Category Archives: Marriage

Marriage By Gaslight

This screenshot shows Ingrid Bergman and Charl...

This screenshot shows Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer in the end scene, where she confronts him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I thought you told me we didn’t have enough money for vacation this year. I see you got a bonus from work but used it to buy a new camera,” said Jane.

“What?” Joe blinked several times. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re crazy.”

Jane dropped the issue, half-doubting herself. The camera was bought anyway.

***********

Just what was going on in this exchange?

In marriage counseling, therapists talk about “gas lighting.”  The term comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight. In it, Ingrid Bergman stars as a woman who is made crazy for a time by her husband’s intention to make her question reality at every turn. He searches for hidden treasure in the attic with gas lights, for example. The wife often notices that gas lights in the house are flickering, and the husband denies it, always acting as though she is crazy.

So, gas lighting involves deception, insults or abuse, paired with the forceful denial of such. But it goes further. It makes the one questioning the deceiver or abuser doubt herself. I say “herself” because often the dynamic is between husband and wife. But it can also be between a parent and a child, or siblings, or boss and employer. Women can perpetrate as well as men, but the one being manipulated into self-doubt is often a woman. Society brainwashes women, via stereotypes, into doubting our own perceptions and emotional stability.

I recently read an article by a man who was once a gaslighter, entitled, “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy.’” He lists the things gaslighters (who can also be women) say to women who complain of feeling hurt, angry or frustrated with them.

“You’re so emotional.”

“You’re too sensitive.”

“You’re overreacting.”

“Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out!”

“I was just joking. Don’t you have a sense of humor?”

It might also be just a facial expression—squinting at you like you are nuts. Well-rehearsed body language that is all about putting you in your place for truth-telling. Or a verbal sleight of hand that makes you question your memory.

Another way of thinking of gas lighting is emotional manipulation, says the author. It’s a play on “the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It’s patently false and unfair.”

What is the key to getting out of a gaslighting situation? Learning to trust your own perceptions and stick by them no matter what. Refusing to second-guess yourself. It might also mean getting out of a certain relationship entirely or putting boundaries on it. Let’s revisit the first scene:

“What? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Joe blinked several times. “You’re crazy!”

Looking him in the eye, Jane said, “I think you do know. You told me we didn’t have the money, but we did, and now the money is gone. We need to talk about this.”

And, perhaps, to make an appointment to see a marriage or family counselor who is sensitive to feminist issues.  Or to see a lawyer if the gaslighter’s defenses are so rigid that change that change is unlikely and the oppression unrelenting. Or, as needed, to call a domestic abuse hotline and find a women’s shelter. Sometimes women cannot afford to truth-tell.

Bergman gets the last laugh in Gas Light, by the way, once a detective investigates and validates her perception about the gas lights. I hope this post is enough validation for you to be loyal to your own feelings and perceptions, whether you are a wife dealing with a controlling husband, a grown daughter still feeling manipulated by your mother, or an employee of a gas-lighting boss.

You are not crazy, and you deserve better.

The Love of Respect

Some of you may have heard about or attended a Love and Respect marriage conference at an evangelical church near you. Dr. Susan Biali, MD, blogged on psychologytoday.com about her and her husband’s transformative experience at one of these conferences. She learned that husbands mainly want respect, not love (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prescriptions-life/201304/relationship-advice-women-need-love-men-need-respect).

This was Biali’s summary of Eggerich’s recommendations to women:

A man feels respected when:

1) You tell him thanks for going to work every day and praise his commitment to providing for you and your family (I know, you very likely go to work, too – as do I – but to men it’s particularly important to have their efforts and dedication acknowledged)

2) You ask him to talk about his dreams.

3) You praise his good decisions (and don’t keep bringing up the bad ones)

4) You honor his authority in front of the children – and others in general – and differ with him in private

5) You thank him for his advice and knowledge (men love to help and advise)

6) You do recreational activities with him, “shoulder to shoulder”, such as watching the football game, going along for a drive, or going camping with him (here’s a kicker, though: apparently it’s a huge gift to men if women keep them company but don’t talk the whole time. I have been working on this one, it is not easy!)

7) You respond more often to him sexually (I think this one needs no explanation)

What do you think about this? I for one really enjoy the feeling of being deliberately, consciously respectful, of letting a man be a man and recognizing him for his “manliness” and his internal blueprint for leadership. Men really are very different from women, I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone.

Eggerichs and Biali are coming from a perspective that uses the Bible to support their position, that men mostly want respect in marriage, and women mainly want love. In light of that, I want to point out  verses that command husbands to respect their wives, and encourage wives to love their husbands.

Check these out:

I Peter 3:7 “Husbands in the same way [as the women] be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” [Note that my commentary says that “weaker” is “not a reference to moral stamina, strength of character or mental capacity, but most likely to sheer physical strength”—TNIV Study Bible.]

Titus 2:4 “Then they [older women] can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children…”

Even the Biblical writers were flexible enough in their thinking about gender roles to include commands for women to love their husbands, and husbands to respect their wives. That ought to say something to us in the 21st century when women’s human rights are, in principle, acknowledged.

That said, I think that Biali and Eggerichs are right in one way: many men would love their wives or girlfriends to do all of those things. What neither seem to notice, or give value to, is that most of these suggestions, unless they are reciprocated to the wife, are likely to result in an unequal and unfair dynamic in a relationship. (For example, note the fact that Biali, as an MD, may surpass her husband in salary and skill-set, yet she is the one to express appreciation to him for working so hard for the family). If women follow Biali’s model of “being deliberately, consciously respectful, of letting a man be a man and recognizing him for his ‘manliness’ and his internal blueprint for leadership,” then what you have is not a partnership but a leader-followership. It is a reinforcement of hierarchy. That’s not what Jesus would do. If you want to see Jesus’ egalitarian approach to women, read the gospels. Or, at least, my book (http://www.amazon.com/Saving-Women-Church-Jesus-Divide/dp/1594980136/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367961697&sr=1-1&keywords=saving+women+from+the+church).

And do men, in general, really need more respect? The need for respect can be a bottomless pit when the fear of not meeting the standards of traditional masculinity has forged shame into the soul. But, the actual need for respect may, in fact, be strongest in those who don’t get as much in society: wives and mothers, for example. When I withdrew from a doctoral program to become a Stay-at-Home Mom, I realized with a shock that I dropped to the bottom of the societal value-meter. I had to consciously develop such a strong sense of self-respect that I don’t need any one to praise me for the valuable skills I have honed in my current position.

Many men could not function emotionally at all in a Stay-at-Home Parent role. (Let me emphasize that there are some wonderful exceptions to this statement). They have been raised to expect power, respect, status and praise both in the world and at home, more than women have. That expectation can leave them fragile, when it is not met. Note even the sub-title of Eggerich’s book, “The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs.” Should wives feed into this false sense of desperation, by emphasizing respect?

Biali’s final respect-over-love argument is the Mars/Venus one: “Men really are very different from women, I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone.” All our beliefs are obvious before they are tested. Let’s look at a 2013 meta-analysis of 13 gender difference studies (here: http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/02/05/men-and-women-may-not-be-so-different-after-all/51222.html). The review showed “that for the vast majority of psychological traits, including the fear of success, mate selection criteria, and empathy, men and women are definitely from the same planet.

“Instead of scores clustering at either end of the spectrum—the way they do with, say, height or physical strength—psychological indicators fall along a linear gradation for both genders.”

Men and women, because they are both human, more similar in their needs than different, need love and respect in equal measure. Those who say they want respect more than love begin to enter an abuse continuum where the greater power must be maintained in a marriage relationship. Abusive men appear to need no love at all: only respect and power. They are on one extreme end. On the milder end of the spectrum are the men whose self-esteem thrives on subtle and direct communications of wifely deference—the very suggestions Biali has suggested, in fact.

When these men don’t get what they need to feel good about themselves, they often stonewall, says Eggerichs—an adult, quiet version of a tantrum. Stonewalling is one of marriage expert John Gottman’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse” for marriage—a divorce predictor (http://azgrowth.com/4Horsemen.pdf ). Yes, “respect” would end the stonewalling, but not in a healthy way, just as giving a child candy for dinner because he wants it keeps him happy but not well.

As Eggerichs says, respect and love are not the same thing. He notes, “You respect your boss, you don’t love your boss.” Exactly.

Amy R. Buckley

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