Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 238—240
This section, titled “Another Kind of Anger,” is kind of all over the place. Remember that last week Debi told her readers that men are prone to sudden anger and that wives should take care not to provoke that anger in their husbands, and not to let it bother them when their husbands go off on them. In this section, Debi deals with what she calls “bitter” anger. However, as we shall see, this section is a bit confusing as she goes back and forth between discussing how wives can stoke their husbands’ bitter anger at others—such as family or church members—and husbands’ bitter anger at their own wives. At times, it is confusing which she is referring to—and at the end she applies her “speak no evil” trope to what women can say of their husbands as well as what they can say of others, and it gets very, very bad.
However, there is another kind of anger that is deeper and more personal. It is caused by bitterness. It is rooted in the very essence of the spirit. It is the constant seepage of an ugly soul. You will remember that we discussed how some women practice being mad (bitter), like angry musicians practicing the piano until their very souls, without any thought or effort, strike notes of discord.
Within evangelical/fundamentalist culture, if a woman (or a man, but more commonly a woman) holds a grudge or so much as remembers a wrongdoing committed by another, she is described as “bitter.” When a woman in this cultures is described as “bitter” she becomes the problem and attention shifts from the thing she is angry about to her own “bitter spirit.” Women are instead expected to forgive and forget, even if that means forgiving and forgetting over and over and over again, and even if that means forgiving and forgetting something that should very much be remembered and dealt with.
I really need to write a whole post on the evangelical/fundamentalist use of bitterness, because it’s a serious problem.
This bitter-mad kind of anger is not as common in men as it is in women, but it is dominant in some relationships, and it is important for you as a wife to learn how to respond to your man if he shows tendencies toward it. To respond correctly, you need to keep in mind the two different kinds of anger: the causeless anger that we just discussed and the anger that springs from bitterness over issues.
There are only two kinds of anger, causeless anger and bitter anger? Really, Debi? What about the righteous anger the Bible talks about? You don’t even have to leave the Christian tradition to discover a type of anger that is very much justified!
It is common for wives to be the cause of their husband’s bitter anger. They talk and talk about some problem in the family, community, or the church until their husband finally gets stirred up and becomes very angry with them. To the normal, talkative wife, it was just something to discuss, but suddenly the man becomes angry, and the whole thing gets out of hand and scary. I write about this because it is so common to find the wife complaining about her husband’s anger, even while her words are stoking the fires of his wrath.
This is one of these paragraphs that is not put together very well. At the beginning I assumed Debi was talking about a husband’s bitter anger toward his wife, but she’s not. I’m really not sure how much of this is biological or socially conditioned, and even whether this is more stereotype than reality, but Debi seems to be speaking to the idea that women like to vent about their problems whereas men tend to be more action-oriented. So when a woman is simply venting for emotional purposes, a man may misunderstand and respond in a more active way.
Actually, Sean and I have dealt with something related in our own relationship. I will vent about something my family did, etc., and he will respond by going over practical solutions to the problem. This used to annoy me, because to be honest all I wanted to do was vent. I wasn’t at the point of looking for solutions. I just wanted to vent. So we talked this through. Now when I come to him about something, he asks me if I am wanting to vent or looking for a solution. That way he knows what I’m doing and how he should respond. It strikes me that such a conversation might be helpful to the women she is addressing the above paragraph to.
But then, that would require communication between partners, and we all know how Debi feels about that.
If your husband is quick to take offense at his neighbors or at the people at church, or if he assumes everyone is out to get him or they are talking bad about him, then he has an anger problem rooted in bitterness. Your first concern should be to ascertain your part in the problem. Only then can you help your husband to think clearly about it by ceasing to fuel the flames of his anger.
Note the focus here—if a man has an anger problem, it’s probably his wife’s fault. Now it is true that someone can fan their partner’s anger. But this fits a pattern of blaming a man’s faults and shortcomings on his wife—just like blaming a man’s lustful thoughts on the woman he lusts after. It should be possible to handle one’s anger and emotions in a healthy manner regardless of the actions of those around you.
Once you are able to recognize the source of his anger and the contribution you make in words and attitude, you can make changes that will stop fanning the flames and allow him to cool down. Learn to speak well of people. Practice looking at the good in people. Print Philippians 4:8 on a card and put it in a conspicuous place where you can read it frequently.
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
And here we start to get into some really troubling things.
This Philippians passage is often used to prevent people from calling out very real problems. For example, imagine this passage being applied to what people working at Headquarters thought of Bill Gothard. If someone had a concern, or noticed something off, well, bringing that up would violate Philippians 4:8.
Unfortunately, one of the reasons women listen to Debi—and remember, I was given her book as a wedding gift, with an inscription from a friend stating that this was the best book on marriage she had ever read—is section like this. In this section Debi touches on something that is true—that individuals can focus on the negative, and gossip and vent about it, and pick and pick about it, until the negative consumes their attention and they’re no longer able to see the good. And within a culture that gives women very little real agency, gossiping and venting about something may be a woman’s only outlet.
But Debi’s solution—that women should never, ever, ever think or speak badly of someone, no matter what—is worse than the problem she identifies.
Do not allow your mind to consider the evil of others. Love “thinketh no evil” (I Corinthians 13:5). Remember the 40,000 thoughts a day? Don’t think critical and judgmental thoughts about others, and never speak derogatorily about others in your husband’s presence. It can be the trigger to flare up his wrath toward them, toward you, and toward the kids. It is also destructive to the peace that ought to pervade your home.
Here is where we veer into confusing territory.
Debi restates the bit about never speaking evil of others, and this time explicitly states that a woman should never speak badly of someone in her husband’s presence. (So I’m trying to figure out . . . if a woman is worried that someone at church is molesting her young son or daughter, she is to not mention that to her husband? Am I reading this right?) But then Debi turns to something new, stating that speaking badly of others in her husband’s presence can “flare up his wrath” against the woman herself—and against the children. I’m trying to understand where Debi is going with this.
A woman says “So Pastor Steve’s wife didn’t go to Janice’s daughter’s baby shower, did you hear about that?” and her husband responds by flying off the handle against her and the children? Is that what Debi is talking about here?
Never let your mind be carried away by reacting in criticism when he is telling and retelling a story of what someone said about you. When you see he is getting worked up, remain calm and objective, and encourage him to see the good side. Don’t lecture. Just be an example of how to respond in forgiveness and peace.
Do not confuse sympathy with encouragement. If you feel sorry for his hurt feelings and sympathize with him, you only add fuel to his emotional fire. I have seen many couples’ relationships develop into something sick. They become partners in persecution, welcoming outside rejections so they can draw closer in their bitterness, shutting the cruel world out, until they even become suspicious of each other and fight to their emotional death.
I think Debi is talking about a situation where the wife is all “Oh, poor honey, did Steve say something mean about you again? You poor thing! How dare they treat you like that!” and so on. Yes, it is possible to work yourself up about hurt feelings rather than working through them, acting accordingly, and moving on. And it’s true that cultivating a personal persecution complex is rarely healthy. If your friends are treating you poorly, it may be time to move on and find more friends. Either way, a good therapist may be helpful for working through this kind of thing.
In almost every church you will find couples dropping out form time to time, because the wife got her husband worked up over small issues, until his bitterness and anger drove him out of the company of “those hypocrites.” They complain about the pastor or his children or something a deacon’s wife said. The wife runs to her husband with every real (and sometimes imagined) report of gossip about them. The wife sometimes complains that, “No one bothered to greet us Sunday,” or “When I was in the hospital, no one came to see me,” or “There is a clique at the church, and they don’t like us (or our children).” The husband is made angry enough to do something just to get some peace.
Well yes, if your church is not working for you, if it is not a welcoming and growing place, you may want to find a new church. Yes, it is true that it is possible to get worked up over small things, but Debi seems to brush over a whole host of very real problems one may encounter at church, minimizing and dismissing them.
I’m trying to piece together Debi’s views on church authority. In an earlier passage, after all, she said the following:
Many women have written, telling me that their pastor told them to tithe, to go to church, to put their children in the church school, to make their children part of the youth group, or a hundred other things, against the will of their husband. The pastor claims that he is the head of the local church and is, therefore, the highest religious power on earth. My husband’s response to a man’s claim to ecclesiastical authority over the family is to call him a liar and a deceiver. The Scripture clearly teaches that a woman is to obey her own husband.
So it’s wrong for a woman to say anything criticize their church or anyone in it to her husband, but it’s also wrong for her to obey her husband over her church. Perhaps the idea is that once a husband picks a church, the wife shouldn’t gainsay that by criticizing the church he picked? Still, in her paragraph in this section, Debi doesn’t appear to think too fondly of men who leave churches willy nilly, which confuses me, given her emphasis on the authority of the individual man over the individual church.
Perhaps Debi means that a husband will turn against and leave a church he actually liked and should keep liking as a result of his wife’s constant criticism of those at that church or that church’s practices. But that is a very low view of men indeed, as I would like to think they are not so easily led. And yet, this view of men is fairly constant in Debi’s book.
There’s another problem here too, and that’s that this doesn’t seem to fit well with Michael’s advice to men—that they ask for their wives’ input about a church or an individual, as their wives may be good judges of character and serve as a warning bell when there is a problem. If wives are to never, ever, ever speak ill of others to their husbands, how in the world is this supposed to work?
This road leads to the destruction of the children. In time, the wife becomes a martyr, speaking in quiet tones of her suffering at her husband’s hands. She resists his “discipline” of the children and protects them from his anger. The children grow up embittered and withdrawn from Christian fellowship. The wife goes to women’s groups and seeks prayer for her husband, where she is honored as a woman who must endure much. She has made her bed of self-pity and has learned to enjoy its sick pleasures.
I am really confused by this last paragraph. How did we get from a woman speaking badly of those at church to her husband to a woman speaking badly of her husband to those at church? Though this is the first she has touched on it in this section, it appears that Debi applies her bit about a woman never speaking badly of someone to her husband as well. Remember what Debi said earlier in this passage?
Learn to speak well of people. Practice looking at the good in people. . . . Do not allow your mind to consider the evil of others. Love “thinketh no evil” . . . Don’t think critical and judgmental thoughts about others, and never speak derogatorily about others . . .
If Debi is applying all of this to what a woman is allowed to say of her husband, rather than only what a woman is allowed to say to her husband about others, the problems here are even more serious than I thought.
If never speaking badly of your husband is part of following Debi’s formula, how in the world is she ever to know that one of her fans is being truthful when she says her husband has reformed and become a wonderful, caring man? How is an abused woman to ever cry for help? How are her friends to even know something is wrong? The way these teachings isolate a woman and cut her off from help or support is nothing short of horrifying.
But there’s one sentence here that is especially chilling.
This road leads to the destruction of the children. In time, the wife becomes a martyr, speaking in quiet tones of her suffering at her husband’s hands. She resists his ‘discipline’ of the children and protects them from his anger.
I’m not even sure how to respond to this, it is so upsetting to me. If a man is disciplining a child in a way that even Debi feels merits scare quotes, and if even Debi admits that her he is doing so in anger, his wife absolutely should step in and protect the children. Period and full stop. Perhaps Debi is referring only to how the wayward wife is interpreting the husband’s discipline of the children, but that still doesn’t fix the problem. If it appears to you that your husband—or your wife—is disciplining a child in a way that merits scare quotes, and in anger, it is your job to step in and do something about it.
In this passage, Debi doesn’t even mention the exceptions that her husband lays out elsewhere—that wives may go to the authorities if their husbands are sexually abusing their children or if their husbands are “bone-breaking violent.”
It’s really impressive how much toxicity Debi can include in just a few pages. The main message in this section is to never think or speak badly about anyone, whether that be a fellow church member, a friend or acquaintance, or one’s own husband. Speaking badly of others can lead one’s husband to become wrathfully angry (which is very dangerous, to you as well as to those around him), and speaking badly of one’s husband can lead one to become a martyr and ultimately destroy one’s husband.
And they wonder why no one stepped out and did anything about Bill Gothard. This isn’t a case of one individual’s mistake. This is a problem of a systematic ideology that is set up to protect abusers by silencing those who might speak out. Gothard openly taught the exact same thing Debi lays out in this section—his specific rhetoric was that one should always give a “good report.” I need to find some places where he lays that out explicitly and write about them as well, because it wasn’t until writing todays’ post that I realized just how soundly that kind of teaching protects abusers and makes it impossible for the abused to get help.