Reading Time: 13 minutes ( nic.)
Reading Time: 13 minutes

Hi! Lately, we’ve been examining the terrible Christian marriage-advice book, If Only He Knew. In it, author Gary Smalley coaches complementarian men in repairing their failing marriages. And as we all know, the first step in fixing a problem is identifying it. Right? So today, come watch my husband, Mr. Captain Cassidy, take a quiz to find out how much trouble our marriage is in. Who knows? Maybe we really need Gary Smalley’s help!

( nic.)

(Omniscient voice-over narration: “Spoiler: They discovered that they were doing just fine without Gary Smalley and his terrible Christian marriage advice.”)

Why Complementarian Men Should Want Happy Marriages.

Last time, we whisked through the huge biological differences between men and women. Now, Gary Smalley now needs to convince his readers (complementarian Christian men, remember) of why they need his book.

It’s all very shocking information, even groundbreaking (p.24).

  • First of all, women in unhappy marriages get sick a lot and probably will become fat, like OMG.
  • Secondly, unhappy wives refuse to give up the nookie.
  • Thirdly, the children of unhappily-married parents develop mental illnesses and go on to marry terrible people. 
  • Lastly, a bad marriage destroys a Christian’s credibility like whoa.

Interestingly, all of his cautions make complementarians look like selfish, egotistical nitwits. Smalley fat-shames women, throws people suffering from mental illnesses under the bus, and issues naked appeals to his readers’ egos.

All in all, he tries to convince his readers that their standing as MEN, not just as TRUE CHRISTIANS™, stands at stake here. Thus, they must repair their marriages in order to keep their Man Cards in their wallets.

The Problem He Hopes We’ll Ignore.

His positioning of marriage as a confirmation of masculinity interests me. But it’s not for the reason he wants. He wants his readers to hear his four reasons and immediately get horrified that they came so close to losing their standing in the Toxic Masculinity Club. In fact, he seems to want complementarian men to read his list and sit up straighter, square their shoulders, set their jaws, and determine then and there to do whatever it takes to repair their marriages for the sake of their image and their sex lives and their children, if nothing else.

However, Smalley hopes we’ll help him out by ignoring something super-important:

None of what he lists here actually forms any of the required teachings given to young men in complementarian churches.

Seriously, none of it. The men in these churches grow up knowing that absolutely nobody compels men to follow the suggestions set before them. Not only do men not get taught much about how to conduct romantic relationships, they don’t get taught anything accurate about marriage–or women at all, really, who remain weird alien creatures no man could ever understand.

Amusingly, Smalley himself alludes to this exact problem several times throughout the book. He asks men to start caring about these suggestions now, to save their marriages.

But they never had to care about this stuff beforehand. So they won’t now.

The Marriage Checkup Quiz.

Gary Smalley next offers this “short marriage checkup” to readers as a way for them to identify their “strengths and weaknesses.” After they’ve identified those things, they can work to get their marriages back to health.

The author attributes “some” of this quiz to “Dr. George Larson,” billed herein as “a psychologist who has done extensive work helping people develop good relationships.” In fact, he’s offered this same quiz in other books, notably Hidden Keys of a Loving, Lasting Marriage. There, he provided the exact same attribution.

However, we have no idea in the world who this Larson guy is. Smalley never provides credentials for him. Larson turns out to be a ghost in the system online; he never wrote any books of his own, it doesn’t seem, nor published any papers. Both Larson and Smalley’s names show up in this printed list of phone numbers from Colorado, and we know Smalley lived in Colorado. So for all we know, these two simply knew each other from some local Christian scene.

As a consequence, we never find out how Smalley knows how this list relates to a happy marriage or predicts which ones will last and be harmonious. In fact, as we’ll discover, you could ace this quiz 100% and still be teetering on the edge of divorce. That lack of relevance explains so much about the test.

Let’s dive in! To do this quiz, you answer these questions “yes” or “no.” Then, you add up how many of each answer you got.


Seriously Now: The Marriage Checkup Quiz.

I opened the book. “Ready?” My husband, Mr. Captain Cassidy (Mr. Captain/Mr. C), nodded. He’s been hooked on Outward lately, so he answered while playing. (By the way, he recommends this game wholeheartedly to any old-school RPG fans out there.)

“1. Do you make your wife feel good about herself?”

His answer was a drawn-out “Yesss… I believe I do.”

“2. Do you value the same things in your wife that you value in yourself?”

“Again, yesss…. I believe I do.”

I asked, “What do you think he even means by that?”

He replied, “I think he’s largely full of [cow byproduct]. I’m only doing this because it entertains you for some reason.”

“3. Does your face spontaneously break into a smile when you see your wife?”

His answer, said very certainly: “Yes. Every time, every day, for more than fifteen years.” I can certainly attest to the truth of this statement. He lights up like a Christmas tree. <3 <3 <3

I’ll stop the world and melt with you.


“4. When you leave the house, does your wife have a sense of well-being, having been nourished by your company?”

Mr. Captain: “That’s just such a @$&^ing bizarre thing to say or ask. It sounds intentionally obscure, like he just wants to facilitate a ‘No.'”

I told him about how this question reminded me of some years ago. When we were on tight funds, I baked lunch food for him almost every day. I sent him to work with scones, or focaccia bread and little bento dipping oils and vinegars, or something similar to eat. And I tucked a little love-note into each lunch-bag. This went on for a couple of years.

Later, he had to move offices, so he emptied his desk and brought his stuff home. That’s when I discovered he’d kept Every. Single. Note. They’re all in a 4″ stack on his desk in here right now. He refuses to part with any of them. In turn, I told him that every time I pulled stuff from the oven then, I’d smile so hugely thinking of him eating it and appreciating what I’d made.

And he did. He always expressed great appreciation for those lunches. Often, he praised my domestic skills because they saved us during some very lean times. In turn, he did his best to earn as much as he could, and I always tried to show appreciation for his hard work and work with him on making a sparse budget succeed.

So we ended up calling #4 a qualified YES, because we mutually nourish each other.

You know, it’s almost as if we were partners.

Communication Questions, Mostly.

“5. Can you and your wife tell each other honestly what you really want instead of using manipulation or games?”

Him: “Absolutely. Every time. We’re adults.”

“6. Can your wife get angry at you without your thinking less of her?”

Him: (laughing) “Of course. But I’m not sure it’s really come up. I’m trying to find memories of you getting angry at me.” In 15+ years we haven’t had anything I could rightly term a fight. I’ve never even heard him raise his voice in anger at me.

“7. Can you accept your wife as she is instead of having several plans to redo her?”

Him: “Jesus @$&^. Why would I have plans to ‘redo’ you? What the @$&^ is wrong with this guy and what kind of miserable dickheels does he associate with?”

“8. Is your behavior consistent with your words?”

Him: “@$&^ yeah.” Then we wondered between us why Smalley’s asking his readers this question. Lots of Christian men think their word is bond or whatevs, but almost all of ’em fall down there in reality.

“9. Do your actions show you really care for your wife?”

Him: “Yes, but you’d really have to ask my wife, because she’d be the best judge of that.” (Me: “My answer would be ‘yes very.'”)

The Nice Guys of Complementarianism.

“10. Can you feel comfortable with your wife when she’s wearing old clothes?”

Mr. Captain: “JEsus CHRIST. Yes, yes I can. I can make that sacrifice. I can endure somehow.” (Let the record show that I’m in a pair of fuschia plaid lounge pants and a grey yoga top right now. Somehow, my husband hasn’t spontaneously combusted from the shock of seeing me in such a casual getup.) He continued: “It’s distressing to think that there are people who’d need this quiz.”

“11. Do you enjoy introducing your wife to your friends or acquaintances?”

Him: “When we go out with friends, I find you to be interesting and charming, and appreciated. And that makes me feel good in turn.”

(I used to dread introducing Biff to people, because he was simply so flamboyantly boorish and rude. He mortified me on the regular in public.)

“12. Are you able to share with your wife your moments of weakness, failure, or disappointment?”

Immediately and sounding dead certain, he answered, “Every one of them.”

(Let the record show that I melted on the spot in my casual clothes.)

Ya know.

Listening Skills and Spiders.

“13. Would your wife say you’re a good listener?”

We both started laughing because I’m a real chatterbox. Finally, he asked, “Why the @$&^ does this test keep asking me what my wife thinks? My answers can’t be as trustworthy or as reliable as asking her. You. You get the idea. This is a bad test!”

“14. Do you trust your wife to solve her own problems?”

He laughed, then said, “Yes, I do. As long as there’s no spiders involved, or bugs, or heavy stuff. I mean, could you? Yeah, but usually I try to take that stuff over.”

I asked, “How many spiders do you think you’ve gently introduced to lives of peaceful spiritual contemplation outside our house?”

He considered, then said, “I don’t know, but it’s got to be enough that stories are still told of me among Spider-Kind. I live in The Place Young Spiders Must Not Go. They call me ‘He Who Reaps But Does Not Sow.'”

If He Didn’t Have Me.

“15. Do you admit to your wife you have problems and need her comfort?”

“When it comes up, of course I do. It’s almost like we @$&^ing communicate. Like ADULTS.”

“16. Do you believe you could live a full happy life without your wife?”

He sighed. “That is a surprisingly tough question to answer. Would I be okay? Yes. Would I define it, from my current context now, of being full and happy as I am now, in the time I have now with you? I think that’d be far more iffy.”

YouTube video

“If I Didn’t Have You,” Tim Minchin. Not entirely SFW language after the song.

“17. Do you encourage your wife to develop her full potential as a woman?”

Him: “Jesus Christ, dude, what the @$&^ does that mean?”

I said, “I think he’s comparing husbands to those big Kotex boxes we girls all got in fourth grade when we got our ‘You’re a Woman Now’ lectures.”

He replied, “Well, I didn’t get a big Kotex box, so I’m unfamiliar with this logic. I don’t feel qualified to answer Kotex-box-caliber questions. I’m just not absorbent enough. How many more of these are there?”

I replied, “Thirty, total. We’re on 17.”

He made a thoughtful hmmm noise.

And Then He Hit Pause.

After a moment, he said, “I need to say something. I find these questions dishonest, manipulative, insincere. Really, I answered them only because you asked and I love you. But I do not feel these questions are useful, relevant, applicable, or worthwhile in ANY context. They’re incapable of getting honest answers. I’ve seen more sincere questions on a tract asking if you’re ‘saved.’ There’s no point to finishing this. If the next questions don’t differ markedly, they won’t get any better answers.”

I glanced ahead. “No, they’re all about the same as these.”

“Thought not.” Then his voice took on strong, nearly military-precise sharpness. He’d paused his game, too. “If it asked questions like ‘Do you feel you understand what sacrifices your wife makes for you?’ or it said “Do you believe that you do everything you can for your partner and your marriage?’ that’d be one thing. If it asked me questions like that, or about what you do for the relationship, or asked my opinions of what you did, maybe. Even if it asked if you did those things for me, comforted me, helped me develop, those might even be smart questions to ask.

“But that’s not what this is. This is saying, ‘Does your wife think this about you?’ Pffft. Or, ‘Do you do this unmeasurable, difficult-to-quantify thing that means whatever you want it to mean?'”

Disgust dripped from his voice. “Those are dishonest questions–dishonest as @$&^.”

YouTube video

Well, that’ll just about cover flybys.

At Least The Book Accomplished One Thing.

He continued, “I’m deeply offended by this entire line of questioning and anybody who’d put them in a book of marriage advice. The only thing that’s made me hate this author more than you talking about the book is hearing these questions. Before, my opinion was that this book was a waste of time. Not you reviewing it. Him writing it. Now my opinion is that this guy’s an asshole. ‘Cold-blooded, clean, methodical, and thorough.’

“Before, I just felt general contempt for him and his beliefs. But now, I actively despise him. That dishonest, manipulative line of questioning he’s printed here just… RAWR. It makes me want to say naughty words.”

He demonstrated at great length. He’s right. They were quite impressively naughty words!

Really, though, Mr. Captain lasted longer than I expected. Let’s give him a hand!


The Impossible Questions.

When we dive into the swamp of dysfunctional relationship paradigms, the denizens of that murky land fear the important questions. They refuse to ask them. Indeed, they have reason to fear the questions themselves–and even more reason to fear honest answers to them.

These would be better questions for this stupid quiz:

When you mess up, do you take responsibility and then actively seek to prevent it from happening again? Or do you fall back into the habits that led to the first commission of the mistake?

When you need help with something or comfort, can you ask for it without fearing that your partner will use that vulnerability to take advantage of you later on?

If you ever feel like you’re doing way more than your fair share, are you confident that your partner will want to know about it and will make it right? When your partner asks you for that help, do you give it–or do you argue about it?

Does your partner ever accuse you of being controlling, fighting unfairly, not caring about their needs or feelings, or taking them for granted? If so, how often has that accusation come up?

Do you face any dealbreaker disagreements that you keep arguing about without finding solutions? How do you handle disagreements about handling situations or life choices?

But that’s all way too real for this chucklehead and his pals.

The Fear of Vulnerability.

I know the secret that Gary Smalley doesn’t know, and I’ll happily share it with his fanboys. It’ll do no good, but I’ll share it all the same.

Authoritarian control means a half-life spent missing out on stuff that a lot of folks consider the most glorious parts of the human experience. The more power and control partners grab for themselves, the more of that experience they’ll miss. At the end, totally dominating another human being means less than a finger-snap compared to the true companionship of someone in complete sympathy with us.

I’m talking here about something Gary Smalley doesn’t and can’t understand. It’s as foreign to him as a universe wherein water molecules crowd together when they freeze. The laws of physics that form his worldview exclude what I’m saying here.

I’m talking about mutuality, the glory of vulnerability, shared, nurtured, cherished, and protected. It’s a vision of two people who stand strong against the world because they have a fortress built between themselves. They pick each other up. Where one falters, the other holds out a hand.

And as much as complementarian Christians ache to achieve that kind of intimacy, their rules preclude that very possibility.

Since Feelings Are First.

I feel like I’m ripping my chest open here.

But these points are important. This idea matters. I’ve got to get it right.

This quiz here is designed to uphold complementarianism–and to sell Gary Smalley’s products. He asks questions about how well each spouse follows those marriage rules to create a need in his potential customers. Trust me, absolutely nothing in this quiz matters in the remainder of the book. He’ll never really refer to it again, and readers will need to complete his entire program regardless of how high a score they get on it.


Wait, What? Scoring?

Oh. Yeah. The scoring. Ugh. One sec.

The quiz contains 30 questions. If you get 10 or fewer “yes” answers, then whoa buddy, your marriage is “in major need of an overhaul.” If you get 11-19 “yes” answers, then your marriage “needs improvement.” And if you get 20+ “yes” answers, then yay! “You’re probably on your way to a good, lasting relationship.”

See how he worded that? No matter how many “yes” answers you get on his stupid quiz, he can’t promise that your marriage is healthy and happy. No matter what your score is, you still need the product this huckster is selling. So yes, it’s exactly like the chintzy fake “research” Christians do. It exists to prop up a product.

In reality, we have no reason to think this quiz actually accomplishes what Smalley says it does: figuring out if a marriage needs help, and if so, where its problem spots might be. The score matters as much here as it does on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Mr. Captain looked over the remaining questions. They disturbed him enormously. Technically, he scored a 30/30, but he ended up qualifying and condemning each question like he did the first half, just as a whole.

The Remedial Class.

So these nutjobs need basic, remedial classes in How to Human. Gary Smalley accidentally reveals in this test that despite them thinking that a real live god inhabits them, complementarian Christians are woefully inept at conducting marriages.

They don’t even know how to tell if a marriage is strong or weak. Followers of complementarianism will never, ever know what true intimacy is or how to achieve it.

And the worst part is, they never believe me when I told them that there’s something so much better out there than what they think they want. They always think I’m lying because nobody can trust another person like that. No relationship could possibly flourish without someone seizing and holding control over the other. You advocate for chaos! Madness! Gosh, your poor husband must hate you and his life!

(Does he sound like he does?)

It’s just so goddamned tragic and pointless…

…almost as much as Christianity itself is.

NEXT UP: A quick detour into a huge, amazingly weird scandal currently rocking one social-media community. It accidentally shows us something important about toxic groups (and it even ties in to today’s topic!). Then we head back into Gary Smalley’s weird little world to examine a timeline of his shockingly bad behavior as a husband. See you soon!

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(I wanted to get a picture of the stack of love-notes. He said, “No! Those are my treat. I don’t want them to get lost or ruined.” Sorry, y’all. I’m going to get him a box for them.)

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...