How to Stop Your Wife from Having Tantrums at Costco, and Other Christian Marriage Tips

I recently stumbled across a marriage-themed Christian blog that hijacked my thoughts for days. Sometimes, when I go on the internet, I wish there was a TSA for my mind, patting down ideas and limiting the contents of their personal baggage.

So it was that I encountered Peacefulwife’s Blog, with the tagline “The Joy of God’s Design for Wives and Marriage”. I should have cried “to each her own!”, and found some mischievous cat videos instead. But Peacefulwife touched a place in my mind that chitters like the lid of a stainless steel pot when the rice boils over.

What caught my eye was a guest post by Christian marriage writer Daniel Robertson, titled “5 Ways Wives Unwittingly Disrespect Their Husbands”.

My five-year wedding anniversary is coming up this week, and I’m all for learning about ways to improve my marriage. Robertson begins with a true-life anecdote:

“One day my wife and I went shopping at Costco. I began to lead her in one direction fully expecting her to come along with me, but instead she seemed upset and asked me where I was going. Being the boneheaded man that I am, I didn’t tell her, but instead just motioned for her to follow me.”

The Costco trip, far from being a utopia of bathtub-sized ketchup crocks and toothbrush ten-packs, did not turn out well. The wife “stormed off in the other direction” and they did their shopping separately.

“I was floored,” Robertson writes. “Why couldn’t she just follow my lead, I thought. Did I really need to explain to her that I just wanted to grab some bread?”

I already knew the moral of this story. I have lived it countless times in my own marriage, when I kept my mouth shut about what I wanted and then resented my spouse for not being psychic. Surely God and therapists alike are behind the notion of good communication.

But I was wrong.

“The point of the story is that I felt completely disrespected,” Roberston continues. “All I wanted was for my wife to follow my lead through the store and not question what direction I was taking her.”

Uh-oh.

“Ladies, your husband thrives on respect,” Robertson advises. “It is just as important to him as feeling loved is to you.”

Looking through some of Peacefulwife’s own posts, in which she refers to her own spouse as “Respected Husband”, I can see why she invited Robertson to her blog.

A pharmacist, mother of two, stanch Christian and self-confessed former control freak, Peacefulwife now devotes herself to the pursuit of a Bible-based marriage ideal of female submission, and blogs to exhort other women to do the same.

In marriage, she writes, women need love and men need respect. To her (and, presumably, her church-based counselors), this means relinquishing all important decisions to her husband, as God decrees she should.

“If only Eve had known what I am going to tell you!” she begins in a post titled “Let Me Check with My Husband and Get Back with You”.

Peacefulwife has a ready response for any salesperson, neighbor, fellow worshipper, friend or “cult missionary” who asks her for something.

“I need to talk to my husband about that,” she says. Or, “I’ll ask my husband.”

“Imagine if Eve had used one of these phrases when Satan was giving her the offer of a lifetime in the Garden? Wow!”

It’s an interesting take on Original Sin. Instead of disobeying God, Eve just failed to check with Adam.

I want to be fair to Peacefulwife. A reader recently wrote me to say that I lack humility, and that I have a “huge” chip on my shoulder: I hold my opponents in contempt, and my angry tone subverts my message.

So I should clarify that I, too, fully advocate asking your husband. Situations in which I ask my husband include any time a mechanic claims my car needs work, any time someone invites me to do something I really don’t want to do, and any time someone inquires after my husband’s opinions.

Otherwise, my husband and I view decisions as mutual discussions.

“God gave him wisdom that He did not give to me,” Peacefulwife explains of why the husband must be the ultimate household arbiter, and while she does say that her husband values her perspective on his own choices, she is “THANKFUL for God’s wisdom in setting this authority structure into place in our marriage.”

There is something a little seductive about Peacefulwife’s way of life, which leaves all decisions to the husband. It sounds like retirement, or going on vacation without any pets to worry about. I would probably enjoy it for about two days.

But even though I don’t ask for his permission to join a board of directors or change jobs, I do plan to spend a lifetime respecting my spouse. So I read with interest Daniel Robertson’s advice on properly respecting your husband.

Some of his advice really resonates with me. He urges wives not to answer questions that someone else directs at your husband. I think this rule should apply to everyone, not just spouses: don’t speak for other people when it’s their turn to pipe up. Robertson also chides wives who don’t consult their husbands on major decisions, like where to go on vacation or how to spend a tax return.

But given the whole Costco follow-my-lead fiasco, I suspect Robertson doesn’t offer any primers urging husbands not to interrupt their wives, or to consult their wives on important decisions.

His other tips for ensuring wifely respect are even more worrying.

First, he believes that acting like your husband’s “mommy” (setting out his clothes, wiping food off his face, or reminding him to brush his teeth) is “a common mistake that almost every wife makes.” Who knew marriages were crumbling because wives were helping husbands dress or advocating good hygiene?

“Guess what?” Robertson asks. “Your husband didn’t marry you to get a new mommy, he married you to get a partner.”

But according to Robertson’s next piece of advice, a partner is not what your husband really wants at all.

“You tell your husband you want him to lead, but every time he tries you end up questioning him or going against him,” Robertson warns. “He sets his foot down but you find sneaky ways to get around it. He doesn’t want a certain TV show on in his house but you argue about how it’s not so bad and watch it anyway. Let your husband lead already!”

As if to reinforce his ideal wife’s childlike position in the home, his next piece of advice warns wives against “tak[ing] over with the kids”.

“Your husband is trying to discipline or instruct the kids and you just have to step in and take over,” he writes. “There is no need for this. He is perfectly capable of handling them.”

As he is also perfectly capable of handling you, even down to which TV shows you may watch.

I respect every couple’s right to fashion their own lives within the law (or, in the case of homosexual couples in many US states, outside of it). Some couples have an open marriage, some have dogs for ring-bearers, some go to a house of worship every week, some live apart and some never stir a step unless they’re together.

So what really troubles me in Robertson’s case isn’t that his vision of marriage galls me. Rather, it’s that I find his advice on being a good “partner” highly disingenuous. The relationship he advocates (in which one party “sets his foot down” and the other unquestioningly obeys) may be a version of marriage, but it is not a partnership. It is the relationship of an adult and his unruly child.

Even worse is Robertson’s phrase, “All I wanted was for my wife to follow my lead through the store and not question what direction I was taking her.” It’s as if asking a person to silently negate her own needs and questions on a daily basis is a modest and painless request.

Since Robertson had his say, I’ll feel free to throw my own take out there.

Godly or not, the waters of his own marriage are indisputably troubled if his wife “storms off” in public with no more provocation than a simple wordless gesture. Perhaps pent-up misery at her own lack of agency in the marriage has left her with a hair-trigger sensibility that can’t even handle a joint trip to the store.

Why can’t I just leave religious folks to their own sphere?

Because maybe, among Peacefulwife’s devotees, there is a woman who silently grieves at abdicating responsibility, instead of sharing it before her God.

Another Peacefulwife’s Blog guest post by Being June titled “A letter to my newlywed self” exhorts women to memorize and live by this sequence of priorities: “God, husband, children, work, self.” Maybe there’s a wife out there who secretly questions the lesson that she comes last, while her spouse gets a pedestal second only to God. Would God tell you to go to the office every day without breakfast? If you can’t work on an empty stomach, what can a perpetually hungry, marginalized self bring to a marriage?

It’s telling that this sequence does not even allow a woman to put herself above her employment. Why can’t a woman aim for an integrated self that balances many needs (just as she loves multiple children equally well), instead of dissecting the elements of her life into a rigid hierarchy?

I understand what it’s like to absorb that hierarchy. As a child, I assimilated religion-lesson diagrams that illustrated a man’s wisdom versus a woman’s emotional nature, and why this distinguished men as spiritual and practical leaders. I have listened to sermons and read books that urged women to “keep quiet” and leave important decisions to others.

Speaking of traditional religious scholarship, I would suggest that Peacefulwife’s fans think about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which I had the privilege of seeing this week in a Philadelphia exhibit.

It’s highly unlikely that any women were clutching the quill when the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. Hardly anyone knew how to read and write at all, except religious scholars, who were male.

I suppose I could twist this into an argument for Peacefulwife to stay silent, like the traditional wives she claims to emulate. You can’t be a true submissive AND yammer your opinions on the internet to guide other people.  Surely biblical wives did not write down marriage advice and post it in public.

But I have my blog and Peacefulwife is entitled to hers. Write on, sister in online discourse.

Meanwhile, I think that women who tout hearkening back to biblical-era tenets of “submissive” wives should remember that few, if any, of those wives were writing or leading public discourse. But nowadays, Peacefulwife and many of her peers enjoy Christian accolades for launching successful blogs.

If God smiles on the work of Peacefulwife, perhaps a lack of female writers isn’t the only thing about women’s lives that can properly change over time.

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29 Comments

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  1. Happy anniversary. Maybe I should become the husband and allow my partner to follow me.

  2. Has Robertson considered just how demeaning, how antagonistic his gesture was? His behavior is certainly not a good role model for a Christian or any other kind of (well perhaps Neanderthal) marriage.

    • Alaina Mabaso July 2, 2012 — 5:30 pm

      Not that I know of. When Robertson calls himself a “boneheaded” man, I get the feeling that he’s not satirizing his inability to communicate. I sense that he’s mocking his wife’s view of himself, all while blaming her for “disrespecting” him.

      • I believe you are correct. “boneheaded me” can be a power play. Maybe a little straight up, honest conversation is in order.

      • Alaina Mabaso July 2, 2012 — 6:51 pm

        No, there’s nothing in the Bible about honest conversation with your wife. Unless you think the “thou shalt not bear false witness” commandment covers honesty to your spouse.

  3. In the comments Robertson gets universally slammed, and he completely backpedals. You make a good point about all variety of couples having all variety of mutual agreements, and Gd bless ’em for it. Clearly that’s not true in his case. Maybe after this episode he’ll learn that love and respect aren’t mutually exclusive.

    • Alaina Mabaso July 2, 2012 — 6:15 pm

      …or that the need for love and respect isn’t divided by gender. I’m aware that I’m not the first woman to raise the alarm on Robertson. Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment.

  4. “Submissive” isn’t what a wife should be at all! >..> Okay. Rant over. 😛

    • Alaina Mabaso July 2, 2012 — 9:27 pm

      Well SOMEBODY’S got to submit! The minute we lose sight of rigid, masculine-dominated hierarchies for ALL emotional states, we all go to hell!

      • LOL! And to hell we go! 😛 It totally killed all of my comment except for the first and last line. I ranted a lot more than that. 😉 It still got the point across.

      • Alaina Mabaso July 3, 2012 — 9:13 am

        Darn, sorry part of your original comment got deleted – hate that! Feel free to tell everyone it contained the pinnacle of life’s brilliance before it disappeared.

  5. stewartdesign July 3, 2012 — 8:48 am

    Ugh. Thanks to you, I’ve just spent some time on Peacefulwife’s blog, and now I’m feeling like I need a shower to rinse off the creepy-crawlies. It reeks of mental disorder to me (especially since I’ve spent a lot of time reading about borderline personality disorder lately). All that black-and-white thinking, rigid rule-following, obsessiveness and prolonged efforts to subjugate her own needs in order to reach an elusive happiness… eww. I just don’t think an equal partnership (which I consider marriage to be) is a dominant-submissive dynamic, and her struggles to be submissive seem unnatural and forced to my eyes. Maybe a century ago it would’ve been less abnormal, but now it just sounds like modern-day slavery.

    This blog post by Respected Husband is really freaky to me: http://peacefulwife.com/when-she-surrendered/. It sounds like he loves it that his wife finally surrendered and put him on the pedestal God made for spiritual male leaders like him, but he also seemed nervous of her stability. I certainly am.

    I showed this to a friend (who happens to be a devout catholic) who commented that “You know the last entry will be one in which she heard the Lord tell her to put a bullet through his brain.”

    • Alaina Mabaso July 3, 2012 — 9:35 am

      Yes, my first impulse, upon coming across Peacefulwife, was to try to think of a way to prevent any of my readers from ever hopping over to her blog, because I found the ideas so damaging and of course I see myself in the role of a kind of internet shepherd, protecting tender-minded subscribers…But as a kid I always enjoyed looking under rocks to see all the bugs and worms. And later I learned that those fun, icky bugs were an important part of the ecosystem. I try to remember that the world has room for many ways of life. So sometimes I look under the internet’s rocks, so to speak, and now my readers can too.

      The Respected Husband post is creepy, I agree. The part that most struck me was when he likened Peacefulwife’s submission to a kind of Lasik eye surgery: her vision was changed so that she saw only the best in him and no longer perceived negative thoughts or expectations of him. There’s a proper time for that phase in a relationship: it’s called the first month or two that you’re dating someone, before you really get to know him.

      I agree that the rampant hierarchies and rule-following are reminiscent of some kind of anxiety disorder or other mental problem. But the thing that struck me even more is sort of like my opinion on racist or homophobic people who say their prejudices are a religious dictate. I don’t think church makes people bigoted. I think that people who are bigoted are drawn to social and religious structures that justify their feelings.

      Similarly, there are so many kinds of couples – including people who genuinely get sexual/romantic or other kind of excitement from dominating others or being subjugated. It’s a whole subset of human sexuality. What if couples like Peacefulwife and Respected Husband unwittingly get off on that submission scene, and have found a way to live that out openly through the justification of their religion? If that’s the case, I’ll say, to each her own…

      I’m queasy about the last piece of your comment, because I don’t want anything on this blog to presage or incite violence, but it’s an honest response so I’ll let it stand.

      Thanks as always for reading.

      • Take a look at this post: http://peacefulwife.com/2012/06/19/wives-can-seem-scary-to-husbands/ – all the fears, anxieties and rages she describes as typical female emotions as are right out of the Borderline Personality Disorder handbook: extreme fear of abandonment, constant need for reassurance, constant doubt over her husband’s love, “testing” her husband’s devotion, need for someone else to soothe her when she can’t soothe herself because she is “drowning in the roaring waves of my scary emotions”… I find it hard to relate to this. These are the reactions of a person with BPD, which are also the reactions of a child. It’s hard to have an adult relationship with someone who feels and behaves like this, incapable of caring for themselves or controlling their executive function.

        Perhaps in her case, putting the burden on her husband to make all the decisions and take care of her is the thing that keeps her fears and demons at bay. I have no doubt she’s grateful for his stability and reassurance. But I’d hardly consider this a model for a healthy marriage of normal, modern-day human beings.

        I also think her religion is possibly being used as a justification for her choices, although I’m really just speculating about that, perhaps unfairly, as I have known other people who have done exactly that. I’ll have to read more, with an open a mind as I can muster, to try to understand this fascinating “lifestyle” a little better.

      • Alaina Mabaso July 3, 2012 — 1:51 pm

        Your theory about BPD is interesting, particularly b/c of Peacefulwife’s apparently successful career history as a pharmacist who counsels her customers – in one post she purports to have a very good knowledge of the human brain’s physiology, as one would expect for someone in her field. One might think that she’d have a better handle on mental health than the average citizen. I guess it’s pretty rude for us to speculate in public about whether someone else has a mental illness – it’s really none of our business. It’s possible Peacefulwife has just made a personal decision that I happen to find repugnant, but it doesn’t mean she’s ill.

        All really interesting though.

  6. You’re right– it is totally obnoxious to armchair-diagnose someone’s mental health based off one blog full of wacky ideas. But that particular post was so full of BPD-colored flags, that it’s hard to ignore. She was basically giving men a how-to-react-to-your-wife’s-inevitable-rages guide. She doesn’t take ANY responsibility in that post for out-of-control behavior, blaming it on hormones, fear and insecurity, an innocent “need for connection”, and other things she “can’t help” and needs someone else to fix.

    This line (in bold!) really jumped out at me: “we panic – we think if we increase the volume, he’ll understand the urgency and our pain and he’ll want to fix it.”

    Since when is it someone else’s job to “fix” someone else?

    The solution, she claims in that post, is for the man to be calm and reassuring when your wife verbally abuses you, to hug them and speak softly, to let your raging wives storm off in a huff, BUT… make sure to pursue them in order to prove your love and not exacerbate their insecurities (if you think that’s what your wife really needs– or else, give her space, and you better know which one she wants!)… and to apologize sincerely if you’ve “sinned” and thereby sent her into this uncontrollable rage. It’s really very disordered, and doesn’t show that she believes verbally abusive women have any accountability for their out-of-control behavior.

    This line sums up her view for me: “He knows how to calm the emotional storm and make everything right again. HE IS MY HERO!!!!!!!”

    My belief is that adults are responsible for managing their own emotions and not becoming verbally abusive when things don’t go their way. But she doesn’t seem to see it this way. In her mind, that’s the MAN’s job!

    • Alaina Mabaso July 3, 2012 — 2:47 pm

      Well, that fits in well with her whole worldview. If she surrenders all decisions and activities to her husband’s discretion, why not her emotions as well? Maybe it works for their marriage (but as I say in the blog post, “marriage” does not always mean “partnership”).

      When reading some of her advice for marriage’s emotional hurdles, it did strike me that her emotional MO does not in any way resemble my own dealings with my husband, though she writes as if her experience sums things up for every woman (and that her husband is an ideal model for every man). That’s what’s dangerous, I guess – not that she writes about her experience, but that she advocates her experience as the One Right Way for all, sanctified by a higher power.

      And yes, from my armchair, huge red flags of emotional and/or mental instability are apparent. But that’s their business. Sigh. Good luck to the Respected Husband.

  7. I think I love you.

    Haha, but no creepiness here. I just really appreciate you posting this. I came across that blog awhile back on my own, and found it disturbing, as did my husband. To each his own, sure, but it was encouraging to find someone else who agreed with me, and put the reasons why so well. Thanks!

  8. Wonderful site!!!!! Please keep writing!!! 🙂

  9. I just finished reading a great new book I think you would enjoy called “The Wholehearted Wife: 10 Keys to a More Loving Relationship,” by Erin, Greg and Gary Smalley. Instead of focusing on “How do I have a better marriage?” This book embraces that truth, and helps women ponder the question, “How can I be the best wife I can be?” It provides every woman with skills, information, and encouragement to make a positive difference to this and future generations, by wholeheartedly investing in her marriage and her relationship with her husband today. Biblical, inspirational, affirming. One of my favorite quotes is, “When we turn to God for help, he fills us with his love and enables us to see ourselves and our husbands through his eyes. Keep in mind that a wholehearted wife focuses first on her own heart!” I highly recommend this book!

  10. I am very concerned about how women relate each other. It is deplorable. The concerns that I have about marriage websites are:

    1. Why do we have women so eager to lecture other women ( wives ) about how to be submissive an how to respect their husband? But we do not see men lecturing men on how to treat women, or how to love and give their lives for their wives. Why ?

    2. Why can’t these eager women website writers and owners, use some of that eagerness towards writing to women, to teach women about loving themselves first, before entering courtship and marriage, and not putting themselves in degrading situations for any man, not being a pleaser, not exalting a man, not blaming themselves when a husband becomes cold, distant, or cheats.

    What I want most for Biblical websites to do is to discuss with husbands how they were given the leadership role in the marriage and has the responsibility to work on the marriage just like you all tell the wives. Also, i need to mention that these women writers who find it necessary to lecture and scold other women, are doing a terrible injustice to women, because men already are consumed with their huge egos. But when men sit back and read where women are fussing, yes I said fussing, then all these women writers are doing is saying look how catty and snarky we women are to each other, and you lead some people to believe that you are indoctrinated. So please be careful what you all write to women.

    So believe it when I tell you, that all you are doing is giving men a reason to be even more lazy, selfish, and egotistical. You all are just adding more fuel to the already existing fire between husbands and wives. Dont make everything that a wife says or does, something bad at her husband. That is evil. That is so wrong. Read all of God’s Word. Dont scold and demean wives. Women want to be respected, just as they want love.

    • Very true that everyone deserves love and respect, regardless of gender. I think my ultimate preference would be for Biblical websites to stop giving modern marriage advice in general, but if they can manage marriage how-to’s that aren’t completely sexist, then that’s fine. People should be free to integrate their faith into their marriage. Thanks for reading and adding your perspective!

  11. Alaina, I am so thankful for your site. It is a blessing to me and I am sure to other females. At this time in our world, we are fighting principalities of darkness, with some coming as websites to teach females how to exalt and woship their husbands while tearing females down. God tells us to not take away from or not to twist His word. But there are false teachers who are on amission to destroy the female gender and one way they are doing this is through anti female articles on the Internet that subscribe to mottos and sayings like,
    It makes me sad to know that there are females, young and not so young, who actually think they are not worthy of love, honor and respect just like males, just like their husbands. It really hurts to see anti female websites that devote their time to beating girls and women down, telling them that everything they do and say is wrong, all while exalting males/husbands. But, because many females are taught from birth how to be docile, how not to be assertive, not give their opinion, not to esteem themselves as highly as a male, it makes females be easy candidates for indoctrination Our society teaches females from birth to exalt their dads above their mothers, to follow dad worshipping doctrines. This is how the indoctrinations begins and you can see it in the way females dress for attention, say they are daddy’s girl, allows their boyfriends ask only dad for the daughter’s hand instead of including her mother. We females so foolishly, accept all they tell us.

    Females, we must be diligent and read all of God’s Word and help ourselves by telling other females that we are not to blame for anyone else’s sins, that we are to command respect from all males. Do not allow any female writer on the Internet to tell you that females are the cause of problems in relationship and of males being cold, mean, and distant. Open your eyes females.

    • Hi Jean, thanks for reading and for your comment. If a lady feels the Bible has something to offer her in terms of marriage or personal growth, I’d encourage her to follow what’s important to her, though it’s not a source I’d choose for good relationship advice. I agree the number of websites out there teaching women terrible falsehoods about their inferiority and subservience to men are very, very sad. It should never be about one gender dominating another — just finding the best ways to live with each other.

  12. Maybe she wasnt thoroughly Spanked ….

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