Do you know who reads marriage books and seeks out marriage advice?
Usually it’s people having trouble with their marriage! And yet often the advice that’s given isn’t helpful for unhealthy couples, and can even be harmful. And then authors say, “but it’s not meant for couples in unhealthy relationships!”
Now, I do believe that counseling for people in abusive situations needs to be done by a licensed counselor, but there is no reason why a pastor can’t get trauma informed and learn about abuse and preach on it well; or why they can’t have a team in place to help people in abusive situations access the help they need; or why they can’t train people to help those in need.
This all reminds me of the kerfuffle over Love & Respect with Focus on the Family.
When people wrote in telling them that Love & Respect was a dangerous book and enabled abuse, they replied that it was only meant for people in healthy marriages with goodwill. But Emerson Eggerichs, on page 2, even says that it’s meant for:
“This book is for anyone: people in marital crisis…spouses headed for divorce…husbands and wives in a second marriage…people wanting to stay happily married…spouses married to unbelievers…divorcees trying to heal….lonely wives….browbeaten husbands…spouses in affairs…victims of affairs…engaged couples…pastors or counselors looking for material that can save marriages.”
He also talks later in the book about couples who are “drinking or straying.” So he says the book is for people in toxic and destructive marriages, but then when confronted about how the book harms those marriages, he says it’s only for couples with goodwill.
That’s the same approach Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta took about their new book Married Sex, when they were told that it handled power dynamics and porn very badly (saying that taking nude photos will neurologically help him not look at other women; talking about men with rage issues demanding angry sex and not mentioning coercion; talking about breasts resetting power imbalances), they replied that their book was meant for people in healthy marriages.
Why are we creating so many resources that are only meant for the healthy and that will hurt the sick?
Jesus said that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Jesus left the 99 and went after the 1. Shouldn’t the sick matter to us?
And the sick are not just the 1–the sick are a huge percentage of people in our congregations, and we are leaving them behind.
In our new books The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex we talk a lot about consent and what it looks like and how to recognize when something is not consensual, and we talk about how to address porn use, and when you need a licensed counselor to deal with things. We try to help people identify when there are “normal” issues, and when things go beyond normal and actually need some serious boundaries and some help. We don’t just tell people to try harder.
I think this is a very real problem, and I hope that pastors and authors will start remembering that most of those who really need advice are not in super healthy relationships. And so the advice needs to take into account those who are in very unhealthy ones and need to be told, “that’s not right, and it’s okay to need some help.”
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What do you think? How can we help pastors consider this when preaching? How can we change the emphasis in our teaching? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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