Wednesday, December 2, 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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3 comments:

  1. Foarte interesant subiectul postat de tine. M-am uitat pe blogul tau si imi place ce am vazut.Cu siguranta am sa il mai vizitez.
    O zi buna!

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  2. That is a very telling review! Sometimes you DO need to read crap to figure out what is good!
    I think this kind of book makes the reader a better writer.
    Great review. So often we review books we like, but you've zoomed into the heart of the matter.
    Well done!
    BTW
    I am married to my 2nd accountant husband...fodder for another blog post 0- or a novel!
    Thanks for visiting my blog!

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  3. Jenn, I bet it means you never have to do the taxes! ;-) One of my friends is an accountant AND an author of romance novels. I love that contrast.

    I do enjoy reviewing books critically; I think that looking at them this way helps improve my own writing.

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