Marcus D linked to a column by feminist and historian Rebecca Onion titled Lock up your wives! Advice columns from decades past provide a chilling glimpse into the horrors of marriage counselling before feminism. While the title claims that marriage counselling predates feminism, the article describes how marriage counseling as we understand it today grew out of feminism in general, and specifically the rejection of the idea that marriage vows are permanent (emphasis mine):
Marriage counselling, once the informal job of clergy, parents and trusted elders, became its own profession in the 1920s. Following increased advocacy for women’s rights, divorce rates in the US rose 15-fold between 1870 and 1920. Meanwhile, psychology and social work found their footing as professions. Some marriage advocates, unable to stem the tide of divorces through legal strictures, turned to counselling as the answer.
In short, marriage counseling is a product of the divorce revolution. The underlying premise here is not so much that divorce is beneficial because it ends unhappy marriages, but that it is beneficial because it gives wives leverage to force their husbands to do as the wife demands. Once the husband does as the wife demands, goes the logic, the marriage will become happy (See also: Fireproof). While it is refreshing to see this spoken about honestly, it isn’t just feminists who celebrate this ostensible improvement on marriage. Modern Christians have eagerly embraced this new view of marriage, a view I’ve dubbed the wake-up call model. Although this modern Christian approach is drenched in denial, deception, and rationalization, it isn’t difficult to spot the modern Christian embrace of divorce if you look for it.
As just one example, traditional Catholics have expressed great concern with the explosion in annulments the RCC grants in the United States. In response to these concerns, the Archdioceses of Boston has published a document defending the explosion in annulments. The document explains that the explosion in US annulments is a positive development, a sign of justice and progress. The problem is not that too many marriages in the US are being declared null by the RCC, the real problem is the rest of the world is behind the times and doesn’t grant enough annulments (emphasis mine):
In the last twenty years, the numbers of declarations are much higher in this country than they had been in the past. Yet this is due to the fact that the procedural laws governing marriage cases were expanded in the late 1960’s. Cases no longer had to go to Rome. They could be adjudicated locally. The appellate system was also somewhat streamlined. Furthermore, Roman jurisprudence was expanded in the light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Cases could be heard on new grounds of jurisprudence.
Tribunals across the United States are operative so that individuals may vindicate their rights. The bishops of our country have invested personnel and resources to ensure the church’s jurisprudence and procedural law are fulfilled. Unfortunately, such an investment in justice is not as evident in other parts of the world. This is why the numbers in the United States appear high. In fact they are skewed.
The other thing I found interesting about Onion’s piece is her repeated reference to the eugenics movement’s involvement with the creation of modern marriage counseling. I wasn’t aware of the connection here, but found a similar claim on wikipedia:
Marriage counseling originated in Germany in the 1920s as part of the eugenics movement. The first institutes for marriage counseling in the USA began in the 1930s, partly in response to Germany’s medically directed, racial purification marriage counseling centres. It was promoted in the USA by both eugenicists such as Paul Popenoe and Robert Latou Dickinson and by birth control advocates such as Abraham and Hannah Stone who wrote ‘A Marriage Manual’ in 1935 and were involved with Planned Parenthood. Other founders in USA include Lena Levine and Margaret Sanger.
Margaret Sanger as you may recall is one of the founders of Planned Parenthood. With a bit of searching I found an old radio broadcasts where she promotes marriage counseling. From How to Avoid Post War Divorces:
The pity of unhappy, ruined marriages is that with a little scientific advice and the use of common sense so many of them could be saved.
She offers as an example a woman who resents her husband for traveling to exciting places around the world (as a soldier in WW II):
the wife.. who was realy just a girl.. was feeling trapped and rebellious. She loved her baby ↑of course↓ , and well she might, because he was a beautiful child, but she was beginning to feel very bitter toward her husband because she said that she could tell from his letters that he was actually enjoying the ↑excitement of↓ war! Already he had been to Iceland, England, Africa, and Italy! Oh, she was willing to admit there were plenty of hardships connected with it… but what had she been doing all this long while? Just staying home day after day minding the baby! “When he gets home,” she told me, “he can just sit with the baby for a while and she what it’s like. I’m going out and have some fun!”
This was back in 1944, nearly 20 years before Friedan coined the term “the problem with no name”, yet all of the same tired feminist cliches about marriage we hear today were already fully formed and being sold to the general public.
I could see her point of view… what woman couldn’t. You don’t have to be a war bride to feel trapped… many a house-wife gets that feeling just watching her husband go off to the office every morning while she stays home facing the same meals, dishes, and children. How many divorces have their beginnings in just this very feeling of imprisoned futility.