The Problems with Lies Women Believe by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (with Download)

by | Feb 9, 2024 | For Women, Theology of Marriage and Sex | 26 comments

Review of Lies Women Believe by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

ONE OF THE THINGS WE’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT ON THIS BLOG IS MAKING SURE THE ADVICE THAT IS GIVEN ABOUT MARRIAGE AND SEX IN THE EVANGELICAL WORLD IS HEALTHY.

Over the last few years, our team has surveyed over 32,000 people, measuring how certain teachings common in the evangelical world about marriage and sex affect marital and sexual satisfaction.

And the results have not been pretty.

We’re asking the church to stop spreading harmful messages, and make sure that what is said is actually healthy. Because it is actually possible to write books that do not harm! 

As we’ve confronted harmful messages, we’ve written two big books–The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better.

We’ve also published a series of  downloadable one-sheets on evangelical books that still sell well, but have been shown to contain harmful messages.

This is our most recent entry–Lies Women Believe.

In this post, with a download option, I’d like to explain why it’s harmful.

This post is the text from our download, so it’s short, in bullet point form, and right to the point. 

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Lies Women Believe (And the Truth That Sets Them Free) Updated Edition by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Synopsis

Healing from habitual sin, complex trauma, depression, and more comes from changing what we believe.

Summary of Issues

  • Shows no understanding that habitual unwanted behaviors are caused by a myriad of complex factors, including trauma; unhealthy coping mechanisms; and shame, not merely problematic beliefs.
  • Equates sinning and being sinned against throughout the book, providing the same solution to both problems.
  • Fails to give any route to relationship change, such as drawing boundaries, but rather insists that women’s suffering and silence brings wanted change.

    Lies Women Believe

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    IGNORES BREADTH OF SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE OF TRAUMA AND BEHAVIORAL CHANGE

    • Fails to understand that trauma is held in the body, not caused by “believing a lie” (40). Implies that childhood sexual abuse (137), emotional abuse (67), or sexual assault (137) can be healed by changing beliefs and thinking the trauma away.
    • Asserts that habitual sin is caused by believing lies, so changing one’s beliefs will bring an end to compulsive masturbation (40); same sex attraction (106); and can even lead to a 65 pound weight loss (58).
    • Dismisses symptoms of postpartum depression (238); rebukes those who seek medical help first for depression: “It’s easier to rely on a doctor, a therapist or antidepressants than to ask God how He might want to use our pain to sanctify us” (248).

    SHOWS A PROBLEMATIC MISUNDERSTANDING OF FEMALE SEXUALITY

    • Implies that a woman can overcome sexual dissatisfaction and dysfunction simply by “training her body to respond”, and suggesting women talk to a godly female mentor about this. Never mentions talking to your husband, even though evangelical couples experience a 47-point orgasm gap, with the biggest reason being lack of foreplay (138). Implies women can think themselves to pleasure, rather than noting that husbands have a responsibility to bring their wives pleasure.
    • Chastises a woman who wants to experience sexual pleasure with her husband as “being caught in a snare” because she believed the lie that she “needs an outlet for sexual desire.” Advises her to work on her friendship with her husband instead of learning techniques to experience arousal (153).  
    • Excludes rape from a list of nine ways we can sin sexually, but includes “[losing] one’s virginity”, implying that a rape victim has committed a sin and has become impure (148).

    IGNORES ABUSE DYNAMICS

    • Equates a childhood abuse victim now yearning for human connection with a woman obsessing over social media. In both cases, women are in “personal and spiritual bondage” because they “believe and act on lies” (67-68).
    • In her section on why women embrace shame, includes both “my stepfather forced himself on me sexually at least once a week from the time I was five until I was eleven” and “I’m looking at porn” (133) as if the route to healing is identical. Lists both sexual abuse and a husband’s porn use as examples of a woman’s “sexual sins, challenges, shortcomings” (133).
    • States repeatedly that one cannot be a victim. “I used to believe that I was chronically depressed due to being a victim. When I began to realize that much of my depression was caused by my choice to be angry, I began to take responsibility for my sin and found freedom” (102).
    • While giving a caveat that abusive marriages should not be tolerated, repeatedly gives contradicting anecdotes, including a woman who prayed for 40 years for her marriage to be restored, though godly conselors told her to leave (263). Presents all the following beliefs as lies: “I’d be better off getting a divorce” (186); “he doesn’t care that he hurt me (186); “I can’t continue in this marriage” (266), or believing that most problems in marriage are his fault (187).
    • Fails to name clergy abuse, portraying a relationship between a pastor and a woman in the congregation as consensual (22).
    • Ignores systemic marriage issues leading to women’s exhaustion—the disproportionate burden of mental load, housework, and emotional labor that women bear (116), painting the problem merely as a failure to properly prioritize.

      IGNORES ABUSE DYNAMICS cont.

      • Praises a woman for remaining silent and not drawing boundaries in the midst of her husband’s alcoholism (166), and implies that we should suffer to bring our husbands to repentance (189).
      • Teaches an unhealthy view of submission where a woman can “graciously express her view on a matter”, but then must follow her husband (175). Scripture condemns Sapphira who followed her husband, and praises Abigail who did not.
      • States that no man is actually passive, and if women step back, men will step up (179). This is not universally true, and waiting for him to step up in areas such as children’s well-being or paying bills can have destructive results.
      • Insists that whether one has cancer, has lost a child, or has a difficult marriage (where a husband may be sinning against you), one can still be stable, joyous, and radiant. These things, however, are not comparable; death is random, while poor relationships can be based on someone sinning against you. Rather than aiming for mood change in the midst of a difficult marriage, as the book advocates (18), difficult marriages actually require aiming for safety and relationship change.
      • In the section on why women embrace shame, includes both “my stepfather forced himself on me sexually at least once a week from the time I was five until I was eleven” and “I’m looking at porn” (133) as if the route to healing is identical. Places sexual abuse and a husband using porn in the categories of a woman’s “sexual sins, challenges, shortcomings” (133). The cure for all is to confess (136), stop embracing shame, and repent of letting this define you (134).

      CONTAINS PROBLEMATIC THEOLOGICAL VIEWPOINTS

      •  Believes that “I have the right to decide when or whether to have a child” is a lie, arguing that it is best and most godly not to use contraception (197). Portrays as the ideal a woman with eight children (201). States that feeling “I can’t physically handle more children” or “I can’t afford more children” are lies. (203-204).
      • Implies that God deliberately chooses to make some women infertile (198), or deliberately kills a parent (51). States that, if we were to know what God knows, we would choose infertility or death of a parent or child all over again (291).
      • In a section discussing women’s “shrewish spirits” and “failures”, includes as examples “women whose marriages are hanging by a thread” and “women whose hearts ache for their children” (15).
      • Asserts that, if one doesn’t have money for rent next month, the solution is to believe hard enough “my grace is sufficient for you” (267). This is a version of manifestation theology, that if one believes enough, one can manifest a result.
      • Presents standing up for one’s rights and wanting to be treated well as antithetical to a gospel life, where “each new hurt, each new offense, is a fresh opportunity to surrender our rights and to respond in the spirit of Christ.” (77)
      • Declares that not caring for one’s appearance reflects “negatively on both her husband and her heavenly Bridegroom” (81)
      • Includes misogynistic tropes, like calling women “shrewish”; implying that women are responsible for bringing all sin into the world (despite the fact that Scripture lays it at Adam’s feet) 
      • Equates same sex attraction with “bestiality, incest, polygamy, cult prostitution” (147) and being a lesbian (harms no one) with being a murderer or adulterer (has victims) (293).

      HEALTHY SEXUALITY RUBRIC SCORE: 22/48*

      INFIDELITY & LUST: 11/16  |  PLEASURE 5/16  |  MUTUALITY 6/16

      *FOR FULL RESULTS, VISIT BAREMARRIAGE.COM/GSR-RUBRIC

      WHAT WOMEN HAVE SAID

      “This book kept me spiritually hostage for years in a terrible marriage riddled with abuse and infidelty.”

      Naomi N.

      “When I read it, it left me feeling like I could never be enough, like I could never fit in to church culture, like I needed to be submissive and quiet and make myself small to fit the “perfect Christian woman” mold.” 

      Cindy A.

      “It taught me to see my depression and anxiety as a lack of gratitude, my trauma responses as my own fault for being too bitter and not forgiving enough, and my autistic meltdowns as just a lack of self-control. It taught me that my own happiness doesn’t matter. It taught me that women are made to be homemakers and submit to their husbands and raise children—and that it’s rebellious and selfish to NOT want these things, but also I shouldn’t want them TOO MUCH or that means I’m turning them into an idol. It taught me that if I’m feeling too overwhelmed and busy, it’s because I’m not trusting God enough. I’m not being dramatic or exaggerating when I say that book did severe damage to my mental health.”

      Alicia J.

      This book spear headed the steam rolling over of one woman’s explanation for why she and her spouse got fixed and stopped adding children to their family… I left that Bible study feeling really really upset and sad. I fully agreed with her.

      Also, calling suffering holy and therefore we shouldn’t try to ease it or stop it. I choked on and read over that chapter trying to understand it, just about spiraled into depression from that chapter my husband had to talk me out of it, and my counselor too. We had just gone through the loss of our baby for unknown reasons in the second trimester, that was definitely not a helpful chapter to read.

      I read this book as part of a women’s Bible study in my mid-thirties. I think it was just another book the reinforced what every other women’s study group, marriage conference, and program I had attended told me: if you will just be less of yourself, love your husband sacrificially without expecting anything in return, be more godly, less needy, more satisfied, then your life will be great! I didn’t realize at the time that I was in an abusive marriage. Our family was on the verge of financial ruin, my oldest daughter was self-harming and in therapy for sexual abuse, and I felt that if I had just been a better person, maybe it wouldn’t be like this. It made me think that the problem was me—nobody else seemed to have a problem with the message, so it must just be that I wasn’t good enough, spiritually mature enough, if this was the way I was supposed to feel about my life—and I clearly didn’t.

      Encouraged extreme passivity and a welcoming of toxic behaviour as “God’s will”. I felt trapped and like I was being ungrateful for wanting my needs met.

      I read the book years ago. Unfortunately, at the time, I was indoctrinated in Complementarian theology, and I was unable to see the damage of NLD’s words. I felt it was just another book (added to the long list of LifeWay’s and CBMW’s propaganda used to control women) that showed me how far away I was to becoming the perfect Proverbs 31 woman. Strive more…do more…speak less…smile all the time…be sexually available to my husband 24/7, give more…forget yourself…give up your rights because you gave them up when you met Jesus…feel less…don’t show emotions…submit, submit, submit…

      I now see that her book heaped piles of shame and condemnation on my head and in my heart. I now believe this book is a close parallel to Debi Pearl’s “Created to be His Helpmeet.” Both left me in great bondage and further from God’s grace and acceptance of myself and the personality He gave me. It took me a long time to realize that I was the frog in the pot…

      I did this as a Bible study with a delightful group of women who sincerely loved God and loved their families and wanted to mutually encourage each other.

      It pains me so much how this book did opposite of what we hoped it would. We shut down from communicating on a deep level with each other. There was fear of failure. There was shame over ways we didn’t perfectly fit the script. There was an underlying view of a need to control our families to be godly.

      But fear, shame and control are a spiritually deadly triad. The book produced all the very bad things in us that it promised would happen to us if we didn’t do everything her way. Even though we did it her way as much as humanly possible to the point of ridiculous.

      It gave us negative promises if we deviated slightly from a narrow path that Jesus never required, and then those promises came true for many of us in devastating ways. I still believe Jesus words but in critically examining after the fact I see him recommending a much different narrow path than the large family skirt wearing, media shunning, husband fearing, morality shaming path of the author.

      When Jesus spoke of a narrow way I think perhaps that is the path of spiritual mindfulness. That sense of calm that descends when we know that we know that we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

      But immersed in fear, shame and control it separated us from one another in our times of deepest need. We drifted apart after the study.

      The book taught us to fear failure, rejection and social isolation if our families didn’t measure up. She taught us to protect ourselves and our husbands and kids from outside influences. Even though we felt a strong connection, each of us had a fear of being exposed as not the perfect “godly ” families ( according to the books fear based teaching) that we were trying to be.

      So we purposed to get together again and again and didn’t. We purposed to help each other. But no one wanted to recieve a visit when they were struggling because then others would know their failures. So we all offered and all of us nearly always said no to getting together or being helped by each other like we planned.

      Many years afterwards we find out gradually what pain each of us has faced all alone. I think of what might have been the results if we had immersed ourselves in something more grace based instead.

      We’ll never know but it matters to start now to believe that God’s love is a gift. And to stop engaging in cultural warfare of various kinds in the name of God.

      SYNOPSIS OF FINDINGS

      Based on an overly simplistic understanding of healing, Lies Women Believe tells women that the root of all of their problems is that they have been deceived. They can achieve healing merely by believing the right thing, ignoring all modern understanding of trauma and behavioral change. Consistently equates problems caused from sinning with problems due to being sinned against, painting abuse victims as responsible for their own trauma. This book heaps shame on women in untenable situations, and rather than giving a compassionate view of God, leaves Him out of reach.

      Try Softer by Aundi Kohlber

      Making of Biblical Womanhood

      The Wisdom of Your Body by Hilary McBride

      Download this material in a onesheet format that you can email or give to someone who recommends the book. Let’s change the evangelical conversation about sex and marriage to something healthy!

      Lies Women Believe

      One Sheet

      Everything Harmful with Lies Women Believe Summarized on One Sheet!

      Subscribe today to get the free printout to share with your friends, family, and pastors

      A summary of the problems with Lies Women Believe

      Written by

      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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      26 Comments

      1. Angharad

        “Believes that “I have the right to decide when or whether to have a child” is a lie, arguing that it is best and most godly not to use contraception (197). Portrays as the ideal a woman with eight children (201). States that feeling “I can’t physically handle more children” or “I can’t afford more children” are lies. (203-204).”

        I knew a woman who believed this teaching and insisted on getting pregnant a fourth time, in spite of being told that another pregnancy would almost certainly be fatal. The result is that four kids are growing up motherless. Teaching like this doesn’t just condemn women to misery, it can literally kill them. How does Nancy sleep at night, knowing that women have died because they followed her teaching?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I truly don’t get it. I think she’s so deep in toxic religion she can’t see it. I hope one day she repents. It would be so healing for everyone!

          Reply
        • JoB

          The hard part of Christianity is having the discernment to know what are the things that it would be right to suffer for (or possibly die for). Or perhaps the problem is the temptation to make rules that are applied as absolute in every situation (which are, admittedly easier to comprehend and have security that you’re on the right side, vs discernment and facing the possibility that you could be deceived by your own selfish motives). Many people do things like this out of a very sincere desire to please God, and they often accept their own deaths, or ill health, or loss, or difficult circumstances as God’s will. It’s hard to know when it truly is God’s will for them to suffer and glorify him in suffering or deprivation, and when they are just misguided and reaping the consequences of their misunderstanding. And why God allows things to work out in some circumstances and not in others.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            It is hard to know. When do you keep going in something you felt you were called to, even if things look bleak, and when do you call it quits? They are really hard questions.

            Reply
      2. Terry

        How many pregnancies has she had? How many kids has she raised? The passage on not using contraception was incredibly cold and callous toward women and how physically/emotionally difficult and demanding pregnancy and childrearing actually are.

        Reply
      3. Jo R

        Things you’ll never read in “Lies Men Believe” or the companion volume “Lies Young Men Believe”:

        “It’s easier to rely on [your wife to make you ejaculate on demand] than to ask God how He might want to use our pain to sanctify us”

        “Implies [men] can think themselves to pleasure, rather than noting that [wives] have a responsibility to bring their [husbands] pleasure.”

        “States repeatedly that one cannot be a victim [of a wife losing interest in sex]”

        “Asserts that, if one doesn’t have [enough sex each] month, the solution is to believe hard enough ‘my grace is sufficient for you'”

        “Presents standing up for one’s rights [to orgasm on demand] and wanting to be treated well as antithetical to a gospel life”

        🤣 🤣 🤣

        Reply
        • lisa johns

          Lolzzz!

          Reply
      4. Tim

        Slightly off topic, but are any of the alternative books you recommend above (or anything else you can think of) a helpful practical guide to healthy theology of relationships, gender and sexuality that’s suitable for single women?

        Currently our very modest church library has Great Sex Rescue (correct me if I’m wrong but written mostly for married couples and especially for wives), Non Toxic Masculinity (probably useful for most people imo but clearly written for men). I’m aware that leaves a gap for the unmarried women but haven’t known what to fill it with.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          What about The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr?

          Reply
          • Tim

            Hmmm, interesting suggestion. I have read (and enjoyed) it but hadn’t thought about it in this context. From memory the vibe was more ‘here are some interesting historical trends that have contributed to women being treated poorly by many churches’ rather than ‘here’s some practical advice for life as a female follower of Jesus’. But it’s a while since I read it, and maybe I’d have had a different impression on that if I were a woman myself.

            All that aside, the main thing I was hoping for is something that affirms singleness by choice as a valid option, and I don’t recall MOBW addressing that directly.

            Will probably look at getting that one anyway, but let me know if you think of any other options.

            Reply
            • Sheila Wray Gregoire

              No, you’re right, that’s really not what the book is for. Nothing in particular comes to mind, but I’ll think on it!

              Reply
            • Laura

              Tim,

              A great book about singleness is Breaking the Marriage Idol by Kutter Callaway. I read most of that book several years ago and enjoyed it. The author(s) talked about how the church has made marriage into an idol leaving single people feeling left out in the church. As someone who had been single throughout most of my adult life, reading this book reassured me that I am okay at any stage in life.

              Reply
              • Tim

                Thanks Laura, I’ll look into it!

        • Angharad

          Not specifically about sexuality, but I remember The Single Issue by Al Hsu as being the best book on singleness I ever read in my single days. It’s also unusual in that it’s the only book on singleness I ever read that doesn’t assume all singles want to be married.

          Reply
          • Tim

            Thanks for that, I’ll look it up.

            (Thanks also to Sheila for latest comment above)

            Reply
      5. G. G.

        The last testimony was so heartbreaking! Here was a group of women who were doing life together, being “the hands and feet of Jesus”, and loving like Jesus but because of one woman’s opinion and uninformed ideas they stopped–to their detriment. So sad.

        Reply
      6. Anne

        Hi Sheila, I appreciate so much what you do in standing against the horrific church teachings that have done severe harm to me and my children. I requested this download on this yesterday , and I received your follow up email with a bunch of bonus downloads on other books. I was surprised and dismayed that one of them recommended Boundaries in Marriage as a helpful, safe resource. This was the resource that my Christian spiritual directors/self-appointed marriage counselors used with me twenty years ago when I sought help for my emotionally abusive marriage. It completely minimizes emotional abuse and gives women experiencing it no options except to look to their own sinfulness and set better boundaries. The problem is that an emotional abuser will punish any attempt to set boundaries, thus setting the victim up for even more abuse. Most of the content in the book is a perfectly fine tutorial on boundaries for those in a healthy marriage where both parties seek mutuality—but that makes the advice in the chapter about the “boundary-resistant spouse” even more harmful because it’s surrounded by unobjectionable material. The anecdotes in this chapter clearly refer to emotional abuse, but the refusal to name it as such and to place the responsibility properly on the perpetrator is deeply harmful, even dangerous. The book makes it seem that separation and divorce are only options for people in marriages where there is overt battering. But emotional abuse is violence against the heart and mind if the victim, and they offer no guidance about how to determine if that is taking place and no permission to flee it. I can tell you from experience that no amount of self-examination , self tone-policing, and boundary-setting will protect a wife against an entitled, self-centered, and controlling man who sees relationships in terms of power-over rather than mutuality. I highly recommend that you revisit that chapter of the book to understand what I mean. I was thoroughly gaslighted by my counselors and spent twenty additional years being abused because of it.

        Reply
        • Jenney

          “It’s easier to accept novacaine than ask how God might use the pain of a root canal to sanctify us.”
          “It’s easier to take an antibiotic than ask how God might use a staph infection to sanctify us.”
          “It’s easier to put on a sweater than ask how God might use our experience of chilly discomfort to sanctify us.”

          Why does she only say this with mental health?

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Exactly!

            Reply
          • Jane King

            My former church was like that. The pastor tried to convince my late husband he didn’t need his antidepressants. My husband had a long history if depression. The guy has an engineering degree and an MDIV how would he know? When we got back in the car my husband said, “well I won’t be taking that advice.” But, I am sure many younger/newer believers would have.

            Reply
            • Sheila Wray Gregoire

              I’m glad that’s your “former” church!

              Reply
        • CAT

          thank you for sharing this, Anne

          I am so sorry for what you went through

          Reply
        • CMT

          Anne- I have had Boundaries in marriage lying around for some but only read the first few chapters. I flipped through the chapter you are talking about, and I see what you mean! I think this chapter was written with codependent/enabling spouses in mind, not abused spouses, and that is a glaring oversight. Especially because you’re right, it does describe abuse without naming it as such. Eg intimidation and domination “verbally and otherwise” such that the wife fears the husband (p211) or DARVO-like deflecting behavior (p212).

          I can absolutely see this chapter being used against a spouse who’s being abused. As you say, setting boundaries better is not the answer to abuse, and could actually be dangerous. But the writers don’t offer any other options. They even imply it’s normal for a “boundary-resistant” person to “hate” their spouse for their boundaries, “temporarily, we hope” (p230). The boundary-setting spouse is advised “don’t take abuse,” keep setting boundaries, trust God and get support from other people (p230), but I don’t see that safety or red flags for abuse are discussed. The boundary-setter is also specifically told not to be the one who chooses to leave the marriage (p232).

          I haven’t read the whole book so maybe some of these issues are addressed better elsewhere. But I agree, this chapter is really off.

          I’m sorry you went through all that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’d be interested to hear a response from Sheila and the team.

          Reply
      7. Boone

        The title of this book sounded familiar so I asked my wife about it. She said that there was a copy on the shelves in the farm office somewhere. The church had used it in a women’s Bible study about four or five years ago. I asked her what she thought about it. She said that she only went to three of the sessions before she got fed up with the process.
        I should interject here that we have a group of five or six ladies that live on a spiritual plane that is far above the average Christian. They travel in a pack and can be guaranteed to take over the discussion at any study they attend.
        Wife said that she read about three more chapters on her on and then pitched the book. I asked if she remembered the gist of the book. Wife thought for a minute and said that in a nutshell, you are miserable because you’re not right with God. You have no right to be miserable. You have no right not to be miserable. If you are miserable it will make you closer to God. Wife remembered thinking that the writer was totally whacked.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Your wife has great discernment!

          Reply

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