Review of Gary Chapman’s book “Desperate Marriages” — by ‘Avid Reader’
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Dr. Gary Chapman is one of the leading Christian teachers on marriage. His book, The Five Love Languages, has sold millions of copies. Having read that book, you can tell that he has a heart for people. That’s why this book doesn’t sound like it was written by Dr. Chapman. Certain parts come across as so cold and detached that you are left cringing in horror.
Throughout this book, Dr. Chapman’s years of experience in counseling come through — he gives plenty of advice that is above average compared to many of the other best-selling Christian marriage books. Some of the best advice that Dr. Chapman gives is in chapter 5, The Workaholic Spouse, and chapter 12, The Alcoholic/Drug-Abusing Spouse:
Many workaholics suffer from a deep sense of inferiority and also feel unloved. The message they received from their parents was that — we love you — if you make your bed, clean your room, mow the grass etc. (pp77-78)
The most common mistake of an individual married to a substance abuser is to hope that the situation will simply take care of itself, that the abuser will wake up some morning and decide to stop her addictive behavior….Let the abuser experience the results of his or her own abuse. The sooner the abuser comes to the end of the rope, the sooner he will reach out for help. (p195)
That is really good advice that could be applied to a variety of difficult marriages. By setting boundaries and allowing them to experience the consequences of their behavior, you are responding with the same tough love that God gives us.
Dr. Chapman also describes on page 45 how important it is for you and your spouse to be “free to express your feelings, thoughts, and desires. . . your marriage is not likely to return to a state of equilibrium as long as you have the sense that your spouse is trying to control you. . . If you and your spouse don’t find the balance between love and freedom you will never have a satisfying marriage. . .” That’s a great point that we should all strive for in our marriages.
Chapman addresses Domestic Violence
The rest of this book addresses some of the most difficult situations that people face. But some of the advice just comes across as very cold and detached. For example in chapter 9, which deals with the issue of domestic violence in the church, Dr. Chapman writes:
Researchers have discovered most abuse happens between the hours of 6PM to 6AM. The typical location of physical abuse is in the abusers’ home.” (p135)
Really? That sounds so detached from reality. People buying this book are looking for real answers not boring statistics. This chapter continues waffling between really good points and horrific advice. On page 137, Dr Chapman gives a list of reasons why he believes that battered wives stay in dangerous situations:
- low self-esteem acquired in her childhood
- some battered wives are rescuers
- procrastination because they have isolated themselves
Dr. Chapman is missing the number one reason that battered wives stay in abusive situations: BECAUSE THE CHURCH TELLS THEM TO! Does Dr. Chapman have any idea how many Christian books tell wives to submit to the abuse instead of following the Biblical pattern of setting boundaries to protect themselves?
Chapman Can’t Recommend Divorce
Moving right along, Dr. Chapman gives the example of a battered wife who comes to his office with dark glasses and long sleeves to hide the bruises. She wants to file for divorce.
Dr. Chapman has already made his feelings clear that
I wish I could recommend divorce as an option. When I listen to the deeply pained people in my office and at my seminars, my natural response is ‘Get out, get out, get out! Abandon the loser and get on with your life.
That’s actually what the Bible says too. Domestic violence is Biblical grounds for divorce. (Exodus 21:10-11) But Dr. Chapman doesn’t seem to understand that when he writes,
No one can walk away from a spouse as easily as he or she can sell bad stock. . . through the years I have counseled enough divorced persons to know that while divorce removes some pressures it creates a host of others. . . far too many couples in our society have opted for divorce too soon and at too great a price. (pp 21-23)
What about the “great price” of staying in the abusive situation? Besides, if divorce is such a bad thing, then why did even God Himself experience divorce? Jeremiah 3:8 is a powerful Scripture which shows us that even God Almighty reached a point where divorce was necessary, so it might happen to us too. So why does the church keep treating divorce like the unpardonable sin?
Chapman Stresses Reconciliation
Throughout this book, Dr. Chapman stresses reconciliation without enough consideration of the Biblical grounds for divorce, even telling people things like “you must understand and respond to the controller’s need for significance.” (p100) On pages 102-103 he continues:
Once a controlling spouse sees that you have a mind of your own and that you will not be controlled by his or her limited perspective he or she will likely come to respect your freedom. This approach applied consistently over a period of time has influenced many controllers to a more balanced approach to life.
If only life was that simple and easy! Reading that statement makes you feel like Dr. Chapman is trying to say that just a few easy steps and your life will change, but if your life doesn’t change then its your fault for not trying hard enough.
Back to the story of counseling the battered wife who has visible bruises and has been to the emergency room three times. He advises her to leave the house and find a safe place. Instead of trying to confront her husband in person, he also recommends that she write him a letter, explaining her feelings, her reason for the separation and suggesting that he seek counseling. She follows that advice. The husband tries to convince her to return. She refuses. The husband begins counseling with Dr. Chapman. The wife also continues separate counseling with Dr. Chapman for several months. Dr. Chapman writes,
Bruce began to recognize that violence is never justified in a marriage and that uncontrolled expression of anger must be stopped if the marriage is to continue. (p144)
Mitzi recognized that she is responsible for her own attitude. Before counseling her attitude was ‘my only hope is divorce.’ In counseling, her attitude shifted to ‘I’m in an abusive marriage and I will use this to gain self-understanding.’ Later her attitude became ‘I will now seek to discover positive actions I can take to address this situation.’ (p147)
The story ends with the couple reconciling after one year. Dr. Chapman writes, “Together she and Bruce learned how to help meet each other’s emotional needs for love, freedom, significance, self-worth, recreation and eventually, peace with God.”
Hmmmm. . . we hope that’s what happened to Bruce and Mitzi, but reading that story leaves you wondering what actually happened behind closed doors. Even Dr. Chapman points out that “my observation is that a highly controlling person who has dominated a spouse for many years does NOT change quickly.” (p98)
This chapter on domestic violence comes across like it is pressuring the victim to reconcile with their abuser because Dr. Chapman can’t seem to accept the idea of divorce. He tries to make up for that by writing, “I am not naïve enough to suggest that divorce can be eliminated from the human landscape.” But this chapter just stresses the need for counseling while not addressing all the other needs of battered wives. And it ignores really important Bible verses like 2 Corinthians 11:10 where the Apostle Paul warns against “putting up with anyone who slaps you in the face.” (p23)
Chapman tackles Sexual Abuse
Moving right along, Dr. Chapman tackles the difficult subject of sexual abuse in chapter 10. The first half of this chapter has some real insights into counseling these situations. He gives the example of counseling a grown man who had experienced childhood abuse. We appreciate how Dr. Chapman was willing to address a topic that many other Christian leaders would prefer to avoid. However, the second half of this chapter takes a very dark turn that leaves us cringing in horror.
On pages 163-165 Dr. Chapman gives a real life example of counseling a wife after she had discovered that her husband was molesting their two daughters — ages sixteen and eighteen. She wants to divorce the husband and protect her daughters by never seeing him again.
Dr. Chapman advises her to separate but not divorce. He tells her to move out of the house and ask her husband to seek counseling. Then after “six to nine months” of counseling for the husband “when the counselor assures you that he has thoroughly worked through this problem then the two of you can begin to go for marriage counseling,” which Dr. Chapman expects will last another “six to nine months.”
Reading that leaves us shaking our heads in horror, unable to believe that a Christian leader like Dr. Chapman would actually give that kind of advice when the Bible clearly commands us not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive or is a drunkard or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. (1 Cor 5:11 NLT)
Why does the church require wives not just to eat with these types of husbands, but also to live and sleep with them too?
When Jesus was asked about marriage, He described biblical grounds for divorce with the Greek word porneia. (Matthew 19:9) Study that word in the Greek and you will find that it describes a wide range of immorality. Did Jesus require a trial separation or waiting period before filing for divorce? Nope. In fact, the Bible commands us to flee from evil. (1 Thess 5:22)
The Apostle Paul also used the Greek word porneia to describe the situation in Corinth where the guy was sleeping with his father’s wife. How did the Apostle Paul recommend dealing with that situation? Hand this man over to satan. (1 Cor 5:5) In other words, kick them out of the church. Don’t sit them down for several months of counseling so the wife can be pressured into reconciling! Get them out because Don’t you know that a little yeast spreads through the whole batch of dough? Remove the old yeast of sin. (1 Cor 5:6-7)
The Apostle Paul recognized the need to protect the flock while the church is trampling them in the dust in the name of reconciliation! Since when has reconciliation become more important than everything else, including what Jesus referred to as the more important matters of the law? (Matthew 23:23) Besides, if reconciliation is so important, why did Jesus say I didn’t come to bring peace but division? (Matthew 10:34)
The bottom line is that this book doesn’t understand the difference between trusting in God and trusting in the flesh. For example, on page 223 Dr. Chapman writes, “Refuse to believe that your situation is hopeless. Choose rather to believe in the power of human potential for change.”
But the Bible warns us that confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint. (Proverbs 25:19) Would Christian leaders ever encourage us to put our confidence in “an unfaithful man?” Think about that when you read pages 182-183 where Dr. Chapman teaches that if you find out your spouse is having an affair then “restoration is the goal toward which you should work when your spouse has been unfaithful.”
The Bible says that it’s better to trust God than to trust in people.(Psalm 118:8) So then why does the church keep telling wives to trust in people? The truth is that you can trust God while you set boundaries with people. (Also see Proverbs 20:16) That’s why Jesus warned us about wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15) and the Apostle Paul told us to be on your guard for the evil that would be in the church. (Acts 20:30-32)
Why is the church protecting abusers when Jesus said that it would be better for a millstone to be tied around their neck and them thrown into the deepest sea than to hurt one of these little ones ? (Matthew 18:6)
Jesus gives you the option of divorce. Why can’t Dr. Chapman balance out his teaching with more understanding of Biblical reasons for divorce? Instead, reading this book feels like he’s pressuring you into reconciliation whether or not that’s the best choice for you. Before you take that route, remember what Jesus said about the millstone.
Avid Reader kindly gave us permission to republish this review. Many thanks to her!
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