by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism
Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 72-73
Now that we’re finally finished with Debi’s scare tactics, we get another anecdote from the early years of Debi and Michael’s marriage.
I remember the night Michael and I married. My new husband decided we needed to go shopping and cook a meal before we went to bed.
Remember that Michael and Debi married on a Sunday night exactly eight days after Michael’s spontaneous and completely out-of-the-blue proposal (they hadn’t even been dating, if you recall). Going to the grocery store right after you get married is a bit odd, but people do crazier things all the time. I still remember the first time my husband and I went shopping together after our wedding—we were honeymooning and needed some more cereal. And swimsuits, which we’d forgotten and left behind. And cooking a meal together late at night can be quite romantic, so okay, go on…
I had no idea how much money he made, or how much he had for our honeymoon.
Maybe I’m just naive, but I thought money was something all engaged couples talk about—indeed, something many couples talk about long before they’re engaged. My husband and I do our finances together, and always have, and we definitely talked circles around money while preparing for our wedding and honeymoon. Marrying someone without knowing how much they make seems like a very bad idea indeed! So too, for that matter, does marrying someone before talking in general about how you as a couple plan to handle money. I mean, I grant that eight days is a very short engagement indeed, but eight days was at least long enough for Debi to ask Michael how much he earned!
But I suppose that’s no the point of this anecdote, and I probably shouldn’t get hung up on it. Let’s continue…
Yet, here we were in the grocery store at 10 P.M. on a Sunday night, having been married for less than an hour, when I first felt the critical spirit rise within me. He was picking out ground beef and was about to pay a very high price. I tried to reason with him. “Don’t you think that is priced too high, and wouldn’t it be better to buy a cheaper priced meet?” He was twenty-five years old and had never had a woman question him about how he was spending his money, and I will never forget the bewildered look on his face. It was as if he were trying to remember who I was and why he had put himself in a position to be criticized.
According to Debi, wives must never, never criticize husbands. And according to Debi, simply suggesting that buying cheaper meat rather than the expensive kind might save some money is criticism. And according to Debi, husbands can’t take criticism, and shouldn’t have to. Thing is, not being able to take input or criticism is not a sign of maturity. It’s a sign of immaturity. The fact that Michael went into shock because he wasn’t used to criticized—and come on, Debi’s comment was input, not even really criticism—doesn’t speak well for him.
Look, when you get married, you’re teaming up with someone else. That means you have to get used to taking input from another person before you make decisions. And that’s what Debi’s comment was—input. The trouble is that Debi’s version of marriage has nothing to do with being a team. It’s more of a master/servant relationship. What the master says goes, and it’s not the servant’s place to question the master’s judgement.
I must have sounded as though I was patronizing him, speaking to him as if he were a stupid kid, because that is how I felt about what he was doing. I was suddenly shocked at my attitude. What right did I have to treat him like a stupid jerk? How did I know how much money he had? I wasn’t his wife yet, in the biblical sense, yet here I was thinking, “You stupid nincompoop. I wouldn’t spend MY money like that!”
I’ve said this before, but Debi seems to be unable to imagine what an equal partnership actually looks like. In her world, one partner must always dominate, and if it’s not the husband it’ll be the wife. What she’s doing here is reinforcing that dichotomy.
Look, it’s possible to offer input—and even constructive criticism!—without treating someone like they’re a “stupid kid.” People do it all the time! I mean, it’s true that people sometimes (often?) offer input and/or criticism in ways that demean or put people down. I’ve done it myself, and I’ve had it done to me as well. It’s absolutely something to avoid, and I don’t want to negate that it happens. But offering input and advice can be about making truly cooperative decisions, and can be—and very frequently is!—done in perfectly healthy ways.
Debi knows exactly what she’s doing here, and she’s doing it well. With her anecdote, she is inferring that offering your husband input or wanting a say in decisions that affect both of you is automatically infantilizing him and treating him like “a stupid jerk.” I mean, note the exact wording of what she said to her husband! ”Don’t you think that is priced too high, and wouldn’t it be better to buy a cheaper priced meet?” That simple question, that simple suggestion, is portrayed as treating your husband like “a stupid jerk.” And apparently, it’s just too much for a man to take. I mean, really? How hard would it have been for Michael to say “Today is our wedding day, so I thought we were due for a treat” or “It’s okay, we can afford it on our budget”?
So, let’s see how Debi draws out the moral of her little story:
Satan didn’t even give me a chance to get properly bedded before he introduced himself to me, just as he did to Eve, and I, like my big sister Eve, fell for his line. I was amazed at my critical spirit. There, standing at that meat counter, I made up my mind that I would not allow this to be the story of my life. I would learn to be a woman of God, regardless of what my husband bought or how dumb he seemed to be in the way he spent money.
Again, I absolutely admit that having a “critical spirit” is toxic and can mess up relationships. But there is such thing as balance. Debi is suggesting that the alternative to having a “critical spirit” is to just let her husband do whatever he wants. No, really. Look at her last sentence—she concludes that resisting Satan’s temptation (i.e. a critical spirit) means keeping her mouth shut and letting her husband spend money however he likes, even if his financial decisions look disastrous. Debi honestly doesn’t see any middle ground of input and constructive criticism, of treating your husband as a partner and working together with him to make collaborative decisions. It’s either be overly critical of everything your husband does and treat him like he’s a child, or just shut up and sit down. It’s like a middle ground doesn’t even exist!
Having told this anecdote, Debi makes a couple of additional points. First, there’s this:
Were you mad at your husband this week over something he did, like being late, speaking to you rudely, or yelling at the kids? Did you seethe with bitterness and intentionally avoid looking into his eyes so as to express your disdain? … Yes, your husband deserved it. Yes, it is your right. But is there any satisfaction in your punishing responses? … He practices his faults, and you practice your bitterness. You are both practicing for divorce. Your children watch and are practicing being poor future mothers and fathers.
He has faults . . . you’re annoyed by those faults . . . I could have sworn I knew some way to solve this problem. Something about communication, maybe?
Look, I will be the first to say that my marriage isn’t perfect. No one’s is. We have our differences just like anyone else. But if I get mad over something my husband is doing (or isn’t doing), I talk to him about it. And we work it out, you know, like two adults. Debi’s solution is to ignore the husband’s faults and ignore the root of the wife’s bitterness and instead . . . drum roll please . . . state that the wife should just stop being bitter. That is so stunted and backwards I’m having troubles finding words for it. Also, let’s cut this gendering. Husbands grow bitter at their wives’ faults too. It’s not a gender thing. It cuts both ways. Husbands and wives—like men and women in general—both have faults, and sometimes those faults grate on each other, and if that’s not addressed it can lead to bitterness. And again, the solution is to communicate about it and work it out rather than just letting it build up.
Let me give an example. There was a time in my marriage when I was really bothered by Sean playing computer games, something he did a lot. They seemed wasteful and purposeless to me, and when he was playing them everything—kids, dishes, what have you—would fall to me. For a while, I just got upset and bitter about it, and then I realized that was completely pointless. So I told him my concerns and how I felt. He listened to what I had to say, and then told me that computer games help him relieve stress, and relax after a long day. After we talked, I no longer saw computer games as completely wasteful, and Sean understood that it was hard for me when he played computer games when there were things that needed doing. So we found a compromise—he would still play computer games, but would let me know before he started in case there were things that needed doing that he was unaware of. But if Debi had her way, I would be keeping my mouth shut while Sean played computer games willy nilly, and would see my ensuing bitterness as a personal fault to be overcome.
I want to make one more point regarding the way Debi ignores actually addressing the husband’s faults. What if Michael was looking at the expensive meat because he had never learned how to handle money? Wouldn’t it be a good idea for Debi to help spur him to learn good financial skills, rather than letting him recklessly spend his way into debt? And let’s look at the other examples she gives here. If a man is constantly late, wouldn’t it be a good idea for his wife to help him learn some time management skills? If a man is constantly rude to his wife, wouldn’t it help for her to let him know that that is not appropriate? If a man yells at his kids, wouldn’t it be a good idea for a wife to help him learn to better manage his anxiety or frustration around the children, or to gain some better parenting skills? But Debi’s solution leaves these men with these very real problems, and prevents their wives from helping them correct them.
Debi’s “sit down and shut up” formula doesn’t fix anything whatsoever. In the ensuing paragraphs, Debi talks about habits, and about how you need to set good mental habits, and about how bitterness is the result of giving in to bad thought processes. In other words, it’s all in your head.
Anxiety attacks, depression, somber moods, feelings of not being in control of your mind, unfounded fears, and bursts of anger all start in the mind. They are what you have allowed yourself to become through your 40,000 daily thoughts. By reacting the same way repeatedly, you establish habits that become so much a part of you that they may seem to be organic—a part of your physical make-up.
Debi makes any mental issue—be it depression or bitterness or anxiety—a person’s own fault. It’s all in your head. The solution isn’t to address the root cause of bitterness, or anxiety, or to see whether there is an actual medical issue going on that needs treatment. The solution is to just change your thought patterns, because you’re doing it to yourself. As Debi points out, God tells us to “guard our minds.”
I don’t think I really need to say how insidious this is, but I will anyway. You think you should offer your husband input on a decision, or—God forbid!—criticism? Think again! Just shut up and let your husband keep doing whatever it is that’s bothering you! He’s spending you into poverty? He’s yelling at the kids? Anything’s better than you—God forbid!—correcting him! Oh, now you’re growing bitter over your situation and your husband’s faults, which have been left unaddressed? How could you let this happen? You’ve created this bitterness yourself in your own head and need to exercise your mental energy to break this terrible habit! What, now you’re feeling depressed, and like your life isn’t worth living? It’s all in your head! You’ve done this to yourself! Repent! Debi talks over and over about creating a “heavenly marriage,” but the marriage she’s describing sounds more like a terrible, dysfunctional hell hole.
Ironically, Debi finishes by quoting II Timohty 1:7—”For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Debi seems to be quoting it because it uses the phrase “a sound mind” and she was just talking about things like anxiety and depression, but it seems to directly contradict what she said earlier about how important it is to be afraid—literally afraid—of God. Furthermore, to be honest, the verse seems to go against the blaming, vindictive feel of this entire passage. Debi’s attempt to proof text just isn’t working out for her here!
Finally, get excited, because next week we learn that there are exactly three kinds of men.
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Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
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