Marriage Mind Games

ball-1418250-1279x850A godly wife is submissive. A godly husband is a leader. This is the ideal model of marriage, as laid down by a God who likes making his children play mind games.

It’s not news that I’m no fan of the patriarchal/complementarian view of marriage. I sat through hours of the instruction as a teen. I even tried it when I first got married, with pretty terrible results. It causes more harm than good most of the time. But don’t take my word for it—here’s an article from one of the bastions of submissive womanhood, Above Rubies, with a rundown of how the game goes.

I found the article when someone shared it on my newsfeed, after Above Rubies posted it on their Facebook page. Considering that the working title of my novel was Somewhere Below Rubies, I’m obviously not the target audience. But it’s exactly the kind of stuff I was taught, and obviously still going strong.

You can read the whole thing here. Here on the blog, I’ll provide excerpts. With commentary, naturally.*

The author leaps into motion with the starting gun:

… God spoke to me and said, “Val, you cannot teach this message… Because you don’t understand submission!” Now I don’t mind admitting that I was shocked.

“Lord, do you realize that I’m Val Stares from Above Rubies? I’ve always encouraged submission.” “Yes,” was the reply, “but you still don’t know how to submit.” By now I was on the defensive. “But. Lord, you know that every time I want something, or desire to go somewhere, I always ask my husband first.”

“And what is his reply?”

“He says for me to please myself. Oh yes, he always adds, ‘You usually do.’ I don’t know why he says that because he’s already given me permission to do what I think best.”

Her husband’s reply is an interesting detail. Does he mean it casually, as a lighthearted way to say, “Yes!” or as an unstated resentful way to remind her that she doesn’t really care about his opinion? I’d think that God, who surely has as much basic education as a first-year marriage counselor, would suggest that she ask her husband what he’s really thinking.

But no. The patriarchal God rarely goes in for direct, heart-to-heart talks. That spoils the game.

“If you are serious about learning submission, Val, I want you to go to your husband and tell him that from now on he needs to answer you, “Yes” or “No.” If he says that you can please yourself, then you will take that as his disapproval and will stay home or go without. There is to be no pouting, no banging doors, no attitude of annoyance or hurt when this happens.”

So “God” has laid down the ground rules. Val runs out to the shed where her husband spends a lot of his time, and tells him her new revelation. He laughed—“You’ll never be able to do it!”

About three weeks later, a visiting speaker came to town.
Note the passage of time. Three weeks later.

Finally it was time to ask my husband if I could go. Out to the shed I went, told him what was happening and asked if I could go. As usual, I left everything until the last minute!
That little drop of self-blame is essential to the truly submissive woman’s worldview.

“Please yourself, you usually do.”
That’s how he answered. He didn’t say the magic words. Remember what he was supposed to say? “Yes” or “No.” Anything else meant he didn’t actually approve and she had to stay home. Because God said so.

I raced into the bedroom and pleaded with God, “He’s forgotten he has to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Can’t I just remind him?” “No” came the answer to my heart…
Because if you did that, it would totally ruin God’s fun.

Around the time I should have left for the meeting, my husband walked in to find me cleaning. “I thought you were going out to a meeting,” he said.
This is a major play right here. She explained how he had really forbidden her from going because he didn’t use the right words. And her husband got mad. He yelled at her that if she wanted to be so stupid and stay home, then fine, stay home!

It was then that the full revelation of what God was teaching me became clear.
I don’t know about you, but I’m revelating all over the place here.

I’m getting the impression that Val is an energetic, take-charge kind of person. Women who run ministries usually are. And she married a low-key, easygoing man. This is a perfectly normal and acceptable personality pairing—except in patriarchal/complementarian circles. In those circles, a take-charge woman has to force herself to be indecisive and subservient, but in order to do so, she’s got to compel her easygoing husband to order her around. However, according to God’s fun little game, she can’t say that.

So Val decided for some reason that her husband’s dismissive “Please yourself, you usually do” wasn’t up to par. She made up a code that he had to follow to show he was really leading her. Meanwhile, her husband thought he’d given her permission to do something she wanted to do, only to discover that she’d denied herself and blamed him. No wonder he was mad.

Oh, hang on. That’s not at all what Val concludes. Instead, she chalks up a major score in the mind game.

I had overridden my husband’s decision so many times that he was now robbed of any desire to lead. He must have felt so cheated. Now, by God’s hand, he was responsible for me staying home, but what hurt me most was the realization that it was me, the Christian wife, who had robbed him!
It’s a homerun, folks!

 My husband is a cautious man and rather slow at making decisions. My impatience at waiting for an answer caused me to make more and more decisions myself and he would go along with me for the sake of peace.
Or maybe he figured out a long time ago that you manipulate the situation to get what you really want, so his actual opinion didn’t really matter.

 I stayed home for several weeks after that, while we both learned our respective roles.
While he learned your official change in the rules, you mean.

So that’s the story part. Now she’s got to get into the doctrine part to justify why they dodge and block instead of talking things out like responsible adults. She quotes some usual verses on submission (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18) and adds all the usual explanations:

God is not telling husbands to make us obey or make us come under their authority. We do it because we love God and our husbands, and because He has asked us to. It is our choice.
Even though in her own story, she had no choice once “God” told her to do it.

In my mind I saw my broom raised to a horizontal position above my head. The handle was labeled, “My husband’s Authority.” I could see that if he were in his rightful position, I would be able to walk beneath it in an upright position. This upright position was one of honor, security, love–and a surprise I didn’t expect or notice until much later–power!

This is one of their favorite plays. They insist that a woman who doesn’t make any decisions on her own, but lets her husband dictate everything, is in fact very powerful. They point to Esther, who had enormous influence over the king. That’s the kind of influence a truly submissive wife has! All she has to do is go into every situation thinking, as Esther did, “I’ll ask him about this. If I die, I die.” What’s so hard about that?

Just because the things I wanted to do were good things, didn’t necessarily mean they were what my husband wanted to do. He could have other plans.
Not that she asked if he had other plans. Not that he told her he had other plans. They are very careful not to mess up God’s favorite sport.

But God wanted me to measure myself by the attitude of Jesus.

We read about Jesus’ example in 1 Peter 2:18-23, “For what glory is it, if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps…Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously….Likewise, (with the same spirit of Jesus) ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation (the manner of life) of the wives.”

This is actually what 1 Peter 2:18-23 says. It’s written to servants (slaves, as translated in the New International Version).

“18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”

It looks a whole lot like she tacked on 1 Peter 3:1, the verse about wives, without saying so. Not only is she quoting Scripture out of context, she just created her very own Frankensteinian context! Slam dunk!

What happened to that feared and dreaded “door mat,” the so-called intimidated mousy wife who gets no say? It was a lie. It had no substance or power. I can now stand up straight, and walk upright, secure and loved under his protection. On this side of submission, I have more say because my opinion is of greater value than before.
In a spectacular leap of logic, she concludes that by not expressing her opinion on anything, it has greater value. Touchdown, baby! GOOOAAALLL!

One word of warning– submission is a daily practice, not a one-time act. I have to daily check my attitude and the humility of my heart.
But it’s even harder to work every day at communicating with each other, balancing each other’s desires with your own needs, taking care of misunderstandings as they happen. No guarantees, no formula to fall back on—just love, effort, and God’s grace.

But in the long run, your marriage grows stronger when you don’t depend on formulas, but take the risk to meet as equals and face issues together.

We serve a God of grace.

Not a God of mind games.

Game, set, match.

 

*Should I apologize for the unholy mixing of sports references? That would suggest that I’m sorry for it.

Show Respect, Not Love (A Rant in Two Chapters)

Chapter One: You Need Both (and Also Manners)

“Men need respect, women need love.”

This is a current marriage-advice fad. It’s very popular in circles where marriage is a strict hierarchy, but oozes over into more mainstream Christian circles as well. It sounds like a cool insight, but it’s really like saying, “In order to survive, men need two hydrogens with their oxygen, women need oxygen with their two hydrogens.”

Can you really separate love and respect in a marriage?

Articles like this say you can. But read through it and ask yourself, How are these points any different from how a man would show “love” to his wife?

My husband, DJ, assures me that it’s incredibly important that he knows I respect him. Granted. And it’s incredibly important for me to know that he loves me. But I’ll go out on a limb here and say that he would be less satisfied if I gave him all due respect, but preferred sex with somebody else. And I’m very confident that even if he lavishes affection on me, but shot down all my statements as “childish,” then we would have problems. Why separate love and respect, as if a spouse can live on one but not the other?

(For the record: DJ never shows disrespect to my opinions, and I never jump into bed with anybody else.)

Another thing about this list is that it isn’t actually showing how a wife relates to her husband. It’s how a decent, civil person relates to people in general. If you have to be told to thank him for what he does for you, or don’t interrupt when he’s talking, your problem isn’t your marriage. It’s your basic social instincts.

So yes. Show respect to your husband. And love. And also use good manners.

*

Chapter Two: The Missing Element

There’s a major aspect of this list, and all other lists like it, that bothers me. They all leave out a small but crucial bit of advice. Without that advice, the list becomes generic and sterile.

Allow me to rewrite the article and include the missing element.

25 Ways to Show Respect (and Love) to Your Husband

1 – 25: Spend time talking to each other. Find out who he is, what he likes, what his passions are, what his fears are, what makes him happy. He’ll do the same for you. Then both of you act on this knowledge.

Talk to each other.

I don’t know the person you married. I can’t write a list that will tell you how to respect (and love) your spouse the way he or she best understands it. That’s your job.

Glancing over this article, I find precious few suggestions that call for a woman to actually interact, on an adult and equal basis, with the man she married.

Instead of “choosing joy” or “not complaining” when you’re upset, communicate about it. If he’s hurt you, tell him in a mature and gentle way. If your bad mood has nothing to do with him, let him know — and release both of you from the responsibility of being happy for the time being. Talk about it.

Instead of “keeping the house tidy” or “prepare his favorite foods,” find out what’s important to your husband. My husband doesn’t much care about a cluttered house, but he loves coming home to a hot supper. Your man might not care a thing about fresh-baked biscuits, but would appreciate having time to work in the yard on weekends. Guess how you find that out? Talk to him.

Instead of “being content,” sit down and talk to each other about what your priorities and goals are. Some couples want lots of children, lots of land, and lots of space. Others want a small family and a quirky apartment in the city. I don’t know what you or your husband wants, and neither will you if you don’t talk about it.

Instead of “respond physically” (that’s the squeamish Christian way of referring to anything sexual), let each other know how you feel. Are you in the mood, too worn out, not feeling well, wanting something different? Do you like hugs or not? What does he like in bed? What do you like in bed? I sure as heck don’t know, and I’m not asking. You should talk to each other about it! It’s important. And also can be really fun.

Go through the article I linked to, and insert the sentence Talk about it for each one. That’s how you build a good marriage.

*

Note #1: If you can’t address important issues with each other, or if you can’t talk without getting into a fight, it has nothing to do with how well you’re following a list, or God, or whatever. It means both of you need to see a good counselor. One who can show you how to talk to each other.

Note #2: For the record, I object to #25 in principle, which reads:
“Follow His Lead
If you want your husband to lead, you must be willing to follow. Neither a body nor a family can function well with two heads. Learn to defer to your husband’s wishes and let final decisions rest with him.”

Alternatively, talk about your decisions together and come to a decision together. Sometimes you defer to him. Sometimes he defers to you. If you consistently hit a gridlock where only one person can ever make the final decision, it’s not a sign of a godly marriage. It’s a sign that you need a good counselor.

Drifting by Faith

zentangle
Artwork by the Scattered Fashionista

“What takes more faith?” my counselor asked me. “Swimming or drifting?”

It was part of our ongoing conversation to unravel why I couldn’t sit through a church service without panicking. I explained that my “faith” felt like constant effort to stay afloat and try to get to God, who stood on the shore.

I was exhausted from swimming. But there was pressure from every side to keep going, keep moving, keep trying. If I stopped, I might drown.

“What if you just drifted?” she suggested.

“That’s just as bad.” If I stopped going to church, stopped having ‘daily devotionals,’ stopped reading my Bible — I’d eventually drift away from God.

“But you aren’t just stopping. You’re resting. You’re healing. Maybe you can stop swimming and just float for a while.”

It sounded wonderful. Stop worrying about doing stuff for God. Not keeping my wounded faith propped up by my own painful efforts.

“But I can’t do that, can I? Won’t I drift away?”

And she asked — which really takes more faith? Endless effort, or rest?

In the end, I really had no choice. I had to relax and drift. I stopped going to church and took joy in peaceful Sundays. I didn’t worry about Reading My Bible Every Day (TM). My prayers are undefined and inarticulate most of the time.

When the water covers my ears and gets in my eyes, and I get panicky — I remind myself that one day I’ll reach the shore again. I’ll go back to church. I’ll read my Bible again, and I’ll find words for my prayers.

I draw heavily from DJ’s steadfast faith. I depend a lot on my family and friends who are strong enough to give me a hand.

The fact is, it takes a great deal of faith to drift, and most of it’s not my own. But I’m less anxious about it now, ever since I realized that God isn’t standing on the shore anyway.

He’s right there with me in the water.

Breaking Fences, Take 2

“The more commitments you make, the more mature you will be.”

After reading my last post (click here) a friend sent me actual photographic evidence that people really do think that “building fences” will protect you from sinning.

This page is from a “counseling” conference for students (about age 16 to young 20s) held in 2000. The bullet point listed here is just one of probably six or seven; these conferences deluged the attendees with information. It was hard to take it all in, much less judge each point’s validity — even if you had some frame of reference that let you see the problems in the first place.

This was written by the same teacher who wrote this helpful self-motivation checklist right here.*

Counseling1

Let’s take a look at this bit by bit, how about?

CounselingPt1

Oddly, when I went to my (highly effective) counseling sessions, what I most appreciated was how my counselor listened to me. She occasionally asked questions or suggested a different way to understand God or my past. No explaining or urging took place.

Counseling sessions are very individualized, so I imagine that sometimes a counselor might take a different tack that would look more like explaining and urging. But this teaching seems to assume that if people have problems, those people need to be “fixed.” They need to keep behind the fences and follow the rules. That way God will bless them again.

CounselingPt2

Two Bible verses! The first one is pretty solid. The second one is from a Psalm, which is poetry, not exactly cause-and-effect promises. And then, in a giant leap for logickind, he explains and urges that in order to get God’s blessings, you have to make commitments to do good things.

Just in case we might think he made up this theology, he gives us proof: an unverifiable story about anonymous people.

(If you’re thinking, “How could people believe this?”, then you don’t understand the force of a leader’s personality, the high-pressure atmosphere, and the reinforcement from the group where everyone else seems to agree without reservation. You should read my novel, The Fellowship.)

CounselingPt2

I don’t even have to point out what’s wrong with this “example.” But I will anyway.

The story assumes that if the young woman had committed to telling young men to approach her father first, she would be spared Bad Things. We also “know” that she’d be more mature if she made this commitment.

This is one point where he and I agree: this woman was not mature enough to handle a relationship. But turning it over to her dad wouldn’t have helped her in the long run.

After all, she thinks that since she accepted a date in surprise, it’s a binding promise. No, honey. If you’re uncertain about it, email him to say that the day you agreed on wouldn’t work out after all, and you’d really like to think about his offer a little longer. Then, after you’ve thought about it, call him and explain that you have a conflict of faith and you really don’t think it’s a good idea. It will be awkward and he might end up feeling hurt. That’s grown-up life.

But, no, since Daddy isn’t there to rescue her, she goes out with the guy after all and… violates her moral purity? There’s no knowing what that really means in this context. This phrase could refer sex — and if she had sex on the first date despite her conscience, she’s got really serious issues. It could also mean they kissed. Or maybe she wore a low-cut blouse and he complimented her figure. No telling which fence got breached, since breaking any of them counts as sin.

(It’s even possible that it means he forced sexual contact without her consent; since she dated a guy who didn’t have her father’s approval, she’s partly guilty for whatever he did to her. I don’t have the evidence of this logic right here, but it’s definitely part of the thinking.)

The story serves only one purpose: to create fear among his followers so they’ll accept his word as their means of security.

CounselingPt3

Well, yes, Daniel did. But that showed his strength of character. He knew his own mind. He didn’t need to prop up his sagging judgment with “commitments.”

This whole bullet point (and the rest of the material) is flavored with the pungent stench of Bible verses ripped out of context. Teachers like this demonstrate over and over that their concern isn’t what the Bible says or what God is really like. It’s to reinforce their own authority as teachers of truth, as they trap their followers behind miles of fences that God never created.

Amid all that talk of God and Biblical principles and Bible verses, though, this teacher — like most teachers like him — forgot to add a key verse. I’ll do it for him.

“Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” Nehemiah 6:8

*The teacher is Bill Gothard of the Institute in Basic Life Principles/Advanced Training Institute. I have no qualms about calling him out by name. But although his material is what I use for my examples, I don’t want to focus solely on him and his teachings. He’s just one of many teachers who peddle legalism, and they all use the same methods.