I won’t beat around the bush: “tips for a happy marriage” from Michelle Duggar are as bad as they sound.
In the season premiere of “19 Kids and Counting” this week, the reality TV mama (whose family is stumping for Rick Santorum) is filmed at a conference on how to have a happy, evangelical Christian marriage in which the man is the authority and head of the household.
Michelle passed out tips from her lecture to the audience and a viewer screengrabbed the advice, where it was posted on Television Without Pity. Not suprisingly, you might want to “keep a barf bag handy” as Faith Goes Pop blogger Lilit Marcus puts it, because Michelle Duggar’s happy marriage tips include become financially dependent on your husband, always keeping your hair did, watch your weight, and being more “loyal” to him than your family and friends.
You can read some of the more egregious tips from “7 Basic Needs Of A Husband” — the workbook off of which Duggar was reading — after the jump:
- “A Husband Needs A Wife Who Accepts Him As A Leader And Believes In His God-Given Responsibilities”: Husbands are commanded to govern their wives; God works through a man’s decisions — good or bad; Bad decisions reveal his needs and allow the wife to appeal and demonstrate Godly character; The more a wife trusts her husband, the more careful he will be in giving her direction; Never ask others for counsel without your husbands approval
- “A husband needs a wife who will continue to develop inward and outward beauty”: How can you become more of the wife of your husband’s dreams?; discover and conform to your husband’s real wishes; explain your hairstyle to others on the basis of your submission to your authority; separate your “rights” [Scare quotes theirs. — Jessica] from your responsibilities
- “Ask your husband to define your responsibilities”; “Ask your husband to tell you when you have a resistant spirit”; “dispel a backbiting tongue by silence”
How quickly Michelle Duggar’s tips for a “happy marriage” could devolve into abuse is terrifying. The man controls the woman: a woman is advised to be financially dependent on her husband; to ask his permission to talk about their problems with her family and friends (i.e. isolated); and ask him to tell her when she has “resistant spirit.” How is a woman who is being physically or emotionally abused supposed to protect herself or her family? If your husband makes any bad decisions, you’re supposed to try harder to make him happy no matter what. “Let go and let God” is one thing; treating the male ego like a fragile dandelion that will disintegrate at the slightest blow in the wind is dangerous. I am not suggesting all Christians, or even all evangelical Christians, are abusive. (I certainly know many who are not.) But these pieces of advice are terribly, terribly problematic by advising a woman to subsume her own wants, needs, desires and identity to appease her husband.
That doesn’t sound like a marriage. That sounds like hiring an assistant.
Now, in fairness — though it pains me to write this — not all of the marriage tips are completely terrible. Despite the fact that I’m a feminist (and a non-practicing agnostic Christian, FWIW), I prefer a more traditional relationship with a man. To me, it’s steadying to know what I can expect to give out and get in return. For instance, my dude does a lot of the more stereotypically “masculine” stuff in the relationship, like carrying grocery bags, ordering rental cars and making hotel reservations, while I do most of the cooking and washing of dishes. However, we have discussed repeatedly over time — at times, at length — how we want to express our gender roles in our relationship and there’s open dialogue, flexibility and an absence of control. And he will be the first to tell you that that I speak up for myself — criticize, even! — when I am not okay with something.
The other thing I’ve realized reading this is that some of the tips are not so much “Christian marriage advice” as the kind of thing any therapist would tell you in a secular therapy session. For instance, the very first piece of advice — “A husband needs a wife who respects him as a man” — says a woman should tell her husband how he can protect you “physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.” I myself have had to work at telling my dude how he can “protect” me emotionally/mentally, rather than assuming he can read my mind. I’m a very empathic, intuitive person who can read other’s barometers and I’ve had to learn that not everyone is just like me. The basic tenant at the bottom of this is communication, which is essential for any partnership — not just Christian ones.
Ultimately, that’s why Michelle Duggar’s marriage tips are so dangerous: they take a daub and a pinch of actual, real, solid relationship advice that would sound rational to any person and the traditional leanings appeal to the “steadying” of knowing what you can expect, as I mentioned above. But ultimately, these “happy marriage” tips put an evangelical Christian bent on a woman’s very selfhood, that I get the sense one has to follow in order to be accepted. And that’s really scary.
This may be the marriage Michelle Duggar herself wants and we may just to hold our noses and watch it. But she not only has 19 children who are being taught this pablum, but she is advising other people about it. That is when it becomes our business and our concern.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.