Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 28-32
The rest of Debi’s chapter on “a merry heart” is taken up with her response to a letter from a follower. Debi spends four full pages responding. The longer I read, the sadder I got. I apologize in advance.
First, the letter:
Dear Mrs. Pearl,
I am going nuts. My husband has been in an emotional affair with his secretary. He says he is over it now, but I do not trust him. He gave her a small box of chocolates for Valentine’s. He has never remembered me on Valentine’s Day. He often goes out to eat with her and the other men of the office. She has twice confided to my husband about problems in her marriage. I know I am supposed to honor, forgive, and not be bitter, etc. This is the hardest thing I have ever gone through, including the death of my mom just 3 months ago. I think it is foolish to place himself in her company when he does not have to, after he has already proven he can’t handle it. We are at an impasse. How do we find stuff to talk about? I am nervous as a cat, can’t sleep, etc. Desperate, but holding on and eagerly waiting to hear from you,
And now the response:
I am sorry for your struggles. Have you communicated with your husband about your concerns? Communication is very important in any marriage. Have you considered seeing a marriage counselor? That would probably be a good person to talk to about your husband’s emotional affair, which it doesn’t sound like either of you have truly worked past yet.
Oh wait, that’s my reply, not Debi’s. Silly me.
Before I delve into Debi’s response, I think it’s time we start categorizing some of what Debi is telling women in her book. So, without further ado:
Debi’s Rule #1: Whatever the problem is, by all means blame the woman.
Now, Debi would deny this, and she would point to the very first sentence of her response in doing so.
Your husband is, without a doubt, wrong. It would be wonderful if he were wise and godly, but he isn’t.
The problem is with what comes after this.
Yes, he is wrong, but your response, though justified, will certainly lead to the destruction of your marriage.
Who is Debi saying is going to destroy this marriage? Not the cheating husband, oh no. Debi has already stated that the husband is in the wrong, but it’s not him she is blaming for the potential destruction of this marriage. It’s Beth she’s blaming.
We’ll get back to Debi’s pathological need to blame women in a moment, but first I want to point to something else Debi does continually. Any time she addresses a woman in a troubled marriage, especially if the husband is truly at fault, she holds the Horror of Divorce over the woman’s head.
When you have lost your husband and are alone, and the children are at a daycare or public school, and you are trying to pay rent on the dumpy duplex and keep food on the table, you can always know that you stood on principle, you called him to repentance, and you didn’t allow him to humiliate you and play the hypocrite. You called his hand. There he will be, living in sin with that other woman, and you, the righteous one, will be standing for your rights – but sleeping alone. If you get another husband, he will be like your old one, cast off by some other woman. It is a merry-go-round where the scenery gets uglier every time you go around.
Throughout the book Debi threatens women with a horrible and bleak picture of divorce. She insists that women must stay in their marriages or their children will be taught all manner of perversions by godless strangers and they will be alone scraping together a meager existence while their ex-husbands are cheerfully living it up with a newer, younger model. Invoking the Horror of Divorce allows Debi to insist that women should stand by their men no matter how bad their situations are, because if they leave their men, well, things will only be worse. Debi’s not wrong that divorce falls especially heavily on women, and that divorced women not infrequently end up in poverty. But her insistence that even the worst marriage is better than divorce is horrifying, because it encourages women to stay in abusive marriages by telling them that there is nothing better out there for them, and that is a viscous lie.
So, what does Debi suggest Beth do?
Face it: you have a competitor. She is your rival. … Recognize that you are at war for the preservation of God’s most noble institution on earth – the family, your family! Make yourself more attractive than the secretary. You can win if you are willing to lose your pride.
In other words, if you try to assert your rights or sit your man down and give him a talking to, that will backfire. In contrast, the right way to win your man is to engage that “mischievous giggle,” put on some makeup, and simper.
So, without further ado, let me introduce:
Debi’s Rule #2: If you want to fix your marriage, turn into a simpering, smiling airhead.
We’ll return to Debi’s Rule #2 in a moment, but first I want to point out that Debi buys into another common narrative here: the idea that there are loose women out there just waiting to snatch your husband if you’re not careful.
You can tell him how much he hurts the children, how he destroys his testimony, how he forsakes God and the church, and he will respond by taking his secretary to dinner so he can see a smile that has no strings attached.
And given this narrative, let’s look at how Debi describes this secretary.
Make yourself more attractive than that office wench, and do it now, today!
When [Loretta Lynn] wrote that song, her husband was being tempted away by some cheap slut.
Your very sweetness and thankfulness toward your man will make that cheap office hussy feel you are beneath your class.
This passage also brings in Debi’s Rule #1 again as Debi blames not just the wife – “as you stand by your rights and withhold yourself until he proves his loyalty to you alone, you will come to the normal end – divorce” – but also the secretary.
You can threaten to go down to the office and tell the wench to bug off. Do it if you like; just don’t humiliate your man. A man will appreciate and be attracted to a woman who cares enough to fight for her man.
It’s the secretary who needs to be told off, not the cheating husband. That damn slut/hussy/wench. Here is how Debi describes Beth’s husband:
He is a lonely man seeking identity in a woman’s approval and admiration.
In Debi’s world, Beth’s husband must have cheated on Beth because she did not give him the “approval and admiration” he needed. She made him feel lonely! It’s no wonder, given that, that Beth’s husband ended up in another woman’s snares. And it’s not like that woman wasn’t there waiting.
A man is attracted to vulnerability in a woman – the blush, the needs, the dependence. … If a woman lets a man know he brings her comfort, that she feels safe with him, he will respond. I think the secretary knows this and uses it to her advantage. … I suspect if your husband were not lapping at her feet, some other man in the office would quickly take his place, and she would be using the same line on him.
In Debi’s world, if a man cheats on his wife, the wife is always to blame, and so is the other woman. But the man who cheated? Not so much. While Debi may start by saying that he is “without a doubt, wrong,” she spends her entire response portraying him as a victim. Classic Debi’s Rule #1.
Back to Debi’s Rule #2 – her advice to Beth on how to win her husband back from that office slut/hussy/wench.
It is in your best interest to learn to use feminine wiles. A woman holds her man with the fragile threads of adoration, thankfulness, delight, and just plain fun. He needs to hear gladness and appreciation in your voice when you speak to him, even when you are talking of everyday things.
Don’t ride him with suspicion. Don’t play detective and follow him around. But do call his work with a giggle in your voice, and give him fair warning that you expect “some loving” when he gets home, then giggle and ask him if he is blushing.
Be creative and aggressive in your private, intimate times. Keep him drained at home so he won’t have any sexual need at work. If you feed him well, emotionally and sexually, her cooking won’t tempt him.
Okay, so let’s see. Beth should (a) approach her husband with adoration and appreciation, whether he has earned it or not; (b) make extremely awkward and likely out-of-character calls to his work; and (c) have lots of sex with her husband.
You know what’s completely missing from Debi’s suggestions? The idea that maybe she should communicate with her husband about her concerns. The idea that maybe they should work together cooperatively to fix this issue. From Beth’s letter it appears that while her husband has never sexually cheated on her with his secretary, he has engaged in an emotional affair the woman, and has admitted this to his wife and pledged to not repeat his mistake. In other words, it sounds like her husband is open to communicating and working together with his wife for the good of everyone involved. His wife says that she can’t trust him, and that she’s worried that he is starting to repeat his mistake. If this is the case, she should sit down with him and talk about her fears and concerns. If he has admitted that he has made past mistakes, he should be open to listening. What they really should do is go to a marriage counselor about this. From my reading of the letter, they really both could use that. Beth needs help learning to trust her husband again and her husband needs help learning to earn that trust and setting boundaries so that he does not repeat past mistakes.
But Debi does not suggest any of that. She does not even suggest communication. Instead, she suggests that the wife turn into a simpering, smiling airhead. Without warning. Without explaining any reason for the sudden change.
(Also, I hope you didn’t miss the implication that Beth is leaving her husband vulnerable to the secretary’s wiles by not having sex with him often enough, or “aggressively” enough. Classic Debi.)
I’m reminded very much of the movie Fireproof, which I saw several years ago. In it Kirk Cameron plays a firefighter with a troubled marriage and a distant wife. He is ready to give up when his father gives him a book with a challenge for him to do each day in an effort to win back his wife. One day he’s supposed to give her flowers, another day he’s supposed to call her at work just to chat, another day he’s supposed to cook a romantic dinner for her, etc. His poor wife reacts as I think anyone in her situation would: Who are you and what have you done with my husband? Nowhere on this list was actual communication, or actually working to figure out what was pushing the two of them apart and how to fix it. The movie was surreal. If you want to fix your marriage … bring your wife flowers. Seriously, what? Debi is spouting off more of this same idea.
The tools I consider most important for any marriage – communication, cooperation, compromise – are wholly absent from Debi’s book. And what are they replaced with? Flirt. That’s right, flirt with your husband. And not just any kind of flirt, either – mimic the adoring gaze Michelle Duggar gives Jim Bob, send him cutesy notes at work, and warm things up in the bedroom. Because that’s the key to fixing any marriage.
It strikes me that if I tried any of that on Sean, he would be pretty horrified. Except the sex part, I guess – although he wouldn’t like that if I were just putting it on as an act either. But if I started trying to giggle, to simper, to gaze at him adoringly and hang on his every word … yeah, not seeing that going over so very well. Sean loves me for who I am as a person, not for whether I simper and giggle. He likes that I challenge him, and would never want me to replace that with a gaze of adoration. He likes that I approach him as an equal, that I call him out when I believe he is in the wrong, that I help him be a better person. None of this giggling, simpering, and coy flirting.
But it also strikes me that Debi’s audience is not me. Given her popularity in conservative evangelical and fundamentalist circles, I would hazard a guess that her audience is couples who believe in the importance of patriarchal marriage roles. This means she is likely talking to women whose husbands don’t see them as equals in the first place, women whose husbands don’t respect their intellect, women whose husbands only want a pretty face, an adoring smile, a hot supper, and a romp in bead. And to be honest, that sounds suffocating.
Debi finishes this section with this:
God stands with you when you stand by your man, but you will stand alone if you insist on standing by your rights. Always remember that the day you stop smiling is the day you stop trying to make your marriage heavenly, and it is the first day leading to your divorce proceedings.
Silly woman caring about your rights. Caring about your rights is the path to divorce. And don’t forget, divorce means sending your kids to public school, living in a dumpy duplex, and struggling to put food on the table alone while your ex lives it up in comfort with his newer, younger wife.
The main points here are this: First, Debi has a pathological need to place blame for any problem on a woman, or on several women, and to paint the men involved as the victims. It is Beth who is threatening to destroy her marriage, not her cheating husband, and her poor husband has simply been beguiled by a cheap office wench/slut/hussy looking for a man on whom to work her whiles. Second, Debi’s solution to marriage trouble is not communication, cooperation, compromise, or counseling. Oh no. Her solution is that the wife should put on makeup, simper, smile coyly, gaze adoringly, and flirt with her husband, because that will fix everything. There’s no way that could possibly go wrong.
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Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
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