Closing the Fire Escape

Closing the Fire Escape October 26, 2014

A few weeks ago, I discussed a chapter from one of Gothard’s IBLP seminar textbooks titled “How To Build the Spirit of a Marriage.” Today I want to come back to that chapter to discuss something often called “closing the fire escape.” Here Gothard is discussing things a wife can do that damage a marriage.

When she lacks a grateful spirit

An ungrateful wife is a public rebuke to her husband. By her spirit she communicates the message, “My husband does not know how to make me happy.” Ungratefulness usually indicates that a wife has many expectations.

Many husbands feel that they are either not able to meet these expectations or that even if they do meet them, there will only be more demands to take their place. In any event, an ungrateful spirit in a wife tends to cause her husband to feel like a prisoner of her expectations.

A wise wife will give all of her expectations to the Lord and then demonstrate sincere appreciation to the Lord and to her husband for the things that are done for her.

Shorter Gothard: A wife should not have expectations for her husband. But this is a problem, because we should have expectations for a partner any time we are in a relationship. We should talk about our expectations, communicating about what we want and need, working them out together, but a partner with no expectations is opening herself (or himself) to be walked all over.

For example, I expect my husband Sean to help out with the housework. I expect him to help out with the children. I expect him to communicate with me if he is working late. I expect him to be happy for me when things are going well for me professionally, and to be there for me when things are hard.

Is it possible to have expectations that are too high? Absolutely. But not having expectations at all? How is that even a relationship? How is that not one-sided, or like ships passing in the night? Basically, it means the wife is to stop expecting her husband to do anything, and to live as though she is single.

Here’s another:

When she exposes their marriage problems to outsiders

When a wife finds a fault in her husband, it is extremely difficult for her to share it first with the Lord and then at the right time with her husband. It is much easier to discuss it with a friend, tell her mother, or ask counsel from her pastor.

There are consequences whenever a wife fails to follow Scriptural guidelines in discussing a marriage problem. If she tells her friend, word will often get back to her husband. If she tells her mother, her parents will take up an offense against her husband. If she tells the pastor, her husband will feel that the pastor has taken his wife’s side and has prejudged him.

If after talking to the Lord and her husband, the fault persists and is seriously damaging the marriage, the wife should then appeal to her father and together they should talk to the husband. (The father is the one who gave her to her husband in good faith.) Only if this fails should the matter be brought to the pastor and the church.

One of Satan’s most effective ways of damaging marriages is to cut off communication with the individuals through whom God has ordained to give counsel.

First of all, this is all very badly defined. When is a wife to know that her husband’s fault has reached the point that it is “seriously damaging the marriage”? Besides, if she’s not supposed to have any expectations of her husband, isn’t she just supposed to ignore his shortcomings?

I absolutely agree that a wife should talk to her husband about things that are bothering her. But I can’t get on board with this not ever discussing any of her husband’s faults to anyone but God and him unless those faults are “seriously damaging the marriage.” For example, my sister Heidi and I have discussed our marriages’ ups and downs over the years with each other, and so far as I can tell the only result of that has been for each of us to feel we have additional support, and someone else to turn to for advice. This isn’t a substitute for communicating with our husbands, of course.

When Gothard advises wives not to go to anyone but their husband and God about their frustrations unless things are really, really bad, he is shutting them off from the support and advice they would otherwise get from their sisters, mothers, and friends. Now yes, if you spend your time bad-talking your partner far and wide for every little thing, that is a problem. But finding support and advice in a trusted relative or friend? That is not, by itself, a problem, and can in fact be a very good thing.

Note too who Gothard says a wife should go to if things are really, really bad—her father. Then, Gothard says, the woman and her father should together talk to the husband. But what if the woman’s father is absent, or abusive? What if he tells her to suck it up and be a good wife? And as for bringing in the pastor and the church, what if the pastor does the same thing?

Gothard says that cutting off “communication with the individuals through whom God has ordained to give counsel”—her father and pastor—is damaging to marriages. But he is himself arguing for cutting off communication—communication with sisters, mothers, and close friends. He is telling women that they should never, ever discuss marriage problems with any of these individuals, who are normally part of a woman’s support system—and for good reason.

And note that there is nothing said about leaving a bad marriage.

So let’s get this straight. A woman should have no expectations for her husband, and should not talk about any of her husband’s faults or marriage problems with her sisters, mother, or friends. Can you see how this is closing the “fire escape”? It makes recognizing bad marriage problems, getting advice, and getting out if needed especially difficult.

And too many women end up trapped.


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