Is “Fireproof” Helpful for Abusive Marriages?

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

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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40 Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading the back-and-forth above, and could comment on so many aspects of it, but for the sake of brevity I will limit myself to one observation. One of the posters mentioned that her abusive ex-husband had a lot of free time during their marriage, while she was spread very thin with her work load. On other websites, I’ve read similar descriptions of this kind of imbalance — the abuser not having a job or a purpose outside the home while the victim is working more than one job to make ends meet, etc. Some questions:

    * Is this a common pattern in abusive marriages?

    * Does the abuser’s lack of work/purpose outside of the home fuel or trigger the abuse? Or, does is the lack of work/purpose actually a part of the abuse? I suppose that’s another form of the age-old “chicken and egg” question — which came first?

    * Do incidences of domestic abuse increase during times of widespread unemployment?

    * As couples enter retirement age, do incidences of domestic abuse increase?

    Just wondering how Danni and others would answer these questions.

    • Marie,

      You asked some good questions. And actually, there are answers.

      On the job issue, an abuser being lazy is not uncommon, but it is also not a rule of thumb. What is more the ruling principle is that an abuser is economically controlling. He may accomplish this through laziness, thereby forcing the family into financial constraint, he may do this by insisting that his wife not work and they must live on his income – regardless of whether he makes an adequate living, he may do this by controlling the money his wife makes and only giving her an “allowance.” There are a variety of ways to accomplish the same thing, but it all boils down to economic control, keeping his wife in bondage to him through control of the financial circumstances.

      The abuser’s lack of purpose or work does not fuel or trigger abuse. The abuser is an abuser. S/he will use any excuse or none at all. An abuser will abuse regardless of the circumstances – but will always have a “reason” to blame it on. We have a tendency to use terminology like “fuel or trigger” and what that does is give credence to the idea that an abuser has a reason or excuse. If only the circumstances were different the abuse wouldn’t happen. That is not true and to get free of abuse it is critical to understand this. The abuser abuses because s/he is an abuser and is choosing to be abusive – period, end of story.

      Incidences of domestic abuse do increase during times of widespread unemployment – for a variety of reasons. One, an abuser will use the circumstances as an excuse to unleash their abuse that much more often. Also, an abuser is within reach of victims more because s/he is not out of the house working for most of the day! So there are that many more hours of the day in which to be abusive.

      Incidences of domestic abuse also increase with age/retirement for the same reasons. A person who is not abusive is not suddenly going to become abusive because they turned 65 and retired. But an abuser will always get worse with time, an abuser will use constraints and physical limitations of age as an excuse to be more abusive, and an abuser has more access to victims when they are retired, just like when they are unemployed.

      I hope that helps some. 😉

      — Danni

  2. One blaring comment .. you only identify abusers as males…. Your a pig.

    • And you have demonstrated a “blaring” willingness to blast and judge without taking even a brief time to find out the truth first. Frequently on this site I say that abuse is not gender specific — and in case someone might not see one of those statements I have another statement to that effect clearly visible on every page in the top half of the left sidebar.

      No one — yourself included — can realistically state as fact (even metaphorical) what you just stated about me.

      — Danni

  3. I disagree..you have to look very closely for any of your small “disclaimers”.

    As a male victim I had FireProof used against me by some well meaning do gooders. The results would have been diasterous and the implication was very hurtful and distructive.

    What ever you say refering to damage by women: men who face DV have 10 times the disadvantage…
    AND as for your claim that women are are vast majority of the Victims. I say you are ill informed.

    If you didn’t have a huge chip on your shoulder you would write more gender honest.

    Cheers

    • Jim,

      As a male victim, I am on your side – not against you. You seem to be hurting so much that you will slap out where you have perceived insult, where none exists. I am on your side – and I am not offended by your anger. It is impossible to read this site and determine that I lean “in favor of” female victims and “against” male victims. I have openly worked with male victims on this site, as well as in private (for one that went on for some time, use the search bar and search for Richard). I have no prejudice against men being victims — I not only know it’s true theoretically, I know it’s true because I’ve seen it happen. I am just as much against abuse against men as I am against abuse against women, and I don’t think one is more important or more egregious than the other. Abuse is wrong – gender makes not qualifications on that statement.

      As I stated in the note in the sidebar, and have stated multiple times on this site, both in articles and in comments, it would get awkward to the point of the ridiculous to try to dance around pronouns or get legalistic about making sure that in every other article I alternate genders. I am a woman, most of those I work with are women, and it is easiest to just write from the perspective of my own experience, with the stated and implied understanding that the gender is not the point — the abuse is the point.

      And I am very sorry you experienced abuse by “Fireproof.” That’s why I wrote the article! I think it is extremely important for people to realized that this movie, and other “marriage building” tools are being used as tools of abuse. And it’s important for those of us who are in, or were in, abuse to be forewarned (or comforted after the fact). For people with ordinary marriage issues, it’s probably a great tool. But it is regularly used as a tool of manipulation and condemnation against victims of abuse. And I can totally see how it could be used against men just as well as against women. Again, the abuse is the issue, not the gender.

      I also am aware that there are some particulars to male abuse — but I cannot address them because I’m not a man. I would gladly post some articles that did address those things written by a man who has been there and done that. But I can’t write them because I’m not a man. I believe that men are even less likely to be believed than women are — and that’s a really sad commentary. Men are more likely to be condemned for not “laying down their life for their wife” and “not being a good head in their home” and all kinds of other garbage like that. It’s the male version of using the Word to abuse the victim – the same as the way the verses in the Word about wives are used against women. And men carry the additional stigma of greater lack of understanding. People’s prejudices run deep, and even people who can imagine a woman being abuse will often think a man just needs to grab his manhood (to be polite) and stand up. That’s not only a load of doo-doo, but it is another example of the church/friends/family becoming defacto abusers — something I have written about on this site before.

      — Danni

  4. Jim,

    I am sorry for the abuse you have suffered. However, I don’t believe the purpose of this website is to sit around and compare who has it worse. Whether male-to-female domestic violence is more common than female-to-male domestic violence isn’t the point. The point is — it is unacceptable regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.

    As an “interested bystander” of this conversation, I would gently encourage you to consider that you may also have a chip on your shoulder that is coloring how you perceive what you are reading here and, unfortunately, allowing you to continue to see yourself as a victim.

    Let’s all get beyond the statistics and the temptation to view ourselves as victims, and let the healing begin!

  5. Oh for pete sakes YOUR the one look at the picture in your upper left hand corner, listen to your statistics (misinformation) Did you even mention the fact that the movie fireproof TOTALLY throws the maie under the bus?

    Try being a man and calling the police, defending yourself against the “deluth model”, calling any DV hotline or God forbid trying to discuss it with someone in the Church.

    You stay you PAY you leave YOU PAY and your kids end up with the abuser.

    Try it from the other side, once.

    • Slightly off the main point, regarding children ending up with the abuser — that is also gender neutral. Children end up with the abuser because abusers are crafty, deceitful, and instinctively know how to use the system to their advantage. That is because they are of their father – the deceiver who comes to kill, steal and destroy — bottomline. Unfortunately, abuse victims are not on the same wavelength. Not only are we reeling in hurt, that by this point has become virtually crippling, but we just don’t think in terms of deception, etc. We are thinking in terms of truth, righteousness, justice, etc. And, unfortunately, the legal system today is not about any of those things. It is about who can play the game best and win it.

      Children end up with abusers frequently – and it isn’t gender related. I know it probably seems like it because that happened to you, it happens to other fathers and there is a social perception that things are stacked in the favor of mothers. That is not true. I talk to women all the time who are losing or have lost their children to their abuser — even in the face of concrete medical evidence of abuse. I almost lost mine, even though the judge had a record of leaning in favor of mothers, my attorney got my ex to admit to the details of his abuse in court — but my ex played the right card. The judge was totally convinced, and said so in court, because they were both in Boy Scouts, had mutual friends, and the judge just didn’t believe a Boy Scout could lie (never mind the BTK killer had just been all over the news – as both a church and Boy Scout leader. Duh!)

      And then there’s the destruction an abuser will still manage through the process of visitation, even if the victim manages to retain or regain custody.

      But abusers know how to play the system and victims are usually not in a good place to fight back with the right weapons. This is why I tell people to hire the best attorney they can get and play hardball. Money is not an issue — what price do you put on the lives of your children? This isn’t about being mean – it’s about being wise as serpents.

      I also know you are telling the complete truth about calling a DV hotline or the church. Yes – men are not believed; they are less likely to believed than women. And that is wrong.

      Be careful of statistics – they can be read and spun in all kinds of ways. Women are more frequently abused than men and the stats for female death at the hands of a male partner are definitely greater than the opposite – but that doesn’t mean the numbers for men are insignificant or that the system (especially DV resources and the church) is not stacked against men more than it is against women. For those who experience abuse, the statistics are 100% against them, period. They have had a 100% chance of being abused – the numbers really become irrelevant at that point. Except, Satan can use them as fuel for bitterness – and that’s then on us.

      — Danni

  6. I have read through your website and I have to say that you’d have to look with a microscope to find and of the real issues facing men in volatile marriages. You don’t address ONE of their unique challenges.

    I could write a book on SBC churches and their approach to divorce and bad marriages basically they abondon divorced men. Except to talk about them and how their not qualified for anything and threaten the purity of the church. Most divorced women are accepted by the church as long as they don’t always advertise the fact that their divorce…I even know a few who married deacons and pastors and nothing is ever mentioned. Men on the otherhand are expected to remain single for the rest of their lives; forever begging forgiveness after all God hates divorce. They just didn’t bow low enough.

    The issue of a man in an abusive relationship is large and it’s the lack of empathy and belief that leads to escslating hostility. Because the large underlying fact in all of this that ANYONE can be pushed to far.
    Just ask Mary Winkler.

    • Jim,

      As I mentioned, I cannot address many of the particulars of male abuse because I’m not a man.

      However, I do want to thank you – very much – for telling about your experience with Fireproof and with the church. People do not get this – this movie is a very real danger, and so are attitudes in the church. And until/unless men start speaking out about what men are experiencing, that message cannot really be heard. I completely believe you about what you have experienced. I know it is true. And your voice is needed to tell that story – I can’t tell the male-specific aspects because I haven’t experienced them. I write mostly out of my own experience and what God has taught me in it. I can’t write your experience as a man because I’m not a man. That isn’t because I think your story is less or doesn’t exist. It’s just because I’m not a man who has experienced it.

      I think your perspective of how the church treats divorced people is somewhat skewed by your experience. I have seen these attitudes expressed toward both men and women alike. I have seen churches where divorced men were accepted into leadership without question, while women who were actively in abuse were told to “stay and submit” – so it can go either way. I suspect the imbalance is probably more church-specific than universal. The fact of the matter is, huge segments of the church just flat have no understanding of abuse – gender neutral. The individual expressions may vary somewhat from one building to another, but the net result is that people in desperate need of the truth of God’s love and His perspective on marriage are being beaten down by the very people who God has put in their lives to help them.

      I have written elsewhere on the site that this wound by the church is actually more hurtful than the marriage. By the time you get to the end of an abusive marriage, you have accepted that you cannot help it, you cannot fix it, the abuser is unrepentant and that is their problem over which you have no control or influence. You grieve for what you have lost in that relationship – which is a lot.

      But then you have this additional hurt. And it is even worse because it piles injustice on top of injustice, in the name of righteousness. It makes God out to be an abuser who would turn on, reject, disbelieve, withdraw from, permanently judge and disown (except for eternal residence) the very one who has been afflicted. It takes away from us the one place that should be a refuge and support and instead turns it into a danger zone. For me, by the time my marriage ended, the hurt by the church was a lot harder to deal with than the hurt by my spouse. That doesn’t mean the hurt by my spouse wasn’t overall the greater. But I had been dealing with that, working through that, and knowing that reality for many years. The assault and abandonment by the church was piling a beating on top of an already beaten and bruised person – and I didn’t expect that nor had any reason to do so. It would be exactly the same as if, in the story of the Good Samaritan, all those who passed by instead stopped to beat, kick, and berate the wounded man.

      — Danni

  7. Thanks for your response. i am sorry if I seem harsh but there is little help or sympathy for men and that’s a fact. Many men in abusive relationships end up lonely and rejected. Men and women differ on one great aspect — women network and form support groups. Adult men don’t easily form male friendships and bonds, unfortunately I couldn’t even turn to my church.

    I had to leave an abusive marriage when my son at the age of 16 told me that if I didn’t get us out he was going to move in with a friend (his mother had a drinkig problem). I was desperate. The law, DV organizations and God knows the church was no help to me – they only made things more difficult and worse. She use to scream , slap, throw things, corner me on a regular basis. Once after she slapped me half a dozen times then she dialed 911 and told the police I scared her! They arrested me – my son cried himself to sleep for a week- he saw what happened. They never even asked me my side of the story. The judge basically blackmailed me into signing a statement that there was probable cause (what ever that means) for the arrest. A CYA move they use against men.

    Then I was told I should try Love dare with her!
    Nothing I did or could ever do would make her happy, first she needed to address her substance issue and be happy with herself.

    DV establishments and the law operate under the deluth model .
    The Duluth Model is based on a strict “patriarchal violence” model and presumes that all violence in the home and elsewhere has a male perpetrator and female victim. For them Case Closed.

    I stumbled on your web site when I did a Google search on: “Fireproof does more harm”. I was curious if other people had the same feelings/experience I had.

    The basic problem with Divorce and the SBC approach is that there are TWO volitions involved and blaming one person for both is wrong. The other is that there interpretation of permanency isn’t practical and does more harm than good. Who is going to stay alone for the rest of their life? Tell that to a 30 year old with children.

    To them someone who has suffered a failed marriage is a second class citizen deserving of lifelong ridicule and judgement…. they just don’t want to deal with it because it threatens their idealist world.

    • Jim,

      I agree 100% with everything you said.

      You are one of many of us who have had to leave the church. I’ve written a set of three articles about that (A Look at Why Victims Leave the Church, Evicted From the Church, and When the Church Assaults the Sanctity of Life – remember, while written from a female perspective because I am one, the issue is gender neutral) — it is a HUGE problem. I’ve since found a very unusual church and consider myself blessed beyond belief, because I know this can be rare indeed.

      I tried to say many times when dealing with my SBC church, it takes two to make a marriage but one can destroy it singlehandedly. They kept telling me “it takes two to tango” and “it takes two to make a marriage work.” Well, in an abusive marriage that puts it all on the shoulders of the victim because they are saying not only is every tiny thing your fault and sinful cause for the other’s behavior, but then you are also responsible for whether or not the other person changes their heart and behavior. How ridiculous is that! People who say that have obviously never lived in a situation like this because that is nothing less than stupid, actually. And I wish it were as benign as stupidity. The real problem is that these people have authority and are destroying lives with their willful ignorance.

      And yes, you are right that to them someone who has suffered a failed marriage is a second-class citizen, etc. That was one of the final straws in leaving my church. I know who God sees me as. I know I obeyed His direct instructions in getting a divorce. Yet, my church (not SBC by that point) not only said I shouldn’t have gotten divorced and but then were no help at all (emotionally or in defending me from my husband’s use of the church to continue to abuse me; he got people there to write him affidavits for court by telling them I was attempting to deny him visitation and the pastors would not stand up for me and tell people what they knew to be true, and he went behind my back lying about me to people — and the pastors would not stand up to him or tell people the truth when I sent them to the pastors instead of standing up for myself and sounding defensive) through the process even knowing what was happening in my marriage and agreeing it was wrong.

      When I struggled to get on my feet afterwards their perspective was that if I hadn’t done this sin, I wouldn’t be in this boat. So my need for help, while not completely rejected, came with judgment and reluctance. Then their continued acceptance of me (after over a year of “discipline” that they said wasn’t discipline) was based on the fact that “they could forgive because God forgives. After all, who of us has not needed forgiveness.” That is just another slap! Not only that, but it was made clear to me that I – the real me inside the skin – would never be accepted for who I was. I would always be “the divorced woman.” While they are precious people and I love them – that was not acceptable to me. That was completely opposite of the way God sees me and His plans for my life. So I had to go.

      You have a serious point about the difference between men and women, and the way men are more isolated and women build support networks. That is a major issue.

      You articulate this VERY well. Have you considered that God may just have you be that voice for men? You may not be at that point right now if the hurt is too big. But I suspect this may be something God would have for you. If you write about it, I’d like to post anything I can, and/or link to where you put it.

      Satan means what happened to you for evil. But God will redeem it for good. And you are not bound to remain alone forever – that’s another one of those religious things. It is sure not in agreement with the heart of God. Somewhere, somehow there is a place you can be fully accepted – or make your own. And there are other men out there who are feeling just as isolated who don’t verbalize it openly.

      — Danni

  8. Jim, I’m so glad you came back.
    There is so much pain in the church that the church will not face, cannot face because they are completely unprepared to deal with it.
    This must change. And we, the part of the church that does acknowledge the pain, are the ones in the position to do something about it.
    If you are up to it, take Danni up on her offer to write things from your perspective. Who know s who it will help.

    Danni, I have always respected you and what you do here. I refer people here from time to time.
    And once again you have shown that you ARE NOT just some bitter woman who hates men and wants to make trouble.
    You want to find solutions and be a real part of the answer, not a part of the problem.

  9. Jim,

    I’m glad you opened up about this, and I agree with Danni. Your story can minister to others. I see how Fireproof and the “Love Dare” materials could be twisted into a weapon (in either direction) and I’m sorry you experienced that. I know I have been very frustrated by the “Love Dare Bible Study” though I have to say that I thought the FIreproof movie was quite accurate on what a porn addicted husband is like to deal with and what a wife’s reaction to that looks like.

    Porn use is a rampant (though hidden in secret) addiction in the church, while a wife being alcohol addicted might not be as common (among teatotalling SBC types anyway). Your voice is needed to educate others on what its like dealing with that.

    Grace and Peace!
    Charis

  10. Thank you all for your kind comments.

    I have read that the vast majority of abusive retationships involve some sort of addiction behavior and or infidelity.

    I might add that the sense of being trapped also accompanies people “boiling over”. We hear much about the woman being fianancially dependent and not being able to leave…but that also holds VERY true for males. The financial impact of Child Support and or Alimony leave many men even more financially trapped. There’s NEVER enough money to go around and support two households. We are told that men fair better following a divorce than women, I would suggest that looking closer at the facts might show that wealthy and YOUNGER men eventually fair better,
    it’s another story for middle-age poorer males.
    It also renders the man helpless and depressed following a divorce..hence the high suicide rate among middle age divorced men.

    I truely think that the current approach and blame game in both divorce and DV is a horriblle approach and feeds a greedy legal and counseling industry.
    The problem doesn’t seem to be getting better, that should tell us the approach is wrong.

    A fellow Christian and Seeker….Jim

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