• Gender Complementarianism: Marriage, Singleness, Purpose, Identity, Domestic Abuse


Despite the fact that some Christian gender complementarians have claimed they do not believe God designed all women to only be SAHMs (stay at home mothers), and despite the fact that they deny that they believe that God expects all women to partake of a stereotypical, 1950s American nuclear family position – I would say again, as I have in another blog post, that the paltry amount of time, resources, respect and attention complementarians spend on never-married, childless, chlidfree, divorced or widowed women betrays this declaration.

For every article or respectful commentary about single, childless women you may be able to point me to written by a gender complementarian, I am sure I could easily point you to three, five, ten or more by complementarians about wives or mothers.

Complementarians are abnormally, almost exclusively, interested in instructing women how to be a wife or how to be a mother. They have very little to say about women who are childless, childfree, or who may never marry, or who don’t want to marry, or whose husband has died or divorced them.

Complementarian literature I’ve seen since my childhood years and that I’ve continued to peruse through adulthood, almost always assumes that the women reading it will marry and have children one day.

The fact is, more and more women are choosing not to marry any more, or are holding off on marriage until they are older. Yet other women would like to marry but cannot find a decent man to marry, so they remain single.

The women who are delaying marriage or not marrying at all over the past decade or longer are doing so in part due to societal shifts, some  of which are beyond their control and not due to some nefarious, secular, liberal feminist anti- marriage or anti- nuclear family agenda, as is often assumed by gender complementarians.

Consider the following information (because most complementarians never will; the ones who do notice will strongly pressure the teens of today to marry before they reach 25 years of age, and to shame the older singles who never married):

If you base the majority of your gender role theology tent under the poles of marriage and natalism, to define “biblical womanhood” to mean first and foremost “woman who is married with children” (as gender complementarians do in fact often do), and yet the culture shifts where more and more women do not marry, whether due to choice or circumstance – your brand of theology is simply not going to work, nor will it attract women to your churches.

(This can be problematic because More Women Are (Already) Leaving Church.)

You will also repel a lot of women who do not fit your ideal and assumption of what “biblical womanhood” is, who may find some of your views of what a woman is “supposed to be” to be insulting.

If you insist on defining womanhood to mean only or primarily “woman who is married with children,” or to mean vintage, stereotypical, cultural feminine ideals, as gender complementarians do, you will be out of touch with how contemporary women are living their day to day lives.

(And, by the way, please note that secular American culture for a very long time also defined womanhood to mean “married mother.” Gender complementarianism is not counter cultural; it borrows a lot from secular society.)

Scolding these women, or shaming them, for being single or putting off marriage, or for supposedly being sold out to liberal, secular feminism, is not going to work.

Some women who reject Christian gender complementarianism, by the way, are not all left wing or secular feminists.

There are conservative Christian women who take the Bible seriously and literally who do not agree with the gender complementarianism interpretation of the Bible in regards to women, men, and marriage.

Complementarians should be reminding women that their identity is only in Christ, but some of them harp on male headship so much, they lead women to believe they should be seeking their identity in a husband or their purpose in marriage or motherhood.

Codependent women often seek their identity in a boyfriend or husband.

Women are trained since youth (by secular culture they see reflected in movies, TV shows, or by their church, or parents) to defer their wants and needs to meet the needs of others: their entire identity becomes wrapped up in what other people want and need, and the “other people” in this scenario usually end up being a husband and children, should the woman marry.

Codependent women gladly defer to a man to make decisions for them, because they are too afraid to take responsibility for their own choices or their own lives.

What further clouds and confuses this issue for Christian women is that they are taught by gender complementarians that this deference to a husband, or that looking to marriage and motherhood to find purpose and identity, is God’s purpose or design (when in fact, it is no such thing).

In the book of Genesis, when the Bible says a woman shall desire her husband and turn to a man, and that men will rule over women, this is stated as being a negative outcome of sin entering humanity; this was not God’s intent, as I explained in an earlier post.

In the book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve disobeyed god, God was warning the first woman that her new habit of looking to a human male for safety, identity, and protection would not only turn her away from God, but that this tendency would be exploited by many men – and it has been, even by Christian men, and it has become enshrined in the doctrine of Christian gender complementarianism.

Complementarians take this negative outcome of the fall -a woman’s natural tendency to look to a man for purpose and protection, rather than depend on God- and call it “good.”

Sinful  or broken relationship habits are depicted as virtue by complementarians, and anyone pointing this out is said by complementarians not to be taking the Bible seriously, or to be unduly influenced by secular feminists, even though this is not true.

If a man divorces his wife, dies, or becomes incapacitated, the wife may be at a loss if she is codependent and/or a gender complementarian.

Often in such ‘traditional’ marriages, the wife is only allowed to, encouraged to, or socialized to, do stereotypical “house-wifey” things, such as clean house, change dirty diapers, or bake cookies. She may not know how to balance a check book or know to take the car in to get the car tires rotated every several months or how to deal with other practical matters of daily life.

Women are encouraged in complementarianism to think that some areas of life should be strictly gender segregated: car care, finances, yard work, etc, are usually portrayed as being the realm of husbands, while child care and housework are supposedly only or primarily for women. This sort of thing can leave a woman in a very difficult position if her husband dies or divorces her. She will likely be at a loss for what to do.


To put it bluntly: codependency (and its Christian expression as taught to women under the label complementariansm) teaches and encourages women and teen-aged girls to behave and think like helpless little girls.

Women who are raised in complementarian families and churches are taught from the time they are young to participate in actions or mindsets that keep them as little girls over a lifetime, such as, but not limited to, not to think for themselves but allow men in the lives to make their choices for them.

As a matter of fact, gender complementarians often emphasize that one of the biggest duties or rights a man has as the so-called “head” of the wife is to act as final decision-maker for the couple, especially if the couple is at a stalemate or disagreement over a major life choice.

Encouraging adults to live patterns that resemble childishness, and to teach them that being child-like in adulthood towards other adults is God’s design, as complementarians do with girls and women, is contrary to 1 Corinthians 13:11, which states:

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

Grown women do not need to turn to a man for life choices or for decision making. Grown women are not little children, and men are not their parents. This holds true in marriages as well: a wife is not a child that needs to be led by a husband.

The Bible does not teach that adult women are child-like and must have male leadership within or without marriage.

Biblical passages that discuss a “male head” in the Bible have been terribly misunderstood or misapplied by complementarian Christians.

There are Christian (and Non Christian) women today who are past the age of 30 who have never married who are doing fine on their own without a “male head” to make choices for them or to guide them.

If an unmarried woman is doing fine on her own and is not in need of male leadership (and this describes plenty of American women today who live alone), this goes to show that that married women do not need a “male head,” not in the way complementarians teach the concept of headship.

Complementarians do not make marriage sound appealing to single women who do not relish the idea of a man “ruling over” them and getting the final say-so in major life decisions, as complementarians say a husband should be able to do.


Another layer of complexity is introduced by cases of domestic violence.

Domestic abuse in a marriage can consist of verbal and emotional abuse, not only physical abuse.

For more on the topic of verbal abuse, please see:

Addressing domestic abuse fully is a little beyond the scope of this post, so I don’t intend on discussing this subject in-depth or from every angle.

I do believe that Christian gender complementarianism, which is almost identical to codependency, is one cause of domestic abuse, or, at the very least, attracts men who are already abusive, and-or, it perpetuates abuse.

Complementarianism is ineffective at dealing with domestic abuse, one reason of which is because complementarians often forbid divorce in cases of abuse, and their suggested remedies are actually abuse-enablers: such as telling an abused wife to submit to her husband more, be “nicer” to her husband (such as, cook him his favorite dinners, wear sexy night gowns to bed, etc), and to pray about the marriage.

Which takes me to this next link or so – a Christian group released a movie called “War Room” which suggested that women in difficult or abusive marriages should only use prayer to fix or repair their marriage or husband. This approach does not work for abusive marriages, as the following pages explain:

Most of the suggestions complementarians give to abused wives are very passive in nature and put the burden on the wife to change the husband (when the responsibility for change should be on the husband alone).

One thing one can learn from reading numerous articles and books about domestic violence is that nothing the victim does or does not do triggers the abuse, nor is there any justification for the abuse.

Abuse is not triggered by what the victim is doing or not doing: abusers abuse their target because they want to and they can. Abusers are entitled and controlling.

The abuser would abuse their target regardless of what she is doing or not doing.

Ergo, when a complementarian church or preacher advises abused wives to do more of “X” (such as “submit to him more”) or to do less of “Z,” (“stop doing whatever habit you are doing that says makes him angry”) this is not going to stop the abuse.


There are some experts on domestic violence, or blogs which discuss the subject, who dislike the discussion of codependency in the context of abusive relationships, because they unfortunately (and I believe mistakenly) believe that doing so is a form of victim-blaming or of unfairly pathologizing victims.

I disagree.

Not every woman who finds herself in an abusive dating or marital relationship is codependent, or starts out as a codependent,  but the fact remains that codependent traits (which Christian gender complementarians encourage Christian women to possess) do in fact attract abusive men and makes it harder for women to extricate themselves from an abusive relationship.

Codependent behaviors and mindsets either attract abusive or manipulative men, or make it more difficult for the abused women to even recognize she is being abused for a long time, and may make it harder for the woman to break things off with the abuser and leave him.

I am absolutely dumb-founded, astounded, and dismayed that some books or blogs that are otherwise very good resources on domestic abuse never- the- less tell the women who read them to disregard books or articles about codependency.

If someone tells you that you may be codependent, and that being codependent may be contributing to why you keep finding yourself dating or married to jerks or abusive men, it is not meant as a put down, insult, or victim-blaming measure. It is meant to be educational, so that in the future, you can date men who treat you well and help you learn to avoid the ones who give off red flags.

I think being reluctant to bring up codependency in the context of domestic violence or dating violence is a very dangerous, large disservice to women and girls.

If you care about helping girls and women avoid abusive relationships, it is vital you tell girls and women to read as much about codependency as they can, so they can spot these vulnerabilities in themselves, and start to make changes in themselves.

At the same time they are able to make the needed changes in themselves (which will make them more impervious to being controlled by men or manipulative female friends or bosses and co-workers), they will be able to spot warning signs in men they date.

Out of the books I’ve read about dating, marriage, and codependency, the majority do warn and educate women about the dangers of being codependent, and how it can attract dishonest or abusive men (or women friends) to them.

It should be noted that not all books use the term “codependent” in describing the damaging behaviors women engage in that may attract abusers to them: some resources use the phrase “people pleasing,” or, “the inability or reluctance to say ‘no,'” -but they all convey the same concepts.

One author of one book I have tells women if they don’t change themselves – if they continue with their people pleasing (codependent) habits and attitudes – it will serve as a “veritable mating call” (her phrase) to jerks, creeps, con artists, and abusers.

Women are advised by this author with a phD – this expert – to drop and halt with the codependent (doormat) habits if they hope to increase their odds of ever having safe, normal, healthy relationships.

Gavin De Becker, an expert on personal security and safety, says the same thing in his book “The Gift of Fear.”

De Becker says in his book that a lot of rapists, muggers, and abusers seek out women who display qualities of vulnerability and weakness, qualities which society encourages women to have in the first place – which fall under the umbrella of codependency (such as lacking boundaries, being passive, unassertive,  being too agreeable, having a reluctance to tell a rude, controlling, or weird guy to “buzz off,” etc.)

Note that those are the same exact traits the Christian complementarians prize in females and that they insist are “godly,” “feminine,” or “biblical” for girls and women to have.

One book I have by an expert on domestic abuse says that some abusive men are attracted to women who are strong; they view such women as a bigger catch, a bigger challenge.

However, again, based on most material I’ve read, it appears as though most abusive men prefer to chase after women they perceive as being “easy marks” – which would be women who display the soft, tender, passive, dainty, meek, type of womanhood espoused by complementarians as being biblical, and which some women enact due to being codependent.

Complementarians at times go to great effort to assure the public and other comlementarians that their gender teachings don’t lead to or perpetuate domestic abuse, but they do.

Complementarianism not only encourages women to hold qualities that are attractive to abusers, but, as I was saying above, complementarians are ineffective at counseling and helping abused wives.

Here are links about abusive relationships and how complementarianism (or concepts similar to those found in complementarianism) encourages  or perpetuates abuse against women (as well as related stories):

Despite their insistence that they stand firmly against domestic violence against women, complementarians are actually teaching some of the very concepts that abusive men use to justify control and-or abuse of women.

Further, complementarian advice to abused wives is enabling in nature: it amounts to telling the wives to stay in a dangerous relationship and put up with the abuse, no matter what – just pray about the abuse, the wives are usually told, or submit even more to the abuser – strategies which do not work (read more about that here).


Rather than teaching girls and women to center their identity in Jesus Christ, complementarians generally encourage women to put their identity in a ROLE – a gender role – and that role in turn is normally held up as being a married mother (wife and mother).

It’s not good enough for women to find meaning, completeness, or identity in Jesus; no, the complementarians feel women need to fill those areas in gender roles that they define.

The Bible tells women they need a Savior – not a role.

As I’ve discussed earlier in the post, some women never marry, never have children, or, for some married women, their husband may divorce them or die.

That complementarians assign such a heavy burden to a gender role, one that is usually defined as being a “married mother,” women who fall outside of that very narrow box are not given any, or much, consideration in complementarianism.

Even assigning women to the narrow role of ‘married mother’ strips the woman of her own identity, purpose, and goals for her own life and reduces her to being only a “sidekick” to the man she is married to.

More links (on other sites) about this subject (or similar):


Some links about male headship (refuting the gender complementarian position) from other sites:

 Dethroning Male Headship (blog post about book)

If You Act Like A Victim, You Will Likely Be Victimized – And: Complementarians Ask Women and Girls to Be Small To Make Men Feel Big

Submission by Sandra Clemmens

Double Standards in the Practice and Promotion of Submission

Couples Who Share Chores May Have Better Sex, And Sex More Often

Obedience Is Situational

Five Lies The Church Tells Women

Problems within Complementarianism

Recovering FROM Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Pt. 2: John Piper’s Vision – page removed; 404
View the Same Essay on Internet Archive Here

Links Above Updated July 2021

Other Posts (this blog) about Complementarianism and Codependency:

Even Warm and Fuzzy, True, Correctly-Implemented Gender Complementarianism is Harmful to Women, and It’s Still Sexism – Yes All Comps (Refuting “Not All Comps”)

Codependency Is Real And It Can Leave Women Vulnerable to Being Abused or Taken Advantage Of

Basic Overview of Codependency – And How Some Christians Misunderstand or Misrepresent Codependency

‘The Church Said I Was Seducing the Pastor at 13 … Because I Wore a Pencil Skirt’: People Reveal Shocking Reasons They Abandoned Their Religion in Viral TikTok Trend

Doctrines, Theological Views, and Biblical Hermeneutics Have Real-Life Consequences – Personal Experience Vs. Sola Scriptura

Christian Gender Complementarianism is Christian-Endorsed Codependency for Women (And That’s Not A Good Thing)

A Response to the Complementarian ‘The Beauty of Womanhood Essay’ by Abagail Dodds

If You Act Like A Victim, You Will Likely Be Victimized – And: Complementarians Ask Women and Girls to Be Small To Make Men Feel Big

A Caveat or Two About Boundaries and Counseling (part 1)

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