“Can’t the woman be the problem? The man is not always the problem in marriage.” Of course I gestured toward my problem wife! This continued into the second day until Dr. Hegstrom finally had enough. He told me point blank that I was the problem in my marriage. He told me that Kathy was desperate to have a great marriage relationship for that is how God made her.
Paul told me that God made Kathy a responder and that her problems were a reflection of her responding to my treatment of her. He said that when I grow up and lay my life down for my wife as Christ did for the church that I would be amazed at how wonderful a wife I have.
The first edition of the book is from 2004, but Joel learned this theology from Dr. Paul Hegestrom (the man FofF sends readers to for Christian counseling). For some time I’ve been curious where this theology came from and when it first cropped up. I doubt I’ll ever find the definitive answer, but I recently stumbled on more of the back-story of this disastrous theology.
It turns out that Dr. Richard L. Strauss preached this terrible theology way back in 1972, when second wave feminism was rampaging through both secular and Christian culture. The sermon is titled What Every Husband Needs to Know, and you can see the sermon in article form here or here, and download the audio here*. 1972 is an interesting year because by then the nation was in the full throes of feminist rebellion. Divorce rates wouldn’t level off for another ten years, but they had already exploded to over 150% of the rate from 1960**. This left pastors understandably in fear of provoking the wrath of the by now well established and very open rebellion***, while wanting to find a biblical solution to the skyrocketing divorce rate. Strauss opens the sermon by suggesting that an important cause of the divorce revolution is men not understanding their wives (all emphasis in quotes below is mine):
God tells men to dwell with their wives according to knowledge—an understanding of their basic nature and needs—but most men know very little about the makeup and mechanism of the female of the species. Could this be one of the reasons why so many marriages are floundering?
This of course is no idle question, and Strauss goes on to explain how men are causing the divorce revolution by not sufficiently loving their wives.
The God who created these tremendous emotional needs in women intends that husbands should meet them…
How does the husband do it? How can any man satisfy a woman’s basic needs? This may sound like a gross oversimplification, but one little four-letter word is actually the complete answer to this entire complex problem. The husband’s primary responsibility in a Christian marriage is to love his wife… All of these verses require agape, that highest level of love that keeps on giving even when it gets nothing in return and seeks only good for the one loved regardless of the personal cost or sacrifice.
Surely Strauss was not the first to make this argument, and he would not be the last to try to explain away the modern feminist rebellion against marriage and headship as stemming from a lack of love on men’s part****. He explains that women will not be tempted to feminist rebellion, and will want to submit if only their husbands love them:
This gives an entirely new meaning to the misunderstood doctrine of male headship. Headship is not some masculine doctrine cleverly designed to bolster the husband’s sagging ego. Headship involves the husband’s solemn obligation to establish an atmosphere of love in which the basic needs of his wife are fulfilled—an environment in which she is free to grow and develop into all that God wants her to be. Her submission will then be the voluntary response to his loving leadership.
It is at this point that Strauss introduces the theology of women as responders:
The key word here is response. The woman is a responder. This is the obvious role of someone who depends on another person. Flowers depend on sunshine and rain; when they get it, they respond by blossoming into gorgeous beauty. This is how God made a woman too. She responds to what she receives. If she receives irritability, criticism, disapproval, unkindness, indifference, lack of appreciation, or lack of affection, she will respond with a defense mechanism, such as bitterness, coolness, defiance, or nagging. Some women turn to drinking or submerge themselves in social activities.
But if the woman receives love she will respond with love, and will blossom into the most beautiful creature under God’s heaven. When a man claims that his wife doesn’t love him anymore he is unwittingly admitting that he hasn’t loved her as he should have. If he had, she would most likely have responded with love in return. A man gets from his wife what he invests in her. He cannot force her to love him, but he can show love to her and enjoy her loving response. Thus the responsibility for a successful marriage rests initially with the husband. He makes the first move—that of loving his wife with the totally unselfish love of Jesus Christ.
Strauss goes on to explain that when the Apostles Peter and Paul tell husbands to have Agape love, they meant the kinds of acts of beta comfort that modern marriage counselors teach men. If you want to understand Epistles from ancient Rome and Greece, you need to watch Oprah. If a husband practices enough beta game, his wife will love him and want to submit. This boils down to an all too familiar list:
- Buy her gifts:
“…love gives. It will involve giving the material things a wife needs as finances permit, and perhaps even a little gift now and then that says, I really care. I think about you when we’re apart.”
- Do the housework:
“If the wife is really the weaker vessel, then wiping the dishes, sweeping the floor, supervising the children, cleaning the windows, or dozens of other little helpful acts are just other ways of saying, I love you.”
- Complete your wife’s Honey Do list:
“Some husbands are too busy to run an errand, fix a gadget, or devote an evening to their wives alone. They are saying in subtle little ways, You’re really not worth very much personal sacrifice, and this is like spraying weed killer on a beautiful flower.”
- Show her that she is appreciated:
“She needs to know that he cares—that he appreciates the things she does to please him, like maintaining his home and cooking his meals. She needs to know that he comes home because she is there—not just for meals and a bed! One of the most prevalent complaints of wives is that their husbands take them for granted, treating them as if they were maids. Here is what one woman said she needed most from her husband: I need to feel needed, that what I am doing for him and for our children is important to him. Then, I want to be appreciated for the things I do.” Most wives try hard to please, and they need to know that their husbands approve of their efforts and appreciate them.”
- Stop having so much fun at work:
“Giving ourselves may not demand dying for our wives, but it certainly demands living for them, and that is the very thing many husbands are unwilling to do. They exclude their wives from their lives. They think working hard and providing an abundance of material things will make their wives happy. And while they are at work getting rich, their wives are at home with aching hearts, yearning to share their husbands’ lives as God intended them to do, yearning for the appreciation, approval, attention, and affection which God intended them to have, yearning for the sympathetic understanding their God-given natures demand.”
- Be a sensitive new age guy:
“One woman wrote, My husband needs to let me know that he is aware of my problems and understands them. I need to feel that we are working together toward a common goal. The one word that occurs most frequently when wives are discussing what they need from their husbands is understanding. No amount of material things can take the place of a husband who listens to his wife with undivided attention when she unfolds her heart, who tries to understand even her most complicated moods, and who lets her know that he loves her even during her most illogical and unreasonable moments.”
The problem is not that husbands should never buy their wives gifts, or fix things around the house, or tell their wives they love them. The problem is that:
- Modern Christians have substituted pop culture in place of the instructions in the Bible, and as the Strauss sermon shows this dates back to the heydays of second wave feminism.
- Responding to feminist rebellion and discontentment with more beta comfort is a prescription for frustrating your wife. The reason wives are in rebellion (in general) is not because Christian men aren’t being nice enough to Christian women, but because Christian men are terrified of saying no to rebellious women. Ironically, if husbands were to do the truly loving thing and stand up to the rebellion their wives would be far more likely to feel loved.
See Also: Why Christians need Game.
*The article form has been edited some for brevity, but the lesson is not fundamentally changed. Since the recording is from 1972 and has a large amount of noise, I suggest running it through a noise reduction filter using Audacity or a similar tool.
**See “Figure 5. Number of Divorces per 1,000 Married Women Age 15 and Older, by Year, United States” from The State of Our Unions 2010.
***On the other hand Strauss’ companion sermon What Every Wife Needs to Know is very strong in teaching submission, although he adopts what has become the standard posture that husbands are not to instruct their wives regarding their role as a Christian wife, and says that husbands must not call wives out when they are being moody or childish.
****Without a doubt all husbands across the ages have fallen short of loving their wives as commanded in the Bible, but this by itself should prove the absurdity of asserting that our modern feminist rebellion is due to men suddenly not being sensitive new age guys.