by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism
Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 80-85
This is a weird post to write—a very weird post to write. In her section on the Command Man, Debi got essentially everything terribly, horribly wrong. She was literally laying out the profile of an abusive husband, and arguing unabashedly that the wives of Command Men must be doormats, focusing only on serving and obeying. Her section on Mr. Visionary—who is supposed to be a reflection of the Holy Spirit—couldn’t be more different. Rather than laying out a second portrait of an abuser, she lays out a description of a man that sounds uncannily like my husband Sean—Mr. Visionary is a man who dreams big dreams and is fascinated by big ideas, but may be a bit deficient in the practicality department. But perhaps even weirder is the fact that probably 75% of her advice to wives of Visionaries is not only really good advice but actually stuff I really wish I had heard half a decade ago, and stuff I have had to learn myself by trial and error.
I’m still trying to figure out how in the world the same person who wrote the Command Man section also wrote this section. I mean, in addition to everything I said above, Debi actually ascribes agency to the wives of Visionaries and gives them a role to play. While I still very much take issue with part of what Debi says here, she does not argue that the wives of Visionaries are supposed to be doormats—something she does argue of the wives of Command Men.
Okay, so, let’s get going here:
If you are married to one of these fellows, expect to be rich or poor, rarely middle class. He may invest everything in a chance and lose it all or make a fortune, but he will not do well working 8 to 5 in the same place for thirty years, and then retiring to live the good life. If he works a regular job, he may either not show up half the time or he will work like a maniac 80 hours a week and love every minute. He may purchase an alligator farm in Florida or a ski resort in Colorado or he may buy an old house trailer for $150 with hopes of fixing it up and selling it for $10,000, only to find out that it is so deteriorated that it can’t be moved. He will then have his wife and all the kids help him tear the top off and carry the scraps to the dump, (saving the appliances in the already crowded garage), so he can make a farm trailer out of the axles. Now that he has a farm trailer and no animals, expect him to get a deal on three, old, sick cows, and . . . . He may never be rich in money, but he will be rich in experience.
Like I said above, Debi is describing Sean here. The other day we were on a walk with the kids when he suddenly said: “You know what would be fun? Working on the railroad! Let’s move to South Dakota and become railroad engineers!” This happens all the time. For a long time, I simply responded to each of his mad ideas by telling him how crazy they were. It took me a long time to realize what Debi says here:
Some of these guys talk with glowing enthusiasm and animation. Usually, they enjoy hashing over ideas, plans and dreams. If you are married to one, he loves to tell you about his newest idea, and he wants your enthusiastic support, not a criteria of his idea. He will look at his idea more critically later, but for the moment, the idea itself is invigorating to him. He will have a thousand ideas for every project he attempts, and he will try many he will never finish, and he will finish some that are worthless, and you “knew it all along.” Remind him of that the next time he has an idea, and you will destroy your marriage—but you won’t change him. He will share his “dumb ideas” with someone else.
Now obviously, Debi is engaging in her usual Debi scare tactics and hyperbole at the end there, but this paragraph literally gave me shivers. This is the advice I wish I’d had half a decade ago. I wish I’d known that Sean’s hare brained schemes were just his way of dreaming, and that he would never do more than think about most of them, and that he would critically examine them later once the initial buzz of the idea wore off. If I’d known these things, the early years of my marriage would have been smoother. Instead, I had to learn these things through sometimes-painful lived experience. In some weirdly twisted way, Debi comes close to being right about the last bit—if you’re married to a Visionary, continually responding to his (or her) ideas solely with negativity and criticism will poison your relationship.
The wife of a Mr. Visionary should be just a little bit reckless and blind in one eye if she is going to enjoy the ride. If this is your man, you need to learn two very important things (beyond how to make an appeal). Learn how to be flexible, and learn how to always be loyal to your man. You will be amazed at how much happier you will be and how much fun life can be if you learn to just go with the flow—his flow. Life will become an adventure. You will actually begin to feel sorry for the gals married to the stick-in-the-mud, steady type. And once you get into your head that your husband does not have to be “right” for you to follow him, you will FINALLY be able to say “bye-bye” to your overwrought parents, even when they are screaming that you are married to a crazy man. People looking on will marvel that you are able to love and appreciate your husband, but you will know better because you will see his greatness.
Here is where Debi’s advice starts heading in the wrong direction, but even here some of it is good. One thing that I’ve learned about Sean is that it is indeed sometimes best to just go with the flow and enjoy the ride. It’s certainly a lot more pleasant than the negativity that my constant criticism toward his big ideas initially bred. I’ve learned to relax a bit and enjoy flexibility, something that I didn’t appreciate much before I met Sean. And if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with a Visionary (male or female), I think you have to. Otherwise, you’ll both be miserable.
Even as Debi starts veering into submission territory with her rhetoric about being always loyal to your man and being willing to follow him regardless of whether he is right, she does not lower the woman’s role to that of mere servant staff as she does the wife of a Command Man:
Good intentions don’t always keep Visionaries from causing great harm. They can stir up pudding and end up with toxic waste, if they are not wise. An unwise wife can add to the poison with negative words, or she can, with simple words of caution, bring attention to the goodness of the pudding and the wisdom in leaving it alone. Every Mr. Visionary needs a good, wise, prudent, stable wife who has a positive outlook on life.
Visionary Man will talk and talk and talk to his honey if she approves of him. . . . One of [the Visionary Man's] greatest needs will be for his wife to think objectively (proven truth) and use common sense, which will help keep his feet from flying too far from solid ground. He spends his life looking through a telescope or microscope, and he will be stunned that what he sees (or thinks he sees), others do not seem to notice or care about. Every small issue will become mind-consuming, and he will need his wife to casually talk about the big picture and the possible end results of relationships, finances or health if he continues to totally focus on his present interest. His sweetheart needs to stay in a positive state of mind, yet never jump into his make-believe world, trying to be too much of a cheerleader on dead-end issues. let him burn out on things that are not wise. But don’t throw water on his fire. Let him find his own balance through bumping into hard realities.
I’m fairly certain I disagree with Debi on exactly where the balance lies (she’s not very clear on where she places it), but I totally agree with her (did I just say that?) that a woman married to a Visionary needs to find a balance between letting his feet fly off solid ground taking her with him on the one hand, and continually dousing water on the fire of his ideas through constant criticism on the other hand. This is the balance I’ve had to learn over the years. Now again, let me restate that I’m pretty sure I’d locate that balance differently than Debi. More importantly, I’m completely sure that I locate the need for finding that balance somewhere totally differently from Debi, who almost certainly sees it as stemming from a wife’s need to be submissive and follow her husband. Still, I’m impressed that Debi actually does argue that the wife of a Visionary needs to help keep his feet on the ground rather than just flying off with him.
If you are married to the Visionary Man, learn to enjoy the trip, for if he ever does make a better light bulb, he will want you to be the one who turns it on for the first time in public. It will be your face he looks into to see the marvel of what a great thing he has done. You are his most important fan.
Again, typical Debi, and very much in line with what she said last week about the Command Man wanting a queen to admire him. But I have to say, there’s a little bit of truth here—when Sean has one of his brilliant ideas, he’s always eager to hear what I think of it, excited and hopeful that I’ll like it. That’s what I was talking about when I said I agreed with Debi (ack! I said it again!) that constantly dousing a Visionary with water is going to lead to relationship problems.
You know the problem with Debi, here? The problem is that she’s gendering this. This isn’t something that should be gendered. There are Ms. Visionaries too, and their partners need this same advice. The issue here shouldn’t be how to be a good wife, the issue should be how to carry on a healthy relationship with a Visionary, a person—male or female—who is continually coming up with new ideas and continually moving from one latest project to another. And the first thing to realize in carrying on a relationship with a person like that is that one must strike a balance, not being constantly negative, but at the same time trying to keep their feet on the ground, or at least fairly close to it. But what Debi is doing is gendering this idea—suggesting that men have fixed types while women are fluid—and throwing in a dose of female submission. And that’s why Debi is offering what is genuinely good advice, but then slightly twisting it, adding a bit of poison.
Oh, and by the way, the garbage does show up this week:
Visionary Man will take the trash out if he remembers it. But, he may also end up inventing a way whereby the trash takes itself out or is turned into an energy source, or he may just waste a lot of time building a cart for you to take it out. He will not mind cleaning up if he notices it needs doing, but he may get so deeply involved that he decides to paint while he is sweeping, and then switch projects before he get finished painting. And he will likely be irritated when his wife nags him about it.
Once again, this is Sean. Including the nagging part. We try to have an equal division of the housework, Sean and I, but the trouble is that he often ends up so engrossed in his work or other projects that he forgets, or he simply doesn’t notice that the trash needs taking out or that the carpet needs vacuuming. If I nag, it just leads to tension in our relationship. So instead we talk about our division of the housework, and possibly reshuffle some things, and then it happens again—it’s not that Sean is against doing his part, it’s just that he doesn’t notice when it needs doing. And then, when he actually does get going at doing it, he does it incredibly thoroughly, almost unnecessarily and obsessively so, often turning a simple cleaning job into a drawn-out project.
There is one area, though, where Debi’s description of the Visionary doesn’t seem to describe Sean at all, and that’s this part:
Some of you are married to men who are shakers, changers, and dreamers. These men get the entire family upset about peripheral issues, such as: do we believe in Christmas? Should we use state marriage licenses Should a Christian opt out of the Social Security system? The issues may be serious and worthy of one’s commitment, but, in varying degrees, these men have tunnel vision, tenaciously focusing on single issues. . . . They are often the church splitters and the ones who demand doctrinal purity and proper dress and conduct.
If nothing else, this paragraph lets you know what Debi views as “peripheral issues.”
I do want to make it clear that I’m not endorsing Debi’s argument that there are three types of men, fitting her descriptions. I think there are lots of problems with creating “types” and then trying to shoehorn everyone into them—especially if you’re creating such a very small number. And besides, people are individuals, not “types.” This is part of why I was so surprised that nearly everything Debi said about her made-up type, Mr. Visionary, fit Sean so perfectly. In the end, I don’t think we should be surprised when we find that some of the men we know do fit Debi’s descriptions of the Command Man, Mr. Visionary, or Mr. Steady—but that doesn’t mean that everyone will.
Next week we’ll learn about Mr. Steady. Hopefully by then I will have gotten over my shock at the vast, vast differences between Debi’s treatment of the Command Man and Mr. Visionary—and at the fact that I actually said I agreed with Debi about something.
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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