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It’s Time to Revisit Love & Respect!

It’s three years ago this week that we launched our first series looking at the problems with the book Love & Respect. Since then we’ve received over 1000 stories of how that book made people’s marriages worse, or enabled abuse in their marriage. That series served as the catalyst for us to do our huge research project of 20,000 women, looking at how teachings in best-selling evangelical books affected women’s marital and sexual satisfaction (you can read the results in The Great Sex Rescue).

Every year, around this time of year, I like to revisit it. In 2020 we published our open letter to Focus on the Family about their support for Love & Respect. Last year I wrote a viral Twitter thread about the problems with how evangelicals see sex, and penned an editorial for RNS.

And this year, I’ve asked my son-in-law Connor, who works behind the scenes on the blog, to analyze one of Eggerichs’ problematic podcasts, bit by bit (similar to how Connor looked at the gaslighting Eggerichs did to abuse victims in a sermon series in Houston). 

Tomorrow Connor will be walking us through this in a podcast, but here it is for you to analyze today.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

My wife’s birthday is coming up again, so as per tradition, it’s time to celebrate by once again looking at what Emmerson Eggerichs has to say about marriage.

Yay…

Let’s analyze an episode of The Love & Respect podcast

So let’s launch right into the subject of today’s critique. The Love and Respect Podcast is a podcast put out by Emerson Eggerichs and his son-turned-psychologist, Jonathan Eggerichs. The episode in question? Episode 039 – Tuesday Night is Coming Part 2 – A Good Woman’s View of Sex. One of our patreons sent us this podcast link because she found the episode very disturbing and right in line with what Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna talked about regarding the obligation sex message and coercion in their book The Great Sex Rescue.

In this episode, Emerson responds to a letter that a woman sent in where she discusses the struggles with sex in her marriage. Emerson declares this woman good, wise, and a gold-mine thanks to her view of sex.

So what is this good woman’s view of sex, you ask?

I’ll sum it up before going into a detailed breakdown of the episode.

Our Scenario

This woman was afraid to live in sin and didn’t want her husband to mistreat her. Consequently, every three days for two years she cried in the shower and then initiated sex with her husband.

That’s it. That’s the dream. That’s the goal. “If you’ve got a wife like this woman, you got a goldmine” (15:38).

I think to most people reading this, that last paragraph will seem ridiculous. And it is. But what we need to do is break down the points Emerson makes around this statement to show how he got there using mainstream ideas and teachings that are commonly accepted as fact in some places–and especially in his best-selling book Love & Respect, which is still a widely used marriage curriculum in North American churches..

A few notes about my methods before we begin: Anything bolded in quotation marks is a direct quote from Episode 039 of the Love and Respect podcast, and will include a timestamp of where it appears in said podcast. If you want to listen to the original, or hear any of the quotes yourself, you can find the episode on the Love and Respect site here.

Without further ado, let’s get into it, starting with Emerson’s recap of his previous episode where he talked about what to do when your wife says she wants a divorce.

Your wife says she wants a divorce? “Don’t take those words at face value” (1:48).

Emerson backs this up by saying to the husbands that he knows they have heard their wives say “you always do this” or “you never do that,” and his point is that “she will overstate things” (2:14). He goes on to argue that when women say they want a divorce, that is an extreme example of this overstatement of things, so you don’t need to believe her. She’s just exaggerating emotionally because that what women do apparently

He does provide another reason that a woman might say she wants a divorce, or is done with the relationship. He explains that sometimes, rather than being an emotional outburst that they don’t mean, they are throwing that out there just to test the marriage and make sure it’s still solid. Emerson gives the analogy of kicking a fence from time to time to make sure it’s not going to fall over. The wife is testing her husband’s commitment.

So these are two reasons that Emerson claims women tell their husbands they are done with the marriage. Does he acknowledge that a third reason might be that something is seriously wrong in the marriage? No. All he adds is that, whatever the wife’s motivations, she is always wrong to bring up divorce.

“One should never use the d-word” (2:27).

Here is the longer quote. “That can pop out in some people’s marriages. It’s- it’s really taboo, it’s something one should never use. One should never use the d-word as we say. It’s uh, off limits. It’s out of bounds…” (2:27). No caveats, no recognition that maybe there’s a good reason for someone to bring up divorce, or that maybe if a wife does bring it up, the husband should at the very least take it seriously. No, his only advice to the husbands is this:

“Stay the course on loving her” (3:00).

That doesn’t sound quite right to me. I hear him saying that if Rebecca were to approach me and tell me she wanted out, I should just keep doing what I’m doing. Stay the course. Whatever I’m doing is working.

I think if this actually happened to me and I wanted to save the marriage, then yes, I should keep loving her… But there’s clearly also a lot of work to do there. I need to ask, among other things, if I even actually am loving her.

  • Maybe I’m being selfish.
  • Maybe I’m not loving her enough.
  • Maybe there are subtle ways I am being cruel to her.
  • Maybe she is running low on the emotional resources she needs to cope with life, and I am one of the big things actively draining those resources instead of lightening the load.

There are a lot of things to consider.

And if my wife is just saying that to kick the fence and test me, that’s also manipulative and unhealthy behavior from her. Either way, we need to have some serious talks and work out what is happening and how to fix it.

Also, why does the bad advice have to be so gendered?

Emerson plays off the never and always talk like it’s a thing we all know women do, but I looked for research to support this and came up totally empty. There’s no reason to believe that this kind of thinking in extremes (which is called absolutist language, thought, or cognition) is an inherently female thing. What researchers have found is that it is correlated with depression and anxiety. So if your spouse is using a lot of language like this, it may be a sign that they are struggling and could use your help and support. And if you come from a culture where wives actually are a lot more likely to use absolutist language, maybe it’s time to examine how your culture treats wives.

Pretty much everything here that Emerson accuses women of doing, men are equally capable of.

Emerson’s son, Jonathan, actually came in clutch here. After Emerson finished talking about the previous episode, Jonathan chimed in seemingly agreeing with Emerson’s advice, but while subtly sneaking in that either partner can use this kind of language, and that the answer is patience, proper counsel, deeper examination, and not jumping to conclusions. It was a neat little sleight-of-hand course correction from Jonathan. I’m sure there is plenty for me and Jonathan to disagree on (like the fact that he didn’t outright call Emerson out on the sexism), but you better believe this little bit elicited a small fist bump from me.

But now let’s talk about the main section–a woman is crying in the shower before sex.

So a woman wrote in to the Love and Respect podcast talking about how she believed that her husband had a need she had to meet, and if she ever said no she would be in sin. So she never said no and she initiated every three days for two years even though she had a low sex drive. Nothing in their marriage improved, and she would often cry in the shower beforehand specifically because of the feelings of obligation and coercion. She cried because she felt God didn’t afford her any choice, and that if she didn’t initiate every third day her husband would mistreat her. She says “even thinking about it to this day is so painful” (9:06).

Emerson’s response is to bring up the passage from Corinthians that she references, and how it is about mutual submission and equal say. And then instead of acknowledging that maybe that actually does mean she can say no sometimes (and seek a change that doesn’t leave her crying in the shower when faced with something that is supposed to be beautiful and intimate), he affirms her decisions, actions, and interpretations and talks about what a good and obedient wife she is for meeting her husband’s needs. He holds her up as the gold standard for other wives to imitate, and simply tells the guys that it doesn’t make sense to mistreat a wife who is doing everything right like this. The message for men essentially boils down to this:

Emerson Eggerichs’ Message to Men

IF my wife is making sacrifices and being obedient so I never have to endure the horror of not being able to use her for my climax whenever is convenient for me, THEN I should reward her by not being a jerk. And if she could show some initiative on this, that would be appreciated. 

That is the ‘beautiful’ image of mutuality that Emerson is trying to paint here.

Here’s the problem. No one NEEDS sex.

I hate it when people talk about MENS needs. Men need food. We need air. We need God. We don’t need sex. When we are teenagers, we are expected to go without sex. If our wives pass away, we are expected to not have sex. If you aren’t married yet, you aren’t “totally deprived” (15:48), you aren’t “subjected to demonic attack” (15:50) by not having sex. If you sin while unmarried, that’s on you and you need to own it and repent. We understand THAT in the church, but why do think that suddenly changes when  a guy gets married and becomes an issue of her disobedience?

Sex, like marriage, is an OPTIONAL part of life that I believe God intended for situations where it can be a spiritually enriching way for two people to experience Love together. It is NOT a need that entitles you to physically use another person’s body. It’s a want. We can WANT sex, but so can women.

“She’s not tortured here. This is not a situation where she’s being crucified” (12:36)

His further advice to wives is along these lines. If you are doing all this suffering and he is still mistreating you, that’s fine. To stop would be to disobey God and to deprive your husband, but to continue is to please God.

He says of the woman who wrote in, “nothing she’s done is wasted, everything she’s done has touched the heart of Christ” (11:30). And then Emerson makes sure to minimize her unhappiness, her crying in the shower, and her being coerced into sex every three days by a man who holds emotional neglect over her like a stick that he isn’t afraid to swing if he doesn’t get what he feels he is owed. He puts her suffering in place by saying “She’s not tortured here. This is not a situation where she’s being crucified” (12:36).

I don’t even need to tell you why that is a messed up thing to say. But I will anyway! Here we go!

First off, the metric for whether something should be allowed to continue or not isn’t ‘is it as bad as crucifixion?’ And frankly, using the crucifixion of Jesus (who gave himself in the ultimate sacrifice to do the impossible for every man, woman, and child by allowing us to come before God washed clean of all our sins) as a yardstick for human suffering both diminishes His crucifixion and misses its point.

Secondly, being emotionally coerced into an unwanted violation every three days for two years doesn’t sound like it’s not torture. If she doesn’t want to have sex, that’s rape. If she can’t say no, but wishes she could, that’s rape.

You know who isn’t being tortured or raped? A husband who’s wife says no sometimes. Heck, she can say no ALL the time, and he’s still not being tortured or raped. But Emerson says “sex is a huge, huge issue to men” (21:29).

Again though, men don’t NEED sex any more than women do. Despite that, not once in this podcast about a good woman’s view of sex does Emerson talk about women enjoying sex, much like how he doesn’t talk about men being disobedient to God. And I think this points us to a big problem that I see whenever I look at Emerson’s work.

I don’t think Emerson Eggerichs understands anything about women.

Hear me out.

According to him, “you turn on a woman sexually by not having anything to do with her sexually” (16:35). “This is a classic truth, an axiom, a basic principle” (16:47).

Emerson talks about how men are able to compartmentalize the emotional and spiritual from the physical, and be totally energized by just the physical aspect of sex. Meanwhile women are turned on by non-sexual things like husbands ‘helping’ with household chores or spending time with them.

“Why is it that your wife wants you to vacuum? Um, it isn’t necessarily because she’s this domestic engineer who has a whip in hand and wants you to abide by every command she gives you. Maybe it’s because she realizes it’s a sexual turn on to her” (17:27).

But that’s not foreplay. Those are basic requirements for being a grown-up in a relationship. The only time I am ‘helping’ with housework is when Rebecca is actively doing something and I jump in with her. The rest of the time it’s just called ‘doing’ housework.

Oh, there isn’t room on the counter to make dinner later today because there are dirty dishes? I am going to ‘do’ the dishes. Not ‘help’ with the dishes. I am part owner of the dishes. I am partly responsible for dirtying the dishes. I will take part in eating the dinner that one or both of us prepare on the newly cleaned counter of the house we own together.

I don’t spend time with Rebecca to ‘get’ something out of it. I spend time with her because I like her and I am emotionally fulfilled by spending time with her. That’s kind of why she is the one I married. Even if we both have stuff to do, if there is a way for us to sit on the couch with our feet in each other’s laps while we do it, then that’s what we’ll do. Because we like each other, and healthy men have just as much desire for emotional intimacy as healthy women do.

And also, can Emerson think of no other reason that the wife might want the husband to vacuum? Like maybe because the floor is dirty? Maybe some women get hot watching their husband vacuum (in which case, rock on. You two do your thing), but it’s far more often the case that when the husband does basic adult stuff in the wife’s place, the wife feels she finally has just enough emotional energy to let her husband use her body for his physical urges.

Granted, for some women that may be the closest their husbands have come to turning them on. Like the sexual light switch is still off, but at least the husband lit a candle.

Emerson makes no recognition of the fact that women are also designed to get sexually turned on by sexual things.

Well, except for three days a month when women are capable of getting pregnant, and may therefore experience sexual appetite, according to him.

Now, there is no shame in it if you really struggle with sexual arousal in your marriage. There are a lot of reasons for that to happen, especially when we are hearing people like Emerson who all but say ‘sex isn’t for you, ladies.’ There are also ways for you to reclaim that part of yourself, like Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna’s The Great Sex Rescue or The Orgasm Course. And in Sheila’s upcoming books The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (totally revamped from the 2012 edition!), there are huge sections on how arousal works for women.

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

But the fact is, women are designed to get turned on by sexual things. And they are capable of physically enjoying sex.

Saying that women aren’t turned on sexually by sexual things, only housework and talking and such, is almost as bad as saying something like “you can’t tell if a woman is sexually turned on.” If someone were to say that, it would make me want to question whether that hypothetical person has ever actually gotten their wife turned on. That’s certainly not someone that anyone should be taking sex or marriage advice from.

Anyways, later Emerson says “You can’t tell if a woman is sexually turned on” (18:16), which is just… wow. I don’t really have a comment to make about that (though in tomorrow’s podcast, Sheila will share her eloquent thoughts on that quote).

Emerson seems really confident about his generalized assumptions about female sexuality though.

He explains to men how their wives will respond to his advice. Not how they might respond. How they will respond.

He says to men that if you are doing the non-sexual stuff for her, you can still communicate your sexual interest “and she will get that, I mean in fact she’ll go along with that. She enjoys that” (24:17).

If you are doing the non-sexual things, “it does turn her on sexually, she will engage in the sexual intimacy between husband and wife, not unlike the Song of Solomon. She’s not going to be unresponsive” (24:33).

Like we’ve said about most things Emerson has put out there, this seems like a really dangerous thing to tell people as a blanket statement. Because what happens when the manipulative, emotionally abusive, self-centered husband tries this advice and it doesn’t magically make him sexually appealing to his poor wife? Cue the gaslighting and exploitation.

“She must be broken; she must be wrong; she is living in sin; she is being disobedient; Emerson said it would be like Song of Solomon, and that’s in the bible so she has to do it; he is doing everything right; she is failing; he is being tortured; she literally gives him no choice but to turn to porn; he can’t be blamed for getting his NEEDS met elsewhere; she needs to give him what is owed…

Emerson sounds like a man who doesn’t know to get a woman to say yes, but rather just how to get her to stop saying no.

He doesn’t seem to get that sex is supposed to fulfill the same longings in women that it does in men and vice versa. Sex is supposed to be about physical, spiritual, and emotional intimacy, but Emerson says guys are perfectly fine with just the physical component, and women don’t want the physical, they just agree to it if they get the emotional and spiritual. He splits it up, and in so doing makes sex into a hollow shell of what it should be.

If a husband can’t make sex physically enjoyable for his wife, they need to stop and figure that out. Because otherwise he is the one depriving her. And if he can’t be emotionally and spiritually intimate with her, meaning he is only pursuing sex for the physical, that sounds like lust to me. That’s not God’s design for sex. It’s meant for more than just making a man’s penis feel good for a few short minutes at the expense of his wife’s happiness.

There’s a lot more to say about the Love and Respect podcast, but these are the points I really wanted to make in this post. We will be talking about it as well on our podcast tomorrow, so be sure to check that out if get the chance!

All in all, I feel really sorry for the woman who emailed in about crying in the shower, and I wish she got better advice than “Yep, you’re doing great and you are very wise. Good job.”

Emerson Eggerichs Ignoring Marital Rape

What do you think? What will it take to get people to understand how toxic Emerson Eggerichs’ advice is? Let’s talk in the comments!

Other Posts in our Love and Respect Series:

Plus our Resource Pages:

The Biggest Supporter of Love & Respect is Focus on the Family

They publish the book and heavily promote it, and promote video series with Emerson Eggerichs. They also heavily promote his book Mothers & Sons, which primes the next generation of boys to feel they deserve unconditional respect, regardless of how they act. Please consider your giving to Focus on the Family, and contact them about your concerns. Without Focus on the Family's support, the Love & Respect ministry would dwindle considerably.

The Following People Have Endorsed Love & Respect

  • "Millions of lives and marriages – and in many ways, our whole culture – are completely different today because of the work of Emerson Eggerichs and Love and Respect ministries." Shaunti Feldhahn, best-selling author of For Women Only
  • "Occasionally I run into somebody whose material, what they’re teaching, and the quality of the person rocks my world." Dave Ramsey
  • "probably the most helpful [marriage book and seminar] we have ever experienced." Michael Hyatt
  • "With his Love and Respect concept, Emerson Eggerichs has discovered what can only be described as the Holy Grail of marital counseling." Eric Metaxas
  • "Dr. Emerson Eggerichs …is … balancing this scale [towards respect]" Dr. James Dobson
  • "People around the world, in every kind of business need to hear this simple yet life changing message." Anne Beiler
  • "I couldn't recommend Dr. Eggerichs highly enough. I call him the Billy Graham of marriage." Kendrick Vinar, lead pastor Grace Church of Chapel Hill

If any of these people would like to rescind or qualify their endorsements, please reach out, even confidentially. If any would like a confidential conversation about the problems with Love & Respect, please reach out. 

Connor Lindenbach

Connor Lindenbach

Connor Lindenbach is the technical face behind To Love, Honor and Vacuum, managing the website and keeping it running. He's also the husband of Rebecca, and together they take turns working and caring for their two adorable children. A psychology graduate, he plans to transfer into mediation to help couples find peaceful solutions to thorny problems. He loves fitness, rock climbing, but most of all giving his baby daughter funny shampoo hairstyles.

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