29 March 2009

It's My Husband's Fault

OK, here's a post that's got me so angry that it's managed to kick me out of my no-blogging funk.

Who would have credited it? A man who advocates male-headship who reckons that, if something goes wrong in a marriage, it's usually (not always, but usually) the husband's fault: Marriage Counseling: It's His Fault.

But wait. Perhaps there is a point here. The underlying thesis of the post seems to be that if a man sufficiently 'sacrificially loves' his wife, that the marriage will not have problems.

I have a huge 'problem of justice' here. There are three underlying assumptions that I don't agree with. One, that the husband is most likely to be the selfish partner. Two, that the wife is most likely to be the unselfish partner. And the third: that even if the wife is the selfish (abusive, addicted) one, that it's somehow the man's job as head of the family to 'cure' her by his sacrificial love.

Trying to 'fix' other people by the force of our own will or behaviour is normally called co-dependency and anyone who has tried it will tell you that, not only doesn't it work, but trying this methodology as a way to maintaining a relationship with an addicted/abusive partner is simply a recipe for heartache.

If I were a Christian man whose wife was abusing him, I'd want to stay a hundred miles away from such counsel. My heart aches for the husbands who won't be heard because the nature of their concerns doesn't fit with their pastor's preconceived ideas. Just as my heart aches for all the Christian women who are told that if they are just more submissive, their husbands will stop abusing them.

Justice demands that the true nature of what is happening in any situation be discerned. Truth is not served by assuming that women are usually 'good' and men are usually 'bad'. I despair - in either a conservative or liberal ideology - when people make claims for female moral superiority. Each one of us - no matter what gender - is capable of the most dastardly evil and the most glorious good.

The last paragraph in this post sets out where I disagree with male-headship:

1) That, to quote: the husband gets commended when it is going well and he gets the heat when it is not.
Sorry, no. If a wife is mentally or emotionally unstable, the husband is not responsible. And if a marriage is going well, it's because both partners are playing their part.

2) A happy, holy wife is a wonderful endeavor for a husband.
So, the wife is, in some sense, the husband's 'project'? This reflects what I call the attitude of male headship that a woman is never
quite a full adult.

3) A husband must learn to keep the pulse of how his wife is doing (spiritually, emotionally, physically)
Again, this assumes that a husband somehow 'has control' over his wife.

Both Christian egalitarians and advocates of male-headship often present themselves as believing that husbands and wives are called to put their spouse first. The difference in the two attitudes isn't really even about 'what women are permitted to do in Church'. The big difference is the attitude of male-headship that women and our lives can be controlled and led by men. That we are not and never will be full adults. And that co-dependent relationships - with the man responsible for controlling his wife's mental, emotional and spiritual responses - are What God Wants.


DaveW said...

You are so right on this.

The lack of reflective thought in the original post is scary.

Teri said...

Hey Pam,

I'm a new reader from Wisconsin in the States. Am a member of a United Methodist Church over here. I'm 35, have 2 kids... anyway.

I appreciate your comments. One of the struggles I've dealt with over the last couple of years is being in social situations with people from this kind of conservative Christian ideology. I've had difficulty knowing what to say to it or how to respond. I have women friends from this kind of place. For a time I questioned if I was "Christian Enough" as this hard line approach seems to point at everyone else as being soft.

I will keep reading. I had a dear woman pastor at our last church (we moved away and so did she) who helped with some of these things. Nice to get a little of this from the blogging end.


PamBG said...

Hi Teri. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments.

For a time I questioned if I was "Christian Enough" as this hard line approach seems to point at everyone else as being soft.

I was born into a very conservative denomination that did just this, so I know what you mean.

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Anonymous said...

Good post and righteous anger as Richard Hall says.

This Sunday for the Liturgy of the Passion, my wife, daughter, and I are reading (hopefully dramatically) Mark 14 and 15.

My wife is reading all the Jesus parts.

I wonder if that will get any hairs up?

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Patriarchy is repulsive. I'm glad something got you back blogging, again, Pam.

Meanwhile, I went nuts and actually blogged about why I am no longer "pro-life" on abortion. Come watch and see how many death threats I get.

00 said...

At first I liked the title of the post you referenced (seems like too often women get the blame for things), but when I actually read the post...well, all I could think was "When did wives become children?" It seems that the author views a 'husband and wife' relationship as similar to a 'parent and child' relationship.

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Unknown said...

Should cut both ways, in any senario, marriage or otherwise - if there is a problem I should probably start by assuming it might be my fault rather than someone elses...

..and perhaps there is a sense in our culture that men shirk responsibility, and "perhaps" biblically its particularly problematic if men refuse to take responsibility.


jul said...

I read the post as well...I lived under that teaching (married) for almost 8 years and remember the mindset well. The reasoning is somewhat true if you're living that way, simply because the husband has absolute control, therefore he must be responsible. However, when we finally got out of all that nonsense and our marriage was falling apart, I realized it was my fault too for not being a real woman and standing up to my husband. I was doing what I was taught and so was he, but we came out of it and have a strong and healthy marriage now, a marriage of two equal humans both made in the image of God, not one King and one slave.

Kory said...

Wow Pam you are right on! I am still dealing with this kind of thinking in my own marriage and it just is'nt a "textbook" situation. The answers are yet to be found for me. I think I had just read the blog you are refering to and I left a very detailed comment to that blogger, but he probably won't even post it, because the nature of my situation is just too difficult for the church to deal with. But thanks for your comments.