The Marriage Counseling System

When people are flabbergasted and frustrated, they often say, “I have no words!”

I experience the opposite… swirling, conflicting emotions provide me with LOTS of words.

I’ll attempt to catch some of them here.


When I had postpartum depression in 2013, I barely functioned. I sought biblical counseling, to explore ways I could bring glory to God, despite feeling completely out of control.

My grandma also recounts a time she worked with a biblical counselor, as she was struggling with questions related to God and truth.

In both of those cases, it was personal.

Our problems were spiritual.

And both of us found the counselor’s perspective helpful.

But I can’t say the same about my experiences with the Marriage Counseling System, which seems to be lob-sided. 

I’m afraid The System has cultivated a very popular brand of “counseling,” which is wife-centric and exists mainly to help women recruit allies as we nag our husbands…even when our husband’s biggest failure is something like leaving dishes in the sink.   (No, seriously, click that underlined link to read later. It outlines the emotional abuse being perpetuated against husbands, with full consent of our culture. I call the phenomenon “Battered Man Syndrome.”)

Anyway, I’ve read books, aimed at women because we’re the ones who spend the $$$$.

I’ve read blogs written by the “experts,” which are also aimed at women because we’re the ones sharing those articles passive-aggressively on social media.

I’ve watched the video lectures (*cough* Joel and Kathy Davisson *cough*)–aimed at telling husbands they’re responsible for their wives’ sinful behavior.

And all of these resources made my marriage worse. 

In fact, the first few years of marriage I worried something was actually, physically wrong with me, because the more I followed the “biblical” advice I was given, the more intensely I despised my husband… for no discernable reason.

 

Let me be clear: my goals were noble.   I wanted to have a strong, stable marriage.  And, since I had grown up in church and was attending a Christian college, I had the Marriage Counseling System engrained in my head.

“Seek wise counsel” was Step #1.

Unfortunately, as a young wife, I simply didn’t realize how much UN-wise counsel is available in the Christian Counseling System.

So I started reading everything a good wife should.

I read “Wild at Heart” and “Captivating”  (by the Eldredge’s).  I read “For Men Only” and “For Women Only” (by the Feldhans).  I read “When God Writes your Love Story” by Eric and Leslie Ludy.

Seriously, I can’t even remember all the names of all the Christian Couples who were trying to help me lead my husband toward better leadership.

And my inexplicable dissatisfaction grew more and more…

I thought it was because Luke didn’t digest all of this relationship material with me. After all, the more I learned, the less Luke was interested in learning with me. He literally wouldn’t read any of those books! He wouldn’t come and attend Chapel with me, three days a week, like I had humbly requested. He wouldn’t listen to my stream-of-conscious worrying about our marriage for hours.

I got more and more frustrated, because I felt like I was carrying all the weight, and he wasn’t doing anything. He always had more important things to do!

Of course, I understood when he needed to work or study for school.  But, sometimes, he played video games or watched football! (Can you believe it?!)  He watched football even though I told him to show me he cared more.

So, after thinking and praying for a while, I would insist that Luke and I have “conversations” (because the Christian Marriage Counselors who were part of the Christian Marriage System told me that’s what I was supposed to do). But those “conversations” quickly became arguments, and I would yell or cry or storm out of the house and drive away dramatically. Often I did all of the above.

And then Luke would go to sleep, and I would be even sadder and angrier, because he didn’t even care about our marriage enough to stay up with me! (What a jerk!)

Most of the time, he would be completely over it the next morning, which was just more proof that I was the spiritual one.

So, in my hurt and frustration, I would spend the next few days dropping hints that he still had a problem to solve. You know?  Like slamming things around and making dinner for myself without offering him any. And if he didn’t respond, then I would have to escalate to making short, snippy remarks, because he was still failing to acknowledge how wrong he was…for….something…

I kept up this pattern for about two years, until both of us were miserable.

I wanted him to talk with me, but not out of obligation. I wanted him to WANT to have conversations with me, and I would keep him up late at night begging him to want me more.  But, weirdly, Luke didn’t want to share space when I was behaving that way. He didn’t seem to enjoy being told to fix vauge stuff that was outside of his control anyway.

He didn’t like being responsible for my emotions.

If I had kept reading the same advice from the Marriage Counseling System, who knows where we would be?

But luckily, in 2010, a friend gave me something to read that actually helped.  It started with a blog post in which the author wrote this:

“Modern Christians have radically reframed marriage from the way the Bible does.  Where the Bible shows the husband in headship and the wife as submissive, modern Christians have turned this upside down.  The re-framing is so pervasive that most Christians have no idea that it has even occurred…

Husbands loving their wives has been transformed into a command that he make his wife feel loved.  This subtle transformation turns a straightforward biblical command into an impossible task.  After all, the wife herself is the only one who can pronounce whether she feels sufficiently loved.  Only she can define the very meaning of the word love, in this context.  As a result, Christian husbands are now held hostage.  For example, if he watches a football game instead of doing what she wants him to do he isn’t making her feel sufficiently loved and is in violation of the biblical command.” 

It hit me like a ton of bricks because I was unintentionally doing that! (Also, because football was one of the things that used to trigger me.)

I had great intentions, and I was only trying to tell Luke what the Christian Counseling System had told me. But, it turned out I was expecting Luke to get behind me, whenever I FELT something unpleasant, which is not what the Bible says at all.

Thank God he sent a few wise counselors my direction, to calmly explain there’s a difference between loving me and jumping through my hoops until I FEEL loved.  

If “leadership” means being kept awake all night until I allow him to sleep–then Luke is no longer leading.

I am.

Or, more specifically, my shifting emotions are leading.

We understand the problem more clearly when we relate it to parenting. I can recognize my children’s emotions, but I cannot let them control me. 

Why?  Because it destroys the entire family when those little balls-of-passion take over.

Can you imagine the damage we would be doing to children, if we started giving their parents the same terrible counseling given by Dr. Richard L. Strauss?

“The God who created these tremendous emotional needs in women intends that husbands should meet them…Headship is not some masculine doctrine cleverly designed to bolster the husband’s sagging ego. Headship involves the husband’s solemn obligation to establish an atmosphere of love in which the basic needs of his wife are fulfilled—an environment in which she is free to grow and develop into all that God wants her to be. Her submission will then be the voluntary response to his loving leadership.”

Parents, do you determine whether you’re loving and leading your children properly by watching to see if they volunteer to follow you?

When a child refuses to submit, is that MOM AND DAD’S fault?

I would answer a firm “no” to both questions…  There are much better ways to measure effective leadership than to ask the kids to vote on it.

Therefore, if you’re seeing a counselor who tells you “leadership is when you allow the emotions of your wife and children to lead,” find a different one.

That itty bitty little twist of Scripture made me miserable for years, until I realized the Marriage Counseling System was wrong.

———-

For more “words” about the terrible marriage advice being given in church settings, please click here:   your wife’s affair is your fault.

 

41 thoughts on “The Marriage Counseling System

    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      You really need to click on that link at the bottom, if you haven’t already.

      How on earth can Joel and Kathy Davisson say stuff like THAT without being officially denounced by every church counseling program in the country?

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      🙂
      If it had been longer than that, I honestly don’t know if I would have been teachable. I’m pretty stubborn. Staying on that same tragectory would have turned me into an all-out psycho for sure. (It helped A LOT that I’ve seen first-hand examples of wives with Borderline Personalities, and I did NOT want to go there.)

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  1. insanitybytes22

    Oh, amen to this post! You’ve captured an issue that is really on my heart. Bad counseling, bad Christian marriage advice. I feel as if I’ve really had to fight against it to try to preserve my marriage. We’ve been married 30 yrs now and I can relate to so many of the things you describe. Sometimes the advice is so bad, if you just do the precise opposite you’ll land in the right place.

    Take this for instance, “Headship is not some masculine doctrine cleverly designed to bolster the husband’s sagging ego.” Do it! Bolster the man’s sagging ego! It lifts him up, it encourages him, and your own eyes will now be focused on what is positive about him. It’s the key to romance, too. He will become more attractive to you. Submission is so woman affirming, it is healthy, it brings peace, it allows you to let go of things you cannot control anyway.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      To be honest, IB, I was a liiiiiitle nervous what your response would be! 🙂
      I know you have mentioned your distaste for Dalrock before, and I linked to him at the bottom!

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      1. insanitybytes22

        Ha! I haven’t just “mentioned my distaste for Dalrock,” I’ve blogged extensively about him. I encourage you stay on high alert around the red pills, to watch how they might influence you. There are some rotten fruits lurking right beneath the surface.

        However, I discovered them myself by asking the same kind of questions you are. They are good questions! Not sure if you read the Peaceful Wife, but she often does a really nice job with issues around submission. The bible saved my marriage and my sanity, the Lord did actually, but within the bible are these most amazing revelations, practical things that really work.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. mrsmcmommy Post author

        Understood.
        Yeah, there’s a not-so-fine line between studying men and women to strengthen marriages, and studying their differences in order to use the information for selfish purposes!

        I’ve read more than one article from depraved men practicing the latter.

        Thanks for the warning!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dylan Black

    True to form, I want to balance out a little bit here. ^_^ I think the key is in submission to each other and also taking personal responsibility for your own crap.

    That being said, I think that your perspective is very healthy for the wife in a relationship to have. Putting very high expectations on one’s husband can be crushing (for both individuals) when he inevitably fails those expectations. The wife should take responsibility for her own emotions

    However, if the husband has too strong a “headship” model in his head and ends up bowling over his wife on a regular basis – that’s not good either. I suspect that such pandemic actions have lead to the overcompensated wife-focused position we’re in now.

    As a side, My wife and I read the Feldhans’s books while we were engaged. I read the one presenting the Male mind and wrote commentary in the margins while she did the same for the female mind. Then we read the other with each other’s commentary. Used in that fashion, they were super great for conversation starters and revealing the different lnguage we’d use to express our thoughts/emotions. However, I can see how those books can be abused by one person as well (“I’m doing everything this book says you want and you’re just an ignorant slob who doesn’t even speak my language!”). Goes to show how the same tool can be used to build a firm structure and bludgeon a person’s skull ^_^.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      I tend to be pretty good with a bludgeon, I must say. 🙂

      I take exception to the idea that it’s “headship” which can be taken “too far.” (I understand what you’re saying. But I think it’s a problem to say it like that for the same reason it was wrong when a counselor recently said, “The Devil uses truth to hurt people…so truth can go too far.”)

      Any “truth” abused by the devil becomes a lie. And likewise any man who is abusing his authority isn’t practicing biblical “headship”…

      I don’t think it’s possible to have too much truth or too much love or too much godly leadership. We simply misidentify all of those at times.

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      1. Dylan Black

        Eh, headship is an neutral and ambiguous term – I think it can be used to describe both godly leadership and overreach of power. I think we’re on the same page regarding what concepts we’re talking about, though.

        I do think we

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      2. Dylan Black

        I do think we disagree on what requirements are for gender roles in a biblical marriage. Feel free to save it for later or outright ignore it (as the following question is veering off topic), but can you describe how a husband’s actions should be practically different than a wife’s actions in a godly marriage? While descriptions may vary, I don’t know if I’ve heard a solid case for actions that would be wrong for one party and right for the other. Just curious on your thoughts. ^_^

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      3. mrsmcmommy Post author

        You listen to the podcast, right? My dad and I just recorded one on this topic…

        Essentially, I view the marriage relationship like a “dance” that is hard to describe, much like the “dance” (and “roles”) between God and man is difficult to describe.

        But I think it please God when I defer to Luke as the tie-breaker, when we can’t reach a consensus together. Otherwise, we have the same obligations as bothers and sisters in Christ to avoid selfishness and consider the other better than ourselves.

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      4. Dylan Black

        I agree with everything you said there, except for the word “otherwise”. Would it not also please God if Luke viewed you as the tie breaker in the same way?

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      5. mrsmcmommy Post author

        Not possible.
        If we have an impasse, SOMEBODY’S vote has to get cast eventually. We can’t just keep deferring to each other into infinity and never take any action. 🙂

        Now, if you’re asking whether it would please God for Luke to decide (while in the voting booth) that he’s going to pull the lever for my preference after all, then I would say yes…
        But he’s still the one taking the trip to the booth, to cast the vote for our entire family.
        And I’ve resigned to trust whatever he pulls is for my good. (The ways I have deferred to Luke recently came up at the end of the podcast recording.)

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      6. Dylan Black

        Both of you are making a decision in the “family decision.” His voting for your preference is practically the same thing as you giving him the tie breaking vote. In the true impasse (which, after both parties actually listening to each other, I think is quite rate) I don’t think it’s wrong for either of you to yield. Both partners being unyielding does not make the husband more right for having headship.

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      7. mrsmcmommy Post author

        Having headship means Luke also takes the responsibility, when he makes a “foot-down” type of decision, and it turns out to be wrong. If I told him so, and he vetoed me anyway, he bears the responsibility of steering the entire family into the rocks, despite my having a “feeling” it wasn’t going to turn out well..

        But most of the time, that’s all it is. I have a “feeling” I want to do something a certain way, and he has a “feeling” there’s a different, better way.

        So, yes, we can discuss it. But half the time, with the type of impasse I have in mind, neither one of us “KNOWS” for sure what the best course of action will be. So, I defer to Luke’s best judgement, trusting he will make the best decision while considering my perspective. And he trusts that I’m not going to be bitter and critical, if it doesn’t go as well as we both hoped.

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      8. Dylan Black

        Again, I don’t think anything you’re describing is wrong if the roles are reversed. Both of you are ultimately responsible for the family as a whole when making decisions that affect the family. It’s not different from managing a 50/50 partnership business. Maybe you can say he has more responsibility, but again, this really wouldn’t actually look any different in practice.

        I think if Luke were bad at making decisions, you would agree that you’re continuing to cede to clearly bad decisions that clearly hurt the family is not the right thing to do.

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      9. mrsmcmommy Post author

        I think maybe I’m starting to understand the gist of your question.

        Do you mean WHY is Luke the “head,” rather than me? I.e. what makes male headship the default?

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      10. Dylan Black

        I think that’s close to my question… I think I’m more asking the following: how would it look different, behaviourally, if you had headship?

        Or, if you can solve for X: because Luke has headship, it’s okay for him to X, but not okay for me to X.

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      11. mrsmcmommy Post author

        Because Luke has headship, it’s okay for him to say, “I’m using the trump card this time” but it’s not okay for me because I don’t have a trump card…

        I agree with you that it’s a pretty rare situation. And my husband has integrity enough that he is pleased to give me what I want, whenever he feels he can. But, if both of us feel certain about something conflicting, he has the trump card.

        But asking how it would look if I had headship seems to me kind of like asking “How would it look if same-sex marriage WAS holy.” Does that make sense?
        In other words, I don’t think I can answer. From my own perspective, it almost seems like there’s not much of a difference between homo and hetero relationships. BUT I suspect it violates some sort of natural law.

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      12. Dylan Black

        I get the gay analogy. It’s just that headship is not as clearly defined as gay sex. To that point, that’s why I’m fine with saying more responsibility may be on the husband, but I’m not as sure if there’s practical differences in the husband or the wife having ‘headship’. Just a few verses down, as the body of Christ, we are to submit to each other – not just one way.

        The trump card thing works, since you both are in agreement to the system. If I gave my wife the trump card (in some areas or all areas), I think the system would still work if we both agreed on it. I think I could even make an argument that my ceding to her trump card is still exercising headship, it’s just that’s how I’ve agreed to run the family…

        If we don’t agree on who holds the trump card, we’re both in trouble and I don’t think that’s only the woman’s fault.

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      13. mrsmcmommy Post author

        Did you see what you said? If YOU GAVE your wife the trump card…

        I thinks that’s still male leadership.

        The Bible seems pretty clear about male leadership to me. We have spent a long time in the church trying to down play those verses, but I think it’s at least as clear as parental authority over children. (Which, pop psychologists are also threatening to turn in its head, with questions such as “What makes you think you should have control over your child, just because you were born first?”

        Personally, I’ve seen the effects of households run by children, and I’ve seen households run by emotional women, and they’re both miserable places to be. Of course, I realize the same can be said when domineering parents or husbands ABUSE their authority. But, again, I believe there’s a natural law in place here.

        We may not be able to answer the “why” just like I don’t know WHY God gave birds wings and didn’t do the same for me. But I’m not going to jump off a ledge, because those birds have different tools that let them accomplish a different outcome.

        … And to push this analogy even further… I don’t think we should focus on the examples of birds who have broken wings, while deciding whether there’s an overarching natural law. From what I’ve seen, males lead and women play a supporting role. That’s how it seems to work best.

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      14. Dylan Black

        So my giving her the trump card is, in practice, the same as you recognizing his trump card in the first place. My using the trump card without her consent would be the same as her making family decisions without my consent. At least, I can’t imagine how those are actually different in righteousness or in practice. The only difference seems nominal.

        I agree that Paul writes about male leadership (though, I’m not sure that it’s completely applicable outside of the culture to which he was writing… I really am torn both ways), but at what point do we tell a woman to stop being a leader, just because she’s a woman? If she’s clearly making emotional decisions that harm the followers, then absolutely we say something. I’ll even grant that women (as a statistical category) are more prone to emotional whims, but the reasons for removing a woman from power in any given situation are the same as if it were a man.

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      15. mrsmcmommy Post author

        At some point, it becomes hard to talk in generalities, and we have to switch to real world examples. Lol.

        But, yeah, I mentioned at first that I think of it like a “dance” because, yes, from the outside it becomes difficult to tell who’s leading. And also–yes–the woman has to FOLLOW, or both dancers get tripped up.

        But I do think God gives default leadership to the husband…and to males in the church. And, I suspect he equips them with something like invisible bird wings to help them discern when to delegate (which is to allow certain women to have a measure of power) and also discernment to know when to revoke those privileges if/when women mishandle them.

        The “ideal system” looks much like the relationship between parents and children to me. Parents can decide to give children jurisdiction over their bedroom, for example. And, provided the children are submitted to the Lord and honoring their parents, it will work beautifully. But, even if they’re cooperating perfectly, that’s not the same as saying their roles are practically the same. One still has the authority to revoke the power, and the other doesn’t. In fact, even if the parents are abusive, the child doesn’t suddenly take over and become a Parent instead. The church body must step in, at that point, and see that the child is cared for by a different, more trustworthy parental authority.

        By the way, as I’m saying all of this, I completely understand why pastors don’t want to tackle this topic. Lol. The only reason I can get away with saying all of this is because I’m a woman. That’s how completely the children have taken over and scared the authorities into silence.

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      16. Dylan Black

        I think if you replaced the word women with “other men” in your church examples, it would hold the same amount of truth. That’s kind of what I mean about no difference in practice.

        I don’t agree that children is a good analogy for this… I can explain why if necessary, but suffice to say I took the parent child relationship is much too different from a husband wife relationship (or relationships between church members) to really be useful as an analogy.

        So… Maybe a good place to clarify or disagreement: do you think it’s responsible for a husband to utilize his trump card if his wife isn’t submissive to that decision? I would say “no, at least not and more responsible than if the wife did the same”

        We can do real world examples… But I don’t want to pick low hanging fruit that would look like a clear exception (like moving to another country).

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      17. mrsmcmommy Post author

        Well, I guess if the children analogy doesn’t fit, I don’t have another place to go.

        The vast majority of my perspective on gender roles comes from uncomfy places in the Bible that I can’t explain away. I don’t necessarily think we would have come up with the roles completely by ourselves, based solely on experience (much like we wouldn’t necessarily assume homosexual sex is wrong, without a Special Revelation). But, I think males and females are meant to represent two, separate “sides” of God’s character, which makes a more complete picture of him when they are smashed together. 🙂

        Meanwhile, I can see that, in today’s culture, I think males and females are BOTH failing in a spectacular snowball effect. And, practically speaking, I’m not sure whether abusive husbands or disobedient wives are “responsible” to fix it.

        My working theory is that women have tendencies to fail in predictable ways, just as men have tendencies to fail in predictable ways, but their respective failures tend to be different. I think the common failures of women make them much, much more likely to abuse familial authority than men are. And I’ve seen evidence of this as I’ve shed what I’ve been TOLD by the culture about male abuse and actually started looking around. In my experience, female abuse is much more common.

        Again, I know you don’t like the children analogy, but the way they are built makes it much, much more likely for them to whine or threaten to run away than their parents. Their roles are different because they are MADE differently.

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      18. Dylan Black

        I think, as a group, your working theory is right about failing. Additionally, most claims you make about women, I can agree with, when speaking on the whole. However, generalisations shouldn’t be used against individuals. It may be true that, in general, women do not have leadership skills that men general do. However, I don’t think that’s justification to say “because you’re a woman, you shouldn’t do x”.

        I explain away the uncomfy passages in this regard because they are super unclear how the gender roles are different in practice. The husband’s love looks super similar to the wife’s submission in any practical sense…

        Our culture today is an over correction against makes, for sure. But I think that’s because there was need for correction. Granted, I wasn’t there… But from what I’ve heard, anyway.

        Thanks for indulging the conversation as long as you have. ^_^

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      19. John Branyan

        “do you think it’s responsible for a husband to utilize his trump card if his wife isn’t submissive to that decision?”
        Absolutely.
        It is understood that the husband is subject to Christ. Every decision he makes is supposed to be for the good of the family. He isn’t playing the trump card to win a card game. He’s playing the trump card because he is responsible for the welfare of the family.

        If he doesn’t play the trump card when his wife disagrees, when does he need to play it at all? And if he doesn’t play the trump card, why did God deal it to him?

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      20. Dylan Black

        I don’t think that playing the trump card if my wife doesn’t agree that I hold it is going to be good for the family. Even with saying “honey, I hear what you’re saying, but I think you’re off on this and we’re going to do it how I see it”, it still seems like a bad idea for the family unit, if my wife is not submissive. I don’t even think it’s the loving action. It’s a joint decision, no matter what, and I don’t think it really matters who submits to who, since we’re both members of Christ and should be submissive to each other.

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      21. Dylan Black

        It’s my decision to capitulate. As Amanda said, it’s difficult to speak in generalities, but in almost any family level decision, one or both parties have a natural veto/executive power and can execute it.

        So sure, i shouldn’t say “joint decision”. That’s assuming both will go with the plan. Either party can disagree and screw the other in a given decision.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jasmine Ruigrok

    “The God who created these tremendous emotional needs in women intends that husbands should meet them…” Woah, timeout. I don’t care if you’re married or not, if you’re looking to a human to feel loved, you’re going to be disappointed 100% of the time. This is something I get riled about; kids getting married because they feel like half a soul and their spouse makes them “whole”. Whether your married, single or in between, the source of love and the foundation of our life must be Christ, otherwise we are guaranteed to be miserable. No amount of effort on the other person’s behalf will ever be enough for an unsatisfied soul. Thanks for this, Amanda. It’s a breath of fresh air. I’ve seen people do marriage counselling and get absolutely squat out of it, in fact, they probably got married wrongly in the first place because of it.

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  4. Pingback: “The Marriage Counseling System?” | See, there's this thing called biology...

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