8 Toxic Beliefs Keeping Christian Women Trapped in Bad Marriages

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What type of “teachings” keep women stuck in bad marriages?

I dare to say the ones with “virtue” written all over them. The ones with an appearance of goodness.

The biggest offenders are the ones allowing the majority to continue feeling good about themselves and their belief systems. They leave everyone feeling communal and happy, dialoguing about “love” and “understanding” and “balance” and “the need to look like Jesus even if we disagree.”

They let everyone keep their marbles. Everyone, but the person who actually needs to keep theirs.

There’s nothing wrong with love or understanding or balance or Christ-likeness in disagreement.

The problem is when these ideas, which might apply in certain situations, get twisted and weaponized against one group of people while allowing another to walk free, unencumbered by the standard that was levied on the first group.

I found a great illustration on this, on my friend Sarah McDugal’s Facebook timeline, which I think captures this conundrum.

Nice folks (nice words) pave the highway to hell. They make spouses doubt themselves and their ability to discern the truth. The cloying syrupy stuff glues the gates of hell shut, taking away earlier opportunities for escape/safety.

As Christians, it is time we accept that many harmed spouses stay stuck because they were sold a dollop of truth in a giant putrid container of lies.

8 Toxic Beliefs Keeping Women in Bad Marriages

Let’s talk about these sweet-sounding but-deadly pieces of advice and how we can do better.

If you follow me on FB, the reflections might be familiar as I first shared them on my Intentional Today Facebook page. I’ve compiled them in a single post for easier reading.

8 toxic teachings keeping women in bad marriages: let’s dive in.

1. “Your marriage is under spiritual attack. Satan hates marriage.”

Many Christians love to spiritualize destructive ways of relating, calling them “spiritual attacks” that can be overcome only through “spiritual warfare.”

So they tell harmed spouses to wear “spiritual lenses.” All the while, the offending partner wears no such lens (if they did, they’d do something about their mess.)

I’m not saying spiritual oppression isn’t real. But passing on the responsibility for real-world problems to unseen forces guarantees we won’t address the human being in front of us. Because we have the culprit, right? So the solution will likewise be “out there,” too.

The truth is healthy spirituality doesn’t mean ignoring current realities or experiences. The healthiest form of spirituality is also anchored in reality.

toxic teachings keeping women in bad marriages

So no, “the devil” didn’t make a spouse lie, cheat, exploit, control, manipulate, betray, ignore, or behave like a big baby in an adult body…with zero repentance.

And let’s be honest, if we claim God is who we say He is, then “the enemy” shouldn’t hold that much power over someone who wants to live out Christ-centered values, right?

2. “Come to Bible study with me…”

“Let me pray for you,” and “come to Bible study with me” isn’t that helpful when your marriage is chronically hurtful.

Far too often, couples in non-harmful marriages dominate relationship conversations. (Unhealthy people drive these conversations as well.)

This leads to the elevation of thoughts like good Christian advice leads to more couples staying together. But when you’re in a destructive relationship, you do not need more guidance to help you save the relationship.

It should be more typical for good Christian advice to lead to some couples not staying together. Check out this post Are We Being Too Pessimistic About Marriage? where I discuss why being pro-healthy marriage is not the same as being anti-men or anti-marriage. Many Christians don’t seem to see the difference. But it’s important we all do.

3. “Women initiate 80% of divorces..therefore women are the problem.”

Recently, I had a man write me and say since women initiate 80% of divorces in America, it is proof that women are the problem. 

He’s not the only one who reads that stat and arrives at the “women are the offenders” conclusion.

Author and coach Gretchen Baskerville of The Life-Saving Divorce has spent decades researching divorce and explores that thinking in this article. She writes, “According to Stanford professor Dr. Michael Rosenfeld’s 2017 study, nearly 70 percent of U.S. divorces are wanted by the wife. The same is true in Europe and Australia.”

(Divorce data for Africa as a continent is limited but I found a report on South Africa divorce rates. In 2021, more women than men initiated divorce proceedings. The percentage of women initiating divorce was 54.8. )

In her post, Gretchen lists the top 5 reasons for women filing for divorce. She notes: “Women are not interested in investing in a marriage to a selfish, mean, unfaithful, addicted, negligent, or violent husband. (And of course, vice versa, husbands aren’t interested in destructive wives either.)”

When I first shared this troublesome argument on Facebook, I got some great observations from Comments: Here are two of them. 

“….If there is a mass exodus of people out of a city no one thinks “wow I wonder what’s wrong with those people” it’s “wow I wonder what’s wrong the city”. If the numbers were flipped (80% of men initiating) I know I would say (and a vast majority of society) wow wonder what’s going on with women.”

“Of course women initiate divorce. What abusive man would want to end a marriage where his bad behavior toward his wife is accepted socially all the while she’s meeting his every need in hopes of him reforming? No man is going to divorce the perfect setup where he is always in the right and always gratified….”

(Check out this article Are 70% of Divorces Really Caused by Women Divorcing Frivolously? from Bare Marriage.)

4. Toxic Teachings Keeping Women in Bad Marriages: “Everyone needs love. Your spouse needs to feel your love…”

Not sure who needs to hear this, but loving someone doesn’t require putting up with bad, hurtful behavior. 

You can love someone and still hold them accountable for their behavior and mindset. You can want good for them and have boundaries. You can care for them and enforce consequences when boundaries are disrespected.*

You don’t have to choose between loving someone and holding them accountable. You can do both. (I’d argue accountability is love.)

The entire process of (re)discovering your voice, holding space for your desires, dreams, limitations, and needs (and not overspending on others) can be entirely uncomfortable to you, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Your growth doesn’t have to be comfortable and easy to be true and worthy.

(*Spouses with unhealthy partners need to be wise and discerning on the “what’ “when,” “where,” and “how” of boundaries and consequences because some people will escalate when held accountable.)

5. “God does not fail.” 

This line is typically used to coerce spouses into believing that escaping harm or protecting themselves from harming patterns means they/God/Christian marriage advice has failed. 

Since most committed Christians don’t want God painted as a failure, they stay put and wait to see God not fail. 

The fact is, it should be more common for good Christian marriage advice to lead to couples not staying together. Healthy Christian marriage advice shouldn’t always lead to couples staying together.

Because healthy advice should lead to more awareness, not less. More clarity and wisdom, not inculcation and coercion to take whatever “in the name of Jesus.” More knowledge of what is actually within “typical range of human issues in a relationship” and what is not.

Christian marriage advice should be good to those in marriages experiencing typical (not necessarily acceptable) issues AND those in marriages drenched in destructive ways of relating.

For far too long, the focus has been on the former. And when spouses escape harm, “Christian marriage advice” is deemed to have failed.

It’s time to change. Accept that sound Christian marriage advice should always result in spouses knowing they don’t have to cater to destructive, unrepentant ways of relating. 

Related Post:  18 Things Normal Guys Don’t Do in Marriage (And 12 Things They Pursue)

6. “God can do anything. Trust Him for a miracle in your marriage.”

God’s “anything” also includes free will. When a spouse uses their free will to harm their partner, their partner is left with no option but to use theirs to stay safe. 

Not all “struggling marriages” need support..some need to be exited. Where there’s harm, the miracle provision of God is a way out of the harmful vortex. 

(Obviously, God is not limited. God is still God, even in hell. Related Article: “But Why Doesn’t She Just Leave Him?” 40 Reasons Women Stay in Destructive Marriages.)

7 . Toxic Teachings Keeping Women in Bad Marriages: “Your husband needs your support.”  

It’s not support from a wife that is lacking when a man neglects, coerces, exploits, betrays, or attempts to control his wife. A husband engages in these patterns because he feels entitled.

In reality, men can address every wound that drives bad behavior and leads to acting out in relationships. They can explore growth areas, work hard and bear lasting fruit. All by themselves. Without female codling and interventions.

A man who hoists the responsibility for his immaturity or problems on his wife, who whines and believes being asked to grow is unlove and criticism, is an unhealthy, unsafe man. And his wife can do nothing to make him safe or good because it’s his ride, not hers. 

Decent, humble men know they can get healthy by themselves. They know they can seek help for growth areas(e.g., from trained professionals.) Which they pursue of their own accord. Without making their wives feel like trash for having a standard and wanting a better relationship.

8. “With the right skills and support, you can influence your spouse, even avoid divorce.”

No “habits and skills” will correct the trajectory of a relationship in which one person is bent on never taking responsibility or bearing good lasting fruit.

And the way I see it, “preventing divorce” should not be the goal to begin with. Because people of faith serious about their commitment, are not trying to leave their safe relationships.

Unfortunately, those in unsafe relationships are not trying to leave either. Because we are out here teaching them how to prevent divorce. (And typically, the person devouring those teachings is the one married to the unsafe person.)

Nobody needs that message. The first group needs awareness, skills, competence, strategies, and support to cultivate healthy individuality and connection.

The second group needs to know a harmful vortex is neither godly nor their life sentence. God won’t be mad they are unable to “fix” their marriage because nobody ‘fixes” a marriage alone. 

Marriage isn’t set up to have one person as an unrepentant harmer and the other as a captain of the whirlwind, desperately patching up what is being decimated. 

So instead of “here’s a list of things to do to prevent divorce,” we do the work of God when we tell people in relationships that entitlement, coercive control, abandonment, exploitation, betrayal, life-altering addictions and activities, and all harmful unrepentant behavior are abhorrent and not to be tolerated.

There’s no “cultivating the right habits and skills” when the other person is bent on never taking responsibility and never bearing good lasting fruit.

To learn more, check out these other educative pages and their resources (their websites, social media.)

  • Bare Marriage with Sheila Wray Gregoire
  • Sarah McDugal – Wilderness to WILD 
  • Flying Free with Natalie Hoffman
  • Heather Elizabeth (Held and Healed)
  • Mary Ellen Bream / Hope For Hurting Wives 
  • The Life-Saving Divorce—Gretchen Baskerville
  • Psalm 82 Initiative
  • Patrick Weaver Ministries
  • Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Toxic Teachings Keeping Women in Bad Marriages: We can do better

We can do better. We can be healthy and nuanced and come alongside others in ways that do not harm or perpetuate harm.

The appearance of good beliefs and habits is not what we’re to be known for. Actual healthy beliefs, demonstrated in how we practice love, are what we’re to be known for.

I admit that walking in that level of love will upset some people: Some folks just won’t like it when you become bosom buddies with truth.

But honestly, anyone unmoved by the suffering of another was not an easy bird to please, in the first place. So, perhaps you are better off flipping a table and helping someone get free.

Toxic Teachings Keeping Women in Bad Marriages: Helpful Resources:

  1. “Is This Abuse?” by Sarah McDugal for women who are scared to ask the question… but they really need to know.
  2. Are you in an emotionally abusive Christian marriage? Take  the quiz by Natalie Hoffman, Flying Free
  3. Are you in a chronically problematic marriage? Check out Unholy Fruit | Your WILD Guide to Discerning Toxic Character by coach Sarah McDugal.

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