Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Complementarian Caricature

Those who insist Complementarian marriage is scriptural, seem to have an idealized notion what such a marriage looks like. First of all, they imagine that IF the wife is always submissive, and always subjects herself to her husband, that her husband will always be kind and loving. Secondly, they think the husband will accomplish whatever he sets his heart to do because he has the support of his wife. Thirdly, they imagine peace, harmony, and well-being will reign in the Complementarian home because everyone in the family does the will of the husband.

Friends, the above is a caricature. Only, the Complementarians don't know it.

Even in homes where this SEEMS to be the case, most likely everything is not as it seems.

First of all, as a man commented on one of my early posts, how can a husband be certain that his decisions for his wife are completely unselfish? How can he be certain that he has been listening to her input, that he isn't shrugging off something she says because he doesn't think it is important? How can he be certain that his wife feels safe enough, important enough, respected enough to say anything that needs to be said? As the commenter pointed out, a husband cannot be sure his motives are unselfish. He cannot be sure he has created an environment where his wife feels free to say it as it is. He cannot be sure he is capable of making good decisions for his wife.

Secondly, in a relationship where the rule is that the wife must always set aside her wishes, her opinions, her gifts, even her personality, in order to take on a God-prescribed role, it is highly unlikely that her husband can ever truly know her. He ends up sharing sexual intimacy with a person of his own imagination who is playing a role, rather than with his wife as she really is. Women respond to having to set their preferences, thoughts and gifts aside, by not having an opinion, by shutting down their gifts, by telling themselves their wishes will probably be seen as illogical, silly, uninformed, and less than whatever it is their husbands want. Additionally, although the Complementarian wives in the “perfect” marriage pictured above may see where their husbands are taking advantage of them or otherwise hurting them, they tell themselves to ignore it because to notice it would be disloyal, sinful, unloving, or non-submissive.

So the submissive wife puts on a front for her husband, their children, and her church, and the husband makes decisions for his family without having all the facts. The loving, authoritative husband (what an oxymoron!) has no idea what he doesn't know, and the wife either believes she is not allowed to tell him, that he would brush her off, or that telling him would hurt him or cause him (and as a result cause herself and their children) great distress.

At times the wife feels a wave of resentment washing over her, and she quickly tells herself she is being disloyal and non-submissive to have such a thought or feeling, that she cannot allow herself to feel that way. So she stuffs it away and denies anything is wrong.

So the pair goes on, unaware of what is causing the wife's illnesses. Yes, research has shown that abused wives get sick more often and are more chronically ill than non-abused wives. The illnesses include depression, anxiety, back pain, headaches, menstrual disorders, chest pain, among others. See!v=EQz0flR0cRM&feature=related

The truth is, at least 1 in 4 women are abused by their husbands. Some statistics say the number is 1 in 3. These are limited to reported cases. The health study mentioned above that questioned 3500 women of a health plan in Seattle, says 44% of women are affected by partner abuse.

In group settings when women are asked to anonymously raise their hand if their husband has abused them but they have never reported it, 50% of the women raised their hands. At least one of these anonymous reports was conducted among church women.

If 50% of wives are abused but never report domestic abuse, and 25% do report it, that leaves 25% who either who refuse to acknowledge their husband's controlling and abusive behaviors, or actually have loving, non-abusive husbands.

If a study of 3500 women with a particular health plan shows that 44% of women have been abused, how many women without health insurance experience domestic abuse? It is likely those numbers are higher than 44%, since it is common for abusive husbands to deny their wives health care.

These statistics indicate that it is likely the majority of wives live with or have lived with abusive husbands. Even if a husband abuses his wife only once, that act changes the couple's relationship, because he has made it clear that deep down he thinks it is acceptable to hurt his wife. One act of abuse changes the relationship to something similar to master and slave, and this is especially so if the husband believes the Bible teaches husbands to be the authority and wives to submit to their husband's authority. Even if the husband apologizes, deep down the wife is never sure he will never abuse her again.

The real caricature in today's society is not of the abusive husband, but of the loving husband. The flaws are so apparent to everyone but those who claim to have such marriages. Descriptions of self-important, authority wielding husbands are reality, not caricatures, for the majority of wives. Even if the husband does not use physical abuse or overt emotional abuse on a daily or weekly basis, the fact that he requires his wife to continually and daily set aside her will, to live like a child without the freedom to choose what she thinks is best, so he can have things his way and feel in charge, is in itself domestic abuse.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge," a novel about a wife who discovers traditional marriage advice doesn't always work. See


  1. Waneta--

    What you are describing is a textbook case of "good little southern girl." I see it all the time in rural areas, especially.

    Women's Liberation was a direct attack on such and caused many women to base their outlook on life as "anything in any way making women submissive." It is much like the Baptists I knew full time for 16 years: "Anything Catholic was to be what we were against!"

    An outlook based on "what I am not" is still a dependency on being defined outside your own unique self, if it can be found. Shakespeare said, "To thine own self be true." Jesus put it, "You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free."

    What amazes me most is the way many women took their assigned submissive role from a man and then used manipulation to still get their way--there is no manipulative woman like a southern woman--unless you go to OT biblical women like Jacob's mother who helped him trick Essau out of his birthright!

    The psychology of manipulation means play acting and violating your own sense of self. It is the basis of the Greek word, hypocracy. Along with this goes all the physical distresses you cite. They are real and consign women to an emotional and physical misery which they do not deserve.

    What amazes me most is that the men who demand such submission--then criticize women for tricking them! In every corner the woman gets the blame for just trying to be her own person!!

    As a man whose wife came through such a "southern girl" rearing and discovered her true authentic self, I have profited from my wife assuming the role of partner in our marriage. I admit it can get on my nerves and make me have a gut reaction of "why don't you do as I say without question?"

    Then, when I realize the wisdom of what she just told me and the aggression of what I just did, I learn how arrogant and "man-centered" even I can unconsciously become!

    I have told many people that God gave me Lonya to keep me humble! When you really see yourself as a religious person, humility is a key ingredient!

    Therefore, I can conclude, as a man, that a significant part of God is to be found in a spiritual and honest self-assured woman. When a loving and sensitive women calls for honest respect from her male partner, it is a good thing which makes him far more complete a person than if he were the "King of the Jungle!"

    All that being "King of the Jungle" gets you is being the target of all other aggressive creatures who want to kill you to take your position. Could this "man rules mentality" all be the basis of war / killing / terrorism / nuclear destruction????? The Middle Eastern "man must rule" with his own woman-demeaning laws and society proves the futility of terrorizing other humans God chose to put on this planet saying, "It is good."

  2. "What amazes me most is that the men who demand such submission--then criticize women for tricking them! In every corner the woman gets the blame for just trying to be her own person!!"

    Isn't the bottom line of the complementarian teaching that a wife shall not be herself, but shall instead be a cookie-cutter wife, so that she can complete her cookie-cutter husband? The CBMW think they have figured out what a man is and what he needs to complete himself. (I just looked up complementary and complement and was amazed at the meaning.) So they try to force wives into being what they think husbands need in order to be completed.

    The problem with this approach is that not all husbands have the same needs to be completed.

    Furthermore, the approach is not biblical. All of us are to be completed in Christ, not in the other gender. Uh-oh! I feel another blog post coming on!