In my latest reading of Susan Faludi's 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Faludi was critiquing therapist Robin Norwood. The name doesn't ring any bells to me, but the reason that Faludi's critique intrigued me so much was that Norwood had an Alcoholics Anonymous sort of model to help women deal with difficult husbands----a program that included reliance on a higher power, sharing in meetings one person at a time (with no cross-talk allowed), trying to see where one is at fault rather than just blaming other people, etc.
Faludi disagrees with much of this. She thinks that women should find power inside of themselves rather than just relying on a higher power, and that women should share with men the problems that they have with them rather than passively trying to cope with the relationship. And Faludi expresses her issues with the rule against cross-talk in meetings: she states on page 348 that this is not real sharing since people cannot comment on each other's problems, and that "the women seem more like children in a sandbox, engaged in parallel play."
I do not know how Norwood's groups worked. In most twelve-step recovery groups, however, many people have sponsors, who can share with sponsees their experience, strength, and hope and hopefully provide some guidance. That's quite different from parallel play. At the same time, my understanding is that sponsors are technically not supposed to tell sponsees what to do, but rather to share their own experience, strength, and hope with sponsees and then allow the sponsees to make their own decisions.
I somewhat like the set-up of no cross-talk being allowed. I hate social situations in which I am trying to speak, and one or more know-it-all is quick to respond with his or her opinion about what I should do or how I should think, without really listening to me. THAT, in my opinion, is not true sharing.
Should people in general share with others what it is about them that is problematic? I think that there's a time and a place for that. Faludi presents examples of horrible husbands of some of the women in Norwood's groups----husbands who got angry with their wives over the slightest thing. I think that there may be a place for divorce in that situation. At the same time, I do admire women who try to cope with difficult husbands and seek their strength in a higher power through their ordeal. That's not to say that every woman should do that, in every situation. When a husband is abusive, for example, a woman should probably be strong and find some way to leave rather than timidly enduring the abuse.
On lesser issues, I think that women should share with their husbands their concerns about what the husband does that annoys them, but they should not expect to change their husbands. In my opinion, there should be a middle ground between not being assertive at all and expecting the rest of the world to conform to our desires.
Something else that interested me about Faludi's discussion of Norwood was that Norwood ended up putting herself in a sort of solitary confinement, by living in a remote cottage, away from human contact. I think that Norwood may have come out of exile (at least slightly) since 1991, however, for this says that she has written books for 2008.
I apologize if my tone in this post is bossy----as if I have any authority at all to tell people what to do. I'm just expressing my opinion, for what it's worth. I find value in both what Norwood is saying, and also in Faludi's critique. And I say this in terms of my own life, for what both say about women can probably apply to men, too: I myself wonder how to deal with difficult people, when to be assertive, when not to be, etc.