Sometimes Christian marriage advice just doesn’t work.
As we get ready for the launch of my new book, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, I asked on my Facebook Page for people to share some “pat answers” about marriage that they often hear, but that is exactly the wrong thing to do. Thank you so much for all your responses! They were great to read through. And so many of them were in my book, too–which helps me to know that I’m on the right track!
So today I’m going to share the Top 10 Pat Christian Marriage Advice that doesn’t work.
In this first category we’re talking about when you’re upset about relatively little things, that are likely fairly easily solved. But instead of tackling them in a healthy manner, we think God is asking us to do something quite different. And we end up making what might be a small thing linger, rather than nipping it in the bud.
Ever heard any of these?
1. Don’t go to bed angry!
The #1 pat answer that was mentioned in that Facebook post was “Don’t go to bed angry!” It’s taken from Ephesians 4:26, which says this:
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.
People too often take that to mean that if you’re angry, you can’t go to sleep. You have to stay up until 4 in the morning hashing it out.
But if we do that, we often say stupid things because we’re overtired. If we sleep on it, the problem often seems much smaller in the morning!
There’s a difference between going to bed without resolving an issue, knowing that you’re going to talk about it later, and going to bed absolutely incensed. Deciding to talk about something later is often very good advice!
2. Just pray about it more.
Whenever we have a problem we are definitely to take it to God. But sometimes the way we talk about prayer makes it sound like this is ALL we do.
One Facebook commenter explained it like this:
You can pray for help with a situation but more than likely some work is going to be required after prayer. You might even have to wait for God to lead you on the right path but often He doesn’t just solve our problems with no work on our part.
Let’s say that you’re feeling neglected by your husband because you haven’t done anything, just the two of you, in months.
What should you do: pray about it–or pray about it and then talk to him? Or plan a date night just the two of you? Or figure out what you can cut out of your schedule?
So often we feel like “God is close to the broken hearted”, so when we’re sad, we’re supposed to lay it all at His feet. Well, yes. But maybe there’s more you should be doing, too! Prayer isn’t supposed to be a “get out of responsibility for making your life better card!” Maybe what you really need is to pray that God will show you how to fix this problem yourself.
3. Just grow closer to God and your marriage problems will disappear.
Here’s another goodie–a variant on the one above. Yes, as we grow closer to God we become holier, and that often makes our part in the marriage problem minimized. Absolutely.
But often what happens is that there are very real issues that need to be dealt with in marriage. And rather than deal with those, we run to God, hoping that God will then make it better for us.
So we’re not trying to get closer to God for the sake of getting closer to God; we’re trying to get closer to God so that He’ll go and beat someone up for us, sort of like he’s a protective older brother.
How about this: Grow closer to God, and then ask for wisdom for what you should do to make your marriage better?
Thought #4 is all about taking responsibility for our own happiness, rather than expecting God, or your husband, to give it to you. And it’s much more effective.
4. Love him according to his love language, and he’ll love you according to yours!
Or another variation: respect him, and he’ll love you!
Yes, women need love and men need respect. Yes, we all have love languages and it’s good to learn them. But thinking that just because we act in a loving way means that he will automatically return the favour is to misunderstand human nature.
It assumes that the reason that he isn’t loving you according to your love language is because you aren’t doing something. But what if there’s another reason? What if he’s tired? What if he’s stressed? What if he just plain doesn’t know your love language? What if he has unresolved issues and he has difficulty reaching out emotionally?
If you need something in marriage, it’s your job to tell him. And make it really simple and obvious what he needs to do! I told my husband this weekend: I feel like we need to do more fun things together where we feel like we’ve accomplished something, not just where we’ve spent a day vegging together. So I suggested that we start hiking as a hobby. He agreed. And so this week he’s going to research a 15 km hike we can do together on Saturday.
I could have waited for him to figure that out on his own. Or we could have had a good talk about it!
Besides, a lot of this advice is really manipulative. “Just pray about it and he’ll love you.” “Just love him and he’ll love you.” It’s telling us to do all of these things to get him to love us EXCEPT actually be vulnerable before him and let him know what we’re thinking. It doesn’t work!
5. Don’t take offense. If you’re upset about something, just let it go!
Certainly we aren’t to needlessly take offense at people.
But being aggravated about something isn’t a sin. Withholding love over it, yes–being aggravated, no.
Let’s say it really bugs you that your husband never puts the coffee mugs in the dishwasher. I have known women to be frustrated at this trait for years. They wrestle with it. They pray about it. They tell themselves, “I know I’m not supposed to be take offense, and I have to get over this. It’s just a stupid coffee mug.”
But it keeps happening, and they keep struggling.
What would happen if she just said to him,
“Honey, I’d appreciate it if you put your coffee mugs in the dishwasher after you use them. And if you’re never sure if the dishwasher is clean or dirty, I’ll get a little sticker that tells you so it’s obvious when it’s dirty and you can load it. Can you do that? It would make me so happy!”
Thought #4 in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage includes this little tidbit: Just ask for help. I asked on Facebook last year, when I was writing it, for stories about when women finally realized that if they asked their husbands specifically for help, their husbands actually came through. A bunch of those stories made it into the book. But the two most common reasons for not asking were, “I didn’t want to be rude”, and “he should just know!”
But he obviously doesn’t. Try asking! It’s better than letting something stew.
Pat Answer Christian Marriage Advice That Minimizes Real Problems
Now let’s turn to another category of “pat answers”–those pat answers that are given to women in really difficult situations that make the problem worse in a whole other way.
6. Pray that God will change your husband’s heart.
A variation of #2 above, to “pray about it”, but this time let’s assume that the “something” is a big sin. Maybe he’s gambling. He’s lazy and won’t get a job. He’s watching porn. He plays video games all day. Whatever it may be.
Here’s why this advice is wrong in this situation: God won’t “make” your husband stop using porn. He lets us have free will. He may bother your husband about it. He may put roadblocks up to the porn use. He may convict your husband. But ultimately it’s up to your husband what he does. God doesn’t force us to do the right thing.
What God does do is put consequences to our actions, so that we reap what we sow. And he gives clear instructions on what to do within the church if someone is sinning and is refusing to repent–and “just pray about it” is definitely not the only step.
I explained this in my post Are you a spouses or an enabler? That was a key post on this blog, and I’ve taken those thoughts and flushed them out through about three thoughts, and three chapters, in this new book. How to deal with sin in marriage is so misunderstood, and I hope that in this book I can point us to a much better way.
7. If you disagree, the head of the house should make the final decision.
And bonus addition: you’ll be blessed because of your submissive attitude!
There are several problems with this, and I’ll be making a video next week that explains them. First, if we think that submission is all about decision making, then we’re missing the heart of the word. And second, God’s will is that we be seeking after His direction. If we say, “husbands always make decisions”, it’s awfully easy to get away from relying on God to make those decisions. And that’s downright scary.
I explain more in this post on what submission means, but I dedicate Thought #5 to it! Many of you have been asking for me to flesh out my position on the submission, and I did it in great length in this book.
8. If you submit to your husband more, he’ll step up and be a leader.
Is your husband not acting in a godly way? The problem must be that you aren’t submitting!
Now, there are times when this definitely is true. That’s the thing about pat answers: they have a kernel of truth to them, and that’s why they’re so prevalent.
I know marriages where the wife just bulldozes over the husband so much that eventually he stops trying.
But too many Christians think that the answer to every marriage problem is “submit” when it isn’t. It’s as if instead of having a whole tool box to fix things we have only a hammer. If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
(Actually, I do believe that the answer to every marriage problem is to “submit”, but that’s because I think “submission” means something very different than what we normally think. When the word is normally used, we take it to mean that the wife doesn’t make decisions, doesn’t assert herself, doesn’t mention anything that’s bothering her, and lets her husband set the agenda.)
Let’s say he’s playing video games too much because he got addicted to them growing up. Submission (in the way it’s normally used) isn’t going to help that problem. Let’s say that he’s texting other women. Submission isn’t going to help that problem. Let’s instead look at the individual problem and figure out what steps will help us overcome it!
9. If you have sex with him more, he’ll stop watching porn.
Again, a kernel of truth: men are often far more tempted by porn when they don’t have sex as often. I’ve written before about whether or not you can cause him to sin.
But that doesn’t mean that you’re to blame if he uses porn. And it certainly doesn’t mean that having sex will make him stop!
The problem with porn isn’t just about sexual temptation. It’s about rewiring the brain so that what becomes arousing is an image, not a person. If he’s getting his sexual release through porn, he’s less likely to want to make love to you. The number of women on this blog whose husbands have zero sex drive for them but tons of sex drive for porn is astronomical. To tell these women “just have sex more” is to add insult to injury. They’d love to have sex more–but their husbands turn to porn instead!
You can’t cure porn by having sex with him. You need to deal with the root issue, and, if it’s a long-standing addiction, you have to go through healing to rewire his sex drive again. It’s not quick and painless, but it can happen. Don’t despair!
In Thought #8 I talk about how “just have sex” is exactly the wrong advice for all kinds of situations. If you’re struggling here, I hope some of this wisdom can help.
10. If your husband is doing something wrong, it’s not your job to be the Holy Spirit in his life. Win him without words!
Yes, if our husbands are not Christian, we are to win him to Christ without nagging him (1 Peter 3:1). But people take that verse which is written for a very specific situation and apply it to everything–to mean that we are never to bring up anything, and never to confront our husbands on anything.
On the contrary, when we see someone stumbling, we are to warn them. And if your husband has a major issue in his life, as his wife, that is what being his helpmate is all about! It’s to inspire him to grow closer to God by not letting him go further into sin without consequences.
What is more loving–to ignore a big sin and to cover it up, or to confront it in love and set limits so that the sin is more likely to stop?
Thoughts #6 & 7 are all about learning how to use our words to resolve these conflicts, even when big sin is involved. And I hope if more women understood God’s heart for marriage, then fewer women would watch their husbands go further into sin and think that they’re being godly by saying nothing.
So there you go–ten pat answers that we hear a lot in Christian circles that don’t actually help marriage, and can even make problems worse.
Quite simply, there’s a lot of sloppy thinking about marriage out there, and I hope that by looking at the whole of Scripture, and the heart of God to have His children choose rightly, that we’ll get a fuller picture of what the marriage relationship is supposed to be!
Ever feel like a lot of the stuff you heard in church about marriage is wrong? Then you’ll love 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage!
Now it’s your turn! Have you heard any of those pat answers? Did any resonate with you? Or do you have different ones that bug you? Let me know in the comments!
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