Bare Marriage

Episode 225: Do You Even Want This Kind of Marriage?

February 22, 2024 Sheila Gregoire Season 7 Episode 225
Episode 225: Do You Even Want This Kind of Marriage?
Bare Marriage
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Bare Marriage
Episode 225: Do You Even Want This Kind of Marriage?
Feb 22, 2024 Season 7 Episode 225
Sheila Gregoire

Would our reaction to Christian marriage advice change if we realize how many people who write that advice are actually in abusive or destructive marriages? What if people in those marriages are more drawn to write marriage advice to process how they're feeling?

Today we look at two different women that Focus on the Family have held up to be emulated. One is a woman who has written prolifically for them, and when you look at her articles and what she reveals about her relationship, a TON of red flags are present. The other is a woman whose husband was jailed for domestic violence, but then she prayed, he repented, and now they lead Love & Respect seminars together. And Focus on the Family thinks this is a positive message.

Today Sheila Gregoire is joined by her husband Keith and by abuse educator Sarah McDugal.

To Support Us:

Things Mentioned in the Podcast:

Find Sarah McDugal:

Join Sheila at Bare!

Check out her books:

And she has an Orgasm Course and a Libido course too!

Check out all her courses, FREE resources, books, and so much more at Sheila's LinkTree.

Show Notes Transcript

Would our reaction to Christian marriage advice change if we realize how many people who write that advice are actually in abusive or destructive marriages? What if people in those marriages are more drawn to write marriage advice to process how they're feeling?

Today we look at two different women that Focus on the Family have held up to be emulated. One is a woman who has written prolifically for them, and when you look at her articles and what she reveals about her relationship, a TON of red flags are present. The other is a woman whose husband was jailed for domestic violence, but then she prayed, he repented, and now they lead Love & Respect seminars together. And Focus on the Family thinks this is a positive message.

Today Sheila Gregoire is joined by her husband Keith and by abuse educator Sarah McDugal.

To Support Us:

Things Mentioned in the Podcast:

Find Sarah McDugal:

Join Sheila at Bare!

Check out her books:

And she has an Orgasm Course and a Libido course too!

Check out all her courses, FREE resources, books, and so much more at Sheila's LinkTree.

Sheila: Welcome to the Bare Marriage podcast.  I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage.  And I am joined today by my husband, Keith.

Keith: Hey, everybody.  

Sheila: And before we start, we just want to thank the people in our community who help us and enable us to do this.  So our amazing patrons, who show up every day multiple times on the Facebook page.  They send me all the greatest stuff that I end up talking about including some of the stuff we’re going to talk about right now.  Comes from our patrons.  And for as little as $5 a month, you can join that community and get access to unfiltered podcasts and more.  So that’s an awesome place.  If you are interested in supporting us monetarily in another way, perhaps with more money and getting tax deductible receipts within the United States, we are also the Good Fruit Faith Initiative of the Bosco Foundation.  And the links to both our Patreon and our donation is in the podcast notes.  And another way that you can support us plus have a ton of fun is that we have a lot of merch.  We have awesome biblical manhood merch, biblical womanhood merch, they call me Jezebel merch, lots of stuff like that.  You can get notebooks, mugs, canvas, tote bags, lots and lots of things.  And when you buy those, that money helps fund what we do and lets us keep doing it.  So we will put the link to our merch as well and, of course, our courses too.  Our orgasmic course, our libido course, all of those things help fund what we do.  So thank you for supporting us in that.  Okay.  Next week, shout out, we’re going to have a really super fun podcast because we are going to do the third anniversary of The Great Sex Rescue.  Yay.  And I’m telling you that because I just want you to know that this podcast isn’t always going to be depressing.  But today I actually do have something hard to talk about.  And when I say that this affected me, it really did.  We’ve just finished two weeks of looking at the book, Lies Women Believe.  And that book sent me really on a downward spiral thinking about the environment that I used to be in, the view I used to have of God, and how God was just constantly disappointed in me and how I had to try harder.  One thing I was talking about though in the Lies Women Believe is that so often it seems like authors are writing books to help them deal with and process their own stuff because life is somehow untenable in whatever way.  And it’s like you’re trying to convince yourself that if you just have more faith things will get better, and the problem is actually you.  And I saw this a lot when I started blogging back in 2008.  A lot of the mommy bloggers that were in my space were just talking about how you need to submit more.  You need to totally commit to your marriage.  And I would say about 50% of them are now divorced because of porn use or abuse.  There’s a higher divorce rate among the mommy bloggers than the general Christian population because a lot of people who are going through hard times they end up blogging to try to convince themselves that things are okay.  And that’s what I saw in something that I want to bring up today.  I got an email from Focus on the Family highlighting an article.  And I’m still on their mailing list, so I went and looked at that article.  And I got really concerned about what it was saying.  And I looked up this woman’s other articles.  And when you put them all together, you get a picture of a really disturbing marriage.  I’m not going to mention that woman’s name because I—this isn’t about shaming her.  And I don’t want to shame her, but my purpose here is just to show you guys that so often the Christian media that we consume that is telling us, “Hey, this is normal, and the problem is with you,”—when you actually look deeper, there is something way bigger going on here.  And this person may actually be in a really troubled relationship and may not be able to admit it to herself.  And so this is a hard thing to talk about.  I know this is really hard to talk about.  But it is so common.  And my heart is just breaking for this woman, who doesn’t seem to have any solution other than remember the problem is all you.  So I’m going to read you—

Keith: Wow.

Sheila: I’m going to read you one of the articles.  Okay?  Just part of it.  So this is what sets the stage for this woman’s marriage, and she writes, “I am a city girl, who agreed to follow my husband’s dream of moving to a simpler life in the country.  But here’s the thing: Since we moved from the San Francisco Bay area to our little cabin, life had certainly not become simpler.  For example, the house was so far off the grid that we didn’t even have electricity.  My husband would beg to differ, explaining that we did have power, it just came from a generator.  So what was it like living in a small house outside of society as a stay-at-home mom of three small children?  Let’s just say simple life is not the phrase that comes to mind.  The first months of living simply meant learning to shop for whatever we’d need until the next trip to town, which was 40 minutes away.  Our propane refrigerator was very small with a freezer the size of a shoebox.  This meant stocking up on perishable items was out of the question.  And with two children in diapers, I had to guesstimate how many diapers and wipes they’d go through until our next venture to town.  Remember, the house was tiny, so there wasn’t space to store baby essentials.  You can imagine how an unexpected bout of baby diarrhea could throw off my well-planned calculations.  One day while my husband and I were in our small-scale house, a monstrous tarantula crept across the living room floor.  He captured the frankenspider and threw it into our wood-burning stove.  My relief gave way to terror when the flaming spider screeched and jumped out of the fire toward me.  When my husband finally killed the tarantula, I sobbed and asked, ‘What if that thing had gotten the kids?  What if you hadn’t been home? What if?’  When my husband laughingly explained that tarantulas are harmless, my tears turned to angry accusations as I blamed him for moving us to such a horrible place.  I ranted uncontrollably about all of the sacrifices I made to live out his dream.  Until the tarantula incident, I thought I had adjusted well to country life.  My reaction revealed otherwise.”  And you know what she titles this article?  She calls it The Little Things That Spark Marriage Arguments.  

Keith: Oh my gosh.  Yeah.  So I see what you mean now.  Right?  Because this person is obviously writing from a position of how do you make marriage work.  And it’s so hard when your husband takes you off the grid in the middle of nowhere, and you have all these things to deal with.  And there’s never the concept of how did this decision get made.  Why are they there?  Because there’s this underlying assumption, he wants to do this.  And my job, as the wife, is to do whatever he says and to make his life easier.  And if I have to plan all these things, well, that’s what we’re doing because this is what God has called our family to do because our husband is sending us to the middle of the wilderness.  And the idea that she can question that and say, “This is not what I want for my life,” is not even on the table.  And that’s so sad.

Sheila: I know.  And he’s moving her with three small children.  There is no room for the kids.  There’s nobody around, so there’s no one for the kids to play with.  This house is tiny, so they’re stuck inside this tiny house where there isn’t enough room even to store extra diapers.  So you can imagine what this is like.  Plus she has to figure out meals.  And remember, he’s the one moving her to this tiny place.  But she’s the one having—bearing the consequences of it with the three kids and the diapers and everything.  And then what happens when there’s a tarantula?  He laughs at her.    

Keith: Yeah.  And this is the thing that we talk about a lot too is that people say the idea of living as a partner versus living as the husband being in charge—it’s not harmful for the husband to be in charge.  It’s not.  You’re painting this picture that it’s harmful for the husband to be in charge when it’s not.  But here’s a particular example.  This guy has done—this is not a good life for this woman.  She’s clearly unhappy, but there is 0% chance for her to express her unhappiness because that’s not allowed because that will be being an unsubmissive wife.

Sheila: Right.

Keith: Right?  And he gets to laugh at her when she’s scared about her physical safety from spiders.  

Sheila: And not just spiders.  A tarantula.  

Keith: Threatening spiders.  He gets to laugh at her.  Okay.  To me, all of this is reprehensible.  Okay.  But what’s happened?  It’s being published in an organization that supports a hierarchal view of husband over wife.  So they’re saying this woman learned that a good wife is submissive and puts up with this kind of stuff, and she—I bet you she goes on to say I had to learn to give it to God and all that kind of stuff.

Sheila: Okay.  Well, here.  Here.  Here.   I’m going to—

Keith: No.  But let me finish because—she goes on to say I learned to lean on God and all this kind of stuff, right?  Because this is the issue.  Because addressing the other way and saying maybe this dude should listen to his wife and this is not a safe place for their place is not even on the table.  And they don’t even realize it’s not on the table.  So it’s their lack of insight about how they’re hurting each other is just—and then they say that we’re painting a picture that it’s harmful when it’s not.

Sheila: I know.  By the way, I don’t want to say there’s anything wrong with living in the middle of nowhere like lots of people live in the middle of nowhere.  

Keith: No.  If you make that decision together as a couple and you both like it and this is what you both want—we know lots of people who—that they’re totally into that kind of thing.  And that’s great.

Sheila: But this wasn’t what she wanted, and she’s the one who is bearing the consequences of it because she’s the one who is responsible for the kids.  She even talks about that.  How she’s the one who had to figure out how many diapers, not him.  Not him.

Keith: And I’ll bet you, at some point, she does self shaming.  Oh, how could I be such an ungrateful wife that my husband is not providing better—that I think about these things?  I’m sure she goes on to that because that’s what they do.

Sheila: That’s the teaching point of the article is how you need to give up resentment.  Okay.  So she has six action steps that wives can take when they start to feel resentment over these little things.  Do you want to guess what those action steps are?  

Keith: So is one of them step up and be a true ezer kenegdo, a partner in the relationship, and stand up for what’s right and just?

Sheila: No.  No, seriously.  Guess what they are?

Keith: I can guess what they are.  Give it to God.  Take it to God in prayer.  

Sheila: Yes.  Pray without ceasing.  Yes.  Mm-hmm.

Keith: Okay.  Realize how much God has forgiven you and forgive your husband just as much.

Sheila: Yeah.  Okay.  Well, here’s on.  “Admit that you have a problem.  Stop blaming your spouse and honestly evaluate your own contributions to marital turmoil.”

Keith: Right.  Okay.  What’s that called?  That’s DARVO, right?  Yeah.  DARVO.  Reverse victim offender.  Yeah.  Yeah.  That’s what that is.  That’s crazy.

Sheila: What else?    

Keith: Okay.  Another one is going to be count your blessings.  Think positively about it.  See what God is teaching you in this.

Sheila: Yeah.  “Make peace a priority.  No argument is worth winning when the love and unity of your marriage is at stake.”  So you’re supposed to make peace.  So basically, don’t bring up the issue.  I’ll just read the other ones.  “Realize that your spouse isn’t your enemy.”  Okay.  That you have an enemy, but it’s not your spouse.

Keith: And it’s the devil.  Right?  It’s not a destructive, selfish way of looking at marriage that I get to make the decisions and put my wife in uncomfortable positions.  She feels bad that she feels bad.  Anyway, whatever.

Sheila: Yeah.  “Refuse to be argumentative.  When something sparks a marriage argument, determine to stop and consider how God would have you respond.”  And then, “seek godly counselors.”  

Keith: And so all of these are directed to the husband, who laughed at the wife about the tarantula incident?

Sheila: No.  They’re all directed to her.  And not a single one of them is draw boundaries.  Not a single one of them is how to actually speak up.  It’s just don’t be argumentative.  Make peace a priority.  Admit that you have a problem.  So nothing about how, hey, maybe I need to speak up.  So she also wrote another article on Spiritual Warfare: When the Enemy Attacks Your Marriage. Okay?  And I’ll just read you a little bit from this article.  “All too often couples turn on each other when they dwell on how their spouse has not measured up to expectations and negative thinking sneaks in to undermine their marriage.  Instead, couples need to stand together against their real enemy, Satan.  In the same way, if you don’t move swiftly at the first feelings of resentment or unforgiveness toward your spouse, you may find contention hiding in your home.”  So the problem when there are issues in your marriage is your attitude.  And this is what we hear over and over again.  The problem is your attitude.  And we’re never told how to actually address issues and build intimacy.  

Keith: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  Sometimes we do need to take a step back and check our attitude because that’s good advice if it’s advice for both the husband and the wife.  The problem is it’s not.  It’s the advice for the wife because the wife is in the situation where she is in an untenable situation because they’ve set it up that he is in charge and she has to do what she says.  That feels fine for the person who gets to be in charge.  It doesn’t feel so good for the person who is being ruled over.  And so then what happens is she feels resentment, which is a natural, normal human emotion.  So what do they do?  Do they say maybe our way of looking at marriage is faulty?  They go no.  That’s the devil telling you that you’re wrong because this is God’s way of doing it.  So if you don’t like God’s way of doing it, you need to check your resentment because the devil is getting a food hold in your life.  Come on.  Give me a break.  That’s crazy.

Sheila: Yeah.  And then the only solution that is ever given is change your own expectations because all marriage problems stem from the fact that you actually expect to be loved, to be treated well, et cetera.  And if you didn’t expect anything, then you’d have no reason to feel badly.  So it’s all telling you to lower your expectations.  

Keith: And to not be a partner.  To not say, “I know you want to live in the desert with tarantulas, but I don’t.  How do we, as a couple, go forward?”  Not even on the table.  

Sheila: It reminds me so much when I was in that mommy blogger space.  2008 to 2012.  When that was really big.  And I would go on Pinterest when that was big.  And you’d see an article like What To Do When Your Husband Watches Porn, right?  And I’d click on it, and it would say you need to pray.  Okay.  And then there would be another article like What To Do When Your Husband Works Too Much.  And I would click on it, and it would tell you to lower your expectations and to pray.  And it’s like that was the answer for everything.  It was never how do you actually address an issue.  It’s just remember the problem is with you for expecting anything, and you just need to give it to God and not raise an issue.  And it’s like this leaves women in this absolutely helpless position because there is absolutely nothing that they can do to fix a problem.  And I’m seeing this with this woman.  So I want to read to you—and this one is awkward.  I am going to read it.  We could have played it, but she was actually on the Focus on the Family podcast talking about one of her books because she’s written a number of books.  One of them is like I’d Be Happy If Only My Husband Would Change and Other Myths I Tell Myself.  So she’s written so much.  She’s been married over 30 years.  About how often, as women, we think that the solution to our problems is to have our husbands change, but it’s not.  We just need to realize that the issue is our own attitude.  And it’s like why is a woman writing about this all the time.  Right?  So I want to read to you what she says about her own marriage.  So this is a transcript.  And, again, I would rather read it than play it because it’s just—I don’t want her voice on here.  So she says, “In fact, there’s a video on my website of us telling our love story, but he talks more about his 1969 Mach 1 than he does about me.”  That’s a car, I think.  I don't know.  And then she’s laughing.  “But it’s okay because I learned to drive in that car.”  So she’s saying, we were supposed to be telling our love story, and he’s just talking about this car.  And they’re laughing about it.  And then Jim Daly says, “Oh, and you haven’t taken that personally?”  And Rhonda says, “No, because I loved it too.”  And then she says, “Well, we got married, and then we moved.  And I was working full-time, and he was working full-time.  He was in construction at the time.  So, I’m going to work all day, and it’s the rainy season during construction.  So he would stay home and play Atari with his brother while it was raining.”  And here Jim Daly laughs.  And then she says, “And I would come home, and they would have peanut butter toast.  And it would be all the counter.  And I would just be like, ‘Ooh,’ and I’d clean it up.  ‘Don’t you care what I do all day?’  And I felt myself starting to just not enjoy him because he wasn’t measuring up to my expectations.  And so, as that occurred, it scared me.  I knew the wife I meant to be, and I knew that’s the wife we all long to be, is this amazing woman.  They’re a cheerleader.  We laugh out loud with them.  We have fun with them.”  And Jim said, “So, why do we husbands irritate you so much?”  And she says, “Well, I think it’s because our expectations are so like, ‘If you love me, you would.’”  And Jim says, “Like clean up your peanut butter toast.”  And she says, “Right.  And we assign wrong motives to their actions, and I think that, to me, is where we have to step back.  I want to be in love with my husband till the day one of us dies.  I want to be in love with him long past that, and I want him to be in love with me.”  Now I actually believe her.  I think she’s right.  I think what she wants is to be in love with her husband.  If you read all of these articles she’s written, and I have, she says absolutely nothing that would tell me that this is a man to love.

Keith: Well, here’s the deal.  Okay.  So the problem here is the guy is off work, and he made a mess at lunch.  And she was out busy, and she comes back.  And she has to clean up his mess after him.  At no point, the fact that he should clean up his own mess is ever discussed.  It’s joked about.  And the takeaway message is she needs to learn to not complain and clean up after him.  This is ridiculous.  And then when we attack this, they say, “You’re presenting a character.  We don’t really think of marriage like that.”  But that’s what it’s—what we’re seeing here.  And what I’m seeing here happening is a woman saying to the void, “This is normal, right?  This is normal, right?”  And people aren’t going, “This is not normal.”  They’re going (laughing), and they’re not really attacking it because they don’t want to push over the house of cards.  Right?

Sheila: Yeah.  But not just that.  Focus on the Family portrays her as a real marriage expert.  And she has absolutely nothing to say except don’t expect your husband to actually act in a loving way and to care about you.  And when you expect him to do that, you will cause problems in your marriage.  

Keith: Yeah.  So she says, “I assigned wrong motives to him.”  Okay.  Does she ever come out and say what’s the wrong motive she assigned to him about the peanut butter mess and what was the right motive?  What was the good motive that he had that she told herself, “Actually, I need to think.  It’s the good motive, not the bad motive”?  Because, to me, the bad motive is I think that I have the right to have you clean up after me like my maid.  The good motive is what?  I am just lazy.  There is no good motive that he could have.  Right?  And this is the thing is this man would benefit from a woman who would say, “You’re playing Atari.  Clean up your own dishes.”  He would be a better man if someone called him on that crap.  This is not helping anybody.  It’s only promoting entitlement and allowing this man to become emotionally more and more immature and selfish.

Sheila: Yeah.  And, of course, this is at the beginning of their marriage, right?  This peanut butter toast thing.  And then we know that not too many years later he moves her to the middle of nowhere.  And now when he’s telling their love story, he talks more about the car than he does about her.  And yet, she is this marriage person that we’re all supposed to emulate.  And I’m looking at all these stories, and I’m thinking, “You poor woman.  You poor woman.  You’re trying to process why this marriage hasn’t gone the way that you wanted it too.” And maybe I’m reading too much into this, but over and over again this is what I see in Christian resources is women trying to make sense of it.  

Keith: Well, I think that—on the man’s side too, the same thing happens to the men, right?  Because what’s normal for a man, for a husband, right?  And so in this case, it’s the same thing.  There’s the joke about he talks more about his car than his wife in their love story.  And that’s kind of like putting out their—hey, isn’t that funny.  Ha, ha, ha.  And I would say that’s ridiculous, dude.  You are emotionally stunted.  You need to get a grip on that.  Right?  But that’s not what’s said in these environments because they all think that’s what masculinity is.  I am detached and emotionless, and I’m not connected.  And then you say that to them, and they say, “Oh, we don’t believe that.”  But the way you talk, the examples you hold up of what a manly man is—here’s this manly man going out into the desert, not afraid of tarantulas.  Isn’t he great?  We all want to be like him.  He talks about his car more than his wife.  Isn’t that awesome?  When is the penny going to drop.

Sheila: Yeah.  And it doesn’t.  It doesn’t because Jim Daly just laughs at this.  Right?    

Keith: Yeah.  Because they don’t understand.

Sheila: So, anyway, this brings me to another story.  Over the last few months—well, in 2023, there were two new biographies of Elisabeth Elliot that were published.  One by Lucy Austin, and one by—I forget who the other one is.  I’m sorry.  But both of them deal at length—or at least mention the problems with her third marriage.  So Elisabeth Elliot became really famous because she was married to Jim Elliot, who was one of the missionaries who was murdered in Ecuador.  The five missionaries.  And so Elisabeth Elliot went on to write In Gates of Splendor, and she kind of became this darling of the evangelical world.  Really well known at Wheaton College.

Keith: This very fantastic, one of those old fashioned stories of killed by the people they were trying to reach, and she stayed and persisted in ministry to those people, who had killed her husband.  That kind of story.

Sheila: Stayed with her daughter.  Yeah.  A few years after this she remarried to the love of her life.  I think his name was Alistair Leach.  Could be wrong on that.  And I think they were married for about five years.  He was older than her.  But he died.  So she’s now a widow for the second time.  And then she was single for awhile, and then she married a man named Lars Glen, I think his last name.  Lars Glen.  When she was in her fifties.  And she was married to him for about 35 years.  And when people write the biographies of Elisabeth Elliot, they use her journals because she wrote a lot of journals.  Wheaton College.  They’re all available for researchers.  And so that’s the main thing that people have to write about her life.  But her final husband actually burned all the journals that she wrote when she was married to him, so we don’t have her perspective on that marriage.  But they did interview some friends that—some people that knew her.  And by all accounts, this looks like it was an abusive marriage.

Keith: I was wondering.  Why did he burn the journals?

Sheila: He was really controlling.  He would dissect her talks.  He made her keep speaking even when she had Alzheimer’s, and she would lose her train of thought.  He kept the gravy train going.  It’s just a really, really problematic relationship.  There was a really interesting article that—in The Revealer, which I will put a link to which goes over a lot of these issues and what both biographies say.   But it is quite clear that this was a really, really difficult time for her as she was trying to make sense of the marriage.  And what I find so fascinating is that we know Elisabeth Elliot as someone who was really influential in purity culture.  Writing Let Me Be a Woman, talking about how important it is, how the essence of womanhood is sacrifice, and to become nothing, and to die to self.  This is what women are supposed to do.  She wrote all that while she was in a marriage that was likely very emotionally abusive.  And so how much of the evangelical literature that is written to women was really women in difficult situations trying to make sense of it?  And not being able to.  And so they’re processing it.  And the only recourse they have is just to say, “This can’t matter to me.  I need to love God more and change my expectations.”  And that’s what we see over and over again from people that, looking back on it, were actually in really, really abusive situations.

Keith: Because they’re living with that cognitive dissonance of my husband is in charge of me and this is not fair, but I’m not allowed to say it’s not fair because this is the way that God designed marriage.  So what do I do?  And all this comes out.  Instead of saying, “No.  It’s not fair.  It’s not right.  There must be a different way.  God can’t have meant marriage to be there,” because they’re not willing to do that because it just threatens their whole underlying philosophy of how the world works.  And it’s just sad.

Sheila: And when you think about how much Elisabeth Elliot influenced evangelical culture and how might it have been different if she weren’t in that marriage because she had an outsized influence.  And Liz Charlotte Grant, at the end of this article in The Revealer, wrote this, “Now I’m left pondering Elliot’s legacy.  Consider how different her legacy would have been had she divorced her abusive husband.  How would a celebrity divorce like Elliot’s have changed evangelicalism?  How might Elliot herself have changed?  In fact, how might evangelicalism be changed now by this revelation about Elliot?  That is if the public hears the truth at all.”  And that’s just what I want to challenge us with is let’s think critically about these articles that focus on the family is sharing as if they are some sort of nuggets of wisdom when they give women absolutely no real tools except to ignore and push down the problems in their marriage.  And they’re written by people who, when they describe their marriage, looks like there’s some pretty difficult, not good dynamics there that they’re not admitting to themselves.  Maybe we just need to think more critically about who is it that we are taking advice from.  And when people are writing this stuff, what are their own circumstances like?  And yeah.  And look what happened to Elisabeth Elliot.  And how much is this influencing how we see marriage?  And I find it sad that nobody said to this woman writing these articles, “Hey, that’s not normal.  You didn’t have to put up with that.  I’m really sorry.”  

Keith: Yeah.

Sheila: Well, I am so pleased to have on the podcast again my friend, Sarah McDugal from Wilderness to Wild.  Hello, Sarah.

Sarah: Hi, Sheila.  It’s fun to be back.

Sheila: Yeah.  And, of course, you were on our number one podcast from 2023 when we talked about Power of a Praying Wife.  You and Gretchen Baskerville.   

Sarah: I heard that.

Sheila: Yes.  So thank you for that.    

Sarah: Yeah.  What’s up with that? 

Sheila: I think that one really struck a nerve.  And I’m thinking that this one will strike a nerve too.  I wanted to you on to tell—so that you can help me tell the story of something we were both involved in back in December.  So to set the stage, on December 19, Focus on the Family published on their Facebook page a testimony.  And do you want to explain sort of what the gist of the testimony was?  

Sarah: So I’m going to paraphrase, and I’m not trying to be exactly precise because I’m doing this from memory.  

Sheila: I’ll post screenshots and links in the podcast notes, so people can go back and look if they—yeah.  

Sarah: Okay, perfect.  Perfect.  So here’s the things that stood out to me.  She was pregnant with her fifth child.  She had been with her husband for 10 years.  So that’s five kids in less than 10 years which is bam, bam, bam.  That’s fast.  That’s a lot.  She’s extremely vulnerable because she’s pregnant with baby number five and chasing four of them.  And her husband is caught in adultery, having an affair, and he becomes violently dangerous.  So much so that it’s not like, oh, the cops get called, and nobody did anything (distorted audio) par for the course.  But that he is convicted and goes to jail.  So he’s serving jail time.

Sheila: And to clarify, this is very unusual.  Most abusers do not end up in jail even if they really do hurt their wives or kids.  

Sarah: Yes.  No.  It’s incredibly rare for someone to actually serve time for domestic violence assault.  That means it had to be a heinous level of violence.  Their lives were in danger.  This was not a shove or a push or—those things are not good either.  Those are still domestic violence.  This is an intensely high level of domestic violence.  So the woman and her now five children flee to family.  And then he’s in jail.  Now another aspect of the story—and it wasn’t shared whether this happened before or after he was in jail.  But she also had cancer and went through treatment with zero help or support from her abusive husband.  

Sheila: Right.  

Sarah: Abandonment during cancer treatment.  We have criminal levels of assault, plus adultery, all of these things.  Then the happy little bow at the end of it is that she called Focus on the Family.  They told her to pray and love her husband more.  And now they are (inaudible).  So we just leaped from jail time for a 12 out of 10 or whatever of—on a scale of 1 to 10, this is—it has to be a 10 for someone to go to jail for it, right?  So we leap over to the work that needed to be done and the accountability that needed to be done.  Any transformational work or rehab or anything else.  We called Focus on the Family, and now we hold Love and Respect—what was the word?

Sheila: Courses.  Yeah.  They teach.

Sarah: Conferences or courses.  We teach Love and Respect to small groups.  And yay.  Hunky dory.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Everything is fine.  Yeah.  They called Focus on the Family, and they recommended Love and Respect resources to them.  And the husband repented and was restored, and now they teach Love and Respect courses in their church.   

Sarah: Regardless of who ended up changing their behavior, they now teach other people to do the same thing.  So we have a convicted felon for assaulting his own family while cheating on his wife whose leading Love and Respect.  And I really just don’t think that’s the magical turnaround flex that Focus on the Family seems to think that it is.

Sheila: Yeah.  So they publically admitted that they recommend Love and Respect in families where the husband has been so violent he’s been jailed, and they publically admitted that they’re proud that this couple teaches Love and Respect courses.  And they did this as a testimony.  Okay.  So here’s the thing, Sarah.  And you’ve been in this situation because you teach a lot on domestic abuse and on understanding the abuse cycle.  And you were in such a marriage yourself and have now been released from that and you’re out of that.  And you’re safe, and your kids are safe.  How would you feel if, in the midst of the worst part of your marriage where you’re trying to figure out what you can do to keep this marriage together, you read a testimony that says, “Here’s this couple where he was in jail.  And she prayed, and she read Love and Respect.  And everything is fine”?

Sarah: Well, to me, the message with that is you’re not praying enough.  And this one book is your magic bullet.  Also there are some subtext messages.  There’s messages behind the message.  That’s the message on its face.  You’re not praying enough.  You’re not loving enough.  Bad, wifey.  Bad, bad, wifey.

Sheila: Yeah.  Or respecting enough.  Respect.  You’re not respecting enough.

Sarah: And you’re not respecting enough.  So his behavior is completely unaddressed.  I’m a bad wife because I’m not loving, praying, respecting, and just being silent enough.  In other words, for me, that would have translated as I have not erased myself as a human yet enough to make sure I don’t trigger him and these things.  If I was pregnant with my fifth kid in 9 or 10 years, I would also be thinking, “Wow.  I haven’t given him enough sex.  I’m too ugly.  I’ve gained weight.  I’ve had five pregnancies.  My body doesn’t look the same.”  So there would be a ton of shame because good husbands adore their wives while their wives are growing their child.  Good husbands are supportive and surrounding their wife with tenderness and the opportunity to rest as much as they can provide and helping with the other children as a full time coparent should, as an equal parent.  They’re not off committing adultery and doing other things outside of the home.  So all of that—it’s this big, huge, tangled ball of yarn.  I know you like yarn.  It’s like you let your cats loose on a skein of yarn, and it’s just all tangled up.  But the core message is that she is not godly enough because he’s doing these things.  It removes all of his individual choice.  

Sheila: Yeah.  This testimony was used to encourage people to use Focus on the Family counseling, and their counseling phone number was put there.  It had the slogan—and it was right before Christmas.  “All I want for Christmas is for my marriage,”—what was it?  For my marriage to stay together.  So it was directed at people who were desperately fighting for their marriage who is usually the partner that is being sinned against.  Right?  The person who is desperately fighting for their marriage—

Sarah: Yes.  The victim in the relationship is the one desperate to—

Sheila: Yes.  And so it’s directed at them, and it’s saying, “Hey, you can call our counseling number, and we’re going to help you.”  The problem with this is that the one who needs to save the marriage, the one who needs to do the work, the one who needs to change to save this marriage is not the victim.  It’s the perpetrator.  If this marriage is going to be restored, it needs to be because the perpetrator changes, not because the victim figured out how to further abase themselves or further become nothing.  By holding out stories like this one, what they’re basically saying is you need to wait longer.  You need to try harder.  And if you’re actually thinking of leaving, you’re wrong because it means you don’t believe that God can restore this marriage.  And we talked about this in that podcast, and I’ll put a link to it on Power of a Praying Wife on how it’s not up to us to pray someone to change.  God doesn’t interfere with free will.  And people can choose not to change, right?  And so it’s not—we can’t change an abusive spouse.  And this is very much the message that’s being given.    

Sarah: You cannot love him into good behavior.  You cannot control him into kindness.  You cannot boundary him into faithfulness.  He is an independent, autonomous adult human, and he, unfortunately for you—if this is your story—he has the right to choose bad things.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And people were saying—

Sarah: He has the freedom.  I wouldn’t say the right, but he has the freedom to choose bad things.

Sheila: Well, actually, God gives him the right.  God gives all of us the right to choose bad things. Right?  

Sarah: (cross talk)

Sheila: Yeah.  And that’s bad.  But we have the right to choose wrong.  And people were saying, “Okay.  But why are you criticizing this testimony?  Because isn’t it amazing that that happened to her.”  But the problem is when we hold up the testimony like that there is that underlying subtext, which is that the responsibility for saving this marriage is on you.  And the ability to change this marriage is in your hands when it’s not.    

Sarah: Yes.  And I think there’s something even a bit on the data side.  Now you’re the data queen.  Not me.  But tell me if you agree with this.  So when we are, let’s say, just ethically—let’s say I’m putting up testimonials for one of my coaching courses which I do.  Yes.  I’m going to want to choose testimonials of people who enjoyed the course.  But ethically, I’m not going to choose one anomalous outlier and make it look like it’s the baseline.  I’m going to pick from so many people who all had equally good things to say.  So when we have a testimony like this, if anyone has done (distorted audio) violence victims, betrayal trauma victims, et cetera, you know that—let’s just give this testimony the benefit of the doubt that it’s not an urban legend that somehow has just been concocted for the purpose of advertisement.  But let’s say it’s real.  Let’s say this particular person, this couple, experienced a miraculous transformation.  That’s less than like 1 to 2% of the people experiencing this.  You cannot ethically hold up a microfraction of people’s experiences and present your counseling, your Love and Respect books, or whatever else as though this is the baseline.  This is the norm.  This is pretty much guaranteed to happen for you if you just follow our formula.  When we’re giving information to a victim, you were saying that the victim is not the one who needs to change.  The perpetrator is the one who needs to change.  And I absolutely agree.  But I would say there is also information that should be given to the victim about how they are able to change, and that is you have the right to stand up against this in safe and healthy and strategic ways.  You have the right to leave this.  You have the right to safety.  You have the right to not continue trapped in this.  And without that message, it’s not just bad.  It’s unethical.  It’s (cross talk).

Sheila: I think about it like this.  Imagine there was a hospital wing, and we know there is such a wing where there are children with terminal cancer.  Okay.  They are not going to make it.  And so the hospital invites a speaker in to address the parents.  And the speaker comes in and says, “My child had terminal cancer, and my child was on death’s door.  And they weren’t given very long to live, and I prayed.  And that child was healed.”  Now if the hospital did that, they would be sued.  Or most likely, they didn’t realize the speaker was going to say this.  And as soon as the speaker did, they would usher that speaker out of there, and they would apologize because that is a terrible thing to say to those parents.  And we all know that because their kids are probably going to die.  And so what those parents need to know is you can get through this.  God is with you.  It is normal to feel like you’re dying.  It is normal to be in immense places of grief.  Okay?  That’s what those parents need to know is how can we get to the place where we can accept this, where we can live through it, where we’re not going to go crazy.  Right?  But telling parents, “Hey, here is someone prayed, and their kid got better,” that’s like saying, “If you don’t pray hard enough, then you’re responsible if your kid dies.”  And that’s essentially the message that we are giving to abused women because you know what?  Yes.  It is possible for God to heal terminally ill children.  And I believe that He does.  I believe that miracles can happen.  The point of a miracle is that it’s rare.  It’s really, really rare.  If it were not rare, it would not be a miracle.  And so I would put the chance of a child being healed from terminal cancer in roughly the same place as the chance of a man, who has been in jail for domestic violence becoming an honest to goodness loving husband.  I think those are very analogous.  And yet, we don’t think twice about sharing those testimonies about these men, who have been changed after being in jail.  

Sarah: It goes back to that religious and spiritual malpractice because you’re holding up a miraculous rarity.  And you’re holding out false hope.  They’re peddling hopium.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And it’s wrong.  And the interesting thing, though, about this in particular is that I have been in extended conversations with Focus on the Family a couple of years ago about Love and Respect.  And a number of my readers wrote in to Focus on the Family to complain about how Love and Respect is a dangerous book, and their reply was, “Well, we don’t recommend it for people in—who are having severe marital problems or serious marital difficulties.  This is really for run of the mill marriages.”  And so that’s what they had said publically back then.  But here they are publically acknowledging that they recommend Love and Respect when someone has been jailed for domestic violence.  

Sarah: And has been actively committing adultery.  

Sheila: Right.  So either they think adultery and domestic violence are not serious marriage issues, or they were lying to my readers.  And they do recommend the book, and they were just trying to get out of it.  So I actually wrote an email to Jim Daly at Focus on the Family with excerpts from the letters that Focus has sent to my readers and with this post and said, “So what is it?  Do you recommend Love and Respect?”  Because that’s what Emerson Eggerichs is always saying, right?  “Well, this book is only for good-willed spouses.”  Okay.  But then in his book, he has multiple examples of men, who have committed domestic—physical domestic violence including one story that bears remarkable similarity to this testimonial, okay?  At Focus on the Family.  Where a man had been jailed for domestic violence and then he has this come to Jesus moment, and they reconcile.  And the reason Emerson Eggerichs shares this story is to praise the wife, who promised that she would never bring up the domestic violence again and was going to choose to, instead, unconditionally respect her husband now.  And he has multiple examples of physically abusive spouses.  So he says his book is only for good-willed spouses, but the way he defines good will is merely that a man says that he is fine now and repents.  That’s it.  That is it.  And it’s just so dangerous.

Sarah: We all know that that is just—it’s not how it works.  

Sheila: No.  Exactly.

Sarah: That’s how women and children get dead.  

Sheila: Yeah.  It is.  It absolutely is.  And I believe that this is malpractice both on Focus on the Family’s part and on Emerson Eggerich’s part.  And, again, I will include the emails that I sent to Jim Daly and the links to these posts in the podcast notes.  But what was really interesting about this whole episode, Sarah, is I commented on that post early and was very quickly blocked.  You commented on it when I sent it to you.      

Sarah: Delete.  Delete.

Sheila: And you were blocked.  We had thousands of people comment, and so many were blocked.  Focus on the Family ended up editing that post several times trying to get themselves out of hot water.  And then they finally stopped editing the post and just let it stand.  They added a disclaimer that they don’t stand—that you should call the domestic violence hotline if you’re being abused.  But that disclaimer makes no sense because they’re saying, “Here’s this woman whose husband was in jail for domestic abuse, and she called us.  We recommended Love and Respect, and now her marriage is restored.  But, of course, if you’re a victim of domestic abuse, you should call the domestic violence hotline.  But here’s our number to speak to our counselors.”  Their disclaimer makes no sense.  Right?  But what was really encouraging was just how many people saw what was wrong.  I think it’s one of the first times that I have really seen the Christian world—the Christian online world—go, “Uh-uh.  That ain’t okay.  This is not okay.”  And thousands of people showed up.  

Sarah: I had the same feeling.  I even wrote a post about it on my page where I just said look.  20 years ago everyone was reading Power of a Praying Wife and Love and Respect.  And (distorted audio) on relationships.  10 years ago a handful of people were saying this ain’t right.  Something is not right.  But it was still kind of like a something is not right.  It wasn’t let’s break this down.  Here are all the reasons why this is abuse and malpractice and unethical and why these things don’t work.  Here’s the data.  And five years ago there were a number of advocates using data.  This time the rank and file, the masses of people, have had enough exposure that thousands and thousands of people had an outpouring of refusal to accept blindly dangerous information just because it has a big name—a mega millions corporation attached to it.  And so in the last two decades, we’ve gone from blind acceptance to a handful of people saying this ain’t right to people spreading reliable data in an educational way to masses refusing to blindly follow just because of who is posting it or just because it sounds inspiring on the face of it.  I actually have this T-shirt in my shop with (distorted audio) has this huge tidal wave.  And the hash tag underneath is tidal wave rising about rising voices of people who are seeing more and more clearly.  People who are refusing to just accept the status quo even when it’s toxic.  And I think that’s incredibly beautiful.

Sheila: Yeah.  I think it is starting to really change the church and change the world.  It was like an early Christmas gift for me.  A lot of this was happening on my actual anniversary, so I wasn’t even online when a lot of it was breaking.  But I was desperately trying to copy comments before Focus on the Family deleted them, and I think I copied about a thousand that were later deleted.  And then I think there’s still 2,000 comments up, but they deleted the vast majority of them.  Their moderators were very busy for awhile there, and they were blocking people right, left, and center.

Sarah: I feel bad for their moderators.  Here are people speaking truth and saying, “Please don’t do this.”  And really my heart goes out to whoever was given—that must have been a rough couple of days because—

Sheila: Well, and I was actually telling commenters, “If you go and comment, just speak directly to the moderators,” and just say, “I know you love Jesus.  I know you took this job because you want to serve Jesus.  But are you serving Jesus right now?  There’s so many ways to do that.  You don’t need to have this job.  Think about what you’re doing.”  And I saw a bunch of people make those comments before they were deleted.  But I do feel for the people who are working at Focus on the Family and at a lot of these big places because they did get the job because they love Jesus.  And they didn’t realize what was going on.  And I have a lot of Focus on the Family employees contacting me privately saying, “Yeah.  This isn’t a good place.”  It is scary, and there’s a lot of that happening.  But this was just such an incredibly—it was just so encouraging to me.  And I’m sure it was to you too to realize this isn’t our fight anymore.  This isn’t our fight anymore because people are there.  People are there, and they notice what’s going on.  And they’re going to—we’re becoming an army.  A tidal wave like you said.  And we can speak up, and we don’t have to accept this anymore.  We don’t have to accept this anymore.  And when people speak up, it really does make a difference.  And it was really great to see that happening in December.  And so I guess I just want to say to my listeners if you see something that’s seriously off, okay?  That some mega church pastor is posting or some big organization it’s okay to comment.  It is okay to leave your honest to goodness thoughts and just know that you’re not alone.  Often what will happen is that they delete the ones that will agree with you, and so you feel like no one said this yet.  But probably there has been.  But it’s okay to speak up.    

Sarah: Well, and I just want to throw in as well sometimes we have really strong feelings, especially survivors—really intense feelings about this kind of topic.  And remember take this with you.  That if you speak to data and you speak to educational awareness rather than getting vitriolic or really aggressive and angry, you will have much more power and impact, not only on the people who may be behind whatever it is that you’re addressing but on anyone whose watching.  If you come across strident and abrasive, it may be fully justified because of what you’ve been through and the anger you feel.  I’m not saying you don’t have a right to your feelings.  I’m saying when we are trying to stand up, to speak truth where people are accustomed to just accepting a status quo that is not healthy, it’s really, really good for us to be Christ like and kind in how we approach it.  And sometimes the tone and the attitude of how we approach that can be even more thought provoking than the good things we’re saying.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  Amen.  So yeah.  Speak up.  The world is changing.  The church is changing, and people are going to have to take notice.  And this was a great learning opportunity for so many, I think.  I was grateful just that Focus on the Family publically admitted that they think a person who was jailed for domestic violence makes a good Love and Respect marriage leader because it’s good to have that stuff out there public so that they can’t deny it anymore.  And it’s clear where they stand.  But much more than that, it was just that all of those people stood up and said, “No.  This isn’t okay.  This isn’t okay.”  And we need to start protecting people, and we need to stop putting the burden of fixing an abusive marriage on the victim because—yeah.  Not all right.  Not safe.  And those people deserve to be safe.  So yeah.  So thank you for speaking up.  Thanks for spreading the word.  Thanks for being part of that tidal wave.  And yeah.  We’ll see what happens next.

Sarah: I can’t wait.  It won’t be long I’m sure.  There will always be something.

Sheila: There’s always something.  There’s always something.  So where can people find you, Sarah?   

Sarah: So you can find my stuff at  And I’m Sarah McDugal Wilderness to Wild on Facebook.  That’s pretty much where I hang out.  Facebook.  Just a little bit on Instagram @sarahmcdugal.  But our coaching and courses and workshops and free many courses, free resources, free mobile app, all of that you can get on the website.

Sheila: Awesome.  Well, thanks so much.     

Sarah: Thank you.  It was good to talk about this.

Sheila: So grateful to Sarah for joining us.  And it’s interesting.  Since we recorded this podcast, the story about Elisabeth Elliot has really erupted on social media.  And if I had known it was going to, I would have spent more on the podcast on that.  But, again, I’m just left with this tremendous sense of sadness.  Because as the conversation has unfolded on social media, it’s just so clear that Elisabeth Elliot was this really interesting thinker, who was thinking outside the box and wrestling with things in a really nuanced way until she got into that third marriage.  And then she just got increasingly fundamentalist and so many of her writings on marriage, which happened during that time, were all about how the essence of felinity is to empty yourself, to become nothing, how women were created to die basically in all kinds of different ways.  And I’m just left with this picture of Elisabeth Elliot and my friends that I knew who were blogging and this woman on Focus on the Family who wrote all those articles and even this woman who wrote this testimonial that Focus on the Family published about her husband, who was jailed for domestic violence, I just see all of these women desperately, desperately trying to make sense out of their lives.  And the only way that they can make sense out of it is to feel like there is something that I should do to make myself nothing to give this meaning.  So I just need to empty myself more, to stop expecting anything, to stop wanting anything, to give myself entirely to Jesus because I am the problem.  But what if Jesus actually loves you?  What if Jesus actually cares about you?  What if He isn’t asking you to empty yourself more?  But what if He’s saying I want more for you?  And the fact that the church can’t say that to women, and the fact that women as we’ve been trying to figure this out when we’ve been in terrible situations have just continually gas lighted ourselves instead of seeing the truth.  It’s sad.  I wish that Elisabeth Elliot could have had more.  I wish this woman who was writing for Focus on the Family could have had more.  I wish the woman that Sarah and I talked about is safe now.  I don't know that she is.  But we’ve got to better, church, because Jesus loves us.  And He doesn’t just want us to become nothing so that husbands can keep hurting us.  That’s not of God.  And we’ve got to stop it.  So that’s what we’re here to do on Bare Marriage.  Thank you for joining us.  And next week we’re going to have a little bit more fun because we are going to have the party for the third anniversary of Great Sex Rescue.  And hopefully, by the time this podcast airs, I will be a grandmother again because we are recording this early since my youngest daughter, Katie, is due any day.  So look in the blog for more updates on that, and I will see you again next week for our birthday party for GSR.  Bye-bye.