James Dobson’s article “A Violent Spouse”
What is wrong with James Dobson’s reply to this letter from an abused wife? I invite my readers to analyse and critique the advice Dobson gives.
Note: Dobson’s article was published at his blog in 2015. It appears to have been scrubbed from his site now, but it can be found in the Internet Archive here: A Violent Spouse [Internet Archive link]
Some years ago we discussed Dobson’s response to this woman. But new people have followed the ACFJ blog since then, so it’s worth discussing again. This time I’m just laying it open to my readers: What do you think about Dobson’s advice? And what arguments can you present to refute Dobson’s advice?
Everything between the two sets of asterisks is pasted from Dobson’s blog post. Trigger warning when reading Dobson’s advice.
From the wife of a violent spouse:
Dear Dr. Dobson:
This is an extremely difficult letter to write, but I must have help. My husband and I have been married twelve years, and throughout most of this time, he has had a secret problem. Only I know that he has a violent temper that is absolutely terrifying to me. He is a leader in our church and is a very prominent lawyer in our city. Everyone respects him highly. But when he is at home he is a different person.
At least once or twice a month he explodes over something the kids or I have done to irritate him, and he becomes furious. He yells, throws things, threatens me, and makes an awful scene. If I say the wrong thing or if I say anything, he beats me with his fists.
Last week he loosened three of my teeth and cut the inside of my lip. I really thought he was going to kill me! This happened because I failed to do some errands he asked me to get done. What bothers me is that the beatings are becoming more frequent and more violent as time goes by.
I don’t know what to do. I really do love my husband. He’s a fine man when he isn’t mad about something. He never shows this side of himself in public, even when he is frustrated. No one has any idea he is a wife abuser. I haven’t told anyone, and my husband would blow up if I asked him to go with me for counseling. No telling what he’d do if he knew I was consulting you!
So what can I do? I don’t believe in divorce. I am trying to be gentle and cautious at all times, but inevitably I step on his toes and he explodes again. I’m so tired of being beaten and then having to stay home for days to hide my bruises.
How do I deal with this situation?
The problem of wife abuse is reaching epidemic proportions in today’s families. The violence that is characteristic of the culture around us is being translated into husband-wife relationships and to parent-child interactions. Entire volumes have been addressed to this problem, and I am not likely to add to that understanding in the time and space allotted here. I can, however, offer Laura a condensed answer, which would be the basis for our work if I were counseling her personally.
As I see it, Laura only has four alternatives in response to her circumstance. They are:
1. Remain silent at home, walk on cracked eggs, and be the eternal conciliator.
She is taking this approach now, but is not succeeding. No matter how passive she becomes, she will eventually trigger the anger of her uptight husband. Furthermore, she’ll pay a terrible price emotionally for living on a powder keg year in and year out. For the long term, this is not the answer.
2. Divorce her husband.
As a Christian, I agree with Laura that divorce is not the solution to this problem. Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.
3. Proceed with an “emotional divorce,” remaining married but keeping herself detached and independent from her husband.
This form of “emotional isolation” will shield Laura from psychological pain, but it will make for a terrible relationship. I don’t favor it.
4. The ‘love must be tough’ response.
This is risky and psychologically expensive, but it is my choice and my recommendation. In essence, Laura’s husband is emotionally blackmailing her. He is saying by his behavior, “Do what I wish or I’ll beat you.” She must break out of that tyranny while she’s still young enough to cope with the consequences. This might be accomplished by forcing the matter to a crisis.
Change of behavior does not occur when waters are smooth, as we have seen; it sometimes happens after a storm. I would suggest that Laura choose the most absurd demand her husband makes, and then refuse to consent to it. Let him rage if he must rage. She should prearrange a place to go and ask friends or relatives to step in for assistance at that critical moment. Separate living quarters may be necessary until her husband settles down. He should be made to think that he has lost his wife over this issue, and in fact, I would recommend that she not return until there is reason to believe that he is willing to change. If that takes a year, so be it.
When (and if) her husband acknowledges that he has a severe problem and promises to deal with it if she’ll come home, a period of negotiations should follow. One of the conditions for reconciliation is competent Christian counseling for the psychological problem that is now apparent to everyone but the husband. By all means, Laura will need the support of Christian friends and counselors, especially during the time of crisis. And it goes without saying that the entire matter must be bathed in prayer from the beginning.
I can offer no guarantees that this advice will resolve Laura’s problem with her violent husband. But I believe it represents the best possibility for success. Let me ask those of you who disagree, what would you advise? Counselors suggesting that this frightened woman remain passive and submissive despite the abuse should have to look into Laura’s eyes and tell her that in person.
I don’t believe anyone should be required to live in that kind of terror, and in fact, to do so is to tolerate a behavior which could eventually prove fatal to the marriage, anyway.
From Dr. Dobson’s book Love Must Be Tough.
James Dobson and showering with boys — by J L Flinch
Franklin Graham must answer for his bullying of domestic violence survivor Naghmeh Panahi — by Darrell Lucus. This article says some pertinent things about James Dobson.
James Dobson on Domestic Violence: Women “Deliberately Bait” Their Husbands — by Homeschoolers Anonymous
Comments made on James Dobson and Focus on the Family:
“The Truth About Men” — Isn’t this Horrible Philosophy in the Church? (Comment by KayJay)
A “Gauntlet Down” Challenge to James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Other Christian Ministries of Fame (Comment by Barbara Roberts)
Perception vs. Per”crap”tion (Comment by Barbara Roberts)