CTBHHM: Remember, It Could Be Worse!

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 45-47

I wanted to send my testimony because you have greatly encouraged me. I send it with my husband’s approval.

Debi finishes her section on thankfulness with another letter from a reader, this time a long one. Debi offers this letter without commentary, allowing it to stand for itself as an example of the sort of thankfulness she has been talking about. Remember from what we’ve seen in the past few posts that Debi has been telling women that rather than becoming upset with problems with their marriage or their husbands or, you know, trying to fix said problems, they should instead simply purpose to be content and thankful no matter what. Anyway, back to this letter.

The letter’s author, who calls herself Sara, explains that she was sexually abused by several different people as a child, and doesn’t “ever remember feeling pure.” She says that her parents divorced when she was young, and that her mom got custody but was only a shell of a person after the divorce and pretty much let her children fend for themselves – “dirty and unkempt.” Sara tells Debi that these things created self esteem problems (though she doesn’t use that word exactly) and that “I never really knew what it was to be loved” and that she was “so dirty, inside and out.”

Sara skips ahead, then, to her adulthood:

After I was married, I experienced deep personal pain in my marriage relationship — my husband’s adultery. It was awful. I reacted terribly toward him. I defied him, used it to get my own way, and tortured him with it. You name it; I did it. The only thing I didn’t do was leave him. We went through much hurt, anger, and bitterness. I had great difficulty trusting anything or anyone, even God.

Interestingly, except for stating that her husband committed adultery, Sara does not say anything about her husband’s actions in the situation. Did he break off the affair? Presumably. Did he apologize and try to make things right? Again, we are left to assume that he did, but we are not given anything clear. All that matters for Sara, and presumably for Debi, is Sara’s reaction and Sara’s actions. And Sara, we are informed in no uncertain terms, did not handle it well. In fact, when Sara states that “It was awful” it is not even clear whether she is speaking of her husband’s adultery or her reaction to it.

Let me take a moment to refer back to what I have titled Debi’s Rule #1 – “Whatever the problem is, by all means blame the woman.” The problem is not Sara’s husband’s adultery, oh no! It’s Sara’s response to her husband’s adultery. Now of course, on some level all we can control is our own reaction to things. But nevertheless, Sara’s situation fits Debi’s general pattern of letting the husband entirely off the hook and finding a way to turn all the blame on the wife. Remember when Debi blamed Beth’s husband’s adultery on Beth, and excused her husband from responsibility, saying that he must have been lonely?

Okay, so, what would be a good way to react to your husband’s unfaithfulness? Going off of what little we know about Sara’s situation, did she do everything right, or did she get things wrong? Well, it seems to me that it’s only natural to feel the hurt and anger and distrust Sara describes when faced with a spouse’s adultery. The next step, of course, should be communication and counseling and attempts to find the root of the problems and a way to repair the marriage, if possible. We don’t know whether Sara and her husband did any of this, or whether they just sort of brushed it under the carpet and attempted to move on. That said, Sara is right of course that torturing your spouse with a past transgression is not good. And to be honest, this response makes me think that she and her husband didn’t turn to communication and counseling in order to repair their damaged marriage. I suspect that instead they simply tried to muddle along as Sara’s (quite natural) anger and distrust solidified into bitterness.

Anyway, moving on. Sara says that at that time she asked for God to give her a sign that he loved her. He answered her, she says, by reminding her of how he showed her he loved her when she was that “dirty, ill-mannered, messed-with child” – by putting an elderly Christian woman in her neighborhood to show her love, to hold her on her lap and tell her stories of Jesus.

It was God’s lap I sat on that day; it just took me years and years to know it. Because God loved a dirty little girl, all the while I was going through public school, I never believed in evolution. I had a basic knowledge of Jesus Christ, sin, hell, and heaven. God had laid a foundation in my life, when I was a rejected, lonely child…

Sarah explains that her elderly Christian neighbor took her to church for the next five years and was “a true vessel for God’s love.” Then she moves back to her troubled marriage.

There came a time during all our marriage troubles that I knew I was stagnating. I got on my knees and began to pray, asking God to make me grateful. That Sunday at our church, the ladies from the Roloff Homes were there. [Roloff Homes take in troubled, drug addicted or street ladies who come for help.] God began to remind me where he had brought me from and what he had saved me out of. About the time God was doing this, our pastor asked the ladies of our church, who would, to come and stand with the Roloff ladies because, really, but for the grace of God, we could have been standing where those ladies were. I went and stood with them, and we all began to sing, ‘At The Cross.’ I began to weep, thinking about the miry pit that God had rescued me out of. The Roloff ladies put their hands on me to comfort me — me, who should have been comforting them! I silently thanked God for making me grateful, and thanked him for doing it so gently.

In other words, Sara prayed that God would make her grateful, and the very next Sunday women who work with drug addicted women and prostitutes came to speak at her church. She remembered her past and that she could easily have ended up just like those poor women, and realized how good she actually had it.

And here I am going to take a moment to create Debi’s Rule #4: “If you think you have it bad, remember that it could be worse.” We already encountered this idea earlier, when Debi told a wife whose husband had committed adultery that if she continued down a path of bitterness she would end up single, living in a “dumpy duplex” and sending her children to public school to be turned into godless unruly heathens.

Now of course, it’s absolutely a good idea to count your blessings. The trouble starts when Debi uses this line to encourage women in crappy situations to just be grateful and put up with those crappy situations. Remember that we have very little idea about how Sara’s husband handled the aftermath of his affair. We have no idea whether he has fixed old patterns or anything. So when Sara encounters the Roloff women, she’s essentially realizing that being in a (insert problems here) marriage with a (insert problems here) man is better than being on the street, so she should shut up about her problems already and get over it. (Somehow I feel like my husband Sean wouldn’t be happy if I were to employ similar reasoning to my own marriage.) Regardless of what Debi seems to think, marriage shouldn’t be something you stay in just because you realize your life could be worse.

Being grateful and thankful is the key to spiritual victory.

You know what? Being grateful and thankful can also lead to complacency and stagnation if the gratefulness and thankfulness are forced and put on rather than natural.

It was at this point that the battle turned. There came a time when God dealt with me about my bitterness towards him. I had carried bitterness towards him for not protecting me while a child when I thought he should have. He showed me that he hadn’t shielded Jesus either.

So much to say, so little time. This is really a theological problem here, and this series is more about critiquing what Debi says about marriage and gender roles than it is for dealing with theological problems like this.

I do think, though, that I need to say something about bitterness. Why? Because, quite simply, that word is a weapon wielded in evangelical and fundamentalist circles to keep women in their place. Women who are discontent, or want something different, or become angry at the church hierarchy or at God’s long lists of rules, or start asking questions or challenging Christian teachings are accused of being bitter. And for a Christian woman in evangelical and fundamentalist circles, there is no worse insult. I need to explore this concept more in a future post, but it’s something to chew on.

Who would believe that now I want to be married to my husband; that I like being around him and spending time with him. I enjoy talking to him and enjoy the fact that he balances me out so well. Who would believe I am looking forward to having more children with him, Lord willing. Some people would say I am weak and foolish or extremely co-dependent. What people think is nothing compared to what God thinks.

Once again, we have no idea at all what role Sara’s husband played here. The impression we are given is that Sara transformed her entire marriage single handedly simply by letting go of her bitterness and deciding to be grateful for what she had, however crappy that might be (again, we don’t know). This is one of the many themes that suffuse Debi’s book: rather than encouraging women to work together with their husbands to fix or improve their marriages, perhaps with help from counseling, Debi tells women they can make their marriages perfect single handedly. This message makes me really nervous.

Next, let me touch for a moment on the whole “weak and foolish or extremely co-dependent” thing. Sara sees the idea of codependency as something to laugh about, and honestly? Debi spends her book telling women to be codependent on their parents. What is codependency?

Codependency is defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (typically narcissism or drug addiction); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of or control of another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.

Debi informs women that it is their duty as wives to submit to and obey their husbands, and tells them they exist to meet their husbands’ needs. That is codependency. And you know what? Codependency is generally considered to be, you know, a problem. You know how I said earlier that I want to hash out the whole “bitterness” concept more later? I hope to do the same with codependency.

Debi holds Sara’s letter up as a success story. And really, Sara’s letter (if a woman named Sara did indeed write it – it is always possible that Debi simply wrote it herself to set it out as a model of how her teachings can fix marriages) is a perfect example of the pattern Debi endorses. Sara had a bad background and a troubled marriage, but she fixed it all by letting go of her bitterness, trusting God, and purposing to love her husband. This is the promise Debi holds out. And of course, with all of this, Debi is quick to point out that no matter how bad women think their marriages and situations are, they could always be worse, “dumpy duplex” and all.

CTBHHM: Playing Telephone with God
CTBHHM: What "Companionship" Means in Pearl World
CTBHHM: A Young Wife Should Be "Bored and Lonely"
CTBHHM: "I Am His Water"
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.

  • Tracey

    “ecause God loved a dirty little girl, all the while I was going through public school, *I never believed in evolution*.” Uhm, what randomness is this? I sincerely believe Debi is making these letters up. I can’t believe anyone writes in talking about their husband’s adultery and then goes off on a tangent like that.

    • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

      I dunno — evolution is a pretty big bogeyman for the extreme Evangelicals. It’s like, Public Enemy #1. “Believing in evolution” is one of the worst mistakes you can make; it’s the thing that lets in the devil and world. So I can just about believe someone would drag it in to a discussion that otherwise had nothing to do with natural history.

      Funny, innit? How an obsessive, reclusive Victorian gent with health problems can win a beat-down with the Almighty.

    • E

      See, everytime I think she’s got to be making them up, stuff like that makes me think otherwise. Truth is stranger than fiction. Could Debi’s mind really be surreal enough to come up with these bizarre tangential details in letter after letter?

      • Ibis3

        The letters don’t sound authentic at all. And they always sound just like Debi herself writes. The thing about evolution is something she would feel compelled to slip in, just in case any of her readers had forgotten about the primary evil of public schooling. She couldn’t mention public school without making sure evolution got burned.

      • E

        The whole book is straight out of la-la-land, and we’re not even to page 50. Debi probably did write all or at least most of the letters. But there are a lot of people out there who are just as bizarre, like the letter-writers to my local paper.* (I would qualify that as “fundie xtian” letter writers, but that pretty much describes all of them.) I wouldn’t put it past one of them to come up with a non-sequitor like that.

        *I’m from the area that “clings to their guns and religion”, and boy do they ever.

      • Rosie

        Then again, when I was in an abusive relationship with a man studying to be a preacher/evangelist, I sounded pretty much just like Debi does. And I’d never even heard her name at that point.

  • Stony

    You could really play evangelical bingo with this one, huh? Public school, check. Evolution, check. Divorced parents, check. Magical elderly godly mother-figure, check. “Got down on knees”, check. Debi is getting sloppy when she cobbles up these letters out of whole cloth.

    I fully endorse your intention to review the “bitterness” insult. I’m to a point where I know the argument or discussion is over when someone slings that one. It it the last refuge of someone with no evangelical footing left in their arsenal: “you’re just bitter.”. Actually, I’m kinda sweet and sometimes salty, especially after a workout, but hey, whatever.

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

      It’s the more direct version of “bless her heart!”

      • Stony

        True, but bless your heart can be said with sincerity. It can even substitute for “thank you”. And even when used as an insult (she tries, bless her heart), it usually holds out hope that eventually, that poor girl will succeed and her jello mold won’t fall all to pieces or her poor hair won’t be flat as a flitter as soon as she steps foot outside the house. (Yes, I’m sooooouuuuuthern.). But “you’re just bitter” is belittling, it’s final, it’s a dead-end insult….it puts the entirety of the fault on you, because the other person is righteous, open, loving, CHRISTian (even when they’re the opposite), while you…you’re bitter.

  • Twist

    What I don’t understand is why does it have to be a choice between a marriage (with or without an adulterous husband) or being a drug addicted prostitute on the street? Does Debi (and Sara, but I have a suspicion that they may well be the same person) not realise that there are many, many women who are not married, who have left their husbands, or who are in relationships where they are not giggling, simpering, manipulating, ‘submissive’ servants/baby factories, who also manage, somehow, not to be drug addicted street prostitutes in spite of not having a godly/adulterous husband to ‘lead’ them? Or does Debi/Sara just think that anyone who doesn’t live up her ideal of feminine submission, by say, having a career, or being in an egalitarian relationship, may as well be a drug addict prostitute living on the street?

    Debi just doesn’t think very much of people. She clearly doesn’t think much of women, and based on some of her comments about men, doesn’t like or respect them much either. I thought us feminists were meant to be the miserable man-haters?

    • Sue Blue

      The false dichotomy is a HUGE problem with these evangelicals. Their whole world-view – literally every aspect of life – is couched in absolutist terms. Everything is either all good or all bad, black or white, filthy or pure. Everything. There are no shades of gray in the evangelical world. An unmarried adult female is automatically a slut, because all adult females should be married. A childless married woman is a moral failure, because a.) a woman’s ultimate goal is to be a mother, and b.) no real woman’s organs would ever fail unless she was impure in some way. Divorced women are failures and sluts. Men must do this, women must do that – without exception. Slippery-slope arguments also abound. Every “sin”, no matter how tiny or seemingly inconsequential, leads to eternal separation from God if overlooked and unrepented. Even one instance of premarital sex leads inevitably to a greasy slide into one-night stands, prostitution, STDs, drug addiction, and alcoholism ending in a lonely death from AIDS and eternal damnation.

  • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

    I think it’s good advice to remember that things could be worse. We are very apt, many of us, to take small problems much too seriously and forget that other people may be dealing with much, much worse ones. BUT. The thing to do with that remembering, IMO, is to look for ways to solve our little (or big!) problems, and also to try and make a dent in other people’s big problems if we can. The whole point of, for example, volunteering at Out of the Cold or donating to the Cancer Society or whatever is that doing these things *both* reminds us of how good we have it *and* makes a concrete difference (even if it’s very small) in someone else’s life somewhere. But just because someone else somewhere is starving to death and I’m not, quite, does that mean I shouldn’t make an effort to improve my nutritional status? Am I helping that person by resigning myself to malnutrition “because it could be worse”? Am I hurting that person by visiting the food bank or borrowing money from a friend to buy whole wheat pasta and tomatoes instead of a box of Kraft Dinner? Just because someone else somewhere has a husband who actively beats her up, whereas mine is only inconsiderate and doesn’t do his share of the housework, does that mean I shouldn’t make an effort to improve my marital situation? Am I helping that other person by not talking to my husband about his failure to pull his weight around the house? Am I hurting her by saying to him, “Hey, you know what? We both like the house to be clean, so why am I doing 90% of the work to keep it that way?”*

    Ugh, ugh, ugh.

    *This is a totally made-up example: my husband and I are both, sadly, very sloppy people who have spawned an equally sloppy child, and our apartment is a mess, but he is not a sexist asshat who expects me to do all the housework.

    • E

      It’s not sad if you’re both okay with it! Sounds pretty harmonious, actually. :)

      • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

        Yeah, except when we’re having people over and have to pretend like we don’t live like wolves :D

  • MM

    Okay, Debi probably made this up, but assuming she didn’t, I read into this that the woman married the dude, then really got into Jesus. That would seem to explain why there is no discussion of the husband’s role. After all, in Debi’s eyes, if he’s a non-believer, the most you can expect is that he’ll sleep around and look at porn all day, right? So I think there’s more nuance here, with part of the underlying message being that if you’re unequally yoked, you’re pretty much on your own and whatever “evil” your husband does, it’s on you to just deal because you married a non-believer (or a not-particularly-strong believer).

    This is basically what my mom did…she was a pretty wild kid, married my dad because she got knocked up at 16, and then found Jesus. My dad went along with it, but was never a true believer, and my mom always felt like she had to suck it up because that was her duty as a wife and she couldn’t expect my dad to be a good person because he wasn’t a super-Christian.

  • Chrissy

    It was “dumpy duplex”, not “crappy duplex”. I remember the alliteration well because it was so condescending towards people who, you know, LIVE IN DUPLEXES.

    I struggled with codependency in the early stages on my relationship with my now husband. and I feel that I had a predisposition toward developing it due to my evangelical, homeschooled, quiverfull childhood. I worked through the issue (painfully and with many tears) and our relationship is stronger for it- no thanks to my parents and the spiritual leaders who would have had me believe that codependency is the “norm” in godly marriages.

    • http://Patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Fixed – thanks!

    • E

      Yeah, what did duplexes ever do to her??

      • Nea

        I think that the anti-duplex thing is tied into the idea of A True Manly Man Owns His Own Property, while duplexes are co-owned. Either way, it’s still a house – does she ever mention apartments aside from hinting that they’re only in the projects?

      • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

        (This is really a reply to Nea, but Disqus does not approve of that much threading.) I get the impression the Pearls are against cities generally, as well as being strong proponents of both A True Manly Man Owns His Own Property and A True Manly Man Is Totally Self-Sufficient. (You know, the biblical value of self-sufficiency.)

  • Ibis3

    Reading this, I couldn’t help but see parallels to the attitude among the anti-feminists in the atheist community.

    Women who are discontent, or want something different, or become angry at the church hierarchy or at God’s long lists of rules, or start asking questions or challenging Christian teachings are accused of being bitter.

    Okay, maybe the code word used to castigate women advocating for change and social justice isn’t “bitter,” but everything else kinda fits.

    The impression we are given is that Sara transformed her entire marriage single handedly simply by letting go of her bitterness and deciding to be grateful for what she had, however crappy that might be (again, we don’t know). This is one of the many themes that suffuse Debi’s book: rather than encouraging women to work together with their husbands to fix or improve their marriages, perhaps with help from counseling, Debi tells women they can make their marriages perfect single handedly.

    Yes. Rather than working to improve things, a woman can fix things single-handedly by relaxing and not taking stuff so seriously. This makes her a virtuous hero, showing other women that things are pretty good as they are, so STFU already. Debi’s book is a guide for chill girls.

    And this?

    And here I am going to take a moment to create Debi’s Rule #4: “If you think you have it bad, remember that it could be worse.”

    Not only Debi’s rule, but Dawkins’ rule too.

    • Nea

      Debi is the queen of the chill girls!

  • Rebecca

    Does anyone else find the absolutely saddest part of this the line where the lady thinks about how good god is for loving her even as a ‘dirty little girl’.
    Like, sure, maybe she’s dirty because shes living in a neglectful house but its not like thats gods problem, is it? Why would god care about a neglected child, its not like he’s really that into kids, is he-……….wait a minute….
    But even so, it’s not like he actually has the power to help this little girl out in any ractical way-…..wait a minute

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

      Christians fetishize suffering and the more you move towards “fundy” on the conservative spectrum, the suffering one is expected to happily endure for the glory of god gets worse and worse. Kinda like the secular notion of” what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Suffering, in this instance, made her closer to god.

      • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

        Bit of a tangent, I hate that idea! Yes, there’s some truth to it, but first you have to not die. Suffering never builds you up–it tears you down, and if you’re lucky you’re able to build something better from the rubble.

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

        I had ARDS 3 years ago and many people fully expected me to have faith in god or to suddenly be over my depression. Like I was lucky or something to have such a life-affirming experience!

      • Emmers

        What I was taught, growing up, is that if you are suffering, you need to just offer your suffering up to Jesus, because he suffered worse. This idea permeates the whole culture (especially in Catholicism), and is part of the opposition to euthanasia — wishing to end your suffering in the only way possible is seen as disrespectful to the Crucifixion.

      • smrnda

        I never get how people can think the crucifixion of Jesus was really the pinnacle of suffering. You’ve got an omniscient, eternal god. Jesus was on earth for what, 33 years at most by the accounts? That’s an inconsequential blip to an eternal god. Plus, being all-knowing means being able to conceive of every and all sorts of pains and agonies, so is it really such a horrible fate, or is it more like if I were to say, walk outside in the cold without my coat and then pretend to know what it’s like to be homeless?

      • Steve

        It’s why Mother Theresa was really an extremely horrible and immoral person. She glorified suffering as a way to make people closer to god. The conditions in her houses were horrible and people’s pain wasn’t properly dealt with.

  • Patrick

    The scariest thing for me is how easily this writing treats this woman’s claim that she never felt “pure” due to childhood abuse. A child who feels that way doesn’t need Jesus to purify her. She needs someone, anyone, to do anything they can to convince her that there’s no such thing, that there’s nothing wrong with her, and that she’s worthy of being loved.

    A Jesus who’s theology is based on the idea that you ARE impure, that there IS something wrong with you, that you’re NOT worthy of being loved, and that you should fall on your knees with gratitude because Jesus is willing to love you and wash you clean anyway in spite of your wretchedness… is just a continuation of the abuse.

    • Ibis3

      Hear, hear.

    • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

      Yes, yes, and yes.

    • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

      This is not a scientific study of course but I’ve definitely met people for whom the ever loving Jesus serves as a substituute for their own absent or otherwise un-loving fathers.
      My take on this is – hey if it works for you, who am I to object?
      (not everyone who believes in jesus ends up taking on the whole fundie package!!!)

      • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

        Also regarding original sin, my outsider’s take on this (having been raised a jew, not a christian) is that the idea captures rather accurately the all too common condition of feelings of emptiness and unworthiness. Although my belief is that it arises from not having been loved and respected adequately in our early years, knowing this intellectually doesn’t necessarily translate to eliminating the feeling deep inside.

        Alas, Jewish as well as Christian women are especially prone to experiencing this type of “original sin” due to being unvalued as women, are are taught that only the intervention of a superior being, a man, will redeem them…. but I digress.

      • Tracey

        @ki sarita; I agree, and you see that Debi insists that the ONLY fate for a woman who doesn’t have a man in her life…is to be a drug-addicted prostitute living in a DUMPY DUPLEX (oh, the horror!)

  • Azura

    If I followed Debi’s advice, I’d have never stood up to my abusive mother, I’d have never gotten treatment for my depression, I’d have never gotten help for my joint issues, and I’d either be on the street, starving, on welfare, some combination of the above, or dead. Funny enough, people used to always tell me that I had no right to be depressed because my family is upper middle class and “people have it worse”. I was told that when my mom hit me and called me names that because I had no bruises or broken bones “it could have been worse”. My best friend feels guilty for having depression because her childhood wasn’t as bad as mine, and you know what I tell her? “It could have been better” or “the situation others are in does not erase the pain you have”. Really, all that phrase is ever used for is to negate the pain that someone feels. It’s good to be grateful, but your brain does not filter pain through a “worldly context” cortex. Do we tell people not to go to the doctor for broken bones because it’s not cancer? No, we do not, because that would be ridiculous. We shouldn’t treat mental pain any different than physical pain. Different levels of pain require different levels of treatment or different solutions, but every single pain requires a treatment or solution. Ignoring a toothache can lead to life-threatening infection. :P

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


    • saraquill

      My response to many “it could be worse” speakers is “just because one person is up to their neck in feces, doesn’t mean the stuff around yours (or mine) is chocolate pudding.”

      • Kate

        I have a similar analogy with a sprained ankle vs. a broken leg, but yours is much more creative.

  • smrnda

    I think it’s better to think of how things could be better, rather than ‘things could be worse.’ I mean, you can make things better, if you find out what’s wrong and how to fix it. You should only give up on that if it’s obvious that nothing can be done.

    I’ve always noticed a hint of fatalism in fundamentalist Christianity, which might be a product of the belief in the idea of a fall and the inherent badness of people, which kind of goes along with a belief that any attempt to make things better is futile and the only virtue is a stoic acceptance of anything that comes one’s way. Not a very productive worldview.

  • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

    I’ve been thinking about this letter some more and I think I’ve figured out why my initial reaction to it was so mixed: it reminds me of a series of conversations I had with a friend many, many years ago, about guys and relationships. From high school on into our late 20s, she kept falling madly in love with people and insisting they were perfect for each other, only to break up with them after a few months or a year for what seemed like really stupid reasons — the equivalent of squeezing the toothpaste tube the wrong way. Finally at some point — this was after I’d been married for a couple of years, I think — she asked me something like “How do you know when you really love someone?” and my answer was something like “When the things you love about them outweigh the little things that annoy you, like squeezing the toothpaste tube the ‘wrong’ way, and you kind of stop noticing those little annoying things.” And then what did my lifelong pacifist friend do but fall in love with her BFF’s older brother who was about to be deployed to Afghanistan, and they actually *are* perfect for each other, except for that one thing, and now have two completely adorable little kids and jobs they like and a nice house and are very happy. (I’m not taking credit for this in any way, you understand. I just think it’s funny.)
    So I think I kind of heard the echo of that conversation in the Sara letter … but actually what I meant was completely the opposite thing: if something your partner does is driving you crazy, even if it seems like a stupid little thing, that crazy-making-ness is, if not in itself a problem, a sign of a problem, and you *shouldn’t* ignore it. Also, of course, ADULTERY IS NOT A STUPID LITTLE THING, IT IS A BIG FRAKKING THING.
    I still think that being grateful for the good things one has is wise. But this attitude that one should never aspire to anything better because things could always be worse? Feh.

  • Abbiestract

    Has anyone read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”? Frankl was an Auschwitz survivor and a psychiatrist. I read the book a number of years ago but I remember what he had to say about the “it could be worse, suck it up” argument. His idea was that suffering was an individual experience and that the fact that “worse” suffering exists doesn’t invalidate that experience. The idea that he, as a concentration camp survivor, could say that was very comforting to me. I’m not sure I’m explaining the idea very clearly.

    • Pauline

      Oh man, I read that when I was a teenager, it is an amazing book. Thanks for reminding me about it. I think I’m going to buy a copy on Half.com and read it again!

  • centauri

    Late to the party, but read this very relevant, very true comment from abi over at Making Light (lovely site & community, especially toward people in Dysfunctional Families. Check their posts on the subject here )

    “One thing I wanted to say a word about: I’ve come to the painful realisation that sometimes self-preservation is more important than happy families, and to think that doesn’t make me a monster.

    You’re absolutely correct in that. In point of fact, it’s thinking that happy families is more important than self-preservation that is monstrous. It’s also self-defeating. You can’t build a sound wall with crumbling bricks; you can’t make a happy family out of people who are being damaged by being in it.

    The fact of the matter is that happiness in families is like forgiveness after being hurt. It’s not an action you can take, or a first step to a particular goal. It’s a symptom of the desired outcome.

    To insist that the family Must Be Happy is cargo-cult thinking: “if we all plaster smiles on our face then all of our problems will go away.”

    And it’s true that if you put a smile on, you can sometimes improve a bad day; it’s true that, in a healthy relationship, you can live with some quite severe irritants, because they don’t damage your emotional capital. But if you don’t have that emotional capital, and if your bad day isn’t just the kind of temporary lowness that we all experience from time to time, then smiling will not make it better. Pretending to be happy will not solve anything; it just adds to the damage. You have to deal with the problems.”

    (She wasn’t responding to me, since I’m as much of a lurker over there as I am over here, but I thought this quote should be shared here. And emphasis, if the cofing holds, is mine.)

    • Pauline

      Thanks for sharing that. You’re right; it’s very well said.

  • Sarah

    I feel like it would be really worth adding a section on the obvious victim blaming in this letter (especially because it is the victim herself doing the blaming).