CTBHHM: Pick a Girl with Low Self-Esteem (Yes Really)

by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism

Created To Be His Help Meetpp. 140-141

In the coming pages, we will discuss how we need to cook, clean, take care of your children, etc. These are important and necessary, but the buck always stops right here at the action word reverence. A man will allow his woman many, many faults, as long as he knows that she thinks he is great. If she will just look into his face with adoration, if she is thankful to him for loving her, he will adore her. She can dress awful, be grossly overweight, have terrible hair, not cook so well, be a little lazy and dumb, and not be one bit pretty, but if she will just think and show that he is wonderful, he will love you. It sounds simplistic, but it is the way of a man with a maid.

Wow, simplistic much? Men and women aren’t identical puzzle pieces. Also, really? Debi is promising women that if they adore their husbands their husbands will love them—period? This is quite a big promise to make. And yet, that’s what Debi does—and then asserts that it’s a law of nature. And honestly? This whole input-adoration-output-love thing seems demeaning to men. Men aren’t slot machines. They’re people. 

Also, adoration isn’t something you can create out of thin air. Adoration is natural during the first stages of puppy love, and in healthy relationships it matures into a sort of good, stable sense of peace, acceptance, and gratitude for a life lived together. Can you force yourself to adore someone who has done nothing to deserve your adoration, gratitude, or appreciation?  I suppose you could if you brainwashed yourself, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t how adoration is supposed to work.

Finally, while this sort of pure adoration from wife to husband regardless of circumstance might not result in a complete disaster when the husband involved is a stable and healthy individual, if the husband is abusive or has narcissistic tendencies, it could go very, very badly. 

Women, on the other hand, want their husbands to perform. They expect them to be spiritual, hardworking, diligent, sensitive, and an attentive parent, or they will take personal offense and begin a campaign to change him into “their” image. I find it amazing that a woman would marry a MAN and then become angry because he continues to act like one.

Wow. Debi’s into insulting pretty much everyone here.

So if a woman is unhappy about something about her husband, she should ignore it completely because that imperfection or difference is just part of who he is as a man, so she better shut up about it? It’s true that if you go into a marriage thinking you can “change” your spouse and reshape them into some exact model you have in mind, you’re in for some disappointment. That’s not a healthy way to approach a relationship.

But this idea that what Debi’s suggesting has nothing to do with trying to “change” your husband? Ha. Ha ha ha. Debi promises that women can make thier husbands love them and treat them well if they only approach their husbands with complete adoration and reverence. This sounds to me a lot like mounting a “campaign” to “change” them. Just sayin’.

Finally, ignoring the things that bother you about your husband and trying to change your husband into the ideal man you’ve formed in your mind are not your only two options. I’ve used this example before: When Sally was little, I frequently got annoyed with Sean for gaming when I thought he should be helping with Sally or around the house, partly because I viewed gaming as a complete and utter waste of time. Finally, I told to him about how I felt and we talked about it and we found a compromise that we were both happy with. This is how healthy relationships are supposed to work—and this is what wouldn’t have happened if I’d followed Debi’s advice.

Elisabeth Elliot, in her book, Let Me Be a Woman, wrote to her daughter, “I had been a widow for thirteen years, when the man who was to become your stepfather proposed. It seemed to me the miracle that could never happen. That any man had wanted me the first time was astonishing. I had gone through high school and college with very few dates. But to be wanted again was almost beyond imagination. I told this man that I knew there were women waiting for him who could offer him many things that I couldn’t offer—things like beauty and money. But I said, “There’s one thing I can give you that no woman on earth can outdo me in, and that’s appreciation.” The perspective of widowhood had taught me that.”

Or maybe it’s your low self esteem talking.

Look, in 1969, the same year Elisabeth Elliot remarried, she published her sixth book. Sixth. She was no mere bookworm, either. After her husband died while attempting to evangelize in South America, she put serious effort into learning another language and then spent several years living among the native groups where he had met his death, alone but for her small daughter and another female missionary. This was a woman with courage and tenacity. After remarrying, she went on to publish seventeen more books, teach at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, contribute to the New International Version of the Bible, and host a daily radio show. In no sense was this a woman who had nothing of value to offer her a man other than appreciation. I disagree with Elisabeth Elliot on a lot of things—she is the author of her own how-to-be-a-good-submissive-evangelical-wife manual, after all—but in suggesting that she had nothing to offer a husband Elisabeth is either posturing or demonstrating a startling lack of appreciation for her own talents and abilities.

As I cast around in my mind and heart for a way to define for my readers what it means to reverence a man, Elisabeth Elliot’s letter to her daughter came to my mind.

The very heart of reverence is extreme appreciation and profound thankfulness that this man, just as he is, has chosen to love me, just as I am. 

Elisabeth Elliot is a lovely, talented, successful woman, yet she chooses to honor with thankfulness the man who loves her. It is the state of her heart.

You know what? I honestly wouldn’t have a problem with this whole gratitude thing if it weren’t gendered and didn’t come with a major self esteem knock.

My husband tells young men looking for wives that there is only one absolutely necessary trait that the girl they marry must possess—a grateful heart. He tells them that the girl they choose must be joyful and thankful that you love her. “The more she believes that she is fortunate that you chose her over others, the better the foundation for the true marriage of two souls. If she feels that YOU are lucky to get HER, then you had better run, because that woman is looking for her own help meet, and she thinks you are the one to fill the job. She will spend the rest of her life trying to change you.”

Do you see what I was saying? Being mutually grateful without mixing in the whole thinking worse of yourself bit is absolutely a part of a healthy relationship. But that’s not what this is.

If I were really cynical I’d have to say it sounds like Michael is telling young men to prey on women with low self esteem. No wait, I will say that: Michael is telling young men to prey on women with low self esteem. (Note that unlike Debi, I am calling these women women, not girls.) Note that Michael says that if a woman feels a man is lucky to get her, she is being a man and looking for a helpmeet. In other words, a man looking for a helpmeet should feel that a woman is lucky to get him. This is so unhealthy.

If a husband feels that his wife is lucky to have him and his wife feels that she does not deserve him and is lucky he picked poor, lowly her—this is not a good setup for a healthy marriage. The opposite—a wife who feels her husband was lucky to get her and a husband who feels he does not deserve her—is not healthy either. In a healthy relationship, each partner respects and values themself and each partner is grateful to have the other partner in their life. The imbalance that Michael is promoting is unhealthy and creates a balance of power and esteem that is incredibly ripe for abuse. This is how abusers work, after all—”you don’t deserve me” and “if you leave me, who else would have you?”

To reverence a husband is to be delighted and thankful, like the purple flowers PJ girl. It means that you must be the opposite of the “don’t-mess-up-my-hair” girl and that you believe in him enough to dream good things about him. You reverence him by teaching your sons and daughters that their daddy is the #1 man, and then help them make a sign and hold it high, so everyone can see how you think and feel about him. In summary, it is to believe that you are blessed for being loved by this wonderful man.

Debi says that to reverence her husband a woman must “believe that you are blessed for being loved by this wonderful man.” But what if he is not a “wonderful man”? What if he is abusive or unfaithful? What if being loved by him is not a blessing at all? Two of the four stories Debi references here were with just such men—the first was serially unfaithful and the second was physically abusive and even tried to murder his wife. If these men fit Debi’s “wonderful man” standard, I don’t want one.

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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

 

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