Often people assume that problems with a marriage are primarily the man’s fault. Shannon Ethridge discovered that the problems in her marriage were mostly her fault, and wrote Every Woman’s Marriage to describe the things that women do that inhibit their marriages. She starts off first with her own story, describes a bit of what marriage is supposed to be, then continues by describing unhealthy behavior and attitudes.

According to Ethridge, marriage is not really so much for us to be happy as for us to be made holy,1 since Christ gave himself to the Church to not to make the Church happy, but to make her holy. Likewise in marriage. Marriage brings out our selfishness and when we see it we either give up on marriage (if we think that the problem is the other person instead of ourself) or are spurred on to be unselfish and to love the other person unconditionally as we learn about their flaws. As we love our spouse unconditionally, we grow in intimacy with each other, and we move from intensity and passion to devotion. We tend to see passion as what is desirable, so we think that there is some problem when the passion dies down into devotion; in reality the opposite is true.

Ethridge asserts that much of the problems that women cause in marriages are caused by women being insecure with themselves. According to Ethridge, women play lots of emotional games, all of which are really because they are trying to have their emotional needs met. One way this comes out is when wives try to control everything—the way their husbands dress, the way the house is cleaned, etc. Of course, things do not generally go according to plan, which often results in the wife getting upset at the husband, ultimately because she is not feeling satisfied. Another way women try to satisfy their emotional desires is to emotionally manipulate their husband into giving them what they want. Still another is trying to guilt husbands into being a better leader/living a stronger Christian life/having better character/having fewer annoying quirks. A less subtle form of this is to openly coerce him into being who the wife wants him to be, usually with a judgemental tone. Ultimately, though, he is who God created him to be, and if the wife wants her husband to meet her needs, she needs to inspire him, not require him, to meet them.

Being insecure with herself causes a wife to have unnecessary emotional swings because she is trying to figure out if her husband thinks she is beautiful and desirable. So everything her husband does gets filtered through this analyis: “does he think I’m beautiful?”, “does he desire me?” Sometimes the things he does may suggest to that he does not. “Honey, what are you thinking of?” “Nothing.” “Nothing?! He must not be interested anymore if he’s not thinking of me.”  No, men just think differently, so no need to get depressed over it.

Similarly, the desire to compare against other men or other families comes from the same insecurity.

All this stems from the flawed assumption that somebody should satisfy us. The fact is that only God can fully satisfy a woman’s emotional needs, although her husband should certainly be doing as much as he can. Demanding a man do what only God can do will not work. Instead, Ethridge suggests, wives should primarily seek to fulfill their husbands needs, rather than seek their husbands to fulfill their needs. (Likewise, the husband should be primarily seeking to fulfill his wife’s needs.) 

Ethridge constantly gives examples of how a wife can inspire, rather than demand, that her husband meet her emotional needs. Instead of telling him how he failed, tell him why what you wanted is important to you. Instead of making him feel like a failure, it gives him the opportunity to feel like a hero by meeting your need. Men want to feel like a hero to their wives! Show him how much you appreciate him and that you value the things that he does. Choose words so that your husband feels like you respect him. If he does not think that you respect him, he will feel unloved. But if he feels loved, he will naturally want to love you back. When you fight, remember that the goal is not to win, but to have harmony and oneness in the relationship.

The last section of the book is about sex. Physical intimacy is as important for men as emotional intimacy is for women. Imagine how you would feel if your husband was never in the mood to take you out or talk to you or to bring you flowers; that is how he feels when his wife is never in the mood for sex. Ethridge asserts that there are four aspects to sexuality: physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental, and that mental preparation is most important for women. Ethridge gives a number of suggestions for being more in the mood, many of them as simple as keeping the room neat and clean. She notes that doing spiritual things together (like praying) increases intimacy. She also says that physical intimacy is the way that men give love, so when she has overcome her initial lack of enthusiasm and received the love that he wanted to give, she has experienced, in her words, “euphoria.”

I found Every Woman’s Marriage to be less compelling than Every Man’s Marriage. Perhaps that is simply because I am not a woman, so while the latter convicted and disturbed me regularly, naturally the former did not do so. My main problem is that Ethridge very thoroughly describes how women sin in their marriages and gives a fair amount of ideas of how to do things better, she does not discuss why the sin is this way. It is not that she does not mention why; she does so twice, once at the beginning of the book and once at the end. The why can be distilled down to Ethridge wanting/demanding that her husband satisfy her emotionally, including what seems to have been a certain amount of self-absorption, too. But everything she mentioned seems to stem from the demand that she be satisfied, rather than the desire to satisfy her husband.2  The solution, as she says, is to be satisfied in God; then she can give without expectation (and, ironically, receive from her husband). Unfortunately, as it stands readers must make the connection themselves, so the book seems a little bit like a guide of what to do, instead of a guide of who to be.

It is interesting to compare Every Woman’s Marriage to Captivating. Captivating, which explores what it means to be created beautiful and nurturing, approaches the problem from the other side. Although Captivating does not identify the sin of demanding to be satisfied (or of disbelieving God when He said that what He created was “very good”), it aims to change the attitude that leads to the sin. Every Woman’s Marriage goes from the effects of the sin, namely what happens when we demand that others satisfy us, and identifies the sin. The two books complement each other nicely. I cannot speak for women readers, but as a man I have developed a much deeper appreciation and care for my women friends. (However, I expect that women readers will, if anything, be more affected.)

A good friend of mine told me that you are ready for marriage when you go into the relationship wanting to give to the other person, rather than wanting them to satisfy you. From Every Man’s Battle, it seems like men fail to give because we tend to be unwilling to sacrifice our desires for our wives'. Ethridge suggests that women fail to give because they demand emotional fulfillment instead of inspiring it from their husbands. Despite my reservations, husbands will understand their wives better with this book and single guys will get an idea of what emotional maturity looks like in a woman. And given the patterns in the things men say about their girlfriends and wives, I suspect women will see themselves on many of the pages, and be just as convicted by Every Woman’s Marriage as men will be by Every Man’s Marriage.
Review: 8 (for men)
For some reason I have feel the need to assign an arbitrary number that places the book on both an absolute and relative ranking. As a man, I give this book an 8 because it really does not explain the why. Our motivation determines our actions, and without driving home why we sin, telling us how to do better has limited effectiveness. One of the things I liked about Every Man’s Battle was that it repeatedly said that the man is a slave to oneness with his wife’s essence. This book does not do that. But honestly, Every Man’s Battle has a lot of how-to in it, and maybe a woman would interpret this book differently, so I have left it unranked for women.

Because of the lack of why and the emphasis on what things one can do (“application” in Christianese), this is definitely not a 100-year book. However, I suspect that a book that combined Captivating with Every Woman’s Marriage would be.

1  Personally, I think the purpose is actually oneness, as Ethridge, in fact, states later on.
2  At time of writing, this reviewer has not had a serious relationship, but every thing I have heard about “high maintenance” suggests that perhaps “high maintenance” is the symptom of demanding emotional satisfaction.