Flourish (Part 6): Cherry-Picking

One of the problems with writing a series like this is that it's impossible to cover every single sentence of the book, and that leaves one open to the possibility of cherry-picking. That is, choosing the parts of the book that most support my points, while ignoring other parts, which are more reasonable, or show a more charitable picture.

Today's article is a tad more think-piecy, which is something I try to avoid, but I think this issue needs to be addressed. So I'd like to do that in two ways.

First, let's note that virtually no book or set of teachings is all bad. There's often lots of good things in even the worse of books. No doubt, even that viper's nest over at The Transformed Wife has some good on it, but I'm not interested in digging around there to find it. There's probably some Tootsie Rolls in the sewer, too.

Let's go find them.

And I think that it's super ironic that the crowd who is always on the defensive against error, and always giving warnings about how a few bits of poison in your TV shows, or movies, or books, or whatever are enough to poison the whole thing, are suddenly super concerned when we apply that same set of standards to one of their books. (How many of us have heard about how rat poison only has a tiny bit of poison in it, but it knocks them rats right dead, so how much more is that flash of ankle in Little House on the Prairie going to lead you right down the slippery slope to SmutTown?) That's a sword that cuts two ways, folks.

Secondly, I'd like to address it with this post, and highlight some of the places where Dorcas really does have good advice. I want to be clear that I don't think that Mrs. Showalter is an evil person. And, with everything I've written here, I don't want to hurt anyone. And I, a mere blog writer who comes up with jokes about religious nuttery in my spare time, have some sense of the monumental effort it must take to produce a book like this. The hours of sweat and labor, and editing and rewriting, and proofs, and whatnot. So to have your work thoroughly shredded as I have done, is probably painful. And that sucks.

But what sucks worse than that is the fact that women all over Mennodom and in other conservative settings are being told that this kind of life is normal. What really sucks is women, (Christian women-- Mennonite women, even) are being maritally raped and told that they have no agency, that they have no say in the matter, that when they said "I do," they have no more right to say, "not now," or "not that," or "not here," or just plain "no." When I hear stories of women agreeing, because "if I did, then he wouldn't force me." And when you see a book that's promoting all these ideas, while also having some really great secondary points, it brings to mind the Golden Rule of Advertising my father taught me: "What the large print giveth, the small print taketh away."

Today's post is going to spend some time looking at some of the "large print" in the book. I'm going to spend some time looking at quotes that are really good and wholesome. But, fair warning, I'm also going to point out how the small print takes it away.

How long was it until you discovered married life was different from what you expected-- until your husband turned out to be less perfect than you thought he was? Before marriage we may have many dreams and expectations for our husbands and our marriages. But then we come face-to-face with the fact that the man we married has flaws.

When faced with disappointments, hurts, and annoyances caused by our husbands, it is imperative to ask ourselves if the conflicting situation is actually caused by sin. Or is it only that our husbands are crossing lines that feel culturally or personally unacceptable to us.

In the interest of this exercise, I am going to take the most charitable view possible here, and assume that this "crossing lines" thing doesn't refer to her husband's emotional affair with Warring Maiden, and rather to issues of personality, or family culture.

We can so easily build cases that would not become cases at all, or that would remain small, if we would refrain from pushing back, nagging, and withholding the honor God says we should give our husbands.

No matter how good your marriage, the man to whom you are married will eventually hurt you. That is inevitable. Petty annoyances will creep in; your strong preferences will feel threatened; and your husband's baggage will seem foreign to the baggage you carry yourself.

Here's an example of one of the good passages in the book. Almost anyone who is married has experienced this and has to navigate it. In fact, John Gottman says that this is the deciding issue that divides successful couples from unsuccessful couples: how they handle conflict.

According to his research, 69% of a couple's disagreements are unresolvable. They are on-going disagreements based on who the couple are as people, and when you marry a person, you marry their set of problems.

And she is correct about the nagging and criticism and so forth. Gottman identifies criticism, stone-walling, defensiveness, and contempt as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, as far as marriage is concerned. If a couple is going to have a successful marriage, the information in this passage must be reckoned with.

However, this comes at the beginning of a chapter entitled "When Your Love Is Betrayed," and the very next paragraphs discuss actual unfaithfulness, dishonesty about prior relationships, and untrustworthy actions.

The problem here is that there is a conflation of the marriage problems everyone has and abuse. (Because infidelity is abuse.)

The author doesn't make it clear that this is not a difference of degree, it is a difference of kind. And a woman in an abusive relationship with an unfaithful husband reading this is likely to put herself on the marriage continuum, just toward the Bad Marriage side, rather than realizing it's not the same thing.

(As shown on this handy-dandy change I made just for you.)

And without a clear understanding of this key difference in the nature of relationships, even good things can be really damaging, because if you are on the Abusive Marriage continuum, none of the "rules" work. The rules are merely tools for greater control and dominance, rather than for life and flourishing as the Lord intended.

It doesn't help that later in the same chapter, she quotes the verse, "Servants, be obedient to your masters" as a template for relating to difficult husbands.

Now let's look at some other passages from the chapter entitled "Intimacy in Marriage."

Remember the days of dating and being newlywed, when the sound of his voice, his show of attention, and his touch made your heart throb with happiness? Know that under the years and bills and worries, that smiling boy is still in love with you and needs his smiling girl. There needs to be time in the day for just the two of you.

Seriously, this right here is downright wholesome, and it lines up with the best relationship science currently available. Couples who take time to remember the roots of their relationship often find the spark to rekindle that old flame, and one of the antidotes to the Four Horsemen is fondness and admiration. This is truly good stuff!

And so is this... (mostly)

You don't need to hide your belly pudge, the stretch marks, or your breasts that sag a little more after each baby. Realize that when you give your husband physical satisfaction, his grateful love covers the flaws you see in the mirror, the ten or twenty extra pounds you want to lose. He desires to take you in his arms and make you his again. He sees the woman he loves.

I could have done without the part about physical satisfaction making him grateful, and just hearing, "You're the woman he loves, because he loves you." But overall, this passage is also really wholesome.

She goes on to discuss simple ways to make yourself feel pretty and attractive.

Once again, though, the problem is that this is in the middle of a chapter that explicitly suggests that a woman is, at least in some sense, responsible for keeping her husband from straying to cheap, unsatistfying relationships or pornography, and the means for that prevention is keeping him sexually satisfied at home.

I will probably quote some of those troublesome passages later, but today, I'm trying to demonstrate my twin theses, namely: 1) No, the book isn't all bad, and 2) But the good stuff is overwhelmed by the bad stuff.

Anyhow, so here's the problem I have. I'm truly looking for more good stuff, and so much of it is standard fare, and there's a good point tucked in here or there, but it's nothing really new, and there aren't really passages I can find. (Also, I keep getting distracted by the really shocking stuff.)

Here's a highlights reel:

Social media makes you discontent. Yeah, maybe.

Reading mommy blogs is bad, because it gives you mom guilt, and you'll be tempted to stop hitting you kids, and besides, women should likely not have blogs anyhow. (Mommy guilt is real, and the worst.)

And there's a theme of slowing down and taking time for yourself and spending it with your kids, which is wholesome, too.

Do you take time to take care of yourself? We as mothers are always pouring out to our families, but we also need to take care to fill our own souls and intentionally take tome to fo what brings rest and joy to our hearts. Take care of your own needs so you are not too tired to be cheerful in the evenings when the family is all together. If you feel tired in the afternoon, take a nap instead of washing the floor or spending time online. Make a cup of tea during the children's nap time and enjoy the quiet. Before your husband comes home, change into a clean dress and comb your hair.

Once again, there's really good advice here, and I think it's a necessary corrective to much of the literature in conservative Anabaptism that pushes women to do more, sacrifice more, and minimizes the value and importance of self-care.

Yes. This book has good things in it.
But I feel, as I have already expressed, that the good things are far out-weighed by the dangerous things.

For a wife in a healthy marriage to read this book might actually be beneficial, because she could sort through the problematic areas, and she's on the Normal Marriage Continuum.

But for the woman who really needs a book on how to flourish in her marriage, this book is pure poison.

Until next time!

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