Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Emotional Incest and the Christian Patriarchy Movement

No Longer Quivering has devoted several posts to emotional incest in families invested in the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Sierra's most recent post, "Emotional Incest: The Mama’s Boy and the Other Woman," argued that the dominant-submissive roles dictated in Christian Patriarchy marriages make true love between spouses next to impossible. Hungry for human interaction, spouses may seek emotional fulfilment through their children, creating unhealthy parent-child relationships. The following quote from Sierra's post was so insightful that I felt compelled to share it.
The great irony of American Christianity is that the fundamentalist-evangelical idolization of marriage produces a lifestyle that strips marriages of all their rewards. All the spontaneity, affection, teasing, playing, adventuring, learning, growing, deepening, overcoming conflict, admiring of one another’s wisdom and maturity – all this stuff dies in the headship-submission model of marriage. What you’re left with is a boss and his employee, who hopefully like each other but are fixed in their relations to one another. Their relationship cannot grow because growth would shatter the mould.

And so fathers turn to daughters for admiration and affection, for the sense of validation they no longer get from their wives – and I would argue that they can’t get the same admiration or affection from their wives in this paradigm, because the wives are already commanded to do those things. Wives are compelled to love their husbands; husbands, therefore, have nothing to work for. Nothing to earn. Ironically, once fundamentalist-evangelical culture fully enshrines the stay-at-home daughter ideal, the same luster will probably fade away. Whenever you try to mandate love and respect, you create the conditions that prevent you from ever genuinely receiving those things.

Mothers turn to their sons for a partner they can share things with, an individual who can be influenced, who can change and evolve without threatening anarchy ... Emotional incest is endemic to Christian patriarchy because that is the place where marriages go to die. In Christian patriarchy, the family is a little state with an executive head of government and a harried chief-of-staff. The husband’s elevation makes him lonely; the wife’s subjection makes her lonely, too. Patriarchal marriages are so tightly ordered, so constricting that the emotion, the life, the love and the spontaneity – the building blocks of romance – all ooze out the cracks and seep into the relationships of parents and children.
For more information on emotional incest and its destructive impact on children, check out the book Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Their Children Partners by Kenneth Adams.


  1. I don't know how I missed this post. I've never thought about emotional incest -- hadn't even heard of it until now. This insight does explain some of the unhealthy dynamics I've witnessed in my own religious culture. You've given me lots to think about.

    1. Cognitive Dissenter -- I'm glad Sierra posted about this. Yet another reason to look askance at the patriarchal marriage model trumpeted by fundamentalists.


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