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.”
“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.