Is “Fireproof” Helpful for Abusive Marriages?

The movie Fireproof is all the rage these days, and I have seen it being strongly recommended to people in abusive marriages by churches and Christians. I don’t just cringe; the mama bear in me comes out.

While I understand that people are well-meaning and largely ignorant, churches and pastors have a duty to become better educated. The movie Fireproof is completely inappropriate and utterly ineffective in an abusive marriage situation, and will actually do more harm than good.

First of all, we need to inject some common sense into the situation. The 40-day love dare is not a magic bullet! Every new marriage program that comes along is hailed as the thing that will fix it. The 40-day love dare would add a spark and revitalize an otherwise godly marriage, or one that has simply grown cold or stale. It brings a great perspective that easily gets lost in the daily-ness of life – God calls us to sacrificial love for our spouses.

In fact, the Biblical model calls husbands to sacrificially love their wives, and does not make the same demand of wives. In the normal way of things, I don’t know of many women who would not love to be in relationship with a godly man who truly followed the Biblical model.

But the 40-day love dare is not a magic bullet. Thinking or acting like the program is a magic marriage cure is actually treating it as a manipulative tool. And that is exactly the way an abuser would use it. So when the 40-day love dare is presented as a magic cure to a couple in an abusive relationship, churches are speaking the abuser’s language and playing right into his hands. Churches are literally giving abusers a tool to abuse their spouse, and not only permission, but pressure, to hurry up and use it!

This attitude that the 40-day love dare is a magic marriage potion also exalts a program to the status of being on the same plane of God and His Word. It’s practically magical! But somehow God left that part out of the Bible. I wonder why He forgot it? Oh, maybe it was because it wasn’t His idea. Meaning, it’s just a good idea, nifty, even God ordained for it’s purpose — but not a magic marriage potion that’s sure to save this abusive marriage, so you just have to do this program! I would dare to say having an attitude that the 40-day love dare is all that fantastic is, in fact, idolatry. Yes, that’s what I said – I didn’t stutter.

Oh, you say, it’s not really a magic marriage potion? (Because, really, we wouldn’t idolize a man-made program. Horrors!) Then why are Christians and churches pressuring people in abusive marriages to do the program to save their marriages, and why are victims who resist this idea being treated with contempt? Because that is what is happening.

When the church pressures the victim in an abusive marriage to complete programs such as the 40-day love dare (and there are others), what they do not realize is they are not only giving the abuser a weapon to further abuse his spouse. The church or pastor or Christian friend has become an abuser, too.

If you can, visualize the life of this victim. For the sake of simplicity I’ll use the feminine gender, though we know it can be either gender. Her daily life is one where she is being lashed constantly by the words and actions of her spouse. Then when she reaches out to her church for help, her church says, “Oh we are sooooo sorry you are going through this! We care so much! Here, let me hand your abuser another whip. Now, here’s how you use it… Reach up really high like this, and swing…”

And the church thinks it is helping.

Please, please, please hear me say – this is not helpful.

An abuser must stop looking at his marriage. The problem is within himself. It is not his marriage. It is only within himself.

While the 40-day love dare does place the burden on the one spouse to unconditionally love his spouse, the greater purpose is to save his marriage. An abuser perceives that entirely within the context of a manipulation tool. It is a recipe. He follows the formula and he gets a big payoff. He manipulates his wife into believing he has changed. He manipulates the church into believing he has changed. He manipulates his wife into staying in the marriage. He manipulates the church onto his “side” in any further disagreement – look at how hard he has tried!

As long as the church will help him achieve his ends, the abuser will use the church as one of his tools to abuse his wife. The church must decide to take itself out of the abuser’s toolbox. One of the ways the church is being used as a manipulative tool by abusers is through marriage programs like this, and through Christian marriage counseling – when abusers need to be held to the fire of individual counseling.