Why I Have a Problem With Most Christian Marriage Books

I can be pretty hard on a lot of Christian marriage books, blog posts, webinars, etc.

(Note: I’m not here to be hard on the author himself/herself. I assume that an author has good intentions unless there is proof otherwise. Critiquing the content is different than critiquing the person, and it’s the content I’m here to discuss.)

So why does the content of most Christian marriage books bother me so much?

If you are reading these materials as someone who is in a relationship where both partners are mutually respectful and both are putting forth effort into the relationship, it’s likely you won’t notice a problem. We all tend to see things through the lens of our own reality, so if OUR marriage has been positively affected (or at least not negatively affected) by popular Christian marriage books, we assume that it is a good book.
However, there is an underlying problem in nearly all of these popular Christian marriage materials that is not so easily noticed, unless you have personally suffered the fallout (or know someone who has.)
These books usually follow some version of this formula:


1. Emphasize that what the book says is “God’s way” of doing things.

For example, Love & Respect describes its contents as “Biblical, unchanging truth.” You will read that “The Love & Respect connection is clearly within scripture” and is “the key to any problem in a marriage.” Married Sex is described as providing “God plan for sex”, and it uses language like, “We honor and obey God when…”

(insert the author’s personal interpretation of scripture.)

The problem with presenting material this way is that the reader is led to believe that in order to be obedient to God, they need to do what the book says. But a book is not God’s word, and the author is not the Holy Spirit. To present material as the only right way to do something is to do harm to the conscience of the reader whose desire it is to please God. Life is complicated. It doesn’t fit into prescribed boxes. Each couple’s marriage, whether good or bad, has its own nuances that cannot be adequately addressed in such a simplistic manner, and to teach the readers that the material is what “God wants” them to do is negligent at best.


From “Love & Respect” by Emerson Eggerichs.


2. Say some potentially really good, healthy things so that those who are already in a good marriage do not notice the harmful things in the book.
As I already wrote above, people will latch onto what resonates with them. Advice that would be dangerous for someone in an abusive marriages will likely not even register to someone who has never been treated that way or would never dream of treating their spouse that way. When good and healthy couples enjoy the book, they then tell others that it is a good book. Little do they realize that a large population of people seeking out marriage advice are doing so because their spouse is destroying them and their marriage. When someone in that situation sees a marriage book recommended by a happy, wholesome couple, they want what that other couple has. The promises in that book sound wonderful. (“The key to any problem in a marriage”?) Unfortunately, abuse is not a marriage problem and cannot be corrected by reading a book and learning how to be a “good wife.” It can only be corrected if the abusive spouse decides to repent of the abuse. But these books do not adequately, if at all, address abuse. They do not help the reader to recognize that they are suffering from abuse and not from a marriage problem. In fact, they often reinforce the victim’s notions that the abusive behavior is normal, and that she can change the abuser by changing herself. Which brings me to point number three.


3. Contradict the good things that are said with advice that is dangerous for those with abusive spouses.

Some resources have a really high ratio of good content to bad, some might be 50/50 and some might be blatantly bad with only a tiny bit of good stuff. Whatever the case, most of these books will have a caveat somewhere that says something like, “If you are being physically abused, make sure you get to safety.” Some books are more generous and recognize verbal/emotional abuse as a problem too.

However, these caveats are not nearly enough. And combined with the rest of the content of the book, they can even make the problem worse. Most victims of abuse do not realize that what they are experiencing is abuse. Abuse is far more insidious than that. (Read more here to understand that domestic abuse is a pattern of control; it’s not singular incidents of violence.)

So what ends up happening is that a victim of abuse (who does not realize she is being abused; she only knows she is sad and miserable) picks up a popular Christian marriage book. The So-and-So’s said it’s good and they have such a great marriage, so this wife in a destructive marriage thinks that perhaps this book will teach her how her own marriage can be happy. The book says it’s not meant for abuse victims, but then says it is for people in marital crisis, lonely wives, or victims of affairs, or anyone looking for material that will save their marriage. (Translation: neglect, adultery, or other crisis-inducing behavior is not abusive and can be addressed as easily as reading this book.) The book gives illustrations of couples with “marriage problems” whose marriages were turned around as a result of following the book’s advice. These “marriage problems” include a husband who went to jail for assaulting his wife (Love & Respect) or a husband who pressures his wife to send him nude photos when she’s not comfortable doing so (Married Sex – actually this one is not even labeled as a problem; it’s labeled as normal behavior for a man.) So a victim of abuse reads about some of the same abusive behaviors her husband exhibits, and is assured that these are normal marriage issues and that this book holds the key to addressing those issues.

4. Give simple solutions to complex problems.
Now that the abuse victim is even more convinced that her husband is not abusive, the book addresses how to have a happy marriage. These are things like making sure your husband feels respected and making sure he gets lots of sex.

The message this victim takes away is something like this:

“I need to respect my husband more. Even if he calls me horrible names, tells the kids I’m a pathetic mom when I don’t have the house perfectly clean, looks at pornography all night long and then wakes me up in the middle of the night demanding I satisfy his ‘needs’, I need to realize that I can only change myself. I need to remember that we all sin, but that a godly partner will be longsuffering and forgiving, so I guess that’s what I need to work on. I need to stop letting my own needs (for basic human kindness and respect) be so important and die to myself.”

This message holds a great deal of weight because it’s “God’s way.”


But when an abuse victim takes away this message, it further emboldens the abuser. He can walk all over the victim and she is convinced she should only examine her own heart to make sure she is not being angry. She will review her own actions to ensure she’s been a good enough wife – keeping the house clean enough, giving him enough sex, etc. She will think through her words and her tone of voice and second guess everything she says (“I must be provoking him to anger somehow. I’ve tried saying things a hundred different ways and he still gets mad. Why can’t I get this right?”)

There’s a place to speak about patience and long-suffering in marriage relationships. There’s a place to speak of setting aside our own selfishness to serve our spouse.
But it HAS to come from an abuse-informed perspective, and in 9 books out of 10 that is not the case!

Authors shouldn’t use situations that are red flags of abuse as illustrations of how to die to self and then wonder why abuse victims got the idea they were supposed to tolerate abuse. They shouldn’t tell stories of couples whose rocky marriages were saved and focus entirely on the victim’s forgiveness while ignoring how to recognize genuine repentance from the offending spouse. But they do this all the time! I’ve read many, many Christian marriage books and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that has made it abundantly clear to the reader how to recognize abusive behaviors and patterns and how to differentiate those from everyday marital struggles. (If you know of a book that does, please send me a message. I’d love to hear about it!)


Some people don’t like it when I write critiques of marriage books and point out the ways that they’re harmful to abuse victims. They say, “These authors obviously don’t think abuse is okay. Their work is not intended for abuse victims, so if it doesn’t apply to someone they don’t need to read it.”

But as I wrote above, most of the time victims do not realize that what they are experiencing is abuse, and instead of providing the clarity they need, these books muddy the waters even further by writing about physical assault and sexual coercion as if they were everyday marriage issues. It is highly unlikely that an abuse victim would say, “This is not applicable for my situation, so I’m going to skip it.” It is much more likely that they will jump at the chance to read something that claims to be “the key to any problem in a marriage.”

When a victim of abuse, in an effort to seek wisdom from the Lord for dealing with her painful marriage, sees her spouse’s abusive behavior spelled out in black and white as “God’s plan”, and when her abuser sees his own entitled beliefs spelled out in black and white as “Creational design and divine revelation,” what are they both to conclude but that the abuser is right and that the victim needs to work on her own selfishness for disliking the abuser’s supposedly perfectly normal behavior?

If an author’s words can be misconstrued to be condoning abuse, the responsibility does not lie with the reader not to read it that way. The responsibility lies with the author to understand the dynamics of abuse and to quit using them as examples of normal marital behaviors.

My friend Heather Elizabeth wrote a heartfelt plea to authors, bloggers, and others who produce content for married couples. She urges them to recognize the prevalence of abuse victims who are consuming their content. Regardless of whether this is the intended audience, it is  a large portion of the audience. And it is vital that this population is addressed in a way that will help them recognize that those caveats about seeking help in cases of abuse do indeed apply to them.

Like Heather Elizabeth, it is my dream that authors of Christian marriage books/materials would do the following:

  1. Become familiar with the patterns and systems of abuse.
  2. Include information about the patterns and systems of abuse in any materials about marriage, even if the material is intended for healthy relationships. It is imperative that people be taught how to recognize when their relationship is unhealthy, and when that lack of health is an abuse problem as opposed to a common relationship issue.
  3.  Direct those in abusive relationships to resources that will prioritize their safety and that will address the issues they face from an abuse and trauma-informed perspective.


Until that happens, I cannot in good conscience recommend that you read Christian marriage books. (Unless you know of one that fits the criteria above. As I said, if you do please tell me about it!)

Two books I do recommend if you are hurting in your marriage (even if you do not feel there is abuse) are these:

  • The Great Sex Rescue
    I’ve heard from some that this is difficult for them to read as their eyes have been opened to some of the harmful ways sex has been used in their marriage. Please be gentle with yourself.
  • The Emotionally Destructive Marriage
    This book has some helpful thoughts in it that will help you distinguish the differences between a difficult, a disappointing, and a destructive marriage.


If you are a Christian marriage influencer (even if that just means the influence you have on your friends and family!) and would like more information about how to recognize and respond well to domestic abuse in the church, I encourage you to sign up for the free download below.

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