James Dobson on Domestic Violence: Women “Deliberately Bait” Their Husbands

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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:

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Also see: Mary Pride: Don’t Divorce Your Drunk, Raging Husband

69 comments

  • Burn this book! Burn it with fire!!!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Dobson is right in only one VERY limited respect: Baiting a physically-stronger victim IS a known tactic for a passive-aggressive abuser. When the victim blows up from the constant teasing and baiting and emotional/verbal abuse, previously-groomed third parties will then blame the victim (the one who actually got physical) and the abuser can then play the poor poor innocent victim.

      I grew up with a younger brother who abused me this way for 15+ years. Nonstop. Always covert, always under the table until I cracked, always The Sweet Little Angel and I was The Crazy Kid. DANCE, MONKEY, DANCE! (IF Troll McTrollerton below is legit, he claims to have come from a similar situation in a marriage.)

      THAT is the only dynamic where Dobson’s claim could possibly apply.
      But Dobson, with the arrogance of Divine Right, makes his claim Universal in all Times, in all possible Situations.

      • Yes. And I would reiterate that it is a VERY limited respect. That kind of abuse (or any kind, I might add) only works when the victim is or feels powerless to escape. Living with your brother as a kid meant your parents were in control. I’m betting you almost never had the luxury of walking away or refusing to engage.

        And that’s exactly what makes Dobson’s claim in this context so insidious. He’s suggesting that these women have their husbands in situations that they are powerless to escape…when study after study shows us that men overwhelmingly have greater personal and economic power to disengage from toxic situations. It’s men that usually have full-time, higher paid work and fewer childcare responsibilities. The main reason women stay in abusive relationships is that they are dependent upon their husbands for provision for themselves and their children. Dobson would know that, since he’s of the “women stay home and raise kids” crowd. To suggest that women really hold all the cards in that kind of situation is…a word not appropriate for a Christian blog.

        The number of marriages in which such a thing might happen is RIDICULOUSLY small. Meanwhile, there are millions of women suffering the horror of domestic violence, some at the hands of men claiming to be Christian and claiming that their wives “made them do it.” Dobson effectively erases that evil reality by drawing readers’ attention to another reality so miniscule by comparison that it hardly exists. It reminds me of that verse about straining at gnats and swallowing camels. In Dobson’s world, women reporting domestic violence should always be regarded with suspicion.

        Burn it with fire!

      • And even if she is baiting him, HE MAY NOT HIT HER (nor may she hit him). It’s illegal. It’s immoral. It’s wrong. The police should be called and a report filed. IT IS NEVER an acceptable means of dealing with the enormous problems in the marriage.

  • From my experience from reading the book, it said pretty much the opposite of that. I remember it encouraging a wife to press charges, get her husband in trouble and letting her know that love was not allowing him to get away with it. Well, at least it was the first marriage book that I picked up that said anything like that.

    • No, there’s no encouragement to call law authorities or press charges (sadly!). I have the original 1983 book but I also checked the most recent reprint (2007) and it’s still word-for-word the same.

      • Thank you for checking the original as well as the most recent. That’s the mark of a good writer/reporter!

    • I also remember reading Love Must Be Tough years ago, and that book was actually so much more supportive of having boundaries and not putting up with everything than other Christian books not to mention Christian culture of the time that i remember the book as much more progressive than it was. I feel like i almost never heard the idea of standing up for yourself in a Christian context, and so Love Must B Tough felt like a lifeline at the time.

  • Troll, if you felt the need to exit an unsuccessful marriage due to argument practices of your former wife, then fine. But resorting to abuse for any reason is on you, so own it. Saying that some ‘guys aren’t so lucky’ to get out of a marriage to their wives before they resort to abuse implies that violence was an uncontrollable result or ‘luck.’ It is not, it is a choice. Abusers are accountable for their actions, regardless of the situation. Acting is a choice. Not-acting is a choice. Not luck.

    • You’re absolutely right, LeeLee!!

    • Trolling The Trollerton

      “I love how when the wife instigates it, it’s ‘argument practices.’ But when the husband instigates it, it’s ‘abuse.'”

      No one said anything of that sort. We’re discussing beatings, kid. Try to keep up. A wife beating her husband, for example, would be just as bad.

      “You leftists are so transparent in your hypocrisy…”

      I’ll stop you right there. Using “leftists” is mostly a betrayal that you are right wing, and that’s enough to invalidate your statements.

  • I have NO words for how f’d up this advice is. Just wow.

  • Whoa, the quote in the image just makes it even more horrifying. She must break out of his tyranny “while she is still young enough to cope with the consequences.” In other words, while she’s hopefully healthy enough that she’ll survive the horrific beating she will get????

    I knew this man was backwards, but I didn’t know he was THAT vile. This creature has less worth to humanity than dog-shit and it’s times like this that I wish hell existed just so I could see him there.

  • Unless Dobson has repented of such dangerous and horrific advice, he is still another wolf in shepherd’s clothing.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      In Christianese AM Radio in the Seventies, he was the Fourth Person of the Trinity — right up there with Hal Lindsay.

      Then he moved to the Christianese Redoubt in Colo Spgs, went into his Bunker and hasn’t come out since.

      “Remember James Dobson? Did a lot of good things before fear of homosexuals drove him off the cliff with most of his constituency in the car.”
      — Internet Monk circa 2008

  • And you think that makes it acceptable…because he’s pissed that the little woman has stepped out of line??? Oooohhh, I hope you get caught, I really do.

    • Trolling The Trollerton

      “Your comment in nonsensical.”

      Actually, it’s quite “sensical”. None of your statements have made the slightest bit of sense, however.

  • Gosh, what awful advice. Some men just don’t get how dangerous these situations are. Hopefully Laura, if there ever was a real Laura and it wasn’t just a fake letter written by Dobson himself, ignored his advice and left her husband. No one should ever be pressured to stay in an abusive relationship.

  • nicolesassy123

    I am sending him my paper, Society’s Hidden Pandemic, Verbal Abuse,Precursor to Physical Violence and a Form of Biochemical Assault (glad to send it to anyone who would like it). I presented it at my State’s Counseling Association; It has been my lifelong passion to educate society, as to what abuse does….1 in 3 women will be physically assaulted in their lifetime and it all begins with verbal assault. I am so appalled by what Dobson wrote…I had to stop reading it. He talks about deliberately trying to begin/escalate abuse…….I wonder if any woman followed that advice…..and as a result…….died. y e-mail (if you would like the paper): carleton@oakland.edu

  • This is absolutely a disgusting and sick position taken by Dobson. I am just speechless at the idiocy of his comments. But I am learning that this isn’t all that uncommon even today. It wasn’t so many years ago that a….uh….’Christian counselor’…said to me, “We have to find out what you were doing to drive your husband to the other woman.” He also told me that I had to get rid of my anger. Me? Angry at adultery, lies, cheating? Surely not.

  • On Domestic Violence: “Women “Deliberately Bait” Their Husbands” said the man.

  • 1983….yes that was a time when the police would come to your home, take your hubby outside and basically tell him to just keep it down…thank God times have changed and I hope this author james Dobson has now changed his thinking and has a clearer understanding of the complex dynamics of DV

  • So disappointed in James Dobson statements! He was at one time a respected man in my book, I will no longer read any of his books, or listen to any of his programs! Dr Dobson, your statement has given the ‘abuser’ ammunition to continue to terrorize his wife!
    And just so you know, Dr Dobson, my anger toward my stbx came from the verbal abuse, the emotional abuse, walking on eggshells, the lying, the gaslighting! My anger was my ‘defense’, my anger was a boundary put forth to let stbx know I was NO longer going to take his abuse! God did not want me to be treated in this manner, anymore than I wanted to be treated this way!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      I think Dobson is suffering from a serious case of “Hardening of the Attitudes”.

      Plus, remember when he peaked during the Reagan Years. Invited to the White House, one of many Christian Kingmakers for the GOP. Then came the Clinton Years when he was on the outs with Billary. (No overnights in the Lincoln Bedroom for him…) Then Bush 43 and Kingmaker Once More. Then the Obamanation of Desolation enthroned and on the outs again. In, Out, In, Out… No wonder he started losing it. From GOP Kingmaker to Nobody to GOP Kingmaker to Nobody…

  • The only thing any of us have control over is how we choose to act, especially in response to what we’re feeling! To blame your actions of abuse on another is both immature and not a way to accept responsibility for yourself. Violence and hitting is never acceptable with adults or children. Dobson is a crackpot!!

  • Dr Dobson! !!!!!
    You are far too important to helping us to say things like this.
    I pray this has somehow been twisted to sound ridiculous instead of that you haven’t got a clue about domestic violence.
    There ARE women who bait their men but this is Usually when the tension Is building toward the next “Incident” she knows is coming & can’t do anything to stop it so she pushes to get it over with.
    Narcissistic abusive people Rarely change. The police Do need to be called & we need to be protected by our church family as well.
    Men of the church should be going to these abusers to offer them restoration, knowing it will be turned down & the church be ready to step up to help the woman & her children, if there are children, and stop leaving it to safehouses and/or shelters.
    How godly do you think a man is who gives himself permission to be abusive in Any way shape or form! Of course there should be a divorce. They can remarry if he Actually Truly recognizes what he has done & gets Real help that results in change he can sustain.
    Please God, let this be a mistake somehow! We can’t afford to lose you!

    • Exactly. I used this strategy myself to get a lesser beating rather than wait for the one that would kill me.

      • I never thought of that (i.e., getting a lesser beating). But now that I have, I can easily see that could be a strategy for keeping alive (and sane). My strategy was different, but so is everyone else’s. Now I’d be ashamed to actually tell you what I did. So degrading.

  • Men choose to use violence or not. We have always suspected that Dobson and Focus on the Family tend to avoid addressing domestic abuse, however this just continues to confirm what we have been sharing and writing about over the years. Thanks for writing this article and sharing what most of us in the abuse and faith communities discipline have thought for a few decades.

  • I’d be afraid to be alone in a room with a man who thinks this way. Part of me thinks this is an attempt to rationalize what could be his own sadistic behavior.

  • Christianity sure makes a lot of people act like jerks.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      “Men of Sin” will glom onto ANY Cosmic-level Authority — Bible, Koran, Freud, Darwin, Marx, Nature, Rand — to get Cosmic-level justification for what they were going to do anyway.

      “God Hath Said!” has more cachet than “Because I Wanna!”

  • Abuse isn’t cool, it isn’t legal, it isn’t morally right, it isn’t a game of strategy to use, it isn’t condoned in the Bible, it isn’t taught to battered women, it isn’t anything but ABUSE – and it does not end, it is a living entity that only grows stronger as time goes on. We live in America and we are free to leave a spouse/partner at any time if we feel threatened…these laws and freedoms/safe houses are in place to protect people, and if your “religion” doesn’t agree with that – it’s probably a good time to seek a more intelligent, gentler religion. Marriage isn’t supposed to be a battleground, or a platform to be able to manipulate one another…it is supposed to be a Holy Union between two people that wish to become as one, to share “life” and to conquer all of the struggles that come with that, a unity that allows love for each other, and if they have children…it is a structure (and responsibility) in which to be able to educate, guide, and protect these babies until they reach adulthood. If you have a spouse that abuses you – emotionally or physically…get up and walk away. If you need help to do this – there are hotlines to call, tons of information on the internet, shelters, your local department of human services, friends, or hopefully…a sympathetic and intelligent pastor to call on to get you out of that situation. No, I am not an expert…but I do have a Social Work Degree and have had some training in this – but nothing to qualify me as an expert. May God bless you as you seek help.

  • Well, James, I wanted to blame your idiotic thought on but you were just as stupid more than 30 years ago. Do you know that you are a dinosaur with one foot in the tar pits.

  • I have often looked up to Dr. Dobson, this however, must be one of the most ignorant things I have ever seen!!!!! Those who have suffered abuse walk on egg shells as not to set off their partners, however, there will be a blow out as the issue of abuse is power and control and is meant to catch the victim off guard!!! This is deliberate, this is a practice used to maintain overall control of their victims… After time, the victims learns not to exert an opinion or even any expression in the matter in order to keep the peace, this proves not to work despite their best efforts… I am truly sickened by some of the comments here and I see why victims still do not come forward with abuse, the issue of victim blaming seems that it will never evolve into the personal responsibility of the criminal abuser!!! As long as any of us make excuses for criminals putting their hands on those they claim to love, they will continue to deny personal responsibility and will continue to use power and control methods to achieve their desired responses!!!!! I sincerely hope everyone will accept abuse for what it is… A very real crime that kills and destroys lives!!!! RIP Michael Melinn you are free from abuse now 4-13-92 ~ 4-27-10

  • nicolesassy123

    I sent him my paper (Society’s Hidden Pandemic, Verbal Abuse, Precursor to Physical Violence and a Form of Biochemical Assault) to his organization, and am sending a hard copy to him. Such ignoranace is dangerous and I wonder how many women (who went to him) got beaten…because they stayed, or even murdered. Wonder whose blood he has on his hands. 1 in 3 women will be physically assaulted and it all begins with verbal abuse. The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans saved my life after 31 years of abuse. I got a divorce and then was faced with spiritual abuse from my (now ex) church; I fought them for 18 months. My name was put up on abig screen 3 times, followed by the words, “Conduct Unbecoming a Child of God.” Called to a meeting of deacons (15 “men”), not allowed to have a woman with me and asked “Are you still having sex with your ex?” No boundaries. This was because I let him live in my house after the divorce for awhile. http://www.churchabusepoetrytherapy.com was the result of this debacle. If anyone is interested in my paper: carleton@oakland.edu P.S. the abusive x was never called to a meeting; good ole’ boys, misogynists.

  • What a disgusting human being he is being.

    Glad people are catching on finally.

  • I have been reading through his Dare to Discipline book with my partner, in both the original 1970 printing and the 90’s reprint. He is astonishingly racist, sexist, and remarkably unconcerned with child abuse. He does at one point say that someone who has abused a child before shouldn’t spank because they shouldn’t “tempt” themselves again. They are the only people he gives a pass on the spanking thing.

  • Did Dr Dobson not realise the women with the black eye sat in the front row ,because she was hoping someone would help her , didn’t they realize the desperate plea ,for what it was .domestic abuse is rampant and we are just beginning to see it

  • Everyone commenting here that Dr. Dobson is a nut job is basically saying that no woman does what he is saying some women do. That is ludicrous. Especially when he documents witnessing it first hand. We have all witnessed it. I am the result of an abusive mother that came very close to killing me several times as a young child. But if anyone ever stood up to her in my defense would face exactly what Dr. Dobson describes. Drama was her favorite weapon for defense.

    • No one is saying that…..the comments are saying that he doesn’t understand the dynamics of abuse….to say that one should deliberately challenge an abuser and “let him rage” is horrifying. People choose their behavior . dobson is primarily talking about marriage/men and women…violence. I had an abusive mother also. We can “bait” anyone we want to, but they have a choice…and can walk away.

  • nicolesassy123

    This is what I sent to the dobson “t4am”—responding to some of what he said.

    Below is an exerpt of what he has written.

    I will comment on a few:

    “Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage”
    NO ONE can change an abuser’s behavior. Most abusers will not admit they have a problem, unless they get into long-term therapy by themselves. We are all responsible for our own behavior. Abuse is a CHOICE.
    With an abuser the marriage has already been extremely damaged or destroyed.

    “I would suggest that Laura choose the most absurd demand her husband makes, and then refuse to consent to it.”
    This is game-playing. We would never suggest a woman walk into a lion’s cage and deliberately agitate it. When a woman is living with an abuser she is living with a raging animal.

    “Let him rage if he must rage.”
    Rage can and does, result in physical abuse or death.

    “I have seen marital relationships where the woman deliberately “baited” her husband until he hit her.”
    What he doesn’t understand is that when a woman is living with an abuser, she is walking on “eggshells” and when she feels the tension rising she might say something to get the abuse over with. NO woman wants to be abused. He does not understand the dynamics of abuse.

    Once he has lost control and lashed out at his tormentor,
    He as NOT ‘lost control”===He has GAINED control. Abuse is about one thing and one thing only. CONTROL. He uses control to GAIN control. He can choose to walk away.

    I could comment on many other statements, but this will do for now.

    He needs to read the paper which I sent to become knowledgeable. 1 in 3 women will be physically assaulted, and everyone should be aware of the dynamics of abuse; it is rampant on our planet.

    The National Domestic Violence Hotline would be very disturbed by what he has written, as would women’s shelters across the country, and therapists who deal with abuse on a daily basis.

    • We should also mention the police and the coroner’s offices that process the individuals murdered by their abusers.

    • Nicolesassy123… What you’ve said is absolutely true. Wow, lots of flashbacks for me. Fortunately my worst abuse was when I was kicked twice while laying on the floor. Yes, I faked fainting, but I was, nevertheless, close to a collapse so my ‘performance’ was easy. The regular abuse was, instead, verbal and emotional, and finally adultery/lying/cheating.

  • nicolesassy123

    Abuse is a choice. If someone is verbally abusing you. You have a choice. It is called……walk away, hang up the phone; do not stay and subject yourself to it.

  • Reblogged this on Public Work and commented:
    An example of how religious authority covers up a multitude of sins.

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  • As an advocate counselor of Domestic Violence for 40+ years, I am supporting pbstone’s response to Dr. Dobson. As a Christian, as a counselor/advocate trained and hands on with crisis line training I am also an author of 15 books of real cases written as narrative creative fiction to protect the identities of victim/survivors, locations, workers. I have seen the damage done by well meaning Christian counseling to “stay and obey” and seen deaths occur as well. Life long damage is done to children forced to stay in these violent episodic homes. I too love you Dr. Dobson, but you need to get “out here” and get a true immersion into the realities of the world that is domestic violence.

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  • Johanna England

    James Dobson, you are a festering boil on the ass of humanity.

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  • Years ago I read your take on Spouse abuse. To coddle the abuser as too weak to choose anything but violence- and accuse the wife of “baiting” the abuser is EVIL itself! Are you suggesting women stay in an abusive situation? Do you know what “baits” an abuser? Anything! An honest opinion, a late dinner, or perhaps one too many drinks. To be battered, continually waling on egg shells, never knowing what look-word-meal-or ANYTHING will be “BAIT” is not how a loving God wants a woman to live. I destroys the family, sets the children up for abusive relationships themselves, and is pure stupidity to suggest a woman is to blame! Are men so weak that there choices are limited to violence? I hope the time comes where you become the victim of abuse- perhaps by one you love. And you can “walk in another’s shoes”! I find your attitude discussing, and anything BUT Christian!

    • I will add this thought- there are only two reasons I can think of that would leave you to the “You bait him into abuse” attitude.
      (1) You yourself give yourself permission to abuse. If so, I hope you end up in jail!
      Or
      (2) You are terribly uneducated on the psychology of the abuser. If this is the case, go to any/all women’s shelters, shut up, and listen. Listen to the stories. Then go to the police and ask questions. Then go to your local morgue and talk to them about the dead women, abused for years perhaps- each abuse worse than the last! Then go back to the shelters for abused women- look at what watching abuse has/is doing to the children!

      Being one who is too familiar with abuse, I have to say– violence / physical and verbal abuse is not an acceptable way to handle anger! Conflict resolution is totally different than laying blame on the one who is battered. How weak are men who use those tactics to gain “control- to feel powerful. “Baiting”? Please! Your attitudes are what have turned me off of established Religion! What a difference there is between God and Religion! The difference is VAST!

    • Hi Marcy, I am curious who the ‘you’ is you are speaking to.

      The author of this article is attempting to expose Dobson’s horrible ideas for what they are, abuse.

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