Category Archives: Marriage – General

Are You in an Abusive or Destructive Marriage?

Last week, I gave advice on How to Read a Marriage Book, which might be one of the more important posts I’ve written, since the points there can make a big difference in whether a resource helps or hurts your marriage.

One point I made is that most marriage books presume good-willed spouses. Yes, these spouses may have moments of high frustration, over-the-top words, or hard stonewalling. However, those are moments and usually arise from deep-seated emotional pain the spouse feels in the face of relational conflict they don’t know how to resolve.

That’s different from a pattern of abuse, in which a spouse exhibits behaviors intended to keep their partner under their thumb. Such behaviors include physical violence, direct threats, constant belittling, gaslighting, economic deprivation, sexual force, and emotional intimidation. And for those spouses in an abusive marriage, or with features of abuse in their marriage, the typical marriage advice isn’t going to work.

For instance, there’s no reason to read my own book, Hot, Holy & Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design, with information and ideas on how to improve your marriage bed if your spouse is raping you. That would be like getting your car detailed when the engine has fallen out onto the road.

If you’re in an abusive marriage, the first order of business is addressing the abuse. If and when that resolves, you can address other relationship issues.

If you're in an abusive marriage, the first order of business is addressing the abuse. If and when that resolves, you can address other relationship issues. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Where do you begin?

Let me first point out that I am not a clinical psychologist; licensed, professional counselor; psychiatric specialist; licensed social worker; law enforcement member; or domestic abuse expert. I do not have a background working with individuals or couples who have experienced domestic abuse. Thus, everything I advise here is based on Scripture, common sense, expert resources I’ve consulted, and personal contact I’ve had with victims of domestic abuse.

And that caveat is why my primary suggestion is you consult the expert you need, as soon as possible. What do I mean by “the expert you need”? Here are a few examples.

  • If you or your children experience physical or sexual violence from your spouse, call the police. It does not matter that you are married to the offender, you are still being assaulted and deserve protection and justice.
  • If you feel you or your children are at risk of physical or sexual violence, contact the domestic abuse hotline or a local shelter. You need to get to a place of safety.
  • If your spouse is denying you access to your home, personal belongings, or money to feed and care for yourself and children, you may need to speak to a lawyer to get what is legally and rightfully yours.
  • If the abuse is verbal or emotional in nature, you should see a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed social worker, or professional counselor.

In an abusive or destructive marriage, the dominant spouse has gained outsized control and an unfair advantage. The way to re-balance the scales is to bring in reinforcements. So get help from people who can actually help you.

In an abusive marriage, the dominant spouse has gained outsized control and an unfair advantage. The way to re-balance the scales is to bring in reinforcements. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

If you don’t know whether you’re in an emotionally abusive marriage, take the Are You In An Emotionally Destructive Relationship? Quiz from Leslie Vernick. This is her area of expertise, and she also maintains a website where you can find resources to help you navigate an emotionally abusive situation.

What if the maltreatment isn’t so dire?

Some marriages simply have abusive or destructive traits. That is, they don’t pose an immediate threat to your safety or survival, nor do you feel like you’re in an emotional war zone, but your spouse sometimes behaves horribly toward you. What can you do?

In dysfunctional relationships, we tend to take on a role that unwittingly keeps the dynamic going. For instance, you may play the role of caretaker, scapegoat, or clown/mascot—all in an effort to calm the storms caused your spouse. But if you want to stop a system, throw a wrench into the gears. That is, stop playing your part and choose a different role—a healthier role.

This is an underlying principle in programs for spouses of addicts, as well as a key part of Boundaries, a wonderful book from Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. These Christian clinical psychologists also wrote Boundaries in Marriage, in which they lay out how you can stand up for yourself in the face of mistreatment from a spouse. By changing your way of dealing with unacceptable behavior, you make it more difficult for the other person to continue their misconduct—at least not without real cost.

Are all abusers the same?

No, they’re not. Some abusers can be reformed, but even as Christians who believe that God can redeem any situation, we must face the reality that some abusers will not change.

It appears that there are two types of domestic violence: situational and characterological. Situational violence describes a conflict in which one or both partners escalate in their frustration and anger to the point of lashing out. These spouses tend to recognize the awfulness of what they’ve done, feel genuine remorse, and want to avoid repeating that experience. Experts say such abusers lack self-control and conflict resolution skills—but, with the right help, they can learn.

Meanwhile, characterological violence means what it sounds like—it’s a core feature of the person’s character to dominate, manipulate, and maltreat their partner. Such abusers tend to blame their victims, give halfhearted or just-for-show apologies (if they give them at all), and maintain their pattern of abuse. Moreover, their escalation isn’t tracked in a single incident of losing control, but over the course of the relationship, with the abuse slowly becoming worse and worse. This building of intensity can be compared to the frog placed in a pot of water and heat slowly rising until it reaches boiling point; by the time the frog (or abuse victim) realizes what’s happening, they’re stuck. Or at least feel stuck.

Sadly, the characterological abuser is unlikely to ever change.

He is like the man with a hardened heart whom God cannot change. Not because God lacks the ability to mold a sinful person into something beautiful, but because the clay will never admit it needs the Artist’s hands. If you are married to this kind of abuser, I’ll say it plainly: Get out.

If your abuser later decides to confess their sin, repent of their sin, and embrace God’s love instead, you can re-negotiate then. But you cannot have anything resembling the kind of marriage God desires with a characterological abuser. As author and speaker Gary Thomas said: “How does it honor the concept of ‘Christian marriage’ to enforce the continuance of an abusive, destructive relationship that is slowly squeezing all life and joy out of a woman’s soul?”

The Bible says that God knit you in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:14), that He has numbered the hairs of your head (Luke 12:7), that He sacrificed His Son for you (Romans 5:8), and that, through Christ, you are God’s beloved child (1 John 3:1). As much as I believe in marriage, you are worth more than your marriage.

As much as I believe in marriage, you are worth more than your marriage. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

When it’s a matter of saving your life, your soul, your value, it’s okay to find the exit door. And then enter God’s welcoming, comforting arms.

Therapy for you, not us

If you are in a marriage with a characterological abuser or controller, couples’ therapy probably won’t work. Why? Because such abusers and controllers are unlikely to tell the truth, accept responsibility for their actions, respect a counselor, or even attend counseling. They don’t believe they’re the problem anyway. If they go, they want the counselor to say you are the problem.

Sadly, that’s what some counselors do. If that happened to you, let me assure you it shouldn’t have.

Other couples’ counselors can and will see what’s happening and encourage you toward positive steps to change the unhealthy dynamic.

But given the destructive nature of your marriage relationship, your best option is seeking therapy for yourself. Explain to a licensed, Christian counselor what you’re dealing with and ask for wisdom and help. Learn what you can do to care for yourself, your children, and yes, your marriage, if it can be healed.

You may be in for a long road, but the road will feel longer and harder if you continue the path you’re walking. Don’t simply reach for another resource that presumes two good-willed spouses. If you’re in an abusive or destructive marriage, get real help for your situation.

Resource List

How to Read a Marriage Book

We live at a great time when so many resources exist to help marriages with a variety of challenges, including the sexual arena, and it’s worthwhile to put “Read a Marriage Book” on your to-do list.

That said, there’s a good way and a bad way to read marriage books. If you go in with the wrong expectations or without an attitude of discernment, you could come away disappointed or learn something counterproductive. So let’s talk about about how to read a marriage book.

Recognize there is no magic bullet.

A magic bullet is “something providing an effective solution to a difficult or previously unsolvable problem” (Merriam-Webster). And oh, how we wish there was a magic bullet to resolve all of our marital conflicts, misunderstandings, and challenges. But there isn’t.

Hey, I could increase my blog traffic and book sales substantially if I chose topic titles like “10 Surefire Ways to Take Your Sex Life from Boring to Breathtaking!” or “Resolve Your Sexless Marriage in Three Easy Steps!” Except I don’t want to lie to you.

Even when the solution is simple and straightforward, putting it into practice can be difficult. You have to overcome bad habits, establish new routines, stick it out during that time between planting and harvesting (which can feel like forever), and pray your spouse responds they way they should.

You should know you’re running a marathon and not just around the block, so you can prepare yourself accordingly. Mind you, it’s well worth the run! But it’s not easy.

Thus, any resource that guarantees following a system will produce the exact result you want is like that diet that says you can lose 10 pounds in one week and never feel hungry. Yeah, right. That doesn’t mean the diet, or marriage program, is a bad idea. It might yield good results, but recognize it’s unlikely to cure all of your marital woes by next Tuesday.

Don’t discard the mostly good for the little bad.

Too often, readers take an all-or-nothing approach to marriage resources. Once they discover something they disagree with, they write off the whole thing or read the remainder through a negative or suspicious lens.

Is there any marriage resource with which I’ve agreed 100% of the time? That would be a big no. Even my own stuff written years ago, I’d probably write differently today. Meaning the only resource I don’t disagree with is the Bible!

Or wait—I do disagree with the Bible. I simply decide in that case I must be wrong and need to adjust my thinking, not the other way around.

But if you get a marriage book in which 80-90% of the advice is good, it’s a wonderful resource. Ignore the 10-20% and focus on how much good stuff you’re getting, some of which you can put into practice and reap the benefits.

Read for what you can do to improve your marriage.

You know what marriage book would be a fun read? One that talked about what a terrific wife you are and then recounted all the problems your husband is bringing to the marriage—basically concluding, “It’s not me. It’s you.”

“It’s not you, it’s me” — Seinfeld

But hey, even if your husband is 90% the problem, you have 10% to fix. And the reality is that you cannot change your spouse. You can only influence them through what actions you take.

So when you read a marriage book, look for what messages you need to hear that help you improve your relationship. Take ownership for your part. And where you recognize your spouse is indeed the problem, figure out how to influence the issue rather than solely laying blame on them.

Remember that marriage books largely assume good will.

Most marriage resources presume two good-willed spouses who love each other—even if they don’t currently like each other all that much—and want a better relationship. This is not to say that they haven’t said and done things that are hurtful and undermine their ultimate goal.

My husband and I said terrible things to one another when our marriage was bad, many years ago. We wish I could take those things back, but we were both coming from places of deep emotional pain and lashing out carelessly. That said, we were both good-willed people who loved each other and wanted a better marriage. We just didn’t know how to get there.

If you have a good-willed spouse, a marriage book could help you achieve an important breakthrough, improve a struggling relationship, or simply add greater intimacy to an already good marriage.

But if you are in an abusive marriage, you need much more than a marriage book! Get professional help. Leave immediately if your safety is at risk. Find resources not about marriage but abuse in marriage. And if you’re not sure about your situation, check out Family Life’s Are You in an Abusive Relationship? list of questions.

If you are in an abusive marriage, you need much more than a marriage book! via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Understand that gender doesn’t explain everything.

A number of resources say “men are like this, and women are like this,” and yeah, there’s some truth to that, generally speaking. But it’s an oversimplification that ignores other factors like personality, talents, background, values, and more.

If just the words “man” or “woman” explained everything, then all women would be alike and all men would be alike, and how boring would that be! I suspect your chose your husband because he was a particular kind of man, and you like his unique aspects. (Okay, mostly. You could do without the way he picks his teeth after supper.)

We can misjudge our own husband if we presume a statement about male stereotypes applies to him when it doesn’t. And he can misread you by presuming every female stereotype applies to you.

How do you avoid getting the wrong impression? Ask your spouse.

When you read a statement you’re not sure about, open up a conversation with your beloved like, “Hey, I was reading about how men are ____________, and I’m wondering if you feel like that’s accurate for you.”

I’ve been surprised by the answers I’ve gotten from my husband with this approach. Sometimes, he confirms the statement, and I learn something new I hadn’t recognized before. Other times, he says it doesn’t describe him at all. And then there are times when it’s kinda-yes but with clarification. Regardless, by the end of the conversation, I understand my husband better. And isn’t that a good goal?

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You may be thinking by now: With all these potential land mines, what’s the point of reading marriage books or even blog posts?!

Because they often have great advice that can sincerely help your marriage.

I have personally benefited from numerous books and blog posts, as well as podcast episodes, video courses, and devotional products. Various marriage authors have illuminated areas I need to attend to, information about my spouse he had difficulty explaining, and actions that can improve our relationship.

And hey, Hot, Holy & Humorous and my books have a long history of helping married couples in their bedrooms, with many emails to prove it! I know firsthand that marriage resources can make a difference.

But approaching marriage resources wisely will make a real difference in what you get out of them.

What other advice would you add for how to read a marriage book or other resource?

Wives, Why Aren’t You Commenting?

Lately, I’ve noticed a trend in my comments section—more men, fewer women. By a rather substantial ratio.

When I began this blog in December 2010, I intended to reach wives who wanted more information and guidance about sex in marriage from a Christian perspective. But I’ve also posted plenty of times with husbands and couples in mind. Still, my readership reflects about a 60/40 split of women to men, so the majority of readers are still wives.

So why aren’t wives commenting as much anymore?

I genuinely want to know. Because I’d like to hear more from wives, to take in and consider their perspective, to speak to their concerns, and to involve them fully in conversations about intimacy in marriage.

Rather than write a post on sex today, I’m asking you to write to me. Wives, please tell me why you don’t comment or why you stopped commenting.

And gentlemen, please let this comment thread be dedicated to the ladies. Today is our day to simply listen, and I suspect you could learn as well from what these wives say.

What is my comments policy?

And in case you’re wondering, not long ago I updated my comments policy, and it’s reprinted below.

Hot, Holy, and Humorous was started as a site geared toward wives, though I have written many posts for couples and husbands as well. While I welcome all readers, I prioritize wives, so my comment policy reflects that focus.

All comments are reviewed by the administrator before they are posted. Some common reasons a comment may not appear:

Too revealing, graphic, or inappropriate.

I’m pretty liberal here, given the subject matter, but examples of TMI might be crass terminology or detailed descriptions of sexual acts.

Personal attacks.

Feel free to agree, disagree, or add your own knowledge, opinions, and insight to the subject matter. However, refrain from personal insults. They don’t further the conversation or persuade anyone.

Continuing the discussion past its usefulness.

So you disagreed with me, I responded, you replied, I answered, and so on. And really, 3-4 comments into that discussion, if you’re still trying to make your point or have the last word, I may just move on. Both of us would be better served to use our time elsewhere.

Monopolizing the conversation.

This may sound stereotypical, but I’ve had eight years running this blog to know that some men will comment in such a way that monopolizes the conversation, dismisses women wanting to add their say, and generally takes over the comment thread. After years of trying to smoothly manage that, I will be using the delete button more. Because ultimately, this is a site I want geared toward wives. (And yes, if a woman monopolizes the conversation, of course I’ll treat that the same.)

A question or comment that has nothing to do with the subject of the post.

So I wrote about oral sex, and you asked about positions. Or maybe I dealt with ways wives can be more engaged, and you think I should have covered how men should be more engaged. I get it: You want your situation addressed, maybe even need your situation addressed. But that’s not the point of the post, and I have over 850 posts you can search, one of which might have your answer. If you want to suggest a post topic, head over to my contact page.

Links to other sites.

While I regularly recommend resources and products I am familiar with and trust, Hot, Holy, and Humorous is not an aggregator of sites or links related to sex in marriage. If a commenter adds a link to a comment that I’m not familiar with, I may delete the comment rather than investigate, since detouring to check out those links takes away time I’d rather spend writing blog posts and books. Also, if a link goes to a site I strongly disagree with, obviously that will end up in the discard pile.

Sales promotions.

This blog will not facilitate sales for other sites. From time to time, I may suggest a book or product, and there may be an affiliate link on my site; such recommendations are my own discretion. But vendors should use their own sites to promote their products.

False/dangerous teaching.

Not all Christians interpret every verse in the Bible the same way. I am absolutely open to healthy, respectful debate. However, teachings that could cause harm to my readers may be passed over, as I have some responsibility for what appears on my site.

My comments policy can be summed up by Luke 6:31 (NASB): Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

Commenter Identity.

You may comment using your name, a nickname, or Anonymous. (Anonymous is by far my most frequent commenter. *smile*)

I read all comments and reply to as many as I can; yet time is limited. Please know that I appreciate your feedback, whether I am able to respond or not. If you ask me a question in your comments, I try to answer within a day or two. If I take longer, it’s usually because I’m praying and deeply considering my answer to your scenario. I appreciate your patience.

I welcome input. I enjoy conversation. I appreciate all readers.

May God bless your marriage and your sex life!

Let the feedback begin!

7 Ideas to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Your Spouse

I’m not Catholic, so I didn’t grow up learning much of anything about St. Patrick. As far as I knew, his holiday was about drinking, leprechauns, and getting pinched if you didn’t wear green. Which made a young child wonder why this guy was a saint.

However, I’ve since learned that St. Patrick was captured by Irish Pirates at age 16 and taken from his home in Britain to be a slave in Ireland. He spent six years there before returning to his family. Afterward, he dug deeply into his faith and later returned to Ireland as a missionary, spreading Christianity and, as legend has it, using the three-leafed shamrock to explain the trinity.

While we usually think of St. Valentine’s Day as the holiday that gets attention with our spouse, a Facebook community member recently posted: “St. Patrick’s Day is coming up in a few weeks. Any fun ideas that you are planning with your spouse?

Challenge accepted!

And because this is the holiday of luck, here are seven suggestions for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with your spouse, from romantic to sexy.

1. Snuggle up and watch a movie set in Ireland.

Maureen O’Hara & John Wayne in The Quiet Man

I’m partial to the classic The Quiet Man, that film being my favorite John Wayne flick, but you can find a list of possibilities here: 43 Of The Best Irish Movies To Watch Before You Visit Ireland.

I do not vouch for those movies being good or even okay to watch! Do your homework, y’all. (Common Sense Media and/or Focus on the Family’s Plugged In will often have a movie review that tells you exactly what to expect.)

2. Dance together to Irish music.

Pick an Irish/Celtic playlist on Spotify or Pandora, grab your partner, and dance to the the rhythm! Or try one of these options:

3. Wear undies that say on the front, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish.”

Found these on Amazon.com – click the image to see

4. Check out the St. Patrick’s Day Resources from The Dating Divas.

The Dating Divas is a website dedicated to dating your sweetheart after you get married! They have hundreds of ideas, including holiday-themed dates. And yes, they have St. Patrick’s Day.

5. Dye your down-there hair green.

Yes, it’s really a trend. One I don’t understand, but hey, if you feel so moved, WikiHow even has instructions.

(Gives a whole new meaning to “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”)

6. Leave notes around the house, leading your spouse to the bedroom.

  • “Feeling lucky? Head to the bedroom.”
  • “Don’t kiss the blarney stone. Come kiss me!”
  • “You can rub me for luck!”
  • “I don’t need Irish whiskey to make me frisky!”
  • “I want to taste your lucky charms!”
  • “Irish you were inside me!”
  • “Let’s rock, baby. Let’s sham-rock!” (I don’t even know what that one means.)

7. Make Love.

What? You don’t think that’s Irish? I beg to differ. Ireland’s fertility rate is 1.92 children per woman, so some couples on that big island are having sex. Follow suit, and go have fun!

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When Women and Men Struggle to Communicate

Mansplaining.

I know from experience that just seeing that word caused different reactions among readers who believe it exists or doesn’t exist, who find the term accurate or insulting, who now feel understood or irritated. And while this doesn’t capture the whole picture, the line of who reacted how can be drawn between female and male.

If you’re a woman, you’re far more likely to agree “mansplaining” happens, to say you’ve experienced it, and to object to its use. If you’re a man, you’re far more likely to disagree that it happens, to say you haven’t seen or done it, and to object to the use of that word.

But what if I told you that women tend toward a communication style that really irritates men? Have you ever heard a husband say, “I wish she’d just get to the point”?

Well, he’s got a point.

Women are more likely to meander in conversation, sharing personal stories, including details, and checking for understanding as they speak. We often do this because it’s not the point that matters as much as the connection we feel from interacting with the person we’re talking to.

But that’s not how many men approach communication. So it’s understandably annoying for him when figuring out the takeaway feels like an impossible game of Where’s Waldo?

Yes, we’re different.

I’m not highlighting “mansplaining” and “womeandering”—yes, I made that up, and it should totally become a word—to get us upset about the opposite gender’s real or perceived communication flaws. Rather, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how men and women discuss sensitive topics.

From blog comment threads to Facebook post replies to my own interactions with my husband, I’m reminded how much our distinct perspectives play into conversational conflict.

Men tend to be more to the point, even gruff at times, to offer direct advice, and to feel disrespected when their feelings or points are not acknowledged. Meanwhile, women tend to tell stories as a way to convey that someone isn’t alone, to offer more detailed advice, and to feel personally hurt when their feelings or points are not acknowledged.

What’s your communication style?

Does this describe all men and women? Of course not. As I often say, stereotypes exist for a reason, but they’re not all-encompassing. The gender continuum really looks more like this:

So you may identify strongly with what I said above (the ends), more in the middle, or in that overlapping part where you’re more like the other gender. Okay, fine. And just to be clear—not identifying with something labeled as men/women doesn’t make you any less masculine or feminine. God just made a variety of us. Still, it’s helpful to understand some generalities to communicate well with the opposite gender on social media and in face-to-face conversation.

And be sure not to take the stereotype for granted with your own spouse. Rather, ask your beloved which, if any, of the following common gender differences apply to them.

MENWOMEN
Converse for informationConverse for connection
Wants to get to the pointWants to share how she gets to the point
Talks more easily shoulder-to-shoulderTalks more easily with eye contact
Responds by offering solutionsResponds by offering sympathy/empathy
Display less tone variation and gesturesDisplay more tone variation and gestures
Views strong challenges as disrespectfulViews strong challenges as insensitive

How does this apply to real life?

If you went back and read blog posts I wrote specifically to women and others specifically to men, you’d see a difference in how I communicate. I also change my approach in the comments section depending on who I’m dealing with, which includes what I can glean about their background and personality as well as their gender. Because men and women tend to respond differently to different approaches.

But too often, we forget this in regular conversation—here on my blog and in my Facebook group, but most especially in our marriages.

Indeed, I was flummoxed this past weekend when I said something I thought was helping my husband and he felt challenged and disrespected. I didn’t intend that, but looking back, I can see how it came across to him that way. The gap in perception was mostly about gender communication differences.

What’s the solution? Well, we each need to give a little. But the burden to adapt seems to lie more with the speaker. That’s what you see over and over and over in Scripture: commands and advice about how we speak to one another. Here’s a sampling:

  • Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).
  • Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
  • Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
  • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:19). 

We won’t get it right every time. It really is hard to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. But it’s worth trying, because by making that effort we show love and respect to others, avoid some unnecessary conflict, and experience our own personal growth as we become more other-focused and simply kinder in how we communicate.

What it all means when talking to your spouse.

Now scroll back up and look at the table on what men and women tend to do. This time, instead of seeing whether you identify with the gender you are, ask what your spouse is like and how you could change your speech to cater to their needs. What if you both did that? Wouldn’t your discussions immediately become more productive?

I’m working on this, and I hope you will too.

And if you’re looking for ways to have more productive conversations about sexual intimacy, check out my recent release, Pillow Talk: 40 Conversations about Sex for Married Couples.

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Related post: Why She Communicates the Way She Does (and It May Not Be What You Think) at Generous Husband