. That always strikes me as odd, predictable, and very sad.

    Reply
  2. Angharad

    I think another factor at play here is the tendency for humans (including Christians) to love extremes. When casual sex became common in the world, a lot of Christians went to the opposite extreme and started insisting couples shouldn’t even hold hands before marriage. Now a lot of people (not all, but it’s increasingly common) outside the church are viewing marriage as ‘permanent as long as we both want it to be’ and think divorce is ok any time the marriage no longer ‘aligns with their personal goals’, the church seems to be going to the opposite extreme by telling couples that marriage is meant to be hard and they shouldn’t have got married in the first place if they weren’t prepared for that. What they need to be doing is teaching the difference between ‘normal part of life’ hard and ‘there is something wrong with your marriage’ hard. But that seems a tad too nuanced for many churches! So much easier just to say ‘marriage is meant to be hard’.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, absolutely. And we do tend to view the extremes as holier too. People with the most stringent, legalistic standards are often viewed as the most holy.

      Reply
    • lisa johns

      And the church does NOT do nuance well — it’s all very black and white. Very childlike thinking! (And no, I don’t think this was what Jesus meant when He said we were to become as little children!)

      Reply
  3. Laura

    During most of my single years, women I knew from church and some of my married friends would tell me how marriage is really hard. I thought they just said that so I would stop talking about how I wished I could be married. Maybe hearing about how “hard” marriage was would convince me to just be content in my singleness. Since my parents had a great marriage, I asked my mom if she thought marriage was hard, she said it wasn’t but thought parenting was hard. Then I read all these Christian books on marriage with the message that marriage was hard. While my parents believed in God and had been raised in the Catholic church, they didn’t raise my brother and me in the church, I once thought I had to take the advice of these Christian authors over witnessing the healthy marriage my parents had. When I told my Christian friends about how my parents had a great marriage and they were in an equal partnership. Their response would be, “But they’re not Christians. They don’t even go to church.” So the only way to have a good marriage that’s valid is to attend church?

    Witnessing people outside the church having great, healthy marriages and seeing people inside the church struggling in their “Christian, biblical” marriages made me wonder why I should even bother following “Christian” marriage advice. At one time, in recent years, I once thought I would be fine dating someone who didn’t attend church but as long as he believed in God that was enough. Its awful that for years I’ve equated Christianity with bad marriage advice and also naivety views about mental health.

    BTW, my fiance is an awesome Christian man who does believe that marriage is an equal partnership. I got him The Good Guys Guide to Great Sex. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Happy Valentine’s Day Laura!

      Reply
    • Mel

      Well written, Shelia, I agree so much! Thanks for linking to the Revealer article, that was helpful to read. I’ve been in a Christian egalitarian marriage for 11 years, and it’s a huge source of joy and delight! Raised deep in Evangelicalism, I was braced for how hard marriage would be. But no, my husband is a grown up, and acts like one. He loves Jesus, and it shows. He is awesome on a roommate level, and carries his share of mental load. I had no idea what an outlier I was until the last 5 years, as we’ve been led to help women in abusive marriages get safe and free. As one these ladies said to my husband, “Thanks for not being a Poop.” Ha!

      I have come to realize how much Standard Evangelical Resources expect husbands to act like a poop. I’m so thankful my husband didn’t read them or grow up deep in that frame of mind! We are sharing GSR as a better resource, as well as the authors you’ve put in our path like Natalie Hoffman, etc. Marriage doesn’t have to be awful! And for anyone reading this whose is, I’m deeply sorry and I lament with you. You’re not alone. There is hope.

      Reply
  4. Ruth

    The other interesting side of this is how often I (as a single woman) have heard that marriage makes you less selfish, so if you’re single, you’re obviously more selfish than married people. I think it comes from this idea that marriage is hard/supposed to be hard to make you holy. (Not to mention the fact that many married people’s experience with singleness was when they were in college and/or still supported by their parents, so they never experienced a lot of difficulties in their single youth.)

    The truth is that God uses many different circumstances to make us more like him–sometimes they’re painful, sometimes they’re joyful. But someone’s marriage being hard doesn’t automatically make them more holy than someone who’s single or someone who’s marriage is going well.

    Reply
    • Nessie

      I feel a biblical argument could be made that singles are actually holier because they can focus more of their energy on serving God instead of diverting some of that attention away to a spouse. Not impugning marrieds, just saying I think implying singles are less holy is rubbish.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Absolutely!

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely, or there’s the corollary, “God will send you a husband when you’re ready to say that you don’t need one and that God is enough,” as if everyone who is currently married is automatically more spiritually mature. It’s crazy making.

      Reply
      • kaj

        I challenge anyone to re-tool any of those awful clichés aimed at singles, as to someone who struggles with infertility to grasp how awful those platitudes are. For example:

        “Being childless is a gift.”

        “Not having babies makes one holier because one has more time to serve God.” [while you’re at it, why don’t you sign up to volunteer in the church nursery, and/or in the Children’s Ministry department…]

        “You want a baby? Remember, they’re such hard work.”

        “God will let you get pregnant when you’re ready to say that you don’t need a baby and that God is enough.”

        “Babies aren’t about making you happy, but about making you holy.”

        “You don’t need a baby to be happy. Jesus is all you need!”

        If you cringe reading any of those, I hope you get my point.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, my word! It’s so stark like that, isn’t it?

          Reply
        • Angharad

          I have been on the receiving end of a couple of these.

          To be honest, I don’t know which is worse: being told I need to be ‘grateful’ that I’m childless because it gives me more free time/keeps me looking younger/enables me to focus more on serving God/means I miss out on ‘hard’ parenthood or being told that I’ll never be quite as selfless/spiritual/holy/happy as women with kids because I’ve missed out on God’s ultimate design for women.

          Maybe church could just…stop doing this?! Stop with the categorising, the judging, the pontificating, the patronizing and just…do life together like the family we are meant to be? Be grateful for your own happy marriage/great kids without making those without feel like second-class citizens? Seek support when struggling with your own difficult marriage or troubled kids without telling everyone else that life is ‘meant’ to be like this and if they’re not miserable spouses/parents now, they soon will be? What a difference that would make!

          Reply
        • Nisha

          Is that what they told Sarah, and Elizabeth, and Rachel? In the Bible God always seems so compassionate to the childless woman, understanding her longing. Why should we be any different?

          Reply
          • kaj

            We singles would like to be treated with the same compassion you call for to give the childless/child-free.

            My whole point is Christian churches of every stripe, even egalitarian-leaning ones, can have a double standard when it comes to the unsolicited advice doled out to the spouse-less and child-less.

            The childless will be prayed for, maybe even get referrals for adoption or medical help (if those roads might be the couple’s choice).

            But singles are often told advice that, if it were lobbed at the infertile instead, would sound heartless and insensitive.

            Both unwanted singleness and unwanted infertility are parallel worlds of pain. The desire for children is less likely to be invalidated than the desire for a life companion.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I think that’s very true, Kaj. What would it look like to be supported the way you would like?

    • Angharad

      I guess the thinking is that it’s harder to be selfish if you are sharing a house with someone? Which is true to a certain extent, but loads of singles house share anyway. And those that don’t are often living incredibly unselfish lives, giving up their free time to care for others.

      Not to mention the marrieds who expect to live just how they want and their spouse has to fit around them and fall in with their every wish. They don’t get much practice in not being selfish when they’re married!

      Reply
      • Steph

        I’m single and share a house with 4 others (including a married couple)! It’s actually been such an awesome way to live. And I do think that learning to share your space with others does help refine us and it’s certainly helped me grow in my assertive communication skills – it’s definitely not something you can only learn in marriage.
        I’ve had a few difficult roommates in the past, and it’s interesting how easy it is to live with my current housemates who are all pretty open about dealing with conflict. We also like having fun together! It feels like a parallel to this article, but the roommate version 😂

        Reply
  5. Nessie

    You make a LOT of sense!

    “…we have chosen people to write about marriage who are in destructive marriages? And that’s tainted everything! It normalizes abuse and suffering.”

    I have recently been feeling that many of these writers have been rationalizing to self-soothe in a way… if their suffering is “God’s will”, then they can feel holier and better about themselves. Their self-esteem has likely taken such hard hits that they cannot recover unless they rationlize it as a good thing.

    It’s somewhat like the bully at the playground- he picks on others and tears them down because he feels so badly about himself. He may not even be trying to behave that way, he just knows he cannot continue in the hurt he has been enduring.

    I think you are doing what needs to be done to course-correct- putting researched, healthy stuff out there. Many people went to these resources because there just wasn’t much of anything healthy out there before. Now there are options. I think those who fight it do so because it means they have wasted decades doing it the wrong way. That is hard to absorb.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely, Nessie! I’m just hoping that the younger generations break the cycle!

      Reply
      • Kit

        Younger generation here! I am doing my best to break the cycle!

        I’m lucky that I found your resources when I was getting married 2 years ago instead of reading the old marriage advice books from my parents’ bookshelf (Every man’s battle, lies women believe, etc).

        If I have children someday, they will, Lord willing, never be hurt by the awful teachings I was taught. It ends with me!

        I’m so glad that marriage isn’t a constant struggle for me and my husband. We’re still new to being married, so of course we’re still getting used to living together, but it’s really just like having constant sleepovers with my best friend!

        Also, the whole premise of this post reminded me of a funny comic I saw the other day. Hope you like it! https://xkcd.com/2890/

        Reply
        • JG

          So sad, but this advice has been going on for many years. I got the “marriage is hard speech” from my parents too, but I was blessed with an awesome husband.

          I think marriage is hard when patriarchy and being complementarian is in the mix.

          Reply
  6. Jo R

    “Marriage is hard” plus “men must be the tiebreaker in marriage” means that the church is pre-gaslighting women to simply accept lazy, immature, and/or ignorant men as husbands.

    Conveniently, that combo simultaneously makes it acceptable, normal, and even godly for men to never improve as mere human beings, let alone as husbands and eventually fathers.

    The men can’t be questioned, and the women can never bring up even the smallest issue, lest she impugn his “leadership” or otherwise be “disrespectful.”

    🙄

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, this is the big issue that we’re seeing over and over again.

      Reply
  7. Jen

    Excellent and truthful. I spent almost all of my prayer time praying about my destructive marriage, and I thought what I was experiencing was “normal” and that I had a better-than-most husband because he helped around the house. Nope. And nothing these books taught me was outside of my lived experience, meaning that the culture promotes much of the garbage, too. They just didn’t blame the bad teaching on God.

    So, what does this say about the male authors who teach submission and abuse and that men can’t control themselves? Are they trying to explain away their own guilt? Trying to use scripture to support their own selfishness? Have they believed what others have told them – that they are immature, self-destructive, and infantile, so they are clapping back with “we were made that way”?

    As my abusive husband is healing, he has a lot to say about what the Church and culture taught him. And please note: I did not witchcraft him into healing via “prayer”. He decided to heal; therefore, he is healing.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So true–he had to decide to heal!

      I think if I were to make a list of the men who wrote the marriage books, we’d see so much trauma and porn addiction, yes.

      Reply
  8. Angela

    Since I lived that kind of terrible marriage under the influence of the terrible teachings, I cam verify what Sheila is saying about trying to process our own pain. I didn’t have a blog or platform but I did do some Journaling and it’s painful and creepy to read now….

    Reply
  9. Michelle

    This is absolutely true. I ignored so many red flags because I was always told “marriage is hard”. My husband cheated and lied to me for 21 years and it actually caused severe health issues (which I just learned last year are from chronic trauma). I was always taught (by church and “Christian” books) that I just needed to submit more and pray more. Having a year of therapy under my belt with a trained betrayal trauma counselor I see so much undealt with trauma in the writings of the authors that have been mentioned.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Michelle! I hope you’re really healing now.

      Reply
  10. Taylor

    It’s also problematic because “like attracts like.” Women who are in relationships with immature or abusive men are actually more likely to read and receive advice from authors who are also in toxic relationships (or authors who are causing toxicity in their relationships), because these authors “get it.” These authors normalize what the readers are going through.

    The authors’ messages become “what you’re dealing with is normal, and if you’re a woman it’s your fault that it’s happening, and your responsibility to fix it. Because Eve. Also while you have to fix it, you can’t lead the healing because, again, Eve.” Which reinforces the abusive home dynamic of “she has to fix it, but he gets to be in charge.” I lived this for almost 10 years, and it was horrible. And “Christian” marriage advice just made it worse.

    My first light bulb moment came when my Christian therapist took me through a secular workbook that stated point-blank “chronic lying is abuse.” Things started making sense and falling into place, and I started to get better.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad that you had that therapist! But isn’t that heartbreaking that so many Christian resources have allowed so many people to stay in abusive relationships without realizing anything was wrong? We simply have to do better! And I think we are!

      Reply
      • Taylor

        Yes, it’s completely heartbreaking. Many “Christian” sources–at least, the ones I was familiar with–were filled with gaslighting.

        If I had known that marriage wasn’t supposed to be hard, I would have probably gotten help alot sooner. And if we’d had real help sooner, our marriage might have been save-able and heal-able.

        Reply
  11. Tim

    I’ll reflect more on this, and I’m certainly not trying to invalidate anyone else’s experience here, but my first thought was that I don’t think I was told nearly enough how hard marriage would be. Perhaps that’s a gender difference?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think it definitely is! So many books to women are aimed at telling women that suffering is part of God’s plan. It’s awful.

      Reply
      • Tim

        You just reminded me of this: https://www.lifeingraceblog.com/2014/01/why-marriage-is-so-hard-2/

        It’s something I stumbled upon at one point years ago because resources for unhappily married men (as I was at the time) are just about non existent so I’d just churn through books written obviously by and for women and reverse the genders to try to make sense of things.

        Anyway, I remember the line about “God isn’t trying to make you comfortable, He is desperate to make you holy” really speaking to me at the time. And there’s definitely some truth in that. But it’s pretty frightening to think what an article like that could mean for someone in a marriage that’s abusive rather than just needing work.

        Reply
        • Angharad

          That article illustrates perfectly the big problem with so much marriage advice – people aren’t writing about their good marriages and telling you how to have more of the same. They’re writing out of their grim and struggling marriages and telling you how to survive them!

          Two things really jumped out at me from that article. The first is that she admitted “I’ve stayed mad for 3 days because he fails to acknowledge all that I do around here, only to realize that I never once told him thank you for going to work so faithfully all these years.” So she’s in a marriage where they each take each other for granted – NOT HEALTHY.

          But then she also decides she should be grateful to him “For coming home every single night. For staying when staying seemed so very difficult.” NOT HEALTHY EITHER. I mean, how did we get to the stage where a spouse is expected to be ‘grateful’ that their partner didn’t cheat on them or divorce them? Talk about setting the bar low!!!

          So this article is presenting a choice between taking your partner for granted OR being gushingly thankful that they are behaving like an ordinary decent human being instead of a monster. Where are the marriage articles that advise some kind of middle ground between these two extremes?!!!

          Reply
          • Tim

            That’s a pretty good observation.

            I remember the thing that I was desperately searching for was someone whose marriage had been as hard as ours was at the time but was able to turn it around. Those kind of stories don’t seem to get written much (obviously there are some exceptions), so all I had to work with were, as you say, people still in really difficult marriages and trying to survive them.

            All that said, I do remember that article giving me hope in a really dark time, so I guess I’m glad that she wrote it. But reading it now from a better place myself, it really doesn’t hold up well!

        • lisa johns

          Their description of God being “desperate” should raise a few red flags too…

          Reply
        • lisa johns

          That comment about God being “desperate” to make you holy ought to raise some eyebrows anyway…

          Reply
          • Tim

            I didn’t actually have a problem with the use of that word in the context (though I’d have said it differently myself). But I do see where you’re coming from.

            And regardless, I think it’s irresponsible for people to give any kind of ‘marriage is hard’-flavoured advice without clearly distinguishing between normal marital conflict and abuse. Though I’m sure Sheila’s theory partly explains why some people don’t do this (not going to speculate about that particular author’s marriage beyond what she’s said herself).

    • Nessie

      Tim- this is NOT speaking to your marriage (I know almost nothing about yours) but I’m nesting this here as you mentioned men not hearing the marriage being hard message.

      The men in my previous circles would often complain that they were really struggling to love their wives well… most of their complaints essentially boiled down to them having been taught good wives had a “fawning” response (as opposed to fight, flight, or freeze.) They thought they would be adored and reverred. If their wives responded differently, they honestly thought they had a difficult marriage.

      These same men would become half-enraged about how their wives would borrow their cars and return them with not much fuel, yet they couldn’t see how their wives felt the same about them daily never getting dirty clothes in the hamper, never getting trash into the bin, never cleaning up their spills, etc. These same wives didn’t refill the fuel tanks because they would be chastised for not going to the correct filling station the husband wanted, so they felt it safer to return the car with less fuel and instead be seen as incompetent by their husbands.

      Reply
      • Tim

        I’m pleased you added the first clarification as that’s definitely not what I was talking about.

        Also pleased that (reading between the lines) the men in your current circles aren’t like that!

        Reply
        • Nessie

          Yes, I’m around a much heathier group of adults now! 🙂 (And yes, I knew I needed a disclaimer in there!)

          Reply
    • Willow

      Tim, I think you’re on to something. I dated a guy, otherwise very nice and kind, for whom I was his first relationship in his mid-20s. He had absolutely no idea that relationships took work. Props to him for being willing to learn and grow, but he was astonished to learn this was something he needed to invest any effort into.

      I’m no expert on this, but I think it’s a transition of maturity from parental love toward a child, to love between two adults.

      Reply
  12. Shoshana S

    Sheila,

    What you’re doing here is so important, and I’m incredibly grateful that a) you’ve chosen to devote yourself to combatting these destructive ideas and b) that I’ve come across your work!
    As someone in the dating process, this is a message I needed to hear, and I’m going to continue to come back to it.

    Reply
  13. K

    Sheila, you are ABSOLUTELY onto something here, please do carry on down this road!

    Just a word of encouragement though to people (like me) who have been led astray by all the garbage …

    I see comments left – quite frequently – by women who came from serious childhood dysfunction – who went on to be hurt by this toxic teaching. But often they are utterly intent on being generational trauma BREAKERS (as was my own intent) when this stuff crosses their path. They follow the road in a desperate attempt to bring healing and hope into their lives and to do better for their children and families.

    Breaking the cycle of generational trauma is an incredibly brave, intentional and difficult thing to do. I’ve seen extra shame heaped on people who followed the toxic advice in their efforts to get out. But these are the sheep without a shepherd – desperately trying to find a pasture on their own initiative. These sheep deserve compassion.

    Yes. We got the answers wrong. But we were trying to feed from legitimized sources, in an effort to bring healing. Except legitimized = toxic and we didn’t have the ability to know it because church was insisting on the same thing. We were swimming in, drinking and constantly surrounded by the water.

    The issue that your critics need to understand is that the fight you are waging here is not primarily about gender. It’s not about sex. It’s not about “us” and “them” – you are arguing for reformation. This is the place where you are nailing your “95 theses” – and the issue is about the gospel and what new life in the gospel actually looks like. How people who really understand and know Christ live. What their attitude is to others. You’re not focusing on RIGHTS as much as what should be REALITY – if Christianity is indeed true and Jesus Christ does indeed redeem.

    This is good, wonderful work. And I am so grateful for you all. ♥️

    May the next generation of trauma breakers find greener pastures …

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is exactly it! We need a new Reformation! The church today is focused on power and hierarchy and has lost sight of the character of Jesus. It’s so sad and so frustrating, but I do believe that change is coming!

      Reply
      • Lydia

        Thank you Sheila for what the Lord has called you to address and your courage to call out wrong destructive teachings. My prayer is that the church will have the courage to change these deep rooted teachings that are contrary to the Spirit of Christ and the true teaching in the bible if rightly divided. Marriage should be one of the most beautiful institutions as it exemplifies Christ’s love for His church and not bedeviled with with human prejudices, traditions and inherent selfish nature. Remove the influence of the Holy Spirit as the bedrock and the result is chaos and anarchy.

        Reply
    • JG

      K, thank you. I pray for this kind of revival in the church.

      Sheila, I found your blog posts by “accident.” Thank you for helping to bring healing to those of us who were hurt by well meaning parents and others that thought patriarchy would protect our families.

      Reply
  14. Evelyn Krache Morris

    Yes! I am in the process of writing a Victim Impact Statement as a part of the process of healing from decades of being married to a p*rn addict. It’s required me to go through old journals. My marriage crushed me. So much of my writing from years past is about how I’m too far gone for God to want anything to do with me, that my wants don’t matter and the fact that I have them just shows how misguided I am, I’m too corrupted to be of any use, the Enemy is present but God is not, I just need to try harder and be a better wife, etc., etc. I was trying to make sense of an abusive marriage – I was being gaslighted, lied to, manipulated, and mistreated. I am rethinking *everything* now, including what I think about God. It would not surprise me for a moment that other women would use their creativity and intellect to try to understand what they are enduring and why – that’s what I was doing. I believed it was my fault because the church and the culture *both* told me it was.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Evelyn, I’m so sorry that you have gone through all that! It is horrid what it all does to you–the betrayal, but also the spiritual gaslighting.

      Reply
  15. Connie

    I have been married for 32 years and I used to read and listen to a lot of these books that are considered “toxic” now. I specifically remember Stormie Omartian’s book “the Power of the praying wife” and the chapter where she talks about how God let her see how it would be if she left her husband and then I too prayed that prayer she shares in the book. I often wonder if I would have found you earlier if my marriage would be different today. My husband isn’t living as a christian but he acts and talks like these husbands in these books and maybe I allowed it because I thought it was “normal” and that I just needed to submit, give more sex, etc. I can think back to things I believed and said to him because of the wrong teachings I was reading or hearing. My marriage is “hard”, some days harder than others. But I don’t believe divorce is for me. I don’t feel I have “blblical” reason for divorce but maybe I do?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Connie. I’m sorry you weren’t given better help, and that the church made things worse. Have you considered seeing a licensed counselor?

      Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      I will second Sheila’s suggestion of a licensed counselor (extremely helpful when you find the right one), and also encourage you to get a copy of Gretchen Baskerville’s book, The Lifesaving Divorce. (Also, she has a Life Saving Divorce group on thuh facebook, and the discussion that happens in that group can be helpful and encouraging whether you stay or whatever.) Also Leslie Vernick’s book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, which is AMAZING. These will both help you clarify where you are with your marriage, and what “biblical” reasons for divorce really are. I hope you can find clarity and encouragement as you move forward. Much blessing to you.

      Reply
  16. Chris B.

    Of course marriage should not be hard. God’s word (if we believe it) is full of direction for husbands and wives. We can sometimes “cherry pick” what we like and ignore the parts that challenge us to be what God intends. Marriage can be a lot of hard work, let me explain. Wife or Husband should be challenged by God’s word to fulfill their part in the marriage (Whatever that part is). Sometimes these roles are explicitly spelled out in scripture and other times it may seem to be a gray area. Being a saved Individual we have the Holy Spirit to guide us in all things, including marriage. It is not always easy to figure out what works in a marriage. Communication is key to a healthy marriage. To communicate well it can take a lot of hard work and understanding. Many Women and Men have been led astray by books, blogs, teacher’s, churches or husbands. Nothing wrong with reading, learning or hearing different opinions. But if we are not resting on God’s Word and direction in our life, then it is easy to be influenced to the point that we leave God out and begin living in a way that God never intended. Or treating women or our wives like God never intended.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Ummm….the Bible doesn’t prescribe “roles” to people. The Bible tells us to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves. And that applies to both men and women. And we are to submit to one another. But there actually aren’t roles. Women don’t love men in a way that men don’t love women.

      Reply
    • Jo R

      Please name one post-Pentecost NT woman who is praised for being a wife, let alone a mother.

      Instead, women are depicted as

      • being the first witnesses to the Resurrection—and then instructed to tell the male disciples (who, of course, dismissed the women out of hand)

      • being accepted by Jesus for sitting at His feet as a fully accepted disciple

      • teachers of grown men whose theology was incomplete

      • leaders of the only kind of churches that then existed

      • faithful witnesses at the crucifixion when all the male disciples had fled

      Those are just off the top of my head.

      I certainly hope your main “role” for women isn’t motherhood, as the roughly 10 percent of us in infertile marriages are then left without being able to do the “main thing” that “God made women for.” 🙄

      Reply
  17. Graham

    Thank you for this article! My wife and I have been married for going on two years, and while it’s not been without challenges, we love each other so much and have a really good marriage that I only see getting better. I would not ever use “hard” as the wya to describe our marriage. I don’t feel like we can tell this to anyone because I can hear the responses of “Just wait, you’re still newlyweds,” and the like. It’s encouraging to hear from a couple who has been married for a long time who feels the same. It affirms that we don’t have to be young and naive for this to be true about our marriage. Thank you!

    Reply

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