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MaryEllen, Author at Imperfect Homemaker

All Posts by MaryEllen

Love & Respect Uses Scripture Out of Context

We have already seen in part one of this series that Love & Respect misuses scripture by leading the readers to believe that the author’s theory about men’s and women’s deepest needs is God’s unchanging revelation. (Read that post here.)

In this article we will take a look at some of the other ways that Love & Respect misuses scripture.

Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

Truly, I could nitpick all day at some of the “little” ways that the author uses scripture out of context to prove a point, but I do not feel that it is worth our time to examine every single one.

For one thing, I want to give the benefit of the doubt. Some of these instances of taking scripture out of context seem innocuous enough, and perhaps they were not purposely used to prove an extra-biblical point.

I have not bothered to include any of these as I do not feel it necessary to split hairs about every little thing.

 

Subtle, Yet Problematic

Other examples, though they may seem harmless on the surface, are more problematic when one takes a closer look.

Take this section for instance:

“A husband is geared to hear the command, ‘Take courage…be men and fight’ (I Samuel 4:9)” (p. 50).

Knowing that the author takes liberties with declaring his own ideas as Biblical truth made me curious to look at this closer too.

Along with his theory that men’s primary need is respect and women’s is love, he presents supporting theories throughout the book about other ways that men and women are different. God made males and females, and I believe he created them distinct from each other on purpose. But the author takes this idea to an extreme and lays out intricate descriptions of how
all men and all women are wired, and quotes scripture verses to support these descriptions. The understanding is that when a wife learns these unquestionable truths about how her husband is wired and acts accordingly, this will make him feel respected. And when a husband treats his wife according to how she is wired she will feel loved.

Now, is it important for husbands and wives to know what makes their spouse tick? Will they be much less likely to unintentionally offend if they know the other might interpret what they say differently than they intend it to mean.


Certainly so; therefore it’s important to learn good verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

But instead of teaching spouses to learn to appreciate each other’s individual differences, the author of Love & Respect expends a great deal of effort to prove very specific things that all men and all women need, and lays out specific male/female formulas they must follow in order for their spouse to feel understood.


My objection to this part about men being geared to fight is not so much about debating whether being suited for combat is a male/female difference. My objection has a whole lot more to do with the context of the entire book in which rigid gender needs are “proven” from out-of-context scripture verses.

Let’s take a closer look at I Samuel 4:9. In this passage, the Philistine army had battled and defeated the Israelite army. The Israelites determined that their best course of action was to bring the ark of the covenant to their encampment. When the Philistines realized that the ark had been brought to the Israelite army, they became afraid because they believed God himself had come into the Israelite’s camp. They knew that the God of the Israelites was powerful enough to defeat them. In the midst of their fear they said to one another that they must be strong like men and fight, lest they become servants to the Hebrews.

This account of a battle between the Philistines and the Israelites has nothing to do with proving that men are “geared” to fight in combat. But this type of proof-texting occurs frequently throughout the book, and if one does not take the time to look up each scripture verse in its context, one will take the contents of the book as Biblical truth. But placing scripture references in parentheses next to a statement does not mean it is Biblical truth.

 

The previous example is just one of many where the author misuses scripture by trying to extract something in order to assign labels to each gender.
Without these fixed gender labels regarding what each gender’s deepest needs are and how each gender views the world, the book falls apart.

As I noted in the article about Love & Respect equating theory with scripture, it is not wrong for an author to present his theories. He could have even presented his gender labels as “many women need…” or  “a lot of men feel that…” and he would not have been dishonest.

But to misuse scripture in order to present these gender labels as gospel truth, and to form an entire one-size-fits-all formula around them is misleading at best.

He does not provide any doubt that this strict presentation of gender labels is purposeful. Statements like these appear throughout the book:

“Paul is clearly saying that wives need love and husbands need respect” (p. 15).
“Peter is definitely talking about unconditional respect” (p. 18).
“To speak his language, remember: ‘the wife must respect her husband’ (Ephesians 5:33 NIV)” (p. 66).
“Ephesians 5:33 reveals that a wife needs love and a husband needs respect, and when those needs are unmet each spouse reacts at some level” (chapter one endnotes).

 

Pink and Blue Sunglasses

As yet another example of how the author tries to proof-text men and women into very specific boxes, he goes on to use I Peter 3 to construct an entire section about pink and blue sunglasses, meaning the different ways in which men and women see the world (p. 32).

But First Peter 3 has nothing to do with pink and blue sunglasses. If he would like to try to help husbands and wives understand that their partner may be looking at something from a different perspective than they are, he should feel free to do so, but to construct this advice around an out-of-context verse is careless and unnecessary.

The point of I Peter 3:7 is not at all to point out that men and women wear blue and pink glasses, respectively. It’s a command to men to honor their vulnerable wives. While there are some generalities that apply to most men or women, every individual sees things differently. If two people of the same sex are living together as roommates, there will occasionally be conflict between them because they will not always see eye to eye. This is not a unique problem only between males and females, and the answer to interpersonal conflict is much more complex than using  formulas of what “all males” or “all females” need.

Presenting these gender-based formulas as Biblical does a disservice to couples because it leads them to believe that they are guaranteed to work. It is unfair for an author to lead wives to believe that it is a Biblical guarantee that men “need to feel respected even more than to feel loved” and that “respect is the key to motivating a husband” (p. 49-50) when it is merely his theory and not actually a guarantee.

 

Wives Ask to Be Unloved?

“Wives virtually ask to be unloved when they ‘look down on their husbands’ (Esther 1:17 NIRV)” (p. 59).

Here is another concept this author teaches that he has extracted from a verse out of context. Let’s take a closer look at what this verse is about.

In Esther chapter 1, queen Vashti refuses the king’s command to come show off her beauty to the royal court. The king became angry and asked his advisors what should be done to Vashti. The advisors told him that there needed to be repercussions for Vashti’s refusal of the king’s command; otherwise all the women will hear about what the queen has done. Then they won't respect their husbands” (Esther 1:17 NIRV).

This passage has absolutely nothing to do with wives “virtually asking to be unloved!”

To even imply that if a wife is unloved by her husband it is because she “asked for it” is at best unfair and in many scenarios dangerous.

 

Conclusion

From my notes that I took as I read the book, I compiled a list that contains many more examples of the author’s use of proof-texting in order to present his concepts as Biblical truth, but I believe I have shared enough already to make my point.

Even if I agree with much of what an author says, I am not okay with that author leading people to believe that his theories are Biblical truth when what he has actually done is to manipulate the scripture in order to make his points.


The disastrous result of laying an impossible burden on people and claiming it is the “Biblical way” is illustrated by this heartbreaking comment I received from a lady named Wendy:

“Coming from someone who lived in an emotionally abusive marriage for over 16 years, this book encouraged my husband’s abuse and only made me feel that apart from perfection I was to blame for the abuse I was suffering…I can tell you the damage is huge to a spouse who has a heart for God and is in a marriage with a narcissist. Perfection wouldn’t have been enough. I was on one of the love and respect podcasts anonymously and was praised for my effort to continue to respect in spite of obvious abuse. Mr. Eggerich stated that if my husband didn’t change…I was to suffer for Jesus and continue to give and respect. 16 years later I found out my husband was living a double life of homosexuality, porn addiction, adultery with both women and men, and I was told he was a covert narcissist. My life was endangered, my children were in danger…if you are in a marriage with an abusive person…this book will only enable their behavior…I am grateful I am alive and my children are safe, but it was not without consequences.”

 

I am not okay with what happened to Wendy in the name of the “Biblical principles” taught in this book.

 

I am not okay with someone using scripture out of context to convince women it is their responsibility to motivate their husbands to love them.

 

I am not okay with an author telling women that if their husbands don’t love them it is because they “asked for it.”

 

I am not okay with an author telling a woman that if her husband mistreats her, she can just respect him more and it will make him love her.

 

That is my reason for this series. Too many people are suffering as the result of being encouraged by their pastors or counselors to read this book. It is promoted as Biblical and something that will revolutionize a marriage. And yet, it is not Biblical, and the only revolutionary change it has brought to many people’s lives is destruction.

Love & Respect is a best-selling book. Out of 33 million titles on Amazon, it ranks as of this writing at number 1,726. There is no telling how many thousands of people have read it and been harmed by their desire to obey what they were told was Biblical truth.

 

You can find the list of other problems with Love & Respect here. I hope you will pass this information on to others whom I hope will be spared from living a story like Wendy’s.

 

 

 

 

 

Homemaking Update March 2021

It's a new month, which means it's time for me to post some personal stuff about what I've been up to! I'm hearing from a lot of you that you enjoy a taste of “old-school” blogging, so I'll keep it up!

 

What I've read recently:

 

 

1. The kids and I finished listening to the audio version of Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge. I want them to be exposed to truth, even when it's not always pretty and involves someone that many history books call a hero.

I don't think it's fair to look for ways that we can make everyone out to be a villain, but neither do I think it's fair to present only one side of the facts either. The kids and I enjoyed listening (the book is written specifically for younger readers.)

 

 

2. Someone in my Facebook feed shared an article about Claudette Colvin, a teenage girl who stood up to segregation on the Montgomery buses, and I was curious to know more. When I googled, I found this book, and it was included with my Scribd subscription, so I read it on there.

Here's what I wrote about it on Goodreads:
I love learning about people who did courageous things for no other reason than that it's the right thing to do. Claudette didn't do what she did for notoriety, she did it because she could not live a lie. She couldn't pretend segregation was OK, tiptoeing around society in order to get along. She did what was right, and she held her head high even when others (including those who should have been supporting her) turned their backs on her. I've never heard of Claudette Colvin until recently. She didn't make the history books, but it was her courage that spearheaded the lawsuit that would ultimately change history. We don't all have to make the history books, but we can all do the right thing with our head held high. Claudette's story should be an inspiration to everyone.

If you want to read it on Scribd, you can get a free 60 day trial through this link.

 

3. Adore: A Simple Practice for Experiencing God in the Middle Minutes of Your Day

From my Goodreads review:
I turned to this book when I found my thoughts getting anxious and my mind swirling with the cares of the day. I loved listening in on Sara's self-talk as she intentionally turned her own anxious thoughts toward God and his word. Her prompts helped me apply the word to my own circumstances and find peace and perspective in the midst of my frustrations. 

 

4. The Great Sex Rescue
From my Goodreads review:
This book is intended to help wives (and husbands too) untangle the lies they've believed about God's design for sex. Lies like, “men are going to look, so make sure he looks at you” or that “sex is a duty that wives owe their husbands men have great needs in this area” can put a damper on whether or not couples can enjoy the intimacy of the sexual relationship. Instead of sex being an obligation and wives being used as drugs to keep their husbands off porn, The Great Sex Rescue will help couples discover the joy that can be theirs when sex is focused on mutual pleasure and true intimacy rather than just the act of intercourse.

I shared more about the author's motivation for writing this book here.

 

Something New I Tried This Month:

I got my second clothing subscription box from Wantable (read my full review of the service here.)

 

They sent some cozy clothes for me to finish off the last of the cold weather in (I ended up sending all of these back.)

 

They also have a feature where you can request specific articles for them to send. I got this dress that I requested and it fit well, so now I have a new addition to my spring wardrobe.

 

A Blog Post I Wrote This Month:

I inadvertently opened a whole can of worms when I asked on Instagram if anyone had read any Christian marriage books that had done more harm than good. When the book Love & Respect came up, I had a whole bunch of questions in my inbox. The book is very popular, and many people had read it and had a good experience, so they wanted to know in what ways it had caused harm.

I promised to answer the question, but I knew it would be a major undertaking. I had over 50 pages of notes that I had taken as I went through the book.

To make a long story short, I am now working my way through a series about the problems with Love & Respect, and the main hub of that series can be found here.

 

A goal I worked on this month:

I'm carrying a few extra pounds that I'd like to shed. So far I have struggled with this because learning a new plan like THM felt too overwhelming, and sticking to just eating healthy was not actually taking any weight off.

I'm finally doing something differently that is SO EASY and seems to be working slowly and steadily (I'm down 4 pounds within the first 2 weeks.) I'm not trying to be a tease, but I want to wait to share until I give it a long enough trial to know for sure that I recommend it. I promise I'll update you!

 

Something I've been meditating on lately:

As spring begins its arrival I've been meditating on the faithfulness of God. God has been keeping the seasons in order since the beginning of time. Each morning the sun rises and travels along the same path it has traveled every other day since it was created.

Psalm 104 tells of all the marvelous ways that God reveals himself through creation. I encourage you to read it and see if you can do anything besides thank God for his faithfulness!

 

The kids couldn't resist bringing in the first daffodil of the season.

 

 

If you'd like to keep up with more behind-the-scenes posts, feel free to follow me on Instagram.

Why I Don’t Recommend Love & Respect

This week on Instagram I asked a question about whether my followers had ever read a Christian marriage book that harmed them in some way or that they recognized might harm others with unbiblical messages. One of the books that came up was Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs.

This sparked a good deal of interest.  Love & Respect is quite popular, and many people had never noticed a problem with it when they read it. They wanted to know more about what ways this book could possibly harm people because that had not been their experience.

Up until a few years ago, I had never personally read Love & Respect. But when I became an advocate for Christian victims of domestic abuse, I became aware that many victims had suffered greatly due to the concepts taught in this book. So when I saw it at a thrift store I picked it up so I could see what it said for myself.

I fired up my computer while I read it, and whenever I saw something that was unbiblical or that sent mixed messages, I copied that section and wrote down my thoughts about it.

I did not have to get very far through the book before I concluded that it was not something I would ever recommend. But I wanted to be completely fair and make sure I had read everything in complete context, so I finished the entire book, including all the appendices and endnotes.

Now that I have finished, I’ve been able to look at all the notes as a whole and see that the problems fall into a number of different categories, which I will share momentarily.

I worked hard in this process to give the benefit of the doubt and to try not to read something into the author's words that was not there. While many parts of this book are problematic at face value, other parts could probably be defended by saying that the problem only lies within the reader's interpretation of them. I have done my best to be honest about the difference between the two. Nevertheless, both scenarios are present within this book, and I want to make my readers aware of both avenues of potential harm.

 

My Heart Behind This Post

But first, I want to be clear here. I am not writing this article to “bash” a book or its author. I understand that many of you have read the book and been helped by it, and I am truly glad for that.

I wish nothing but the best for you, and if you implemented ideas from Love & Respect that had a positive effect on your marriage, then I rejoice with you.

But it is this same fact of wishing nothing but the best for people which leads me to write about why I cannot recommend Love & Respect. Though you may have had a positive experience with the book, not everyone has had that same experience. Many people have been greatly harmed by reading and applying this book’s ideas. There are a lot of mixed signals within the book, and each person will pick up the signals that most strongly relate to them. So while one person may understand something in a helpful way, many others will understand it in a harmful way.

I fully acknowledge that many people may find this book helpful, but I am not willing to sacrifice an entire group of people as collateral damage.

So if you are in the category of people who have benefited from reading the book, may I ask one thing? May I ask that you not read this article as an attack on you or on a book that you liked? Rather than an attack against anyone or anything, this is intended to be a defense for those who have been hurt.

I hold nothing against you for reading and liking Love & Respect. I don’t think you are a bad or ungodly person because you liked it or were helped by it. Truth be told, had I read this book in the past, I most likely would not have thought there was a problem with it either. I would have read it through the lens of my own experiences, and would have formed some variation of the following conclusion: “My husband and I love each other deeply. But sometimes we misunderstand each other, and when we try to understand where the other is coming from it will enhance our communication and thus our marriage. The end. That's a simple enough message, so where's the problem?”

However, as I became exposed to perspectives outside of my own, and as I became aware that a great many people had been harmed as a result of following this book's advice, I knew that I had to examine it closely to see why that was.

This article is the result of that examination.

 

So before we begin I want to assure you once again that this is not about me trying to bash a book that you personally enjoyed. This is about my being thankful that you received help from it while also loving those who did not. Thank you for your willingness to consider a different perspective.

 

There is no way for me to thoroughly explain the reasons I don't recommend Love & Respect in just one blog post, so this article will serve as the “home base”, so to speak, and I will elaborate on each reason in its own post.

Here is the list of reasons I don't recommend Love & Respect:

1. Love & Respect equates theory with Scripture.

Theories are not in and of themselves problematic when people are aware that they are simply a theory. When an idea is presented as a theory people can try it knowing that it may or may not help them, and they are free to use or discard the idea as needed.

But a theory presented as “Biblical, unchanging truth,” communicates to Christians that it must be followed without question.

When this “Biblical formula” does not solve their marital problems, they will either conclude that God got it wrong (which I don't think most Christians would do) or they will conclude that they must be doing it wrong and they must try harder or be more patient. This does a terrible disservice to husbands and wives who only desire to please God in their marriage, but are led to believe they must follow a certain formula to do that. Many spend far too long in abusive situations, believing that this formula, which has “everything to do with what kind of marriage they will have (p. 15) will fix their problems in due time.

Read this post for further clarification about how Love & Respect presents theory as Biblical truth.

 

 

2. Love & Respect makes some of its main points with out-of-context scripture.

Along with his theory that men’s primary need is respect and women’s is love, he presents supporting theories throughout the book about other ways that men and women are different. God made males and females, and I believe he created them distinct from each other on purpose. But the author takes this idea to an extreme and lays out intricate descriptions of how all men and all women are wired, and quotes scripture verses to support these descriptions. The understanding is that when a wife learns these unquestionable truths about how her husband is wired and acts accordingly, this will make him feel respected. And when a husband treats his wife according to how she is wired she will feel loved.

Without these fixed gender labels regarding what each gender’s deepest needs are and how each gender views the world, the book falls apart.

As I noted in the article about Love & Respect equating theory with scripture, it is not wrong for an author to present his theories. He could have even presented his gender labels as “many women need…” or  “a lot of men feel that…” and he would not have been dishonest.

But to misuse scripture in order to present these gender labels as gospel truth, and to form an entire one-size-fits-all formula around them is misleading at best.

Even if I agree with much of what an author says, I am not okay with that author leading people to believe that his theories are Biblical truth when what he has actually done is to manipulate the scripture in order to make his points, especially when the results are disastrous. (Read the entire post here to see the effects this can have on people.)

 

(Numbers 3-11 will be updated and linked as I work my way through writing this series.)

3. Love & Respect is based on an illogical premise about each gender's needs.

4. Love & Respect does not define its foundational words.

5. Love & Respect encourages selfishness, manipulation and lack of personal responsibility.

6. Love & Respect absolves abusers and blames victims.

7. Love & Respect does not adequately address abuse.

8. Love & Respect presents serious marital problems as something easily fixed by a one-size-fits-all formula.

9. Love & Respect emphasizes behavior change over heart change.

10. Love & Respect presents an unhealthy and potentially dangerous view of sex in marriage.

11. Love & Respect can harm marriages even where neither spouse is abusive.

 

I know this list looks really terrible, and perhaps you wonder if I am intentionally wording it in a way that makes it look worse than it is.

I realize that if you were helped by this book, you didn't come away with the idea that you should accept abuse or that you had no personal responsibility for your own actions. Not every person who read the book is now focused on behavior change over heart change. To that I say, “Praise the Lord.” I am thankful that you have the humility and the sensitivity to the Holy Spirit never to find an excuse in something you read for selfishness and ungodliness on the part of yourself or your spouse.

However, the fact that these ideas are not what you got out of the book does not take away the fact that these ideas are actually in the book.

I have no control over who will take away any of the above ideas after reading Love & Respect, and because all of these ideas are either unbiblical or harmful I cannot recommend the book.

If you've already read it and didn't take away any harmful ideas, then why does this article matter to you now? 

Many of you know others who have not read it yet but will encounter it. Perhaps their marriage is in crisis and their counselor recommended it to them. Or maybe their ladies group at church is planning to do a study on it.

Although you did not have a negative experience with the book, that is no guarantee that people you know and love will not.

You can make them aware of the problems within it so that they can either a.) choose to skip it or b.) be fully aware of the problems before they read it.

 

What do I recommend instead of Love & Respect?

Since I do not recommend Love & Respect, I thought it would only be fair to recommend some alternatives that one could read instead.

At the risk of sounding snarky and holier-than-thou, I will say that I believe the Bible is the best marriage book there is. As a husband and wife grow in their personal walk with Christ it affects every other aspect of their lives, including their marriage.

However, I certainly have no problem with reading other books as well. They can be a great source of practical ideas.

 

Communication and Working Through Conflict:

Boundaries

This original book will help you understand what is and is not your responsibility, how to communicate your needs with others, and how to listen when others communicate their needs to you.

Boundaries in Marriage

This book will go further in-depth into how the concept of boundaries works within a marriage. Boundaries are not at all about making anyone else do what you want, but are all about learning what is your responsibility and taking ownership of it.

 

For Struggles with Sexual Intimacy:

The Great Sex Rescue

This book aims to expose wrong ideas husbands and wives believe about sex and to re-frame them in a healthier way so that couples can enjoy passion, intimacy, and wholeness the way God intended.

 

For Spouses in Deep Emotional Pain

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage

There is a difference between a destructive marriage and a difficult one. If you are in constant emotional pain, this book will help you sort out the difference between the two. You will learn steps you can take to resolve the conflict with your spouse and what to do if they choose not to change.

 

It is important to note that no book is a cure-all, nor will it necessarily be a perfect fit for your situation. As we explored in the first point of this article, following the ideas in a book as if they are irrefutable truth can lead one to great harm. The reason I am comfortable recommending these books is that, unlike Love & Respect, they do not claim that their theories are “not just a nice little theory” and are “the key to any problem in a marriage”. However, even when a book does not claim to be absolute truth, it is important to remind oneself not to read it as such.

I hope this article has spurred your thinking and has encouraged you to see the value of those who have been hurt by Love & Respect, not because your own experience is invalid, but because theirs is valid too.

Love & Respect Equates Theory with Scripture

Does Love & Respect weight the author's theory equally with scripture? Let's take a closer look:

In chapter one, the author lays out “The Secret Hidden in Ephesians 5:33” (p. 14). 

He says:

“Paul is clearly saying that wives need love and husbands need respect…As I will show throughout this book, the Love and Respect Connection is the key to any problem in a marriage. This is not just a nice little theory to which I added a few Bible verses.” (p. 15)

 

First, the author says that this Love and Respect Connection is the key to any problem in a marriage and is not just a theory to which he added Bible verses. He states in the introduction that this message on Love and Respect was God’s revelation to him and that these “essential truths…will never change — not any more than God Changes.” He tells the readers definitively that “The Love and Respect connection is clearly within Scripture” (p. 16). Pastors and counselors recommend the book as Biblical, and the description of the book states that it teaches husbands and wives (by means of the Love and Respect Connection) how to deal with conflict “Biblically.”

 

The result of understanding the Love and Respect Connection as “not just a nice little theory”, but as the clear revelation of God means that it is absolute truth and should not be questioned. It means it will have “everything to do with the kind of marriage you will have” (p. 15).


But if you take a closer look at his language, and also dig around in the endnotes, it becomes evident that Eggerich’s “Love & Respect Connection” is indeed only a theory and not an essential truth that will never change.

 

He refers to “my theory” twice on page 16, and another time on page 19. He says on page 17 that it is his experience as a counselor which confirms the truth to him that the wife primarily needs to feel love and the husband primarily needs to feel respect. Nowhere else in the book does he use any other scripture to back up the idea of the Love and Respect Connection. It is based only on his theory and his experience. Hidden in the endnotes in the back of the book is his admission that the Love & Respect Connection is his theory of Ephesians 5:33 and not actually the theology of it (p. 319).

 

This blurring of the lines between theology and theory does two things. First, it leads the reader to believe that what they are reading is unchangeable Biblical truth and must be followed unquestioningly.

Second, it increases the appetite of the reader to excitedly devour the contents of the book. Although it is presented as unchanging truth, it is simultaneously presented as a revolutionary secret. “This is the key that I have been missing;” “You connected all the dots for me;” and “You’re onto something huge here;” are all quotes that are used on the back of the book and as advertising material on retailer websites. 

 

If something is unchanging, Biblical truth then it is not a secret, revolutionary idea. But if it is only a theory, then it is wrong to claim that it is unchanging, Biblical truth.

 

Let me be clear. Ephesians 5:33 as it stands is unchanging, Biblical truth. 

 

But Eggerich’s “discovery” (p. 4) of “The Love and Respect Connection” is only his theory of how Ephesians 5:33 should be applied and not the unchanging revelation of God which he leads the reader to believe in the introduction.

 

The Love And Respect Connection, in a nutshell, is that love is a woman’s deepest need and respect is a man’s deepest need, and that when each partner meets this deepest need of their spouse, marital conflict will cease.

 

This one-size-fits-all formula is the theory which I am challenging. Although I have no objection whatsoever to an author presenting their theory, I do have a problem with someone writing an entire book that leads people to believe their theory is the unchanging word of God. The Ephesian husbands were commanded to love their wives and the Ephesian wives were commanded to respect their husbands, and that is all that one can unequivocally state from Ephesians 5:33. Nowhere does it say that this is because a man's deepest need is respect and a woman's is love, and nowhere in Love & Respect does the author attempt to prove this concept from any other portion of Scripture either. That is because it is only a theory, and not something on which every couple can hang their hat.

 

Theories can help people — when they know that they are theories and may or may not work for them.

 

But theories can also hurt people when they believe they are absolute truth and must be followed.

 

How many tender-hearted people with very complex issues within their marriage have endured years of unnecessary conflict because they chose to be obedient to what they were led to believe was God's unchanging truth and the key to any marriage problem?

 

All the posts about Love & Respect will be housed here.

 

 

Can Christian Marriage Books Harm Women? A Review of The Great Sex Rescue

Can Christian marriage books actually harm women? (Spoiler alert, the answer is yes.)

 

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS POST 

Sheila Gregoire, who blogs at To Love, Honor, and Vacuum has written for years about the topic of sex in marriage, and over the years as she walked with women through their struggles in this area, she noticed that no matter how much healthy content she put out there, people still had the same questions and problems.

 

As she asked more questions of people and dug deeper, she learned that most people who were experiencing significant obstacles to physical intimacy with their spouse held deeply entrenched beliefs about sex that they had obtained from Christian marriage books. Some of the beliefs were good, but some were not. Some were subtly harmful, and some were more overt.

 

 

Here are some of the harmful ideas the women Sheila talked to had gotten from Christian marriage books:

 

-A wife cannot ever say no to her husband when he wants sex.

-Wives need to have frequent sex to prevent their husbands from pornography or affairs.

-Women whose husbands are addicted to pornography or have committed adultery are partially to blame.

-Wives whose bodies are not attractive as they used to be (even from life’s normal changes and not from lack of care) should work harder to be “hot” so their husbands won’t be tempted to lust after women with better looking bodies.

-Women’s pleasure during sex is not important; only the man’s.

-Husbands are entitled to having sex whenever and however they want with no say-so from the wife.

 

The effects that these ideas have on women are devastating.

 

Feeling obligated to have sex or feeling afraid that she is responsible for keeping her husband from sin makes a woman feel resentful, fearful, or used. In many cases those beliefs are the underlying source of sexual pain.

No one should experience physical or emotional pain from sex with their spouse. Sex should not leave a wife feeling resentful or fearful or used or even frustrated. Sex should be about experiencing deeper intimacy and oneness with one’s spouse.

 

THE PROBLEM WITH LOVE & RESPECT

As Sheila continued to ask more questions of the women who were reading her blog, she had her attention drawn to the fact that a best selling marriage book, Love & Respect, was the most frequently mentioned Christian marriage book that had done significant harm to women.

 (Side note: As someone who works with Christian women escaping domestic abuse, I can tell you that if you ask around among these women, you will learn that Love & Respect was their abuser’s playground. An abusive man uses the term “respect” as a weapon to control his wife. Any time she refuses his unreasonable demands he claims that he does not feel respected by her and that is why he acts unloving to her. He holds basic kindness hostage, knowing she will strive to meet every demand in order to feel loved. And when she still does not receive love from her husband, she believes it is her fault because she still failed to make him feel respected. Instead of realizing that this form of coercive control is abuse, she believes from the book that she can help him be more loving to her by doing whatever it is that he says makes him feel respected. She does not realize that there will be no end to his demands. No husband should be making demands, large or small, of his wife, and to do so by manipulating her desire to be a godly wife is ungodly on his part. There is nothing in the Love & Respect book that explains to a woman that this dynamic is abusive. Any offhanded disclaimer that a woman experiencing abuse should seek help is of no value because virtually all abuse victims do not even realize what they are experiencing is abuse. This is especially true if the abuse is perpetuated without physical violence but instead by using a godly wife’s tender heart against her by making her feel that she is to blame because she somehow failed as a wife.) Update: After more questions, I've started working my way through writing an entire series that explains the problems with Love & Respect very thoroughly. You can read the series on Love & Respect here.

So horrific was the abuse being perpetuated in the name of this book that Sheila tried to reach out to Focus on the Family (whose logo appears on the book and who promotes the book heavily) to make them aware of the hundreds of women who had told their stories of having Love & Respect weaponized against them by abusive husbands. She thought they would be horrified that so many women were being abused with this book’s ideas as one of the primary weapons. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be concerned. In fact, they at first ignored her altogether, and then ultimately stated that Sheila’s efforts to raise awareness about the problem was a “concerted campaign against the book” and that she was at fault for having misread and misjudged the book.

 

But here’s the thing. Perhaps enabling abusive men to use the book to control their wives was not the intention of this book. But that can’t erase the fact that hundreds of abusive men ARE using the book as an excuse to control their wives.

If someone misunderstands your words in a way that hurts them, wouldn’t you want to re-frame what you said in a way that undoes the harm? If having your words misunderstood in a way that harms women is regularly occurring why would you actively promote the words that are harming people? Why wouldn’t you seek to ascertain what is causing the misunderstanding and then re-word what you want to say in a way that cannot be misunderstood and cannot hurt people?  (Here is a link to an open letter Sheila wrote to Focus on the Family about Love & Respect.) 

 

SHHH…JUST LISTEN

If you are in a good marriage with a loving husband, perhaps your mind is having a hard time grasping exactly what I mean by “harm.” I understand. I have been there too. I have seen women who speak about their pain and thought, “Phsst. She just needs to grow up and quit getting her feelings hurt so easily.” Abuse and the emotional pain that women experience at the hands of a controlling, selfish husband is only a vague, nondescript idea in the mind of someone who has never experienced it.

It is only when you sit and listen to their stories – their descriptions of living in a world where they have no human value and are nothing other than an object to be played with – that you can begin to grasp how “not okay” we should be with what is happening to them.

I wish I could invite you to hear the stories I hear. Stories from women in churches just like yours. Stories where everything looks nice on the outside, but at home behind closed doors wives are made to stay up all night scrubbing the grout on the tile with a toothbrush while largely pregnant. Stories where their husbands will not give them money for groceries until they fulfill his repulsive sexual fantasies. They are told they are lazy and stupid when dinner is on the table five minutes later than their husband said it had to be. And then they clean it all up after he throws it on the floor. They listen to his words as he screams that he wouldn't have done that if she hadn't been so lazy. When they go to their pastor's wife, they timidly try to tell her that things are not going so well at home, but they don't realize they should tell her they're being abused. After all, they've read Love & Respect at the ladies Bible study, and want to be a godly wife, so they think that their husband won't do that anymore if he feels more respected. They will just work harder to get dinner on the table faster next time. Meanwhile, the pastor's wife, believing there are only some hiccups or communication gaps, gives her a different book to read which reinforces more of the wrong concepts she believes. “Maybe if I give him more sex he won't feel so grouchy.”

I cannot invite you to listen to these women's stories because they are theirs to share when and how they want. However, I can share the collection of public comments that Sheila compiled from her blog posts about Love & Respect. Comments where women told of how Love & Respect affected them. I invite you to browse the document and just listen to some of the snapshots of these women's lives. Don't listen to object, (“but that's not at all what I got out of that part of the book!”); don't listen to dismiss (“she used a curse word in her comment; her story is invalid!”); just listen. Listen to love your neighbor and to feel what she has felt. Your analysis can come later after you have taken the time to just listen. Please be swift to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19.)

You'll see stories like this:

“I can attest firsthand that following this theology with my abusive husband almost left me dead by his
hand. When we first dated/married, I would stand up to him when he was in one of his rages, and when
our marriage was fractured I turned to biblical advise to learn how to “fix” what was obviously my issue
if he was constantly so unhappy. When I lost my fight, so to speak, he turned even more dangerous, trying to provoke me into a fight. I left the day he genuinely tried to choke me to death, and I refused to stand up to him. I now know I did everything I could to save our marriage, but following this bad advice to be even more submissive almost cost me my life.”

Here is a link to the complete data compilation of comments Sheila received about Love & Respect.

 

Although the question as to whether or not Christian marriage books can be harmful has already been answered, perhaps the bigger question is, “Should we be okay with things as they are when our Christian marriage resources are being weaponized against women? If we liked a book and found it helpful should we dismiss the voices of those who were hurt by that same book?”

 

THE INSPIRATION AND IMPETUS FOR THE GREAT SEX RESCUE

The disheartening realization that a bestselling Christian marriage book was actively harming women while still being intentionally promoted by a large Christian organization caused Sheila to wonder what other Christian marriage books might be contributing to the same problem.

She decided it was time for her to dig deeper into the beliefs that were hindering couples from experiencing true intimacy and re-frame those beliefs in a healthier way. 

 

The first step was to collect data on exactly what ideas Christian women were taking away when they read these books. Together with her daughter and her friend Joanna, an epidemiologist trained in statistics, she launched “The Bare Marriage Project,” which is the largest, most scientifically sound research project into Christian women’s experience that has been done to date. This project surveyed over 20,000 women asking about their sex lives, their marriages, their beliefs about sex after marriage, their upbringing, and more. The data collected from this survey gave Sheila and her colleagues the insight they needed to identify what wrong ideas women were believing about sex in marriage.

 

The next step was to create a rubric and use it to evaluate books on marriage and sex based on twelve teachings about female sexuality. Books could score between 0 and 48 points, with 0 being the most harmful and 48 being the most helpful when it came to what a book taught about sex in marriage. The scoring rubric evaluated what each book taught about: lust and infidelity (e.g. whether a wife holds any responsibility for her husband’s sexual sin,) women’s sexual pleasure (e.g. does it emphasize that sex is meant to be mutually pleasurable or is a man’s need for release all that is mentioned,) and mutuality (e.g. does it emphasize the husband's responsibility to work toward intimacy or are all the expectations placed upon the wife.) (Unfortunately, Love & Respect scored a zero.)

 

The final step was to write a book detailing what wrong ideas about sex in marriage women were believing, which books had the most likelihood of perpetuating those beliefs, and then rescuing and re-framing those beliefs in a healthier way. The goal was not to have the last word, but to open up the conversation and encourage husbands, wives, and church leaders to entertain different perspectives beyond those that circulate in the best selling Christian books.

 

The result of this effort is called The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended.

The Great Sex Rescue Christian Marriage book

 

It is obvious that this project is of grave importance to Sheila because she cares so much about people, and she is not okay with Christian marriage books helping some people if they are also going to harm others. I fully stand behind her in that. 

 

ADDITIONAL HARMFUL EFFECTS OF POPULAR CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE BOOKS

I mentioned the problem of husbands using the premise of Love & Respect to control their wives, but I'd like to share some additional kinds of harm that have been done by popular Christian marriage books. I will let the data speak for itself, in the form of quotes from The Great Sex Rescue:

 

-“Women who get married believing they need to have sex with their husbands to help prevent their porn use are 19% more likely to experience significant sexual pain unrelated to childbirth.”

 

-“What often makes this even worse for Christian women is that we feel like God condones our pain because we’re told the Bible says we can’t say no.”

 

-“To our amazement, and our great dismay, far too many Christian books include incidents of marital rape or other forms of sexual assault and then dismiss these incidents as unimportant.”

-“We are left with the strange situation in which the people who most strongly relate to the examples given in Christian marriage books are often the ones acting the least like Christ.”


-“We suspect that the teaching that sex is something men are owed by their wives is being used as a weapon by abusive husbands.” (As a domestic abuse advocate, I don’t just suspect this, I know it! It’s pretty much standard practice for abusers to use this concept as a weapon.)

 

-“When asked how they felt after sex, used was the word 16% of women in our follow-up survey chose.”

 

-“When the books, magazines, blogs, radio programs, and conferences in your Christian circle are all telling you that every time you say no to sex, you are being selfish due to the depth of his need, you may start feeling guilty about having any needs at all.”

 

-“Our concern is that many Christian books, in their efforts to free couples of sexual sin, reinforce pornography’s view of sex by encouraging men to use their wives’ bodies without consideration for their hearts.”

 

-“Of the thirteen Christian bestsellers we analyzed on our rubric, only three books asked all the following of husbands:

  • stay faithful (without offering caveats)
  • make sex pleasurable for her
  • do not insist or expect sex of any kind when your wife is physically or emotionally unwell
  • seek consent from your wife”

 

“However, these same books that couldn’t ask the bare minimum of men asked, on average, over five of the following of women (and five books asked all of them):

  • Have intercourse as frequently as the husband would like.
  • Have intercourse even if he is watching porn or has a lust problem.
  • Understand that without intercourse, her husband is more likely to have an affair, and if he does, it will be partly her fault.
  • Help him reach climax in some way even when she is on her period, recovering from postpartum and not sleeping, or during any other problem she may face, since her problems are not reasons to refuse sex.
  • Prevent weight gain to stay attractive.
  • Let her husband feel that he is a good lover (without necessarily any caveat that he should actually be a good lover.)
  • Initiate intercourse and be enthusiastic.”

 

“Instead of saying ‘no man should be satisfied unless his wife is also regularly satisfied,' too many books have said, ‘men feel more satisfied if their wives are satisfied, so wives — make sure you’re satisfied,' without any charge to him to care for her needs.”

 

Below are some additional comments I have seen made by other women that were unrelated to The Great Sex Rescue which confirm the far-reaching negative effects of these wrong ideas:

 

-“I actually followed this [advice to have sex regularly to keep him from affairs] to a T  in my first (very Christian) marriage. Not only did he take advantage of this but he cheated on me. Multiple times.”

 

-“Women were taught to prioritize meeting that “need” no matter what they were feeling emotionally or what else was going on in their marriage.”

 

-“What an overwhelming message to Christian women and wives: you are disposable and valuable only for what physical pleasure you bring to your husband. No wonder so many women are unhappy in their marriages and struggling to be a good spouse and still trust God.”

 

WHO SHOULD READ THE GREAT SEX RESCUE?

-Anyone who finds sex within marriage to be a source of guilt or shame

-Anyone who has found themselves in physical or emotional pain after sex.

-Anyone who fears that having sex too infrequently will drive their husband to pornography or adultery.

-Anyone who enjoys intimacy with their spouse, but also hates the days they feel obligated.

 

 

WHAT IF YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND HAVE A GREAT MARRIAGE AND SEX LIFE?

I am truly happy for you and thankful you are in a marriage where both spouses seek to love God and each other well. However, even if you are not personally experiencing any struggles with sexual intimacy in your marriage,  I still strongly recommend reading The Great Sex Rescue

First of all, it will empower you to recognize teachings that have the potential to harm others. When you have a husband who loves you as Christ loved the church, you will read marriage books through that lens and you will speak to other Christian women from that perspective. But women whose husbands are not loving them well will read the exact same books and see them in a way that places all the responsibility for their husband’s sin on them.
Knowing what harmful ideas other women are getting and which books they are getting them from will give you the ability to steer your friends and those you mentor away from anything that has the potential to damage them or damage their marriage. There is no need to recommend books that have the risk of causing harm when there are healthier alternatives available.

 

Second, when you start to examine unhealthy beliefs about marriage and sex, you may realize that some of what you believe yourself has also been harmful in subtle ways. I’m not saying that I hope you dredge up some imaginary marriage problem that you never knew you had, but it’s possible you may find yourself untangling ideas that are not quite right. I’ve discovered over the years that the more I read perspectives that are outside of my own, the more I grow as a person.

 

And that is really the heart that I see behind this book – to help you think about marriage and sex from a bigger perspective. You don’t need to agree with every single word written in the book – in fact, you probably won’t – but you should listen and learn and grow. You can do a world of good for others when you listen to their experiences. You can protect other women when you realize what angle they might be seeing a certain aspect of marriage from and why the explanation of it from popular books is not what they need to hear.

 

Together, we can work towards stopping the harm that Christian marriage books have done to women, and we can encourage them with better messages that can help them untangle the lies they have believed about God's wonderful gift of intimacy with their spouse.

 

You can pick up your copy of The Great Sex Rescue here.

Valentine’s Day Bible Verses (with printable)

I've noticed a lot of people land on my blog by searching for Valentine's Day Bible verses. I have a cute little set of Bible verse valentines for kids, but I thought it would be nice to add a set of Valentine's Day Bible verses for adults too!

 

I wanted all these verses to focus on the love of God toward us. These would be great to use for giving to grocery store clerks, etc. along with perhaps a piece of candy. I think a reminder of God's love along with a thoughtful gesture would brighten anyone's day.

Some other ideas for using these Valentine's Day Bible verse cards:

  • Write a note to a friend on the back
  • Display in your home to remind yourself of God's love
  • Keep in your Bible

I'm sure you can come up with even more creative ideas for using these, and I hope they will be a blessing to you.

 

Valentine's Day Bible verses

 

The verses included are:

  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

 

  • For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

 

  • But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

 

  • We love him, because he first loved us. (I John 4:19)

 

  • Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us… (I John 3:1)

 

  • As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you…(John 15:9)

 

  • Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. (Psalm 63:3)

 

  • For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…that ye…may be able to know the love of Christ. (Ephesians 3:14-19

 

 

These printable Valentine's Day Bible Verse cards are inside my resource library. My email subscribers have access to everything inside the resource library for free.

 

If you'd like to join, simply enter your email address below, and you'll receive a link to the resource library where you can download these, along with anything else you might like.

 

You're all set! Check you inbox for the link to the resource library where you can download your printables.

 

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