James Dobson on Domestic Violence: Women “Deliberately Bait” Their Husbands
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
The following passage is from James Dobson’s 1983 book Love Must Be Tough. The book claims to address “disrespect in marital relationships, describing its role in the drift toward divorce for millions of couples.” Dobson examines a number of potential marital conflicts, including (but not limited to) infidelity, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse.
Chapter Thirteen of the book is “Loving Toughness in Other Situations,” and it addresses the topic of spousal abuse. Dobson begins the chapter with a letter from a woman named Laura, who tells Dobson her husband has “a violent temper that is absolutely terrifying” and “beats me with his fists.” Laura then asks Dobson what she should do. “I’m so tired of being beaten,” she says, “and then having to stay home for days to hide my bruises” (p. 146-7).
Dobson begins by stressing that, for Christians, “Divorce is not the solution to this problem,” because “Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.” His solution is rather to have Laura directly agitate her husband: “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.” Dobson hopes this will shock the abusive husband into acknowledging “he has a severe problem” so that he will agree to “competent Christian counseling” that can lead to “reconciliation” (p. 148).
Not once does Dobson recommend calling the police.
After making this suggestion to agitate, Dobson then offers the following “qualification” to his advice (a “qualification” that is, mind you, longer than his actual advice to Laura). The emphases are in the original:
I have seen marital relationships where the woman deliberately “baited” her husband until he hit her. This is not true in most cases of domestic violence, but it does occur. Why, one may ask, would any woman want to be hit? Because females are just as capable of hatred and anger as males, and a woman can devastate a man by enticing him to strike her. It is a potent weapon. Once he has lost control and lashed out at his tormentor, she then sports undeniable evidence of his cruelty. She can show her wounds to her friends who gasp at the viciousness of that man. She can press charges against him in some cases and have him thrown in jail. She can embarrass him at his work or in the church. In short, by taking a beating, she instantly achieves a moral advantage in the eyes of neighbors, friends, and the law. It may even help her justify a divorce, or if one comes, to gain custody of her children. Remember what the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor did to American morale and unity? It solidified our forces and gave us a cause worth fighting for. There are those who believe President Roosevelt ignored warnings of the Pearl Harbor invasion for the precise purpose of unifying our resolve against a rising Japanese imperialism. In the same spirit, I have seen women belittle and berate their husbands until they set aflame with rage. Some wives are more verbal than their husbands and can win a war of words any day of the week. Finally, the men reach a point of such frustration that they explode, doing precisely what their wives were begging them to do in the first place.
I remember one woman who came to church with a huge black eye contributed by her husband. She walked to the front of the auditorium before a crowd of five hundred people and made a routine announcement about an upcoming event. Everyone in attendance was thinking about her eye and the cad who did this to her. That was precisely what she wanted. I happened to know that her noncommunicative husband had been verbally antagonized by his wife until he finally gave her the prize she sought. Then she brought it to church to show it off. It does happen. (p. 149-50)
Update, 05/07/2015, 11:22 am Pacific: Several people have inquired if Dobson still stands by these statements written in 1983. He does indeed. Love Must Be Tough has been reprinted numerous times and this passage remains. The most recent reprint was 2007 and the passage is still there, unchanged: