“My husband and I had reached a really testing time in our marriage,” confides Laila*, a wife and mother of two from London, who now lives in the U.S. “He was driving me crazy about choosing where we were going to live when we had two weeks to vacate our recently-sold home and nowhere to go. I felt like I was going to break. I called a friend and ranted about how I could not take my husband’s childish decision making and I wanted to head to my mum’s house and stay with her for a while. My friend started discussing The Surrendered Wife and how it describes situations such as this and how I should give my husband complete control of the decision and support him no matter what. I was thinking What?! Have you gone crazy?! but I decided to order the book that day.”
So polarising is the book The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle that it is considered by some a joke and by others a treasure. While some women offer it as a gag gift at a bridal shower (the attached card reading, “Ha! As if anyone would ever follow this old-fashioned advice!”), others pass it along as a tome of wisdom (“This saved my marriage and it might help yours, too.”).
Doyle has a large Christian audience and many of these women find the advice to surrender control and responsibility to their husbands to be well-aligned with their faith and instincts. A growing number of Muslim women, likewise, believe that several of Doyle’s strategies are conducive to achieving the Islamic ideal of marriage.
Angie El Sherif, a freelance writer and editor in California, admires Doyle’s book so much that she incorporates many of its principles in the group she founded, the Wise Wives Club. The club, geared toward Muslim women who wish to “build a happy, peaceful and rewarding life with their husbands”, meets about once a month and includes a website and blog with worldwide readership. Doyle herself has been a guest speaker twice at the Wise Wives’ Southern California gatherings.
El Sherif says that the most notable aspect of Doyle’s book “is that she preaches the importance of how crucial respect is for men, and also that showing appreciation and admiration to your husband is very important. [Doyle] says to thank him even for the small things he does, like taking out the trash or doing the dishes. As soon as you realise your husband did anything for you, just say [thank you] and he will become a different person. He will want to do more and more when he realises that he is being appreciated.”
Saying “thank you” is one of the easiest strategies for wives to implement. Also appealing is Doyle’s insistence that wives “practice great self-care” and do at least three things a day for their own pleasure. However, for many women who were raised in a feminist environment, some of Doyle’s suggestions are difficult to accept. Even Muslimahs, who know that their deen commands them to honour their husbands, sometimes struggle with relinquishing control.
After reading The Surrendered Wife, Laila saw her behaviour in a new light. “I think one of the defining lines for me is ‘Women feel the need to control because they fear that if they don’t take matters into their own hands, their needs will go unmet.’ That sums me up in one sentence. I would always doubt my husband’s capabilities in comparison to my own. I have grown up in a culture that said I need to control everything: my destiny, my happiness, my appearance. And so I should also control what gets done around me, right?”
In response to this common attitude, Doyle tells women that they have a choice to make: they can either choose to try to control everything in their marriage or they can choose to have an intimate, loving, satisfying relationship with their husband. Her book offers several suggestions to building this ideal bond, such as giving up unnecessary responsibility; resisting the temptation to criticise, belittle or dismiss husbands; striving to be vulnerable; and receiving gifts, compliments and help graciously.
One strategy that is difficult for even the most committed women to carry out is Doyle’s recommended way to apologise. The author advocates saying, “I’m sorry I disrespected you” whenever a wife has said or done something impertinent to her husband. This statement must not be followed up with the word “but” and a justification, such as “I’m sorry I disrespected you when I yelled at you for throwing your dirty clothes on the floor, but I am just so tired of cleaning up after you.” Wives should stop, advises Doyle, after “I’m sorry I disrespected you when I yelled at you.”
This piece of humble pie is particularly hard for many women to swallow. Doyle, however, insists that it will greatly improve a marriage because the husband will receive the respect he craves. Once he feels respected overall in the marriage, explains Doyle, he will gracefully give the love and attention that his wife desires.
Doyle points out that certain men – those who are addicts, abusive or constantly unfaithful – should not be considered one of the “good guys” worthy of a wife’s respect. Wives should not surrender if their husband meets one of those negative criteria.
One of the book’s most controversial assertions – that women should combine their bank accounts with their husband’s and surrender financial control to him – is a point that has many detractors. This strategy should not, in fact, be adopted by Muslim women. In Islam, a woman’s income is hers alone to spend as she wishes. So, while she should spend her husband’s money wisely and carefully, a Muslimah should not surrender her own money to her husband’s discretion, as this is specifically against Allah’s (SWT) command.
Other than the financial aspect, Doyle’s suggestions are mostly quite compatible with the standards of an Islamic marriage. Muslim women are, indeed, supposed to respect their husband and look to him as the head of the household and leader of the family. The compatibility, intimacy, love and mutual support that Doyle predicts that “surrendering” will achieve are the embodiment of an ideal Muslim marriage.
Once Laila read the book and started to apply the techniques, her frustration with her husband’s decision-making actually did disappear.
“Subhan Allah!” gushes Laila, “I can’t describe how refreshing this book is and how much I believe it needs to be read by all women. Alhamdulillah, after implementing her techniques, I am happier, my husband is happier and, most importantly, my marriage is happier. This spark is back! It’s not just for newlyweds, masha Allah! What is more beautiful to a man than a woman who respects and trusts him and supports his choices? I am going to keep this book out so I can refer to it on a regular basis, as I need a constant reminder that being in control may make me feel good at the time, but it eats away at the relationships around me. And that is not what I want at all.”
Muslim women who wish to improve their relationships with their husbands have nothing to lose by reading The Surrendered Wife, if their intentions are to please Allah (SWT). While feminist ideas (conscious or unconscious) and a desire for control might make Doyle’s call for vulnerability and surrender a bitter pill for some women to swallow, it might be just the medicine a marriage needs.
Laura El Alam is a wife, mother of four, and writer in Southern California. She composed the majority of this article with a squirming, drooling six-month-old on her lap.
Read More: Are You a Surrendered Wife?
*Name has been changed