We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.’
–Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
Women are especially prone to falling into discontentment and disrupting the lives of everyone around them when they do. The Book of Proverbs warns repeatedly of this tendency:
- Proverbs 21-9 (ISV): It’s better to live in a corner on the roof than to share a house with a contentious woman.
- Proverbs 21-19 (KJV): It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.
- Proverbs 25-24 (ISV): It’s better to live in a corner on the roof than in a house with a contentious woman.
- Proverbs 27-15 (NKJV): A continual dripping on a very rainy day And a contentious woman are alike;
- Proverbs 14:1 (NIV): The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.
Betty Friedan called this tendency of women toward discontentment “the problem that has no name” in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique. The book is commonly credited with identifying the problem (the mysterious discontentment of women) and thereby kicking off second wave feminism.
This understanding isn’t limited to feminism or the Bible. This is something that aside from some strategic amnesia, everyone knows. We are constantly being reminded that women are prone to becoming discontent for mysterious reasons, and that husbands need to forever be on their guard against this. The other day Heidi at Lazy Mother Musings expertly dissected a warning for husbands a chaplain she knows posted on Facebook.
Wife: I’m not doing okay.
Translation: …She’s referring to the condition of her heart. If she says this, stop what you’re doing and clear space for a deep conversation. She might need counseling. Don’t ignore or dismiss this!
Husbands, these are not polite recommendations from overly-sensitive wives. Our wives are generally more emotionally intelligent than we are and can read the temperature of the marriage better than we can. If they say it’s time to see a counselor, do it without questioning.
Over the years, I’ve learned these lessons the hard way. [My wife] knows that I’ll go see a counselor if she suggests it (and we do see our counselor-pastor about once a month). Our marriage is stronger than ever, by God’s grace. At the same time, I watch countless marriages fail because husbands didn’t heed their wives until it was too late (or wives simply didn’t say anything until it was too late).
According to the chaplain, women’s tendency to become discontented and destroy their homes is proof that women are superior to men, especially when it comes to marriage and commitment. Women being prone to becoming unhappy honoring their marriage vows means that they are more “emotionally intelligent” than men. This is a common belief, along with the belief that husbands can stave off this discontentment by giving their money to marriage counselors and doing as they are told.
Like Heidi’s chaplain friend, Dr. David Clarke at Focus on the Family (FotF) explains that women being discontented in marriage and men being happy is a sign that God made women better at marriage than men. According to Clarke a wife’s discontentment isn’t something she needs to overcome, it is a virtue, and proof that she is better at marriage than her clueless husband:
Well, these little stories we heard just a few minutes ago from these ladies, I have heard a million times at my seminars, in my therapy office, oh, just one after the other, good solid Christian women… There’s no real intimacy. I’m dying inside. And the key is, they’re not letting the husband know that. The guy has no clue. He’s perfectly happy. So, when that woman hits the wall and leaves him, he is the most stunned guy on earth.
Clarke explains that God has a master plan, and God’s plan involves the wife becoming unhappy so she can threaten to destroy the family as a way to take control:
Now [God]’s got a master plan, because if we work together and let the woman actually teach us, ’cause she has many more skills interpersonally that we will … ever will have. She’s got a Ph.D. in emotional intimacy and spiritual intimacy very often. We have like a third-grade education.
But according to Clarke God’s plan often fails because modern women aren’t contentious enough:
You gotta get a man with a shovel to the head, metaphorically speaking, of course.
Pastor Doug Wilson discusses the same basic issue slightly differently in his book Reforming Marriage. Wilson explains that the way a man can tell if he is pleasing God is by his wife’s happiness (or lack thereof):
…the key is found in how the husband is treating his wife. Or, put another way, when mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
The collateral effect of obedience is the aroma of love. This aroma is out of reach for those who have a hypocritical desire to be known by others as a keeper of God’s law. Many can fake an attempt at keeping God’s standards in some external way. What we cannot fake is the resulting, distinctive aroma of pleasure to God…
When a husband seeks to glorify God in his home, he will be equipped to love his wife as he is commanded. And if he loves his wife as commanded, the aroma of his home will be pleasant indeed.
Another Pastor Wilson (Pastor Dave Wilson) teaches in FamilyLife’s Art of Marriage that if a wife isn’t sexually attracted to her husband, it is God speaking to the husband through his wife’s (non) burning bush:
Dave: Yes. Here’s all you need to know about that night—the thing that changed our marriage is when Ann was sharing with me what she felt—I had a pretty unique encounter with God. I sensed God was speaking to me, through Ann;
This type of advice is everywhere, because it is the prevailing wisdom of our feminist era. But while the Bible does agree that women are prone to becoming discontented and destroying their homes, it doesn’t present this as a virtue, it presents it as a vice. Discontentment is not part of God’s plan for women to improve men, it is a temptation women need to overcome. The Bible also doesn’t place the onus on the husband (or men in general) to prevent the woman from becoming unhappy. Contrary to feminists and modern Christian thought, the onus for keeping Christian women from lapsing into discontentment and familial destruction is on women, not men.
Nevertheless, this idea that a husband’s job is to prevent his wife from becoming unhappy and blowing up the marriage is widespread. Even in the Men’s Sphere this is a common perspective. I’ve written about this topic before, but a recent post by fellow sphere blogger Adam Piggott made me want to revisit it. Adam shared that his wife had succumbed to discontentment and decided to move out and divorce. Consistent with Adam’s admirably self reliant character, he blames himself for allowing mama to become unhappy:
It’s very tempting and all too easy in moments like these to convince yourself that you are a victim. But the truth is that I failed to keep her. And the truth hurts. In the first 9 years of our relationship she was dependent on me more than I was on her. There were a few reasons for that but primarily it was down to the fact that she was in my worlds; Italy and then Australia.
But the move to Holland last year reversed that position. And our marriage wasn’t able to withstand it.
I hope it is clear that I don’t mean this as a criticism of Adam*. I have great respect for his self reliant attitude and the high standards he holds himself to. I also enjoy reading his blog. But in this case he is mistaken. If it were true that husbands are responsible not only for upholding their own vows, but also for making sure their wives always wanted to uphold their vows, then marriage vows would be a profoundly foolish thing. They are not foolish, but there is no denying that they would be foolish if you accept conventional wisdom, including the teaching of modern Christian leaders like Heidi’s chaplain friend, FotF, FamilyLife, and Pastors Dave and Doug Wilson. If a man doesn’t believe in biblical marriage, then not only does marriage have no moral meaning, but the very idea of marriage is downright absurd.
Ironically Adam uses a phrase that echoes how we used to understand the issue in the past. He says “the truth is that I failed to keep her”. In the past we (especially women) would say she can’t keep a man of a woman who wasn’t able to marry and stay married. This was a brilliant term, because while on the surface it was technically misstating the issue, it accurately captured the fundamental problem as well as pointed to the solution. Discontentment tends to come from a lack of thankfulness, and this is true in men and women. But this is true in a specific way for women when it comes to feelings of sexual attraction and romantic love. Women who fear they are going to lose the best man they can get tend to automatically become attracted to him. As Heartiste puts it, female tingles are born in a defensive crouch. Even if the woman the phrase was used to describe wasn’t able to straighten out her own course, other women on the road to discontentment would hear the term and see the larger truth that such women aren’t typically trading up, and especially in the long run tend to fare very badly compared to what they foolishly discarded. This fear of losing what she had both helped her be generally thankful for the good man she was tempted to discard, as well as tended to cause her to feel greater sexual attraction to him.
Telling a woman she can’t keep a man simultaneously acknowledges that something is broken in her and helps her work on fixing that problem! Telling her it is her husband’s fault if she is unhappy reinforces the problem and blocks the solution. Yet since we made the mistake of following Friedan’s lead and assuming women’s sins are men’s fault, we have reworked the old phrase to the version Adam used. Even worse, pastors like Dave and Doug Wilson have come along and declared that a wife’s discontentment is God’s sign that He is unhappy with her husband! This is evil, and cruel to men, women, and children.
H/T Anonymous Reader