The Formula Problem: Why Duggarizing Your Marriage is Not Recommended

by Incongruous Circumspection

Baking is one of my favorite pastimes.  I make a killer banana bread. I love baking cookies and many times, like Marie Barone, bake a cake just because.  I follow recipes very closely but always add vanilla even if it is not called for.  I can follow those recipes to the letter for one simple reason – I live 900 feet above sea level.

Those who live 2500 feet above sea level cannot enjoy the ease of baking I take for granted.  When a recipe calls for a certain amount of flour, they have to add a bit more of the liquid ingredients.  If baking powder is needed, the elevated baker must reduce the amount by as much as half.  Baking temperatures must be increased.  And it isn’t as easy as following specific directions for a perfect cake either.  In order to find the perfect balance of everything, copious testing and many failures must ensue.  But, just as the elevated baker is finding the correct balance, a thunderstorm hits and their angel food cake comes out of the oven in the shape of a discus.

Such is life in the baking world and such is the idea behind marriage.  What works for one couple will not necessarily work for another couple.

Everyone in the world is familiar with JimBob and Michelle Duggar.  They are all over television with their TLC program, as well as having been on numerous talk shows and the subject of many a news story.  They tow the line of an organization called Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and their home schooling program Advanced Training Institute (ATI).

IBLP/ATI is run by a chronically unmarried man named Bill Gothard with a storied past, full of scandals.  This gentleman has propped himself up as an expert on marriage and everything to do with family life.  He is quite the guru with millions of direct and indirect adherents to his ideas.  Yes…ideas.  Bill Gothard has seven steps to this, fourteen steps to that, twelve steps to everything except alcoholism, three steps to whatever else.  The material he puts out is so formulaic, a follower of his has nothing to do but reference any of his hundreds of manuals for any question in life.

As was put forth in ATI material that Michelle Duggar handed out to women at a conference she was speaking at, the formula for marriage is very simple.  The wife must worship her husband at every turn in life.  She must stand behind him in all his decisions and respect his leadership.  She must look at him lovingly whenever he speaks and not interrupt.  She cannot argue with him or disagree unless she follows a formula to make a “godly” appeal.  All financial decisions are his.  All final decisions are his.  Her husbands vision must be her vision and absolute unquestioning trust and faith must be placed in the man she married.

This seems to work well for JimBob and Michelle Duggar.  JimBob appears to be an ambitious man and has started numerous businesses.  Currently, he is successful at real estate, not to mention the large amounts of money involved in any television show.  Trusting a man to make good decisions is very easy when that man works hard, efficiently, smart, and enough to more than enough money is rolling in.

The problem is that two people living together is never a cookie-cutter situation.  JimBob and Michelle Duggar, as well as all adherents of IBLP/ATI practices, have a favorite line that you will hear whenever they give public interviews or are backed into a corner, defending their ancient and outdated belief system.

“This is simply our conviction.”

No it isn’t.  If you dig into the reality of IBLP/ATI/Duggar, you will see what they portray as their conviction is really much more.  They posit that, due to their convictions, they have been blessed by God.  The obvious conclusion is that if others do not have the same convictions, then God is obligated not to bless them.  Thus, the “simply our conviction” line is really a translucent lie.

In 2011, I played on a church softball team.  This league was unique in that most of the families showed up to watch their husbands and fathers make fools out of themselves.  (Ok, it was really just me making a fool out of myself).  A highlight of the game was the after-party where the home team would bring snacks and drinks and the families enjoyed meeting everyone.  My wife and I met a mother of eight children.  These children were very poorly dressed and had obvious, easily treatable medical problems (rashes, etc.).  We asked the mother how many children she had and she hesitated before she “remembered” that she had eight.  The children were well behaved but the older girls, around eleven and twelve, were very exasperated while taking care of their younger siblings.  The father was nowhere to be found.

I record this scenario here to portray a different side of formulaic marriage and family life as put forth by IBLP/ATI/Duggars.  The church league I played in was heavily involved in this mindset and they lived it, even to their detriment.  My wife and I went home and began asking the following questions.

Why is it right to have as many children as God gives you if you cannot support them?

What if the husband doesn’t listen to “godly” appeals and railroads through all his decisions, no matter the detriment to the family?

What if the husband is abusive?

What if the wife has a superior financial mind and makes better decisions in that area?

What if the husband has no marketable skills?

What about inflation where one income is not enough?

What if the wife is not educated enough to sufficiently school the children and money is too scarce to get assistance?

All of these questions, and many more can be easily answered when you watch JimBob and Michelle Duggar.  They don’t have to worry about them because everything appears to work for this family.  But this rosy, happy Hollywood story, is far from reality.

Not everyone has a husband who works hard and “gets lucky”.  Many marriages work better when all parties handle everything equally.  Many marriages work very well when the partners have extended arguments and constructive fights.  Disagreement is good in life. Many families struggle to make a living and need all parties to be gainfully employed.  Sometimes the spouse needs to sleep on the couch overnight to reboot the romance.  I cannot even begin to list all the real life differences from the perfect life formula that the Duggars portray as absolute and necessary.  There are hundreds – and they grow exponentially with every passing hour of life.

Happiness in marriage is what the two married parties make of it.  It will look different for every marriage.  Don’t let anyone tell you that your marriage would be better (or even worse, truly blessed by God) if you only followed their principled life.  It just isn’t true.

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum. Comments are also open below.

I am a 30 something husband of one and father of 6 dynamic and loud children. My wife and I are still madly in love – at least in my view. My world is exciting, tense, and full of life. I love to write and hope to one day, do it full time. – Incongruous Circumspection

Read all posts by Incongruous Circumspection:

The Formula Problem: Why Duggarizing Your Marriage is Not Recommended

Should a Wife Submit to Her Husband?

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

  • http://www.lifeasareader.blogspot.com Mórrígan

    Thanks for posting this! I think that this is a problem that is at the heart of most social problems today. So many people think that what they choose and how they live is THE right way, and that other people only fail because they’re not doing it “right.” The reality is that a lot of people are also quite miserable precisely because they are trying to live a way that does not fit their personality or circumstances.

  • http://incongruouscircumspection.blogspot.com Incongruous Circumspection

    I agree 100%!

    I want to write a book titled: What Made My Marriage Successful Will Cause Yours to Fail.

  • Lizzy

    This is a great article. No two marriages are identical. What works for one couple may cause strife for another. It’s all about battling through the rough times and rejoicing during the good, and if it works for you (and doesn’t hurt somebody) I say more power to you. Also, thanks for the shout out to high elevation baking, cakes at 7200′ can be an adventure.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com KR Wordgazer

    It may work for the Duggars (or at least appear to work), but I think it’s still a mistake for any relationship to have all the power in the hands of one person.

  • K8_monster

    What happened to the family at the baseball game? I hear about situations like that and get concerned. It’s all because of my silly bleeding heart.

  • http://incongruouscircumspection.blogspot.com Incongruous Circumspection

    I don’t know. They changed our life, even though they have no idea.

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  • HurricaneCass

    I would happily read that, if only to see if my failed marriage fits that category XD

  • Barbara P

    It’s more than just “there is no perfect recipe”; it’s that the system of “wife worshiping husband” is actually inherently wrong. Yes, I am turning the judgment back on them, and I do not apologize for it. It’s possible to say that their arrangement is “working” for them, in a sense.

    You could say that monarchy is a good system of government because there are good kings. But the problem is that monarchy is NOT a good system most of the time. Democracy, with all its foibles and annoyances, is a BETTER system, because it is better designed to prevent abuse. Yes, abuse can happen in both systems, but more likely to happen in a monarchy. Abuse is always more likely to happen in any system of concentrated power.

    Similarly, in a “husband-headed” marriage is much more open to abuse and foolishness, even if on the surface it can sometimes seem simpler and more functional. On this very site are plenty of examples of terrible suffering from that.


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