In the Assemblies marriages were shaped and controlled to release husbands for 'the Work of the Lord'. This is a sampling of Betty's instructions to wives.
George said things like this:
These detailed notes from Betty's talk at a Workers Seminar in 1984 show some of the elements of Assembly mind control: a wife is to be a servant to her husband, obedient, willing to be inconvenienced, accountable to him. In a word, wives were to be dead to their own feelings, plans and wishes.
The men were taught to step into this opening created by wifely submission, and take control. It was called 'excercising headship'. Virginia Fugate's book, On the Other Side of the Garden, was the recommended handbook on marriage. Brent T. told about how he was trained at the beginning of his relationship with Suzie.
Brent was beginning to be taught how to communicate properly to a wife by using these verbal methods:
- Ordering and commanding - Obvious displays of power and control
- Judging and criticizing - Putting down the partner's thoughts, actions or feelings
- Countering - Disputing the partner's thoughts, feelings, perceptions, experiences; arguing any point or idea
- Trivializing - Pretending that the partner's opinions, actions, thoughts or concerns don't count or are trivial
- Discounting - Minimizing the partner's accomplishments or experiences
- Accusing and blaming - Blaming the partner for the abuse, which excuses the abuser's actions
- Blocking and diverting - Creating verbal barriers to the partner's efforts to communicate; changing the conversation to gain control
- Withholding - Refusing to share ideas, feelings, intimacy, thoughts, dreams
- Abusive jokes - Telling jokes about the partner that humiliate and embarrass her
- Name calling - Stripping away the partner's identity and replacing it with a minimizing or degrading epithet - "the wife", "the nag"
- Chronic forgetting - Forgets appointments, special days, agreements, incidents
- Denial of his anger and abusiveness and the partner's reality
- Abusive anger - Aggressive outbursts that are threatening, and may escalate to physical violence.
- Threatening - Implying harm to the partner's well-being or the well-being of the children
These verbal tactics are harmful to the relationship and to the well-being of the wives, but they enable the husband to gain complete control, i.e, 'headship'. This training was intended as an instrument to implement the husband's complete control over the wife. This behavior is generally regarded as domestic abuse. In the Assembly it was considered admirable.
- He can make all plans, neither inquiring as to his wife's desires nor gathering input from her.
- He can make unilateral decisions for the family, and exclude his wife from planning and decision-making.
- He can take control over his wife's contacts with friends, family, and/or finances.
- He can dictate his wife's schedule and activities
- He can be inexplicably moody, making it difficult for his wife to predict what the next encounter with him will be like.
- He can set the sexual pace, initiating all contacts and rejecting any of his wife's sexual approaches.
Some couples did not take things to the extreme. They duly practiced the training routines as instructed, but did not change the structure of their relationship to complete dictatorship. Many husbands, however, were eager "true believers", or they lived in a 'training home' where compliance was enforced.
Dr, Weitzman gives a profile of a typical "upscale abuser." The following male characteristics were modeled and encouraged in the Asembly.
- He believes he is entitled.
- He believes that he has the power and leverage to do what he wants.
- He feels no regret or remorse, no need to apologize. In fact he feels like the wronged one.
- He tends to blame his wife for any mishap, or any bad feelings he may feel about himself.
- He has a grandiose sense of self-importance and the kind of treatment he deserves.
- He is charming but interpersonally exploitative.
- He is self-absorbed and lacks empathy for others.
- He needs to be in control his wife in every situation.
- He requires excessive admiration and recognition.
- His demands about how his wife should look or behave are not necessarily clear, and usually impossible to meet.
Hear is a reader's comment on Amazon about the effects of Fugate's book on her marriage. In the Assembly it was couched as 'God's government' in every aspect of Assembly functioning, from Sunday worship to Workers Meetings, from child-training to wife training. But the relational effects were damaging, nonetheless, and spiritual abuse was added to it.
Verbal abuse is addressed in more depth in this series of articles:
- Verbal Abuse: What Is It?
- Verbal Abuse: What Can You Do about It?
- Verbal Abuse: Is There More To It?
A totally different perspective on marriage was discussed on the AssemblyBoard.
Beginning in 1989 harsher measures were introduced. Just before Steve and I left the Assembly, a couples' Meeting at George and Betty's house introduced the concept of 'wife training'. Like the child-training, it was geared toward instilling "first time obedience". Danny and Kimber Edwards demonstrated the husband issuing commands, and then giving consequences to the wife when she didn't perform the way he wanted.
Tom Maddux had already left the Assembly at that point. He posted this on the Assemblyboard in 2007:
Discussion from the Assemblyboard bears on these questions.
Reflections on Marriage and Children after the Cult draws out some of the causes of family problems stemming from involvement in a high-demand group, and shows how they can be tackled in counseling. Bill and Lorna Goldberg are therapists who specialize in cult issues.
"High-demand groups that are authoritarian, legalistic, and sanction-oriented create conditions for abuse and violence within families." In the Assembly, marriage mirrored the structure of the high-demand group: they were authoritarian, legalistic, and sanction-oriented, and domestic violence did occur. Judy Geftakys and Rachel Geftakys, and Susan M. have written about their experiences of domestic violence and child abuse in their homes. Susan followed up her story with an explanation about why, at the time, she did not disclose her home situation to the Leading Brothers. It is a very telling description of how the Assembly functioned.
In Susan M.'s situation the leaders were unaware of the domestic violence. In Judy and Rachel's case, many people knew and colluded to allow David G.'s domestic violence to go unchecked for 25 years. Dee Ann Miller, who specializes in collusion regarding abuse in the 'faith community' uses this definition: "Collusion is the conscious or unconscious collaboration of two or more individuals to protect those engaged in unethical practices". Here are three informative articles on her website:
Parallels with the behavior of addicts and some Assembly members was tackled by Mark Campbell.
The Domestic Violence Sourcebook by Dawn Bradley Berry, J. D. is an excellent resource. Here are some excerpts.
If you wonder about the situation in your own marriage, you can take this domestic abuse screening questionnaire.