Fascinating Womanhood: Pandora's Box


I’m going to be honest: I have no idea what to do with this chapter. None. So, for today’s post, I’m going to quote a some larger portions, in their entirety, add some of my concerns, and see what you all think of what she says.

In a Pandora’s Box reaction, instead of the man responding with love and tenderness, he becomes angry and pours out hostile feelings toward his wife. Why does he do this? Up to now he has been afraid to express his anger. In the face of his marriage problems he has felt he must suppress his anger to hold his marriage together. This it not to say that he acted wisely, but only to say that he did so out of what he felt was a necessity. A high-principled man who loves his children will make every effort to hold his marriage securely together.

When his wife applies Fascinating Womanhood over a period of time, he begins to feel secure in his marriage. He no longer feels he must hold his troubled feelings within and loses his fear that speaking out will cause marriage problems. Then one day, at last, he dares to open Pandora’s Box and release the resentful feelings he has kept hidden there.

If you should face this situation, allow him to empty Pandora’s Box. You should, in fact, encourage him to speak freely and completely. And you should not make the mistake of defending yourself, justifying yourself, or fighting back. You will have to sit there quietly, taking it all and even agreeing with him by saying “I know, I know, you are right.” But, when the last resentful feeling has been expressed and Pandora’s Box is empty, he will have a feeling of relief, and a love and tenderness for you not known before. And if has had a reserve, it will probably come tumbling down along with the Pandora’s Box . . .

She then goes on to relay stories from readers, two of which are horrifying and involve verbal abuse and extra-marital affairs that the wives in these situations “humbly accept” and “know that they deserve.” For the wife whose husband cheated on her, she woke up in the hospital after getting her tubes tied so her and her husband could have more sex (they’d been on NFP previously, and they were both Catholic)– only for his “mistress” to be in her recovery room the second she wakes up. And… she blames herself entirely. The fact that her husband didn’t even bother telling her that he was cheating before she had an invasive medical procedure performed just . . . Ack. And then it’s her fault. I can’t even.

But, back to her opening paragraphs: I can somewhat understand where she’s coming from with this. I’ve been in some relationships– friendships and otherwise, where I didn’t feel comfortable enough to ever be honest about my feelings. Our relationships just weren’t the kind where we could talk about things that were bothering us– and that was ok with me, I just didn’t put in a lot of effort to those relationships, and they either never deepened (which is fine, you don’t have to be “bosom friends” with every Tom, Dick and Harry on the planet), or the relationships died– which was also fine.

I imagine, in a marriage relationship, becoming comfortable enough to share your feelings could result in this “Pandora’s Box” situation she describes, but there seems to be several assumptions going on in the background:

  1. She assumes that if you don’t follow the path laid out for you in Fascinating Womanhood, then your husband is hiding all his true feelings from you. The only environment where a man can safely express his feelings is one where the wife is following Helen’s plan to the letter. Any other marriage style will result in your husband feeling unsafe, trapped, insecure, and unloving. She makes this attitude clear in the stories she chose to include.
  2. Communication, apparently, is a one-way street. You’re not allowed to criticize, you’re not allowed to have needs, everything you want, everything you need, is supposed to be superseded by his preferences, his wants, his needs, his desires. He is allowed to resent you, treat you badly, disrespect you; you are required to “take it all” and “agree with him” without the opportunity to have a discussion.
  3. This “Pandora’s Box” situation, she assures us, will only happen once. After he has emptied it, you will never have to revisit these issues again. That one just seems impossible. I’ve watched marital relationships closely for over 20 years– I’ve never seen a couple who could talk about an issue that caused deep resentment and anger only once and never, ever, have to talk about it again. This Pandora’s Box, she says, can last “up to several months,” but then she confidently tells us that the only thing he’ll express is “love and tenderness”– as long as we keep following Fascinating Womanhood, that is.

For those of you who have been married a while, what do you think of this?

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  • I can’t imagine getting into a marriage in the first place without having that openness of communication (in BOTH directions), but obviously people do it all the time. It keeps us divorce lawyers in business.

    I can say that if I tried to get my wife to follow this formula, she would be the one simmering with pent up rage and frustration. I also agree that significant disagreements come up over and over again. In fact, the reason they keep recurring is the same reason that they were big in the first place. If they were minor, they could be resolved easily. The big ones are the ones that affect and matter to both parties. The compromises that resolve these bigger issues also change with time. What works before kids will certainly NOT work after, when time and sleep are hard to come by. And as the kids grow, different solutions become possible, and the issues get revisited. Relationships are not static.

  • Margaret

    I am a woman who has lived a lot of what she suggests. (have not read the whole book – no longer wish to.) I have pent up anger and frustration. I agree with fiddlrts. If it’s something important, it will come up again. Sometimes, when I’m trying to explain to my husband a source of what causes me frustration, I use an example of something he did in the past . Then, he wants to know why I am still holding on to the past. I’m not holding on. He is still acting the same way and it is still a problem.

    One advantage, after 30 years of effort put into a marriage, is that we know we can weather a storm. I can feel confident to open Pandora’s box, now, and let the chips fall where they may. We can have a blow out, clear the air, and then go fix the gutters on the back porch together in relative peace. This does not happen in the first 5 years of a marriage.

    I don’t know anything about a man holding in his feelings – mine never did. He prefers to be “Honest.”

  • Iamabeautifulthing

    I read this book a LONG time ago as a teenager. I don’t even know if I had ever even had a boyfriend yet and certainly wasn’t married. I do remember thinking the entire book was absolutely ridiculous. I do know one person that was the “fascinating woman” in every way that the book describes….and she was in an abusive marriage for many years and no matter how hard she tried and how much she submitted, it was never enough to satisfy. This woman was my mother and thank God she finally got divorced recently. The solutions in this book as so laughable. I am very tired of men that have to be coddled and soothed thru every twist and turn of life. I am also saddened for the women who feel they have to dumb themselves down and stoop to the height of a doormat in order to be someone else’s definition of a Christian woman. I just can’t believe that God would want this for His people!

  • frasersherman

    Many of the chapters you read remind me of stuff I’ve heard before, from other books, but this? It’s obscenely vile. Yes, if you do all this Fascinating Womanhood stuff and your husband abuses you, it’s a sign you’re doing it right! And he’ll never do it again (unless, presumably, you show insufficient respect or humility or any of the other stuff).
    I agree, if there’s a serious problem, this is not going to make it go away. I notice she doesn’t suggest doing anything to fix it, just bowing to the lord and master of the house.
    Oooooh, very pissed now.

  • cm

    I think this is a clever “out” to explain away the exceptions and cases when her method “doesnt” work. Instead of discarding it or saying “this is BS” women will think “oh, its pandoras box phase she talked about”. Which verse in the Bible says that the behavior described here is OK if it is someone else’s fault? oh- none of them? yeah, that’s what i thought.

  • cm

    it’s a fancy way to explain away the lose-lose situation this doctrine places women in;- if he abuses you, you weren’t doing it right, but if you were doing it right and he is abusive, then that is just the way the method works/what you deserve. DISGUSTING and VILE.

  • In my case, Pandora’s Box kept getting deeper and deeper … there was always another secret. Every moment of honesty was there to hide something I’d gotten too close to realizing. Every time he wept on my shoulder over his problems, it was because he wasn’t getting any sympathy for his bad attitudes elsewhere. Oh, he did the yelling and accusations on a daily basis, too. Somehow it never helped resolve anything.

    Eventually I realized that honesty and closeness weren’t that valuable to him. As far as he was concerned, I needed to fit his ideal-woman mental cut-out at all times and never, ever expect any sort of relational interactions, especially his true thoughts and feelings … and then our relationship would be perfect,… because he would be able to go spend time with other women if I wasn’t quite enough,… and “I” would be too much of a blind idiot to find out about it, thus saving him the necessity of appearing to feel ashamed or come up with socially acceptable excuses.

    So, yeah. He got part of his wish. He can hang out with any woman he wants … I’m no longer around to complicate things for him.

  • Tamara Rice

    Without having read it in its entirety I can tell you what bothers me most about what you’ve shared is the automatic response of “I know, I know, you’re right.” Having been married for almost 20 years I do believe that expressing hurts and resentments (in the right way and in the right context) is generally a good idea. I’ll take his Pandora’s Box but he’ll take mine and only in the right way and the right context. Respect must be shown. But never would I tell someone that their response to someone else’s feelings/Pandora’s Box should be: “I know, I know. You’re right.” It’s so hard to fathom that someone would even suggest that when the craziness of one person’s Pandora’s Box/rant might know no bounds. Also, treating one’s husband this way … it’s actually disrespectful. It’s being manipulative. It’s lying. For me, that’s the rub. A woman who follows this is opening herself up to potential abuse, yes, that is terrifying … AND she’s also being a manipulative liar. There’s no personhood/humanity/dignity in this kind of marriage. No beauty and wonder at two people sharing themselves equally. It’s lies and walls and fakery. It’s so sad, and also so revolting.

  • I agree with Fiddlrts. As someone married for 7 years now, and only 6 of those lived together, 5.5 of them with children involved – yeah, her formula just will not work.

    Anyone who needs a formula so s/he can “feel secure” is in great need of therapy. :/

  • Don A in Pennsyltucky.

    I’ve been married 32 years and I think she is full of herself and not much more. Unless Pandora was her husband’s mistress, I can’t imagine why she talks about Pandora’s box.

  • notleia

    This makes me think of BDSM. To give some context, I’ve ran across people who see pretty much all relationships in terms of domination/submission. Romantic, family, pets, work, even friendships. And virtually no shades of gray. I think it’s bullshit. It’s not healthy, and real life doesn’t even work like that, not even in BDSM. There’s a whole lotta trust and respect that goes into BDSM, from both sides. The dominant HAS to know the submissive’s limitations, and the submissive HAS to be able to stop a session with a single word. Communication must flow in both directions.
    So even the people with the whips, gags, and restraints would think Helen’s system is messed up.

    • Kreine

      Been married 12 years, and “bullshit” was my first thought regarding this formula, too.

      I even followed that abominable advice for the first 4-5 years of marriage. It was a disaster. My husband was weary of me being a Stepford wife, & I was frustrated, angry, & resentful because I couldn’t be myself or express dissent.

  • B

    I’ve been married for 20 years and I think what she says is bullshite. I have a friend whose church is kicking her out for divorcing her sexually abusive, porn addictive husband. “If you had been more submissive, he wouldn’t be this way.” is the crap they’re feeding her. Books like these are destructive and so, so wrong.

    • That is so sad… and something I’ve heard far, far too many times.

      Does she know about a blog/community called “A Cry for Justice”? (http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/) They talk a lot about these sorts of situations, and the community there is very supportive.

  • EV

    As an adult child reared in a fundamentalist church environment, thank you for posting. I find your thoughts helpful in untangling the deeply engrained emotional (and physical) responses to “out-thinking the man”. My mom has Alzheimer’s, and it is becoming painfully obvious how much she diffused or subverted his self-centered and often abusive behaviors.

  • Fabrizia

    This woman is completely mental and should be institutionalised. I mean she’s dangerous. What a load of #%#^

    The problem is that I see people with similar attitudes and ideas at work in”ministry” … As counsellors!!!! These people are criminal, the damage they do is unbelievable.

  • It’s ridiculous.

    Granted, I haven’t been married super long – only five years – but my husband and I have been together for about a decade now. And communication is the reason we’re married. We always talked, ALWAYS. When one of us is resentful of worried, we talk about it. If all I ever said was “yes, you’re right, you’re totally right” I wouldn’t be a partner in the relationship and it would never have come to marriage. We would have broken up a long time ago.

    I think that books like these are written largely to excuse abusive behavior on the part of men by pretending it’s normal and natural. It allows women who believe themselves “above” other women to make up reasons to justify why they think that, and to justify the terrible behavior of those that they must adore and put on pedastals by saying “No this is normal! If you don’t think it’s normal there’s something wrong with YOU” so that they never have to realize it might be something wrong with them – or, God forbid, with the MEN.

    I always find books like this to flirt with idolatry, kind of? From a religious point of view. Because they are, in effect, setting men up to be mini-Gods, and it seems like super religious people would want to stay AWAY from deifying living breathing people. And yet they just wallow in it. It’s disgusting.

  • I don’t know whether she is deranged or delusional, she is one or both. Her words strip women of their humanity. I can only ask, “What prevents her skull from caving in?”

    Yes, men have egos. So though do women. Without each of the partners having equal time to communicate needs and hurts eventually resentment builds. If one partner builds their ego through abusing the other, they have to go. It is that simple. Submission, no.

  • Not to be glib, but she really needs to read her Hesiod more carefully.

    Well, OK, I was totally trying to be glib.

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  • C

    I have to say that throughout this series, I keep thinking, ”I don’t know who this Helen is, but it sure sounds like my dad wrote this book.” He, and my in-name-only subservient mother, touted all of Helen’s points over and over and over. To make matters worse, I was (since early childhood) trained through praise and criticism, as well as sexual innuendo and unwelcome touch, to be the ”other woman” who fulfilled his needs when my mother did not act as he wanted. My mom happily offered me up as a sacrifice to his ego when she didn’t feel like worshipping him herself, which happened often enough. I was even given the tacit responsibility of mindlessly adoring him in the way my mother did not, in order to keep him from going off and having an affair. This state of abuse lasted into my late 20s, when I chose to cut ties completely with them and try to build some semblance of an identity as a human, not a doll.