A few days ago, I shared these words on Instagram:
"Lord, you are all the Divine parent my spouse needs" is a marriage prayer to be normalized. Culture and Christianity often ask women to be moms and saviors of their husbands. "Cover" aka mop up after immaturity. Absorb and persevere through impossible dysfunctional ways of relating. Women, if your spouse expects you to lay down your life so the relationship can live or give up your personhood, so they never have to grow up, time to (wisely, safely) boundary up."
The post received a lot of engagement, and most people got it. But a few didn’t.
One man responded “Nowhere in Christianity are women taught to be saviors or mothers to their husband. Secondly, dysfunctional behaviors is a human problem, not a gender problem. Both men and women bring dysfunctional traits to a marriage.”
Periodically, I get these types of comments, mostly from men, in response to a social post, a blog article, or email (Are we email friends yet? Let’s connect!) explaining women’s experiences and how they can safely and wisely navigate them.
A few men and women see these posts as attacks on men, the Christian faith, and an invalidation of the male experience.
But their check couldn’t be further from the truth.
And so today, I want to address the male Commenter and examine the thinking behind some of these reactive comments.
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Can Wives Save Their Husbands? The Said Vs. Unsaid
Let’s look at his response. “Nowhere in Christianity are women taught to be saviors or mothers to their husband..”
I’ll start by agreeing that not many pastors will stand at their pulpits and declare, “women, you are savior and mom to your husband.” (Some pastors have come close to it but most just circle around it, never use the words “savior” or “mom.”)
The truth is, pastors don’t have to say those exact words for women to end up feeling and functioning as mothers and saviors to their husbands.
It’s not how coerciveness and manipulation work, to begin with, which is what this teaching is about: an attempt to get women to do something they are unwilling to do, a placing of responsibility on the wrong party.
That means to determine harm caused, we can’t be looking for explicit teachings about saviorism or supremacy of the male gender.
What we need to do is reverse-engineer: engage some deductive reasoning as we look at the problems women experience in marriage to find the cause of those problems and explore healthy fixes. (Sheila Gregoire and her team already did.)
Now, if pastors and society, in general, are not being direct in their teachings (i.e., using words like “savior” or “mothering”) for there to be harmful outcomes, what exactly are women and men taught that results in women taking on the saving and mothering role in marriage?
Glad you asked. The following are examples of teachings with “can wives save their husbands” and other harmful elements.
- All men struggle with lust
- Wives owe their husbands sex
- Men will wander if their wives “deprive” them of sex
- Husbands are the leaders, and women are to submit
- Women cannot teach
- We all suffer for Christ
- We must love others more than we love ourselves
- God hates divorce
- Women should stay with their recovering partners
- Marriage longevity correlates with happiness
Can Wives Save Their Husbands? The Ideal Vs. Practice
Now, when the Commenter said “nowhere in Christianity,” he might very well have meant that the Christian standard is not wives playing Savior and mother to their husbands. That to put such a burden on wives is immoral and departure from the healthy mutuality and partnership the Christian marriage is supposed to be.
However, separating Christianity from its practices is more confusing than clarifying. Saying, “well, those Christians do vile things, but Christianity itself does no wrong,” still doesn’t make sense, experientially or mentally.
In practice, there’s no Christianity without the Christian. When we attempt to separate Christianity from its exercise or absolve Christianity from problems caused by the Christian, we sink deeper into the hole of confusion and pain.
In her book, “The Lord is My Courage”, author and therapist K. J. Ramsey writes about the hurt caused by the church.
“Saying “the church doesn’t hurt people people do” is a false comfort that keeps us all from facing our complicity in enabling and allowing the body of Christ to be a body that punches, crushes and kills.”
She goes on to write, “When church crushes you, Christians expect you to call it human error. When you try to lament your pain, Christians want caveats. It’s like we’re allergic to honesty, so anxious to keep our precious institutions powerful that we can’t stomach hearing the truth that sometimes religion ruptures our society and souls.” K. J. Ramsey The Lord Is My Courage: Stepping Through the Shadows of Fear Toward the Voice of Love.
Can Wives Save Their Husbands? Let Women Tell Their Stories
Let’s look at the second part of the Commenter’s statement. “dysfunctional behaviors is a human problem, not a gender problem. Both men and women bring dysfunctional traits to a marriage.”
I agree entirely; dysfunction is not solely a male problem. Women can bring dysfunctional ways of relating to a relationship. Women abuse men too. And all perpetrators, whether male or female, must be held accountable.
The thing is, women discussing women’s issues is not diminishing any of that. But some people think it is. They see women talking about their problems, and they attempt to dislodge women from the center of that conversation and prop the male.
Before we continue, let’s look at what statistics have to say:
- Estimates published by World Health Organization indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual Violence in their lifetime.
- 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience sexual Violence, physical Violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Source.
- Female victims sustain injuries 3x more often than male victims. Source
- 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime. Source.
- Domestic Violence is #2 cause of death for Black women, #3 cause of death for Indigenous women, and #7 cause of death for Caucasian women. No Visible Bruises, by Rachel Louise Snyder
A recent survey of 20,000 Christian women revealed teachings like “all men struggle with lust, it is every man’s battle,” “the biblical reason for divorce is an affair,” “It is a man’s God-given role to provide for his family and a woman’s God-given role to stay home raising her children” have negatively affected women’s sexual and marital satisfaction outcomes” Source.
Advocating for Women’s Needs Does Not Invalidate the Male Experience
At Intentional Today, I focus on women, not because male abuse does not exist but because
- My audience is primarily women.
- Women are abused at a higher rate than men.
- The abuse itself is worse, with overall worse consequences.
- Women often have fewer support systems.
Whenever someone says I’m making abuse a female issue only, that men get abused too, I can’t help but think how the person making the statement doesn’t even realize they are using the same systemic privilege they say doesn’t exist.
Patriarchy, the male-leaning approach to life and systems of society, has been around for a long long long time.
When these systems and mindsets discuss why women shouldn’t be pastors or leaders, or why husbands lead, and wives submit, or why women are the keepers of men’s sexuality, or asserting that women are leaving healthy men etc., there aren’t many voices interrupting that discourse with, “hey, let’s remember the women.”
But when women get together and begin to advocate for themselves, we make a point to ask them to remember the men. And that’s a huge problem.
It seems like women can’t address women’s safety and needs without some sections of society, and Christendom feeling like doing so invalidates men’s safety and needs.
Again, to be clear, I am not anti-raising awareness about men being abused. All abuse is evil. All perpetrators, male or female, must be held accountable. However, the idea that advocating for women’s needs invalidates the male experiences is highly problematic, I think.
And perhaps there’s solution.
Instead of asking women to also talk about men’s issues in their own spaces, more men who feel passionate about male issues should instead start advocating for men.
Instead of correcting women and asking them to remember the men, more men should create spaces for men or find people already advocating for men and be a source of encouragement in those communities.
Why Men Have To Take a Risk
Over the weekend, my husband and I watched She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, a movie about the two New York Times reporters, who together broke a story that shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood and propelled the #MeToo movement. Source
Toward the end of the movie, I said to my husband, “Men have to be willing to call out fellow men who behave badly.” Men have to be willing to break some bro codes. It’s not enough to be a good guy to women, to really support women, men have to risk being the bad guy with the bad guys.
It’s what Paul taught in Ephesians when he asked Christian men to let go of their male entitlement and privilege and love their wives as Christ loved the church.
Paul was speaking to a culture steeped in male supremacy and used the body metaphor to illustrate how men ought to set aside their “privilege” and be united with their wives. Source
So this is what I encouraged the male Commenter to do. “I encourage you to read a little on male entitlement, patriarchy, coercive control, marriage hierarchy (“submission”/”leadership”) e.t.c and how church teachings have not only enabled these but in many ways actively championed the mindsets and behaviors. All of which have the outcomes of women playing mom and Savior to husbands.”
Some men do really support women
There’s a lot of good guys out here. My husband is a strong supporter of women in our everyday life. He’s aware of the blind spots his gender has and is honest about his own growth areas.
And there are other men like Patrick Weaver, Ben Williams (Path to Freedom), Andrew J. Bauman, Keith Gregoire (Bare Marriage) who are all active advocates for women. Check them out on Facebook. Plus other male Commenters who see women and stand up against the mistreatment of women.
And I’m so happy about that.
However, we still have ways to go. And hopefully, talking about these areas of improvement reminds us of the shifts that still need to happen.
Systems of Abuse: A Guide to Recognizing Toxic Behavior Patterns
Systems of Abuse by abuse and trauma recovery coach Sarah McDugal, outlines 13 categories of behavioral patterns, giving simple, tangible illustrations for each category. Abuse can be difficult to identify, especially if you have been conditioned to see it as normal. Systems of Abuse outlines 13 categories of behavioral patterns, giving simple, tangible illustrations for each category. Access Now.