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.

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5 Responses

  1. The church it seems is allergic to dealing with the root causes of things. They love bandaids, but are unable to do major surgeory. To me this is another example of their spiritual pixie dust. Lets hand them the movie and workbook, and step back and watch it magically go away.

    It kind of reminds me of a couple of discussions on the internet right now about that pastor and his sex challege. How if you do this for 7 days for a purpose the realization of abusing your spouse is gleamed as magically wrong now.

    Both of the programs may help others in healthy relationships, but when you try to place a well rounded block in a square hold – it ain’t going work!

  2. Well, the 7-day sex challenge did one thing for me. Gave me another church to add to my list of churches to be sure never to bother visiting. 😉 And it successfully titillated the entire country for about 10 minutes.

    But it didn’t make 2 pins worth of difference to anyone’s marriage. Not really. Because the problems, or even just little stresses, in anyone’s marriage aren’t about sex nor are they resolvable by having sex seven times in seven days. That’s so patently ridiculous I couldn’t believe an entire church actually listened to that without either breaking out in laughter or walking out.

    Marriage is about relationship. Sex is more of a reflection of how well the rest of the relationship is doing – not the other way around, no matter how many times you try it in a week.

    In light of this example of the church’s inability to understand marriage, however, it’s little wonder they don’t know what to do with an abusive one.

    — Danni

  3. You have a good point!

  4. I’ve been a believer since 1970. The Christian book and seminar business churns out a lot of formulaic materials for raising kids, marriage, etc. Although some are very insightful and I often am excited as I peruse their ideas, I never swallow any of them whole.

    There is no “one size fits all” for any seminar or any book and none of them covers everything. Every idea has to be tested with more than one scripture and the use of scripture needs to be examined for correct interpretation even though a misleading interpretation may have been repeated by well-meaning Christians for decades.

    Currently, my husband and I are helping my brother get out of a toxic physical and verbal abuse marriage where his wife sees her alcohol fueled verbal and physical beatings of him as totally legitmate and needed for his correction (unbelievable to me). He has thought that just “taking it” was the honorable and loving thing to do, especially since he has been struggling with a physical disablilty and personal failures such as being fired from his job of 12 years.

    I saw ‘Fireproof” and was touched (but the situation was not a domestic violence situation for heaven’s sake!). I would not take my brother to this movie. He would be guilted into unneccessary concessions and more destruction than he’s already endured.

    Thanks for this site. I’m glad you acknowledge men are also subjects of domestic violence. I plan on sharing several of your materials with him.

    -Annette

    • Annette,

      I’m so glad you’re helping your brother get out and not trying to “get him to see” if he will just “sacrificially love” his wife she’ll change! Even God Himself had to get a divorce from his persistently wayward wife.

      Yes, men can definitely be victims as much as women. I have to choose a gender to write and since I’m a woman writing from my own experience it makes sense to write from a woman’s perspective. Sometimes people think that means I’m implying it’s a “woman” problem. Nope. I’ve seen it the other way around – and it is becoming more and more common. If anything, there is even more stigma against men acknowledging they are being abused than there is for women.

      I wish your brother the best and bless you for supporting him! Having support is such a treasure when you are in an abusive relationship.

      — Danni

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