Let me start by saying a sincere “I am sorry” to “Yellowbunnys” (whoever she was, and wherever she is now) and to all the other women I shamed that day. I was wrong. I was arrogant. I was hurtful.
It is painful for me to even read what I believed then, much less how I judged others and tried to force them to believe it too.
At the time I wrote that, I was barely getting past Post-Partum Depression with my first baby, and was about to be hit with a second wave of it after the birth of my second. I struggled to fulfill my self-imposed idea of perfection, but believed that any and all of the seeming problems with the submission doctrines were my own fault. I was under the impression that my sheltered conservative upbringing and purity minded courtship had handed me a ticket to basically a free ride through life. I thought I had all the answers that many people searched their whole lives to find. I was never going to experience the marriage troubles, sexual issues, exhaustion, or the challenge of rebellious children, because I had done everything The Right Way. God blessed people who did things The Right Way. I firmly believed that the only reason I might feel anything but happy and blessed, was because of my own failings. If I got my butt into gear, living life God’s way, and trusting him with everything, and did what I was supposed to do as a wife and mother, then I would be happy. There were no excuses, and lack of happiness was my own fault, and by extension, any Christian woman who couldn’t present a happy smiling content front to the world, just wasn’t focusing on God and his plan for her. Simple as that.
I now find it ironic that I proclaimed that the prison cell of unhappiness in submission so obviously tied to a certain religious mindset, was one of their own creation! Then I proceeded to tell them to try harder and smile more. Well, I took my own advice for a few more years after that, and I can tell you that trying harder and smiling more did nothing to help my marriage or make me feel happier.
So I want to talk a little about the statements I made as the Me I was 5 years ago.
And I really believed this. If your husband wasn’t bruising you, then you had no right to complain. I learned this pattern of thinking from observation of relationships around me, and the likes of Debi Pearl’s book “Created to be His Helpmeet” and other similar books. I have since come to recognize that abuse can have a myriad of forms, and that I wasn’t experiencing any of them from my husband, so how could I have been so presumptuous as to spread lies about abuse in marriage?
I said that no one can make you happy except God.
I did not find this to be fully true either. I waited, and waited, and waited for god. I sought him, I prayed to him, I read about him. And the hole in my heart wasn’t filled. Did I not do it enough? I doubt it. Did I not do it right? Who knows. But the fact remains that until I began to care for myself instead of waiting for god to make all my issues go away, the heavy depression remained.
I said that it is unfair to expect your spouse to have it all figured out.
I agree. But what was unsaid here, is that I felt that you weren’t supposed to “nag” or even state your needs in the relationship. I believed you were supposed to trust that god would tell your spouse what you needed. I no longer feel that way. I think that communication is the key to so much in life, and that it is so important for one to express to their partner what they like and dislike, what makes them feel happy and what makes them feel sad. Partners cannot read minds, god or no god.
Then I said that your husband will never be your girlfriend and that men and women are very different.
Obviously, my opinion on this matter has changed quite a bit. I now feel that men and women are more alike than they are different. But people can be very different in their personalities and preferences. Ironically, it was only a little more than a year after this that I began to see my spouse as my best friend. I recognize that not all marriages are experienced that way, but I think that concept of diversity was what I was missing when I wrote this 5 years ago. Every marriage is different, what works for one couple doesn’t necessarily work for another. I’m not sure why I thought that I knew how men and women were supposed to interact in all relationships, except that I had been taught that there was only one way men and women could interact in a “healthy” way, in a “biblically based”, heterosexual, monogamous, male-headed marriage.
I said that you have no right to complain that your husband doesn’t understand you when you probably don’t understand him.
Again, I was still under the impression that communication was a no no. I thought that talking about your needs and asking for help was being a nagging wife, and “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife” (Proverbs 25:24) I surely didn’t want to be like the wife in this verse either, ”A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day. Restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.” (Proverbs 27:15) And just so you know, I was making many assumptions that I understood what my spouse liked and disliked at the time. I believed all the generalized things I had been taught about men, which I found out much later did not really apply to my spouse. I now believe that seeking to truly understand your partner, and sharing your heart with your partner to better help them understand you, is a huge part of relationship.
I said that one’s environment cannot be changed, only one’s attitude.
This is a line straight from my upbringing. I believed it was my role as a woman to resign myself to whatever my circumstances were, and do it with a good attitude, believing that god would eventually be my advocate. This is so so wrong. I now know that we always have power. No, we cannot change the past, but we can leave the person who harms us, we can stand up for ourselves, we can say no, we can get help. Yes, sometimes life hands you a crappy hand, but we are not called by the divine to bear it all with a smile for his glory. I really believe that if there is a god, he has got to be OK with our ups and downs, our sadness and our anger, our joy and our despair, or he is not worth serving. Having emotions is not “groveling in self-pity”, standing up for one’s rights is never “playing the victim”. And sometimes the person you married doesn’t turn out to be the love of your life or your knight in shining armor no matter how much you wanted them to be. Sometimes a marriage has to end for any number of reasons. And that’s OK. In fact, I don’t think I realized at that time how lucky I was to have ended up with the loving respectful partner I have.
I touch on submission, saying that I am thankful to leave major decisions in my husband’s hands.
I thought I was being liberal here. In the first year of our marriage I wasted a lot of time asking permission before buying things, making dinner, planning my day, even getting dressed. Until my spouse admitted it was irritating and asked me to start making everyday decisions myself. Limiting my required submission to just the big decisions instead of every decision felt like freedom to me. (I still had no idea how heavy a burden it was to make the major decisions for the lives of the whole family alone. It was only later when my spouse expressed their relief at being a team that I realized how difficult that must have been.) Also, I wasn’t taking into account husbands who do seek to micromanage every aspect of their wife. My spouse was loving and respectful, but I assumed that was because I was submitting the way I should. After all, I had been told that the more submissive and passive a woman was, the better her husband would treat her. So any of these women who had overly aggressive or controlling husbands, were experiencing it that way because they had not given their desires to god and honored their husband the way the bible called them too. It wasn’t until our marriage began functioning as a team, that I realized I had no idea what I liked or disliked, I had shoved everything down for so long, it was difficult for me to even order my food at a restaurant.
I finish my know-it-all monologue by telling her to have more sex.
This whole thing is just embarrassing, but this part is laughable. Here I was, with 2 years of sexual experience under my belt and I was telling people how to improve their love life? Again, this was part of the evangelical fallacy/fantasy that I had bought hook line and sinker. You have problems with your marriage? Have more sex. You have trouble getting to climax? Have more sex and your odds of orgasm will go up by virtue of having more opportunity. (You know, do the same thing more often, it could get you different results.) Once again, this reasoning is all over the typical christian marriage books I was reading. Sex was portrayed as the sort of glue that kept couples together, so if a marriage was having troubles it followed that they were not having enough sex. This was also part of the submissive wife’s manipulation kit, butter him up with sex, make him feel desired and sexy and he will do anything for you. As our love life has continued to take shape, sex has only gotten more amazing, but that was a result of (once again) communication about what we liked and disliked. Sex can be an amazing part of one’s relationship, but it is not usually a magic cure-all for any and every relationship problem.
“Yellowbunnys” aptly named her post “My Prison Cell” because she was not living the life she wanted to, she was living the life she was told she must. And all I had to say was basically “get over yourself and be happy”. It was the same mantra I told myself every day, until I gave myself Permission to Live. And suddenly, it wasn’t nearly as much of a battle to relax and learn to live in the moment. Suddenly, there were blessings all around me, overwhelming me. I could feel each emotion, I could learn to express each need and desire and try out things I was interested in. I’ve begun to learn how to stand up for myself, and live with integrity.
And I just want to say I’m sorry for all the effort I expended to convince people that the sadness they carried with them was just their imagination. And for acting as if everything would be just fine if they adopted my simplistic ideas on how to solve all their problems. Ideas that hadn’t even worked for myself!
I did not know it all. I do not know it all.
I know I have talked about spiritual abuse and manipulation here on my blog. I’ve talked about judgmental attitudes and people thinking they are holier than just the average Christian. And I wanted to post this so that you know that I have been guilty of all of it. I speak from experience, not only having been the judged and manipulated person, but having been the judger and manipulator myself.
I can’t change who I was then. I can’t change how I treated the people in my life, how I disciplined my children, how I made assumptions and jumped to conclusions. But I can choose acceptance and respect and love today, and tomorrow, and the next day. And each time I slip and fall back into old habits, I can pick myself up and start again.
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You can read more about Permission To Live at her blog – Musings of a young mom.
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce