CTBHHM: On Being Your Husband’s “Playmate”

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 42-44

This section follows Debi’s story about the time Mike tried to show off, ended up spilling a sack of garbage, and then marched off in embarrassment leaving her to clean it up. The moral of Debi’s story was the last part, where she attempts to show that if wives just humor their husbands’ juvenile tendencies and approach life with humor their marriages will be full of fun, joy, and laughter. In this passage she moves from her specific anecdote to speaking more generally.

Mike is my playmate. He needs someone to play with every day. I am his help meet. That is, I am his helper, suited to his needs. I meet his need for conversation, companionship, and a playmate.

Once again Debi makes clear the subordinate position of women. Women exist to fulfill men. You know what’s interesting? Debi has never once talked about the ways a man might fulfill needs a woman has. Not once. Why? Because she believes women were created to fulfill men, and not vice versa.

It’s also interesting that Debi chooses the word “playmate.” That’s the word Hugh Hefner used for the models for Playboy magazine. It seems to me that there is some similarity in how Hefner and Debi view women, except that Debi believes each man should have his own, personal “playmate,” sealed with a marriage contract, of course, while Hefner would rather be able to collect scads of them.

Our delight in each other did not happen because he is the perfect man. … It happened and continues to happen because of the choices I make every day. I never have a chip on my shoulder, no matter how offended I have a right to be – and I do have reasons to be offended regularly. Every day, I remember to view myself as the woman God gave this man. This mind set helps me to be just that: a gift, a playmate, his helper.

In other words, Debi says that she and Mike have the relationship they do because she lets him walk all over her. No matter what he does, she always just lets it roll off her back. Rather than trying to address things that annoy her, she ignores them. Why? Because she was created to fulfill him – to be his “gift,” “playmate,” and “helper” – and not vice versa. How fulfilled she is depends on how adept she becomes at ignoring the things about her husband that bother her and remembering that she exists to be her husband’s helper.

Early in our marriage, we each made a commitment (independently) to please and forgive the other no matter how hurtful the actions or words that were spoken. Somewhere over the years, having goodwill and a merry heart to each other has become as natural as breathing. We have learned that all of life is fun and needs to be shared with our best friend, playmate, and lover.

Pledging to always please and forgive your spouse no matter what is a terrible idea! What if your spouse is abusive, either physically or emotionally? You just keep trying to please your spouse, and simply forgive your spouse no matter how bad it gets? What about healthy things like talking about problems, or working to change bad patterns, or going to marital counseling if you need it? I understand pledging to always do the best you can to work through tough times in your marriage together, but making an independent pledge to simply ignore problems and focus on pleasing your spouse – to the extent of ignoring your own self – sets you up for a lot of trouble.

But what’s most interesting about this passage is that, unlike most everything in this book, it’s two-sided. She says that both she and Mike made the same pledge. She speaks of them learning together to share life as best friends, playmates, and lovers. (Quick nitpick: Not all of life is fun, and saying it all is minimizes how painful life can be sometimes, and that it’s okay to hurt sometimes rather than being continuously joyful.) That part – being mutual friends, playmates, and lovers sharing life together – actually sounds like something I would say. But it sticks out as odd in a book that continually reveals how insensitive Mike is to his wife’s feelings and needs and how quick Debi is to step in and clean up after him because she was created to be his “helper.” In the end, I suspect that a husband pleasing and forgiving his wife has different requirements than does a wife pleasing and forgiving her husband.

And then, of course, Debi follows this up by once again likening her relationship with Mike to her relationship with God.

Because I have known such love and closeness with a man, subsequently my understanding of God and my appreciation for him are much deeper. A relationship based on law, rules, willful humility, and formality is death. I have learned to approach God just as I approach my husband with love, joy, and delight.

Debi rejects the idea of basing a relationship on things like laws or rules, but she spends her entire book telling women that they need to submit to, obey, and serve their husbands. Her characterization of her relationship with Mike as being full of love, joy, and delight erases the fact that her relationship is based on a hierarchy of man and helper, master and servant. What she is saying here is that she has found a way to have joy and delight in living a marriage relationship based on obedience and service, and that our relationship with God should be the same.

Debi finishes this section by attempting to speak to women whose pasts and marriages are less than perfect:

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You think it is too late for you. You are struggling on your second or third marriage to an unbelieving porn addict, or are suffering through emotional scars from your godless youth.

She goes on to explain that Jesus always gives people second changes and that it’s never too late to start again. This is really standard evangelical fare, the argument that you’re never too far gone to turn your life over to Jesus and get a new start.

But what I want to point out here, briefly, is what these sentences reveal about how she categorizes people. Namely, women who don’t think they can have the joyful and cheery relationship (she thinks) she describes must be either married to sinful and unbelieving men, i.e. porn addicts, or suffering emotional scars that a godless youth must leave. But this also reveals something about the women she is targeting with her book, namely those who are married to non-Christian men who are not responsive to their wives’ needs or wants (anyone who would describe their husband as a “porn addict” clearly feels something is broken or troubled in the relationship) and women who, for whatever reason, now regret things they did in their “godless” past.

And now comes the part where I pull this all together. I would simply finish by explaining why I chose the title I did for this post. Debi’s fleeting attempt at egalitarian language aside, this passage illustrates her belief that, as her husband’s playmate, she exists to meet Mike’s needs and fulfill his wants. Understood against this, background, it becomes clear why she believes she must clean up after him and ignore the things he does that bother her. She exists for him, not him for her. But I would ask, does this sort of wifely pattern actually prove helpful to a husband? After all, the patterns she suggests won’t help a husband grow as a person. Instead, they enable a husband to act like a child without having any consequences for doing so. In fact, I would venture to say that I am a better helper to my husband by being an outspoken and equal partner than a woman following Debi’s instructions will ever be by being a silent and long-suffering servant to her husband.

CTBHHM: Why Was Marian’s Husband So Loving?
I Co-sleep, But: Some Thoughts on Attachment Parenting
Anonymous Tip: In Which Gwen Lies to Casey
The Radical Notion that Children Can Have Anxiety Too
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.mymusingcorner.wordpress.com/ Lana

    You know, when your done, you could compile this all in a ebook. Then you’ll really have the patriarchalists mad, lol.

  • veganatheist01

    I wonder what Debi would tell a woman who is married to an “unbelieving porn addict” who wants her to do something “sinful” (say, have a threesome, or an abortion, or whatever). Should she obey him and fulfill his needs then? Should she be joyful and delighted and forgiving? Somehow I find that hard to believe, but I can’t imagine Debi would ever advise a woman to take a stand or even get a divorce, either. (I guess she never actually considers such a scenario, though. Does she still answer letters? Maybe I should just shoot her a quick email with such a “problem”… the reaction would be interesting.)

    • Danielle

      John Piper dealt with the husband asking the wife to submit to sin thing a few years ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OkUPc2NLrM
      Super fucked up.

      • http://concerningpurity.blogspot.com Lynn

        I remember that video. It was the tipping point that finally helped me let go of any guilt I had associated with not being a follower of Piper. I attended his church for a while when I was going to a bible college in his city, and everyone I knew revered him to the point of idolatry. Even though I didn’t agree with him sometimes, the pressure I felt from everyone around me to follow him made me think I was in the wrong.

      • Carys Birch

        Ugh. It depends on the kind of abuse… just a *little* abuse is okay. Words cannot express how glad I am to be out of that world.

  • sara maimon

    I see you again referred to your last post by referencing the garbage incident. The garbage part of the story pales in comparison to the subsequent violence and it bothers me to see that overlooked repeatedly.

    • Rosie

      That violent end to the story made me think that Debi’s book should be subtitled, “How to Survive an Abusive Relationship You Can’t Leave”. In fact, all of her advice is a recipe for doing precisely that.

      • Nea

        I dislike blaming the victim, but Debi brags in the garbage case that she deliberately made him drop another bag. I still can’t figure out what motivated her to do that or why she thinks practical jokes are funny – especially as the rest of her words strongly suggest that other women should not interrupt their husbands when they deign to do chores, or that a woman would have no recourse to self-defense, much less calling for help, if her husband responded to a practical joke with the back of his hand instead of “smooching” on her.

        The Pearl’s entire relationship seems to be based on who’s getting the upper hand at any moment, with Debi thinking it’s hilarious when she’s the one manipulating the situation.

      • Cathy W

        Definitely. Possibly even as specific as “How To Be The Wife Michael Pearl Wants”. Just as they don’t recognize individual variations in women, they also don’t recognize individual variations in men.

  • Matt

    Sometimes I worry that my partner does something similar and puts up with me out of some weird sexist obligation.
    Buut I guess overall we’re thankfully a team of some sort, with give and take.

    I don’t think i could stomach a woman like the one you’re writing about.

  • Cathy W

    I’m suddenly curious – I know there’s a lot of books on the market about how to be a good “submitted” wife. Is there anything coming out of the same sources, or even the same kind of sources, about how to be a good “submitted to” husband? Or is the merest suggestion that your husband might benefit from such a thing considered to not be submitting -you’re simply supposed to perform some combination of “submitting harder” / manipulating him into doing what you want?

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      Those blogs focus on terms such as leadership and discipleship and how important it is to be the spiritual head of the home. Use that in google and you will find your answer. It’s not pretty.

  • Stony

    I never have a chip on my shoulder, no matter how offended I have a right to be – and I do have reasons to be offended regularly

    Here’s a lesson from my first marriage, to my oh-so-godly and righteous first husband: I was never allowed to show anger towards him or be mad. Via negative reinforcement, I was conditioned to “never have a chip” and to let things roll off my back. It was a miserable existence. No problems were ever solved, they were merely kept out of my husband’s life. He would classify our marriage as great because for him it was. There were never consequences to his behavior, even as Debi states above, “even when she had reasons to be offended regularly”. To this day…to this day…many years after the fact, I can enumerate many many issues and problems that occurred, simply because they were never dealt with. They were only internalized where they burned a hole. Debi would say that I was not really cheerful, but I’ll bet she has a few festering resentments of her own.
    Contrast that to my marriage now: there may be one or two battles that I could list, but very few, and not one that has not been dealt with on an egalitarian basis, or that we have a plan to address, when we have the money or time. Debi’s book is so triggering to me as it brings back all the crap from my first marriage. I’d take the godless porn addict (why are they always addicts??) rather than go back to that.

  • wanderer

    My thoughts:
    1. I think someone said this before, but it’s worth repeating. If god made her to fit him so perfectly, why does it seem she has to contort herself so damn much to make it work?
    2. Dear Debi, no I don’t feel condescended to at all when you explain that because you’ve got such an amazing and long and perfect marriage you’re so much closer to god than all the rest of us. bite me.
    3. I know a couple who have been married for 45 years. (So, slightly longer than debi but not THAT much). I truly think neither of them would say they had occasion to be offended daily. They treat each other in a loving and respectful way, and their trust for each other’s respect has become so well established, that they know the other person’s intention is loving. They don’t have to work this hard every day to convince themselves to let go of a chip on the shoulder. It sounds to me like debi’s marriage has been hell every day and she works damn hard constantly to convince herself she’s happy.
    4. Once again she points out how rude her husband is (someone in the last past mentioned how passive-aggressive she is in this book) by talking about how often he is offensive. I pity this woman.

  • Saraquill

    To say that you are the playmate to one’s husband strongly indicates that he is still underage or psychologically juvenile. Either way, he is not someone who is ready for the responsibilities of marriage.

    • Pauline

      I’m not sure I would agree with making this such a blanket statement. Obviously true in her case given the ridiculous immaturity of his just walking away from garbage he spilled, but sometimes mature spouses can “play” together, even in a kind of childlike way, while being adults.

  • sara maimon

    In the beginning of her marriage when debi saw how it was going to be she had a choice to stay or go. If she left she could be independent, free, and struggle to make a life for herself. If she stayed, she could be famous and powerful by being married to a famous and powerful man (that is, in his circle… I never heard of him before the child died from his book). by submittting to him she can lord over everyone else.

  • sara maimon

    I also wonder whether Mike was such a jerk when they first married, or whether his philosophy and Debi’s cooperation over the years made him so.

    • Niemand

      Probably both. He likely was already a bit of a petty dictator when they married, but the tendency has likely only increased with time.

  • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

    “no matter how offended I have a right to be”

    It took me a while to realise just how messed up this statement is. She admits that there are times when she would have a good reason to be offended, but says that EVEN THEN one should just choose to be happy instead. Every once in a while it seems like reality starts to barge in and they’ll start to acknowledge it, but still can’t let go of the absolutes they find so dear, which leads to some very confusing and ultimately meaningless statements.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      Which is odd because her advice boils down to “I don’t have the right to be offended.”

  • smrnda

    Debi says this : ” A relationship based on law, rules, willful humility, and formality is death.”

    That’s a pretty good description of her marriage. It’s based on rigid roles and expectations, and rules about everything, including rules about what emotions one is allowed to feel. So when she says ” I approach my husband with love, joy, and delight” she isn’t talking about these feelings being natural and spontaneous, but these feelings being what she’s supposed to feel and what she will display regardless of what’s going on.

    Communication is the thing missing in her marriage; she doesn’t understand it or the need for it, and a big indicator is she can’t distinguish between a legitimate complaint and whining, or between playful behavior that can be healthy and appropriate for an adult and behavior that shows a serious lack of maturity.

    I can’t see how anybody gets hope from Debi Pearl. She’s clearly not happy, no matter how often she says the contrary.

  • Niemand

    Someone needs to tell Debi and especially Mike that “The Handmaid’s Tale” is not a utopian novel.

    • Pauline

      Niemand FTW!

  • http://concerningpurity.blogspot.com Lynn

    This stuff makes me so sad. The forced happiness these women put on themselves is heartbreaking. I completely agree that her behavior only aids her husband to become more childlike, rude, and self-centered. She is NOT helping him be a better person.

    And I can’t imagine how dysfunctional their relationship must be if they never work through problems. She pretends they don’t exist, and so I’m sure they keep on happening.

  • Carys Birch

    I know this is stupid and nitpicky, but who proofreads her books? “Mindset” is one word, not two, and “willful” doesn’t go with “humility.” Words have meaning! Ahh!

    Re: why are they always porn addicts… a woman from my mother’s church told her last week that everyone who’s on the internet a lot is a porn addict. She was referring to myself and another local young man who chat online a lot. /sigh The internet: ALL PORN ALL THE TIME!

    • Richter_DL

      They don’t know the internet, they just know what their pastor tells them about the internet. Hippies and seedy secular singles also have a lot less random drunk/drugged sex than those people think they have.

      It’s talking about things you only know through very biased second-hand accounts. something these people, in their parallel culture, seem to excel in, to reinforce to themselves how much better than you they are.

      Besides, I’m rather doubtful you can actually be addicted to porn. What about other genres? Can you be addicted to literature? Star Wars movies? The bible? Is bible-addiction a recognised disease? It sure seems to do a lot of damage …

      • Christine

        I think the reason that porn addiction gets official recognition and bible addiction doesn’t is that people with porn addictions are willing to admit that they have a problem. If you never try to stop then you’re never going to realise that you’re dependent.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

    I think Debi Pearl’s book ought to be entitled: “How to Have a Dysfunctional Marriage, Convince Yourself It’s Normal, and Set it Up as the Standard for Everyone Else.”

  • J-Rex

    “Mike is my playmate. He needs someone to play with every day. I am his help meet. That is, I am his helper, suited to his needs. I meet his need for conversation, companionship, and a playmate.”

    In a healthy relationship, it would probably read, “Mike and I are playful and helpful. We love each other’s conversation and companionship.”
    Does she not have any needs? Does she not need a companion? A helper? Conversation?

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      Those are what other women and children are for.

  • Scotlyn

    You know, I’m beginning to wonder about this woman. She is a perfectionist, demonstrating a galaxy-sized smug hubris. “See how perfectly I can model this submissive woman role. There is no one better at it than me. In fact, I do it SO WELL that my husband doesn’t even have to take part in the making of this marriage. I can do all the heavy lifting myself” *shows wifely heavy lifting muscles* “All you other 90-lb-weakling women just need to (figuratively) pump some iron, and you, too can have the prowess I have.”

    Really, although her counsel is all humility and submission, her actual style and tone is anything but.

  • Richter_DL

    I think you’re onto something with neither partnber growing in this kind of relationship. In a way, it keeps bothz in their roles as cildren – co-dependent andn unable to live for and by themselves. I think it’s intentional in this setup.

  • Kagi Soracia

    So I’m reading through the archive of these posts all at once, since I found your blog only recently and was a little bit lost by the current ones on this topic, and I just have to say that having gotten this far, the acronym for the book title is starting to look like CTHULU. I’m saying it that way in my head from now on.