Reader Question: Why is marriage advice so contradictory?Why is marriage advice so contradictory? Why are we sometimes told to just be nice and sweet and sometimes told to draw a line in the sand?

On Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. I had a post all ready to go for today, but then a long-time reader left a comment yesterday that got me thinking–I really need to address this!

She wrote:

I think it’s sad that moms feel they have to put their dreams and plans aside once they have kids. Is that really what you want to teach your daughters? And that they are less important than their husbands? A lot of posts lately have been very confusing. One says be sweet and submissive, the next says speak your mind and stand your ground. What gives?

That is such a good question, and I’m glad she voiced it, because it gives me a chance to share a few big picture ideas that maybe I haven’t been clear enough about. Today’s going to be a little deep, and a little bit of a wild ride, but I hope you enjoy it! Here goes.

Why Does So Much Marriage Advice Seem Contradictory? Thoughts on what it means to be loving--in all circumstances.

Truth #1: The Aim of This Blog is NOT To Tell You How to Have a Happy Marriage

What? Seriously?


I can help you be more content. I hope I can help you do things which make a happy marriage more likely. But a happy marriage, as wonderful as it is, should not be the aim of our lives.

Here’s the aim:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The aim of your life should be to have Christ living through you. It should be to be looking more and more like Christ everyday:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29)

He wants us looking more and more like Jesus!

Here’s the neat thing: the more we look like Jesus, the more likely we are to have a happy marriage. So quite often the two go hand in hand.

Isn’t it Okay to Want a Happy Marriage?

Of course we all want happy marriages! But if we have the wrong aim, we can actually make it less likely that we’ll achieve it.

I have a post, for instance, on 4 things you need to do if your husband uses porn. You can’t really miss the four steps. But almost every morning I wake up with a new comment from a woman giving a whole long story of how awful her husband’s porn addiction is, and then she’ll say, “Do you have any advice?” And I think to myself–Yes, I have 4 things you should do and I wrote them right there!

But she doesn’t want to do them because she’s afraid that he’ll react badly.

I have other women saying, “If I tell him he has to get a job, or if I insist we see a counselor because of his anger, or if I bring in a mentor couple to help us draw boundaries with his video game addiction, he’ll just leave.”

They’re afraid of doing the right thing because the marriage may suffer.

And if that’s the case, then they’ve put the marriage ahead of God.

If you’re afraid to do the right thing because your marriage may get rocky, then your goal is wrong. God wants to be glorified, and He is not glorified if we enable sin.

Do not let your marriage become an idol.

Having Jesus as Our Goal Means Our Approach to Marriage Won’t Always Be the Same

Jesus’ aim was not to make everyone around Him happy. Jesus’ aim was to make everyone around Him look more and more like Himself, and to lead people into a deeper relationship with God.

And that means that He did different things as the circumstances warranted.

The vast majority of the time He was gracious, forgiving, and kind. But sometimes He drew lines in the sand. He called the Pharisees “a brood of vipers”. He made a whip out of cords and threw the money changers out of the temple. But He also said nothing as they led Him to His death.

Why the difference?

Because His aim was always to bring about the kingdom of God. His aim was not to get people to like Him; it was to get people to see who God was, and to bring about reconciliation.

(I talk about this concept more in terms of abuse and submission in this post on why some threads of Christianity that preach that a woman should always suffer in silence are so absolutely bonkers and wrong).

Our Approaches Won’t Always Be the Same, Either

I believe that the vast majority of the time we should let things slide, we should be forgiving, we should try to communicate better, we should encourage our husbands, we should bless them and do things for them. This is the definition of loving.

But there are times when it is also loving to confront sin and set a boundary, like, “If you continue to watch porn at home, then I will have to disconnect the internet, because I can’t have evil in my house.”

How Do We Figure This All Out?

Should you be more forgiving? Should you confront? How do you figure out what to do to make your marriage better? Some thoughts to help you.

Here’s what Jesus said:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5).

So Jesus is saying: Yes, you confront when someone is doing something wrong. But you only do so after you get your own heart in order.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentThat’s so key! That’s why I spent the first 4 thoughts in my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage on how we can start thinking differently about our husbands, because often when we have trouble in our marriage, it is because we are misunderstanding things and we are attributing motives to our husbands that they never had. We simply can’t deal with major problems in marriage UNTIL we have dealt with our own stuff.

I fully believe that the vast majority of the time, when we focus on our own hearts, when we learn to be more giving, when we stop making an idol out of marriage, when we learn how to ask for help properly–most problems in marriage virtually disappear.

Sometimes, though, that’s not enough. Sometimes there’s a real problem that needs to be confronted. The idea that because you’re a woman you’re not allowed to confront your husband is just so totally unbiblical (and, unfortunately, all too widespread). You’re created to help him; you’re not helping him if you enable sin. And that’s why thoughts 5-7 in the book deal with how to confront sin and how to resolve conflict (and often it’s much easier to resolve then you think!).

Button Order the Book

People who say that women can’t confront their husbands believe the wrong aim about marriage; they think that the aim of marriage is to have the husband in charge no matter what. They don’t believe that the aim of marriage is to glorify God.

Loving Our Husbands Does Not Mean Being Nice. Loving Them Means Pursuing Their Best.

I once received a comment from an older woman explaining how God had given her the ability to forgive her husband again and again in their marriage; how God had helped her stick it out, through 41 years before he died of alcoholism. He had been angry. He had yelled and at times hit. He had squandered their money. Their children had all fled when they were quite young, and many had bad lives. But she was so happy because God had helped her be faithful and be loving.

And I thought: Is it loving to stick with an alcoholic while he hurts himself, his kids, and his marriage? Or is it better to confront that alcoholic and say, “you need to get help and this needs to stop.” Is it loving to stand by and keep forgiving him while he drinks himself to death?

Too many strands of Christianity preach that it is. I do not believe the Bible teaches that.

And because I think the teaching in marriage has been too slanted to tell women to “put up with it and shut up about it”, I often spend a lot of time teaching how to lovingly deal with a destructive issue in marriage. Most of my readers arrive on this blog through Google searches for really tough marriage problems, too, so I think I have readers with more difficult marriages than the average blog.

At the same time, though, I also fully believe that most problems in marriage can be solved just by more communication, more grace, and more laughter.  And that’s why it’s so important to examine your own heart before you say, “He’s being evil and I need to stop him!”

It’s like what I’ve been saying for a few weeks now about Micah 6:8:

Micah 6:8 is a great #marriage verse!

But What About the Part About the Girls’ Dreams?

Oh, yeah, she asked that, too–why do I encourage my girls to give up their dreams? She’s referring to last Friday’s marriage moment when I said that often our dreams don’t come true, and that’s okay.

Here’s why it’s okay: Because it’s not important what we dream when we’re young. What is important is the dreams that God puts in us now. I believe that God is forming new dreams in us, especially for our circumstances. Running after His dreams matters. Running after dreams from our youth doesn’t, because our aim, as always, is to glorify Christ.

Hope that makes sense!

Let me know in the comments: Do you find this distinction confusing? Let’s talk about it!

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