When your husband doesn’t help with housework, takes a backseat to parenting (except to yell at and control the children), and controls the finances (despite the fact that you contribute financially to the family, whether by your income or the labor that you offer to keep the family comfortable), you may be experiencing coercive control.
Sarah McDugal is on the podcast with Anne, and together they’re breaking down what equality actually means in a partnership. Tune in to the BTR.ORG Podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Equality Means That Both Partners Contribute to Domestic Labor Tasks
In many abusive marriages, women do the majority, if not all, of the housework.
Abusive men feel entitled to a home life where they are served by their wife and children. They choose to see women as subservient – and may back this entitlement up with:
- Spiritual abuse, citing misogynistic scripture.
- Their income, stating that because they make money, they shouldn’t have to do housework.
- Weaponized incompetence, claiming that they don’t know how, or were never taught, how to do domestic labor, such as dishes or mopping.
- “Benevolent patriarchy,” which is similar to weaponized incompetence. Abusers may use manipulative praise to convince the victim that since she is better at domestic labor, she should be the one doing it.
When Your Husband Doesn’t Help With Housework, You Don’t Have to Internalize the Misogyny
It is very easy to internalize the abuser’s narrative when he tries to convince you that he’s right and that everyone agrees with him that it’s your job to the majority of the household tasks.
This is misogyny, and it’s not your responsibility to internalize it.
Rather than accept the abuser’s narrative, you can set and live by safety boundaries to separate yourself from the abuser’s harm.
How is Housework Handled in Healthy Relationships?
“Each partner is using whatever power they do have for the betterment, the protection and the uplifting of the other partner and of the home and family as a whole.”
Sarah McDugal, author
Healthy men are equally involved in household labor.
In healthy relationships, couples divide household labor according to what they’re interested in, what works with each individual schedule, and what needs to get done.
Rather than assigning tasks based on traditional gender roles, couples take into account personal capacity and their individual talents. For example, if one spouse enjoys cooking, they may generally be in charge of preparing dinner, while the other spouse may usually take care of yard work. Spouses may take turns cleaning bathrooms, or clean them together on Saturdays.
Ultimately, couples work together to make sure that household tasks are completed, without competing and comparing who has the heavier load. Couples in healthy relationships trust each other and know that neither spouse will experience burn-out because they can communicate and care for each other.
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
Abusive relationships drain victims of emotional and physical energy. You deserve validation, support, and compassion. Attend a BTR.ORG Group Session today.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. On today’s episode, we have, my dear, dear friend Sarah McDugal. You can find her on Facebook. I love Sarah, she’s been on the podcast before. She and I are so grateful for our friendship. So welcome, Sarah.
I love your audience.
I do too. So if you’re listening, thank you. I don’t thank you enough. Thank you. Thank you for listening. I appreciate it. Sarah appreciates it. It’s amazing how many victim warriors, sheroes, survivors, whatever we wanna call ourselves, are out there and how big the community of survivors is in general, right? Not just women who listen to BTR, but just women who are looking for answers online.
Wholeness, Kindness, Safety, and Unity
Yeah, absolutely. I was talking to my team just this week and one of them was mentioning how when she was trying to get out, the resources that exist (you guys, us), simply weren’t there. And there is such a movement…some would freak out about a movement where women and children are empowered against abuse because to some it feels like it’s the end of all the traditional things, right? But really, I see women and children and some men who have recognized that what God wants for our relationships, for our families, for our marriages, is safety and wholeness and love and kindness.
In the New Testament, we talk about the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peacefulness, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness and self-control, self-discipline, faithfulness. And so I see the movement of, especially women, cause that’s who I work with, who are standing up and saying, “No, we will no longer tolerate cruelty, violence, deception, faithlessness.” I see it as actually moving closer to the calling of living like Jesus Christ. Not in a wholesale destruction of allegiance to marriage, but instead taking the marriage institution off of a golden calf pedestal where it is being worshiped like a pagan God, and saying “What God designed for marriage is for marriages to reflect the wholeness and the kindness and the safety and the unity that Jesus provides.”
It’s Not Anti-Family, It’s Pro-Safety
Both Sarah and I are Christian, you’ve heard me share from my faith experience, so we’re going to be sharing today from a Christian point of view. So for listeners who are of another faith or no faith at all, whatever paradigm you subscribe to or do not subscribe to, you’re welcome here today. We are going to be sharing from our faith perspective today. And this is just to say, this is what we’ve experienced and what we hope for people from our own point of view, so everyone’s welcome. This is not an attempt to proselytize or anything like that.
I think it’s interesting that a lot of people see movement towards safety as anti-man maybe or anti-marriage or anti-Jesus. And it’s not any of those things. It’s pro-peace, right? We’re moving toward God. We’re moving toward the principles that we have learned about in the scriptures: the ones that you just talked about. What are your thoughts about the reasons why people see victims getting to safety (emotional safety, psychological safety, sexual safety), rather than seeing it as something that God would want, see it as bad?
That’s a loaded question, Anne.
What are your thoughts about the TOP reason that you think that might be?
“The Fear of Loss of Control”
Well, I think that the top reason or the foundational reason and everything else builds on this foundation, is the fear of loss of control. This reaches far outside of just the Christian faith community. It spans any potentially religious faith community as well as simply secular or political communities, all of the above. When we have a model of relational dynamic where the operation depends on one group or party or gender or segment of the population having the entitlement to exercise control and not just control but coercion to do what they want (especially to the harm of those who are being controlled), then we have an abusive relational dynamic. However, for those who are in the position of holding the control, the system works for them very, very well, right?
Do Patriarchal Systems Lead to Abusive Relationships?
Like you said earlier, I’m a person of faith, a woman who’s rooted in the Christian faith community. But this particular thing applies across the board outside of religious stripes. So when we are looking at belief systems of any background where the institution of marriage is held higher in value based on the right of one partner to exercise control or headship over the other partner, then we are operating inside of an abusive relational dynamic.
So now let’s step back into the Christian faith community. When we have a heavily patriarchal headship model, it is very appealing to those who would be placed in the role of having all the control and having the entitlement to coerce. And I believe that that goes back to the garden of Eden, which was the offer of the serpent in the tree: ‘You will be as gods. You will have the power to take control over others.’ And that is when you step into sin: ‘You get to rule over everyone else in a way that makes you a demigod, that places you on the throne of power over other humans’, instead of working together surrendered to God.
“Welcome Invitation, Not Coercive Control”
Now Jesus flipped that on its head. So when we look at the words of Jesus, where he says ‘the Gentiles, the others (the ones who are not my followers is kind of what he’s saying), lord it over each other. They take control over each other, they dominate each other. That’s how people do it who aren’t following me, but if you’re following me, they will know you are Christ’s disciples by how you love each other, not by how you lord it over each other.’
In that, I believe he was effectively flipping that entitlement to take coercive control over others on its head. That, Hey, I’m a follower of Jesus, so I get to tell you what to do, he’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. If you’re a follower of Jesus, then you’re going to be down here beside me on your knees, washing the feet of others. You’re going to be a servant. You’re going to use any power that you have to protect, to heal, not to destroy, not to control.’
And so even at the end of the New Testament in Revelation where Jesus says, ‘I stand at the door and I knock, and if you come to the door and you choose to let me in, I will sit down and I will be with you.’ ‘I’ll eat supper with you’, if you wanna put it that way. Jesus’ model is one of welcome invitation, not coercive control.
Back to your original question (and I’m eager to hear your thoughts as you’re processing maybe a completely different perspective on it). When we go back to that original question, ‘Why do some people feel that preventing abuse and handling abuse firmly, rescuing others from abuse is threatening to marriage?’, I believe it is because they are afraid that if marriage becomes defined as anything other than where wives and children are under the control of husbands and fathers, under the authoritative or authoritarian jurisdiction, then all hell will break loose. They’re scared that people might not actually choose love and so they tighten the grip on control. But isn’t that the risk that God takes with us in the first place if we get to choose whether or not we want to stay there, to be responsive to love?
Power Over vs. Power With
Yeah, I agree with you 100% about the root cause of the control, the power-over model: that you have no personal power whatsoever unless you have power over someone else. It’s that feeling that you would not be a king if you did not have subjects. And so you have to be in charge in order to have any power whatsoever rather than the power-with model, which is equality where you work together and your power comes from compromise, your power comes from truth, your power comes from responsibility. Your power comes as a couple, from both of you being equally yoked, being equally invested, having perhaps different talents, obviously different strengths and weaknesses, but in terms of being equally committed to each other without deception, because deception introduces power-over because someone has more information than the other person. I think it’s threatening. It’s like, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, if wives don’t tow the line, what are we gonna do?
They might leave me when I’m a complete jerk. Heaven forbid we should just not be complete jerks at home.
Maybe. And what would happen if the power were equal for abusers? That’s really threatening, right?
Equality Means Letting Each Other Lead & Thrive
Yes. Because that’s how they maintain that foundation of control is by holding the power. But I do want to point out something really quick: I believe that in a healthy, thriving relationship or marriage, we can be equal without having exact 50/50 equality in the same types of power. Now, for example, in most marriages, simply by genetic DNA, it’s likely that your husband is going to be physically stronger than the wife, right? So we’re not saying, “Hey, he and she need to be equally physically as strong and need to be equally adapted to doing exactly the same tasks.” That also doesn’t mean that we have to have a very arbitrary, specific gender stereotype. Wherever he’s stronger, he does that stuff, and where she’s stronger, she does that stuff.
Exactly. It’s not based on gender so much as it is based on individual talents, right?
“It’s Based on Individual Strengths, Weaknesses, Interests”
So you might have any set of couples where he absolutely loves to cook and he’s really good at it, so he does that. And you might stuff where she really enjoys, I don’t know, doing yard work or, or indoor remodeling, and she just gets a real thrill out of that, so he totally supports her interest in that. Or maybe she’s the CFO of a hospital or a bank, or maybe he works as a plumber or a construction worker and she runs the local library. Who cares, as long as they are thriving between the two of them in the gifts and interests that God has given each of them. And as long as each partner is using whatever power they do have for the betterment, the protection and the uplifting of the other partner and of the home and family as a whole.
And in that scenario, I think it’s really important to point out that there’s never a time where someone says, well you have to do this, or I’m entitled to have you do it because you’re the particular gender, right? “Well, I’m not gonna clean the toilet cause men don’t clean toilets.” or “I’m sorry, I’m not going to mow the lawn because women don’t mow the lawn.” or things like that. But it’s based on individual strengths, weaknesses, interests.
“Pretty Much Anything Can Be Discussed and Agreed Upon According to Strengths, Interests, and Abilities”
I talk to so many people our age (Sarah and I are practically the same age), and I don’t know what’s going on now with people in their twenties who are getting married. But I feel like nobody in our generation when we got married sat down and said, “Okay, what are my particular strengths and weaknesses and what am I interested in, and what are your particular strengths and weaknesses and what are you interested in?” And then having this conversation like, “Oh really? I don’t like to cook. You do? Okay, would you mind cooking? And he’s like, “Oh no, that sounds great.” And I’m like, “I love yard work.” I bring up yard work a lot cause I love gardening and I love yard work. So if it came down to mowing the lawn or cooking, I’d way rather mow the lawn.
Just having a conversation and then realizing, wait, neither of us like to clean the toilet, so why don’t we do every other week since neither of us like it? Or “Why don’t we hire someone to clean our toilets?”, there’s a lot of different ways to deal with that. But the answer isn’t him looking at you and being like, “Well since I don’t like it, it’s gonna be your job.”
There’s really one job that can’t be divvied up and that’s if you’re choosing to breastfeed. When there’s only one milk bar in town, then maybe that one can’t be shared. Pregnancy and breastfeeding are the two things.
My kids are teenagers now, but even when my kids were born, there were breast pumps and bottles. Dad, grandma, grandpa could help feed the baby. We are not in 1872 anymore. But outside of those very, very particular biological constraints, pretty much anything can be discussed and agreed upon according to the strengths and interests and abilities of any set of partners.
Traditional Gender Roles Can Harm Women
I do think that traditional, from-the-pulpit gender roles undermine God’s mission for individual strengths and weaknesses. We’ve all been given strengths and weaknesses and to say, “Oh no, no, forget that you’re really good at math and you’d be a great engineer. Forget that. God really just wanted you to do laundry and do the dishes. That’s it. That’s it for you because you’re a woman, and let’s turn a blind eye toward the fact that you’re really good at math and you’re really, really interested in it.” Did God not say don’t hide your candle under a bushel?
Yeah. And I don’t recall the whole list: to some he gave prophecy and to some he gave evangelism and to some he gave teaching. I don’t recall that being “To some men he gave prophecy and to some men he gave evangelism, and to women he gave the meals. Make the sandwiches.” It’s really not how Paul said it.
For listeners who really like making sandwiches, we are proud of you. Good job. Just because Sarah and I do not like it does not mean that it’s not a worthy thing to like. It was weird when Sarah and I first met. We were like, “Oh my word. We’re like sisters that never met before.” because we had so many of the similar views and…
What Gives You The Most Desire to Wake Up & Get Going in the Morning?
…same personality types and the whole thing.
I have to say I grew up doing all the things: I bake homemade bread, I can cook, I can garden, I can sew. I spent many of my classes in college bringing knitting or crocheting or cross-stitching to my college classes just to keep my hands busy cause we didn’t have fidget spinners back then. I can also drive a stick shift and change the oil; I was raised out in the country in a gardening, farming kind of family. So when I say I don’t like doing those things, it’s not because I don’t know how. And it’s not because I can’t do them well. It’s just that even though I know how to do all of those things and sometimes I find a lot of joy and satisfaction in doing those, they are not the things that give me the most desire to wake up and get going in the morning. And for some people, if that is just where you come alive, then that is wonderful. Please come live next door to me.
Yeah, me too.
Outsourcing the Majority of Emotional, Domestic, and Parenting Tasks to Women is Not Helping Anyone
I think that that very rigid gender role, “this is what God intended for you without actually knowing who you are as an individual”, is really counter to everything God is about. He does love you individually; he cares about you. He gave you talents, he gave you strengths, he gave you weaknesses. We all have weaknesses, cause we’re all human. But discounting that doesn’t seem right. For a man to be able to say, “Oh, I have these strengths.”, and for a woman be like, “Well we know you have these strengths, but you can’t really use ’em. You can’t really do it in that way.” “You have seven options and your options are housework, raising kids, dishes, whatever. These are your seven options and they include laundry and cleaning toilets.” is crazy. It’s crazy.
But you know, that being said, I just wanna throw out just kind of a side thing. So often the traditional roles don’t just outsource all of the mental load, the emotional labor and the domestic labor to the wife. It also outsources all of the parenting to mom. That’s one place where I think that’s really unfair to men, and I don’t mean this from a bitter or angry perspective at all. Knowing your children and spending time with your kids is a beautiful thing as a parent. So I believe that when we mentally assume that parenting is mom’s job because dads just bring home the bacon, we are stealing the beauty of being actively involved in the psychological, intellectual, emotional, verbal, spiritual, social development of children from dads. And I don’t think that’s fair.
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Dads should really just have some of this heavy duty labor too, but I can’t imagine having children and growing up not being able to know them. The huge caveat is I am not discussing abusive, broken down, dysfunctional relationships. I’m talking about the ideal.
We are gonna pause right here where Sarah’s talking about the ideal. I paused it here knowing that it’s not good for kids to be around abuse. She was not trying to say that kids need more time with their abuser or their dad who’s abusive. We’re going to go over that next week. So stay tuned. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.