Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle

This month for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, I'm discussing The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle.  When I decided to tackle this project, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

It happened so simply.  I was clicking around on the web and stumbled upon a link to the author's website.  "I remember when that book came out," I thought.  "It sounded absolutely crazy and got tons of negative attention. I wonder what ever happened with all that."  Feeling in the mood to gawk, I clicked over.

The first thing I noticed was that the author considers herself a feminist and says the approach is about surrendering inappropriate control over one's husband (and others) rather than returning to the 50's or rebelling against feminism. Huh. That didn't sound so bad.  But why didn't she just say that, then?  The title of the book must really be misleading.  ("I adopted the world 'surrender' as my mantra, because it was shorter and more to the point than saying, 'stop trying to control everything.'" P. 19.)

I decided to read the book and review it.  I went into it with an open mind, reassured by what I'd discovered online.  What I discovered within the pages of the book was that the negative reviews I'd read were justified, the charges I'd discounted were true, and the approach really is about surrendering to your husband.

But also.  There's a TON of great stuff in here.  I've never read a book that gets so much wrong and so much right at the same time.  In the same chapter.  On the same page.  I'll be reading along, thinking, "Yes, right, good point, that's a good reminder, I really could be doing better at that."  Then, all of a sudden, KAPOW!  Did she really just say that?  Oh, yes, she did!  And since the book is extremely repetitive, there's no chance of quickly skimming over or pretending that you just misread the crazy extreme to which Doyle takes her advice.

 So I'm reading along, reading about the principles of a surrendered wife:
  • Relinquishes inappropriate control of her husband
  • Respects her husband's thinking
  • Receives his gifts graciously and expresses gratitude for him
  • Expresses what she wants without trying to control him
  • Relies on him to handle household finances
  • Focuses on her own self-care and fulfillment.
Right, good, OK, yeah, uh-huh, wait. Back up a minute.  Yes, the husband must ALWAYS control the money.  Completely.  The wife should not participate in household budgeting, check bank statements, determine how her bonus check will be spent, carry a credit card, etc.  She should tell her husband what she wants to pay for groceries, gas, going out with girlfriends, massages, etc.  He gives her what he decides is appropriate in cash.  Repeat process monthly.  He manages the accounts and pays the bills, even if they are a two-income family.  Finances are never discussed.  She just expresses her wants and he gives her the money or he doesn't.

Now, Paul and I have managed our finances various ways with various degrees of success.  (Separate post on this later.)  For us, by far the healthiest method - meaning that it works the best and makes BOTH of us happiest - is when we have a financial plan that we create and maintain together.  Not so, says Doyle.  We're sacrificing intimacy (?!) and missing out on the best part of surrendering by my participation in household finances.  As long as a husband is not physically abusive (if he's emotionally abusive he will stop once his wife starts "surrendering") or struggling with an active addiction, he must handle all the money.

In Doyle's case, she was a competent professional woman who managed the family finances with financial planning software.  Her husband, on the other hand, doesn't plan ahead for how each paycheck will be spent.  He pays bills as they come due . . . most of the time.  (Once their electricity was shut off because he didn't get around to paying the bill for a while.)  He snapped at her when she commented about retirement.  Later, he admitted that he snapped because he was feeling guilty that he hadn't contributed anything to their retirement account "in a long time."  Doyle explains that this is a very good thing!  He opened up to her and shared his vulnerability!  Yay!  Surely that's worth more than, say, a plan for financial security.  I was never able to determine why she was certain that a couple can't have both, just because it didn't work for her.

Back to the benefits of surrendering financially.  One is perpetual dating.  A wife expresses her "wants" and allows her husband to please her by addressing her desires as he sees fit.  This allows for them to go out for dinner or take vacations without her worrying about whether or not they can afford it.  It also allows her to be pampered and taken care of.

There's a lot about that in the book, all the gracious receiving of sweet, beautiful, luxurious things.  A wife NEVER offers advice (or her own opinion about anything to do with him, his job, his decision to move the family, his buying a new car, etc.) even if asked.  She never asks how her husband is feeling.  She is given an allowance.  She is taken care of and given gifts.  She focuses on her own needs and fullfillment.  Any problem or issue she doesn't want to deal with herself she turns over to him.  In many but not all ways she sounds like . . . a child.  This impression was driven home for me in one of the sample exercises at the end of the book.  The wife should write a list of things she is grateful for about her husband and give it to him as a gift (great idea!).  She should write one item from her list on each page of a small notebook and then decorate the pages with crayons.  I'm sure Daddy will appreciate that thoughtful touch!  (For a more adult version, I've hidden notes with things I appreciate about my husband in his computer bag or suitcase. He appreciates and enjoys this, especially when I include chocolate.)  

This review is already too long and still barely scratches the surface.  (For example, Doyle acknowledges that husbands frequently will not be excited by taking over all these responsibilities, and she offers strategies to ignore his objections.)  I will say that I've gotten a lot out of the book and am using some of what I've learned, to good effect.  But not all of it. 

Yes, it's important to relax in the car and stop gasping, suggesting alternate routes, and slamming your foot down on the imaginary right-side brake all the time.  But not mentioning it when you know your husband has gotten on the interstate headed the wrong direction even if he doesn't notice his mistake until you've gone a hundred miles out of your way?  That's not just crazy, it's disrespectful, like NOT pointing out the spinach in a good friend's teeth and letting her walk around like that all night.

In addition to an incredible amount of repitition and some seriously wacky advice, Doyle also does a ton of generalization.  Men are like X, Women are like Y, for true intimacy to develop relationships need a huge difference between X and Y, if you do this then he WILL do that, etc.  This type of lazy pseudo-psychology drives me batty, but apparently it sells books.  It also makes people who don't fit these so-called norms feel like something's wrong with them.

Doyle's husband apparently hates to talk about his feelings.  So, according to her, ALL men hate to talk about how they're feeling and we should never ask how they're feeling since we're not their mothers or their therapists.  Of course some men don't like to talk about their feelings.  Some women don't either.  And probably most people dislike being grilled and interrogated the way she reports talking to her husband before "surrendering" to him.  And of course it is possible to ask someone how they're feeling in a caring and nonjudgmental way that doesn't make you seem like their mother or their therapist.  The problem isn't with the topic, it's with the approach and underlying intent.

In conclusion (finally!) I found this book a good read.  I'm glad I read it.  I plan to keep referring to it.  But all the wacky and offensive things in it made the good things harder to trust and accept.  Perhaps in revision Doyle could write a mainstream version that leaves out some of her more extreme ideas about how in order for a marriage to succeed, one must lead ALL the time and the other must follow in EVERYTHING.  Or maybe someone else should write that book.

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Barrie said...

Very interesting. And you reviewed this with a much more open mind than I would've. I think once I hit some of the wacky advice, I'd have starting shaking my head and never stopped. :) p.s. I pay all the bills because I remember to pay them. :)

Sarahlynn said...

Ah, but you see, if you simply refused to pay them, removing the safety net, your spouse would automatically START remembering. Or so Doyle's theory goes.

As for us, neither of us was great at remembering, so thank God for online banking and bill pay! (Scheduling regularly recurring payments plus getting emails when other bills are due = fabulous.)

And as for her advice to ask for whatever you want without worrying about the cost (weekly massages? new bedroom furniture?) and allow your husband to please you as he sees fit, that didn't work well for us. We went through a period where Paul managed the finances. And he wanted to make me happy so he never said no!
"I want to go to Hawaii."

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a nightmare for the husbands.

My favorite part is the strategies to control your husband into accepting your surrender.

Sarahlynn said...

Bingol, I know; it's fabulous. But it's for his own good, you see? So even as she "surrenders" to him, she's still controlling him.

I laughed out loud when I got to the line on P. 200 where she says, "I tell men not to..." It doesn't sound like Doyle's really changed a whole lot from her earlier, "controlling" days.

The author repeatedly asserts that the wife's resentment at feeling like the only adult in the house interferes with intimacy in the marriage. Doesn't his resentment also interfere with intimacy? Because my husband already does a LOT around here. If I started "surrendering" to him as Doyle suggests, he would start feeling significant resentment!

This whole partnership thing we've got going works for us.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just lacking a subtitle.

The Surrendered Wife: Topping from the Bottom.

Sarahlynn said...

That has the added bonus of making it kinky and therefore more palatable.

Keri Mikulski said...

Seriously?? :)

Great review!! Thanks for opening my peepers to this one.

Sarahlynn said...

Well, I don't want to be predictable. ;-)

Jenn Jilks said...

It is important to know what NOT to read! Great review. I mean, illuminating!

Sarahlynn said...

I aim to please! (Thanks.)

Linda McLaughlin said...

Really interesting review, but not sure most of it would work for me. I try to grab and pay most of the bills, because I don't misplace them all over the house, the car, various briefcases, etc. I think real wisdom comes in knowing when to "surrender" and when to make a stand. Some battles are worth fighting and some aren't, and we're all figuring it out as we go along. Glad some of her advice worked for you, and thanks for dropping by to comment on my book review. :D

Sarah Laurence said...

Excellent review of what sounds like a horrible book with some merits. You are more than fair. I would have stopped reading at the title. The only part I buy is mutual respect. Don’t give advice or manage money? Are we talking wives or slaves?

Sarahlynn said...

Thanks, Sarah. After further reflection I wonder if perhaps it isn't the other way around: a useful book with some horrible suggestions. The author generalizes her own situation to a fault, but really did point out some things I could do MUCH better at.

This book is especially weird because it's got that retro/fundy vibe but is non-Christian. The wife is constrained in sharing her opinions and the leadership of the household. The husband "gets" to lead in everything, but also has to do all the work while pampering his wife and showering her with gifts. She also must be sexually available to him.

So perhaps it's a call for wives to become concubines?

Kathy's Blog said...

I read this book 12 years ago. I fired my therapist and stopped talking about divorce. I also stopped complaining and controlling and Miraculously the intimacy, love and respect with my husband returned. Me and my husband just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary. I credit the author with saving my marriage. Yes I did the work when I stopped complaining and controlling and started receiving graciously. I feel like I restored my dignity and now I have a husband who's face lights up when I walk into the room. Surrendering is about being feminine, tender, beautiful and available. Who doesn't want all that? I've given up nothing and gained everything.

Anna Bolan said...

That's great, Kathy, but that's your marriage. There are men out there who can't show affection unless their wife defers to them in every way, or who can't feel like men unless they feel as if their wives are inferior. There are also husbands who cherish and adore their wives, and who's faces light up when their wives walk into the room, who can handle their wives having different opinions to them and respect their wives input in decision making.

Maeve said...

My husband would stop being attracted to me if I "surrendered" to him. He likes strong women, not pampered little girls.