This past Thursday, October 8th, 2015, Michelle Duggar–of reality show “19 Kids and Counting” fame–responded to fan mail asking for advice. She was particularly tackling the fan question of advice for a newlywed wife, Jill.
Here’s the post.
Before I went through my divorce, I might have agreed with everything Michelle writes in this post, sadly. However, I write today with new eyes and wisdom born of suffering plus personal growth.
The sexual ethic and teachings set forth in Michelle’s advice to this newlywed woman is downright dangerous–even though, I have no doubt it is well-intended and probably from a place where Michelle wanted to be God-honoring.
Intentions are not enough, though.
In a nutshell, the part I am addressing is the advice given by Michelle Duggar about marital sex life (i.e. point one). She exhorts this newlywed woman, Jill, to always make herself sexually available to service her husband’s “needs.” This includes during pregnancy and even after a long day caring for the kids. She buttresses this advice by talking about how the wife is the only one who can service her husband’s needs. Finally, Michelle charges Jill to make herself sexually available to Jill’s husband joyfully.
My Three Main Concerns:
1) This is a recipe for resentment.
It is not healthy to forcibly stuff or repress emotions. This advice seems to suggest this approach for the newlywed wife. She is to stuff her emotions and put on a happy face to serve her husband’s sexual “needs” regardless of circumstances.
Difficult emotions do not magically disappear. Hurt and anger over having your daily contributions dismissed as well as a demonstrated lack of consideration do not just go away. They are simply stuffed in a closet and allowed to fester into resentment until they are resolved or blow up all over the place.
So, outwardly, the wife may look joyful, yet that exterior may simply hide a seething pressure cooker just waiting to explode.
Further, I would argue that a Christian husband who insisted on sex without regard to his wife’s physical and emotional needs is not acting in a loving, Christlike manner (see Ephesians 5 and Philippians 2).
Better advice is to encourage an open conversation with her husband about valuing sex while working on ways to lower the barriers in making that happen more often without forcing one party to stuff hurt feelings.
2) This advice feeds into a zero sum game understanding of marriage.
I am concerned about marital advice that treats situations as a “his-needs-versus-her-needs” scenario. (By the way, “zero sum game” refers to the idea that only one party “wins”–i.e. gets his/her “needs” met–at the expense of the other party “losing.”)
Good relationships work at seeing both persons walk away supported. It is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.” With a zero sum situation, resentment can build if one party is routinely “losing” or even just perceiving it as such.
A healthier approach is to frame the scenario as an opportunity to make sure both feel loved and appreciated. You are married–hopefully–because you really love the other person and want that person to feel that love. So, build on that common, godly goal.
How can both spouses walk away feeling loved while dealing with the realities of busy lives?
3) This advice is dehumanizing for both parties.
As a man and a husband, I do not want to be reduced to a creature that has “needs.” Such a treatment of a husband then transforms the wife into a piece of “meat” to satisfy the husband’s sex drive.
Sex, then, is reduced to satiating an appetite–i.e the husband’s–as opposed to the highest expression of mutual love and oneness known among human relations.
Such is sacrilege.
Also, I do not want to have marital sex simply because my wife recognizes that I have “needs.” Such casts sex as a wifely duty.* How sexy is that?
“Okay, honey, I will hold my nose and have sex with you because it’s my wifely duty.”
Sex ought to come as an expression of love. To reduce it to a duty–or to an appetite satiation exercise–is to debase this precious marital gift from God.
If both parties cannot engage in sex as an act of love–e.g. one party is exhausted or angry with the other–then I suggest it might be better not to have sex at that moment. A loving, considerate spouse would be understanding of an exhausted spouse. And a spouse that valued the marriage would want to resolve any anger cause a rift in that relationship.
Yes, God is clear that married Christians ought to have regular sex under normal circumstances (see I Corinthians 7:5). However, I doubt God is honored when we treat sex like an animal drive or as something we “must” do as a duty as opposed to the precious gift and expression of love that it is.
Coming back to the theme of this blog–i.e. taking adultery seriously–I am concerned about how this sort of advice can easily lend itself to fostering “The Shared Responsibility Lie” if infidelity occurs.
The way Michelle Duggar presents this advice–according to my reading–suggests a causal effect between discharging her advice and having a happy (faithful) marriage. My concern is how this can foster dangerous naiveté where a wife might think following this advice will solidly protect her marriage from her husband committing adultery.
Jill could do all that Michelle Duggar suggests, and her husband may still commit adultery. She does not control her husband’s choices–just as he does not control hers. So, following this advice does not guarantee lifelong fidelity and marital bliss. A husband can still choose sin even in a marriage to a very selfless and godly woman.
Sin comes from the heart of the sinner alone and not circumstances…
…even marital ones (see Mk 7:20-23).
The dark side of this advice is how it could be twisted to blame a faithful wife whose husband chose to commit adultery. The shaming tool is ready made to blame the wife for not meeting her husband’s “needs” or not doing so “joyfully.”
“See, I warned you that he had needs! Why didn’t you make yourself more joyfully available to him?”
The last thing an adultery victim needs is to be kicked while she is down. This danger of blaming the faithful spouse for the infidelity is so strong and prevalent in Christian circles that it bears an explicit rejection as ungodly.
In sum, I am concerned with the advice Michelle Duggar gives Jill, the newlywed, for multiple reasons:
It sets up Jill and her husband for an unhealthy dynamic around marital sexuality and emotional well-being. Also, it feeds into the lies that we can save our marriages from infidelity unilaterally by following this advice, and therefore, it suggests through that causal link that a faithful spouse is to blame if a husband cheats.
For all those reasons, I consider such advice dangerous and unhealthy for Christians to follow.
*As an important side note, this advice assumes the husband is the one who wants sex more than the wife. What happens when this is not the case? Such an assumption sets that wife up for shame as she feels like something is wrong with her for wanting sex more than her husband. Plus, it sets up that husband for shame as well for not wanting sex more than his wife does.