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Have you ever thought about how much Jesus must have laughed?

And should that make a difference for how we see marriage?

On Tuesdays I like to post something super quick rather than write a long post, and I’ve been listening through older episodes of the podcast recently when I came across this 11 minute discussion between Rebecca and me on the problematic way we can sometimes see suffering–and how we think it’s superior to joy.

We’re talking this month about putting the “Christ” back in Christian marriage advice, and I think this perspective is an important one. It’s not that God doesn’t use suffering (He does!), but that God can use EVERYTHING. And if we’re to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus, that means being joyful, too, not just being holy.

Listen through to around 12:30 when the conversation changes–or, if you want to just hear about the marriage portion of this conversation, skip forward to 8:50 and listen through to 12:30.

Listen through to 12:30 (fast forward to 8:50 if you only want the marriage part)

When we think that it’s suffering that God uses to grow us, then we can stop seeing red flags in relationships, and we can stop realizing that something is wrong and needs to change.

To me, that’s the central problem. We start framing God as wanting our suffering, and so suffering is good, rather than understanding that suffering is a sign that we should be trying to change something.

I’ve got more posts on that here!

I’m not saying that God doesn’t use suffering; only that we need a more complete picture of who God is and what He’s like. God doesn’t rejoice in our suffering because now we can grow; and when we start to think that way about God, it makes him into a monster. God uses everything, and suffering can be a cause of great emotional growth. But people can also learn things in joyful times as well, so let’s not idolize suffering for suffering’s sake.

Here’s a long story by a woman who thought she was supposed to suffer in marriage.

This is the first comment I woke up to this morning, and it’s quite the doozy! It shows how a mistaken view of what God wants for us in marriage can actually mess everything up–and when you realize that God actually wants you to be well, that can change everything for the better–including those around you.

I tried for 16 years to “die to self”:

to have no feelings, opinions, needs, or limits different from those of my husband in order to “respect him.” Doing so left me confused, shrouded in guilt and shame, and steeped in self-hatred for always doing something wrong. I tiptoed and still cracked eggshells all over the place.

“Respecting” him meant:

  • Going alone to a dear friend’s evening wedding 2 hours away because I had the audacity to ask him to please wear pants that didn’t have torn pockets to this special event. I “micromanaged him” and “made him feel badly about himself” with my “criticism,” and I paid for doing so with humiliation, loneliness, and driving home alone late at night. (He didn’t wait up. Why should he when I made him feel so criticized?)
  • Panicking within as I made the choice to grab our young toddler as she reached toward a pot of boiling water on his watch. Would I be accused of “undermining” and “disrespecting” him for doing so? Or would he be grateful that I happened to see something he didn’t? (It was the former. “She’s got to learn somehow,” was his argument for why he didn’t grab her himself when, in fact, he did see her heading that way.)
  • Driving myself for a root canal after a tooth-shattering fall on the street, enduring the procedure alone, and driving myself home again to care for our young children. He didn’t even check in on me that entire day because I had made him angry by disagreeing with him, so I deserved what I got. (“I was angry at you. Why would I check on you?”)
  • Hating myself for not being able to change our Thanksgiving plans two days beforehand. We had made plans weeks in advance to have friends join us for the holiday, then suddenly he wanted to be able to include another couple. Because they had plans with their family that Thursday, he wanted us to change our plans to eat on Friday so we could accommodate them. When I said this wasn’t possible—and even rude—he flipped the script on me: “Well, I don’t recall us ever having a conversation saying we were celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday. How was I supposed to know that? Why do you always call all the shots without telling me?” I was clearly inflexible, inconsiderate of his needs, and controlling. (It took two hours in the counselor’s office for our bulldog therapist to hold him to reality and FINALLY get him to admit that he DID know we were eating Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, and that MAYBE it would be rude to expect others—including me and our children—to rearrange our plans at the last minute.)

These are just a smattering of examples of the 10%-of-the-time dynamic between us. Lemme tell ya: 10% of the time is more than enough to make you feel like you are losing your mind.

After 16 years of trying to accommodate and appease him in the name of “not sinning against him” as his subordinate, and of despising myself for failing so miserably as a wife, I had a Complete Breakdown of Self.

I simply couldn’t go on in such self-hatred and cognitive dissonance. The entire situation was killing me.

I could no longer endure the shame, and knew I needed to confess how terrible I was for regularly triggering him. I knew I needed help to repent properly and obey the Lord so as to please and support my husband.

I started to gain courage to share scenarios with a counselor and trusted friends. They were horrified, but not with me: they were horrified about his patterned mistreatment of me, about his sin against me. (It took me many years to believe them.)

A conservative Evangelical sister-friend of ten years had a different response: she accused me of being a sinful temptress who was “seducing” her husband and, after telling me she never wanted to see me again and refusing to give me any justification, sent a detailed email to my husband of how unfaithful, vicious, manipulative, and deceitful I had been to him and everyone who thought they knew me. The traumatic impact of her words and actions reverberated through me for years after, causing nightmares and cold sweats and crying breakdowns because, well, maybe she was right. We all have blind spots after all…

Over the past five years, I have regained myself.

I have, with significant, ongoing therapeutic support and a strong tribe of wise friends and sister-friends, broken free from the lies of “Christian” marriage teaching that is, well, not a whole lot different than what the Taliban teaches about male-female roles and relations.

And you know what happened to our marriage? I released the outcome. I didn’t have a choice: holding on and pulling with all my might to keep it together was simply costing me too much.

As I fought to trust God and to focus on detoxing and rebuilding myself and caring well for our children, my husband began going to counseling on his own.

I have invested my energies into believing my pain, into learning how to clearly assert my needs and feelings and to stand in the truth of them, and to set steady boundaries and high expectations for him as a man who professes Christ. I have held him accountable when he attempts to discharge his emotional pain onto me, or when he refuses to take ownership for his (very human) mistakes, or when he defaults to old manipulative strategies for avoiding responsibility. I disengage when he shows signs of adolescent emotionality, and I wait for signs that he is living into his renewed self.

He is rising to the new rhythm. He is doing his work with his counselor, taking ownership of his words and actions in the rare event he falls back into old ways, and repenting before me, our children, and our God.

Our marriage has much more growth to undergo, but I daresay I feel safe at last.

And he feels better about himself, his actions, and his relationships than he did when he was in perpetual emotional immaturity and sin. He is growing in empathy, flexibility, selflessness, compassion, honesty, trustworthiness, kindness, and self-control. Wise, fruitful words and choices make us feel confident about our masculinity and femininity, by God’s very design!

Blog Commenter

What a story! I love that. I know that this is a special case, and many abusers never change, but I love hearing this.

Do you think we can put suffering in its proper perspective? What would that look like? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find BIBLICAL, HEALTHY, EVIDENCE-BASED help for their marriage. 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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