real life

A man shared his list of "wife lessons" on Dr Phil. The audience's reaction was troubling.

“You don’t think like I think you should.”

“Maybe her me-time should be our grocery shopping time.”

“Get over your feelings and do your job.”

“Me, breadwinner. Her, the housekeeper.”

“Physically she is the perfect woman. Mentally, she is not.”

Take these comments as they are and you have the hallmarks of an emotionally abusive spouse. They’re a narrative of control, narcissism and abuse. They’re the kinds of red flags we’re warned about as teenagers and reminded about as adults. They’re the kinds of words that break the spirit of women, their identity and their control pulled from beneath them.

They’re also the words of a man from the US who appeared on Doctor Phil on Tuesday, who has decided he will not marry his fiancee until she completes his “wife lessons”.

Wife lessons, like, say, french lessons, except laced with sexist, abusive undertones that aren’t like french lessons at all because that would assume their legitimacy.

Rosie Batty talks to Mia Freedman about how work in fighting domestic and family violence. Post continues after audio.

Josh and Rebecca appeared on the reality show together to discuss their relationship, and the reasons why Josh won’t marry Rebecca just yet. According to Rebecca, some of the demands Josh imposes on her are:

  • Can’t have friends
  • Must check in if goes anywhere
  • Wastes electricity doing hair
  • Wastes money wearing makeup
  • Can’t have sex unless he wants it
  • Can’t have allowance
  • Should have dinner ready and waiting
  • Should make grocery lists
  • Doesn’t need “me-time”
  • Can’t see parents
  • Took air out of her tyres when she tried to leave the house

Being fortunate enough to be given a right of reply, Josh sought to clarify some of the accusations. No, they’re not all true. No, he never said many of them.

She can have friends, he says. It’s just that she’s so bad at picking friends. She doesn’t waste electricity on her hair, she just doesn’t understand that having long hair isn’t very economical. And so on, and so forth.

"She can have friends, he says. It's just that she's so bad at picking friends." (Image: Dr Phil)

On both paper and reality, the relationship is deeply problematic. Compare his actions to what Reach Out say are the signs of an emotional abuser, and the comparison is stark:

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Verbal - yelling, insulting or swearing at someone
Rejection - pretending not to notice someone’s presence, conversation or value
Put downs - name calling, public embarrassment, calling someone stupid, blaming them for everything
Being afraid - causing someone to feel afraid, intimidated or threatened
Isolation - limiting freedom of movement, stopping someone from contacting other people (like friends or family)
Money - controlling someone’s money, withholding money, preventing someone from working, stealing or taking money
Bullying- purposely and repeatedly saying or doing hurtful things to someone.

And yet, despite the glaringly obvious truths that envelope their power-play, the relationship wasn't portrayed in the abusive light it should have been.

Instead, the television segment was interspersed with laughter and disbelief, as if Josh and Rebecca's relationship was a freak show the audience all bought tickets too. Josh is portrayed as someone who is just a bit of an arrogant d*ck at worst, an invested husband at best.

Just an arrogant d*ick who claims to be the "captain of the relationship" and "intellectually superior" to his pregnant fiancee and mother of his 18-month-old child.

The fact that Josh's list of demands is pre-empted with the question "Is Josh controlling?" is damning enough. It is, surely, an oxymoron in it's most blatant form.

The idea that their relationship was part of show that sought to navigate how they could better"get along" before their wedding makes the assumption that two are in the wrong. That there are two people who need to change their behaviour. Which, in itself, plays into to the tragically misguided stereotype that women who cop some form of abuse are the catalyst.

Instead of asking if Josh is controlling and leading with the tagline "This guy gave his fiancee a list of demands", why not just call it as we see it? It's emotional abuse. Front and centre, black and white.

Or is that not freak show enough for people to care?