• Kristi Burke

Why Women Like Anna Duggar Stay Married

In recent days, news broke that Josh Duggar, son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of TLC's "19 Kids & Counting," was arrested on charges of receiving and possessing child sexual abuse images. Although this comes as a shock to many in the evangelical community, it did not surprise anyone from the outside who's been watching for the past decade. In 2015, it was discovered that during Josh's older teenage years, he had molested multiple family members and a family friend in the Duggar's home but was never legally charged. Instead, he was sent to a Christian rehab that his father claimed cured him of his sexual desires. A few months later, during the big Ashley Madison leak, Josh's name came up again. He'd been having multiple marital affairs using the controversial site, at times meeting with women to pay for sex. One of these women accused him of being violently aggressive during their encounter, even shorting her on payment when he was finished. Despite all of these gross and verified accusations against Josh, his wife, Anna, never left his side. She is currently pregnant with their seventh child.

Why do so many women like Anna Duggar stay married, even when their husband is a confessed sexual predator, a habitual liar, and a cheater? Many people are flocking to the keyboards to express their outrage at Josh and at Anna for continuing to stay and procreate with an abuser. They claim she's putting her kids at risk by staying married to him and that by having children with him, she's creating potential victims. Currently, there is no evidence that states Josh abused his own children. Still, I could certainly understand why so many people would be suspicious of such, considering his oldest daughter is around the same age as his victims. Overall, most people who have been watching this story develop are scratching their heads and wondering why Anna wouldn't take her kids and get the hell out of there for good. But those people have likely never had to escape the grip of Christian fundamentalism.


Anna was raised in a rigorous fundamentalist home with seven siblings. Her family is a part of the "Institute Of Basic Life Principals" organization, which some have described as a Christian homeschooling cult. It is known for enacting strict rules by which its members must abide, and all families are required to homeschool their children so that they are not tempted or corrupted by the "outside world." This church reminds me a lot of the one I was raised in, teaching their members that curiosity is a pathway to corruption, that questioning the rules leads to immorality, and awakening your conscious is a dangerous and damaging process. Children are given the Bible as their primary source of education and taught that every word inside is infallible truth. Most children raised in this institution know very little of what's outside their tight community because they are led to believe that stepping out of the church is stepping directly onto Satan's territory. To avoid temptation, they must avoid everything on the outside. This is how the church cultivates a body of people that are easy to manipulate and control: by isolating them from everything on the outside. It reminds me of "The Village" by M. Night Shyamalan. No spoilers here, but you know what I'm talking about for those who have seen it.

The Umbrella Structure Of The Christian Household

The women in this organization are specially conditioned from early youth to develop into motherhood as soon as they reach the appropriate age (which, in the church, is very young). Women are discouraged from attending college or furthering their education after high school because they are taught that their greatest calling in life is to be a homemaker above all else. Anna Duggar did attend an online college program, but it was to earn a degree in early childhood education. Most families in these kinds of religious circles are also part of the "Quiverfull" movement, which means they produce as many children as "god allows." They believe that all forms of birth control (even the "pull-out method") are a sin. This leads to packed households that are much too large for one woman to handle, with the rare occasional help from her husband. The extra work typically falls on the oldest girls as a way to prepare them for their future roles as mothers. This means that by 12-years-old every daughter usually has a baby sibling on her hip.

When Anna Met Josh

Anna met Josh Duggar at a homeschooling convention, but their relationship did not develop as normal teen relationships do. Because of the strict rules imposed by the church, Anna and Josh were not allowed to be alone together at any time, and she was not allowed to express her feelings toward him or anyone but her parents in the beginning stages. They were not allowed to date but could "court"- an old-fashioned way of spending time with someone you're seriously considering for marriage. They were not permitted alone time or physical touch before the engagement, and their dates were still to be chaperoned up to the wedding day. They did not share a first kiss until they said "I do". Imagine dedicating your life to someone with whom you'd never had a single private conversation.

Once married, Anna knew she had a role to fill. From an early age, she had been taught that marriage is the most sacred covenant you'll ever make, and to break your marriage vows is to break a promise to god. She knew that no matter what happened in life, her duty was to stand by her husband and bear his children. If she couldn't do that, she wouldn't be capable of pleasing god. So much guilt is driven into the congregation that the members become broken down and malleable. They are not mentally capable of recognizing the toxicity of these beliefs so they learn to love them in a Stockholm syndrome kind-of-way. Anna wasn't allowed to experience anything outside of her little community bubble, so how could she have known that what they were teaching her was so wrong?

Expectations From The Church

When news broke of Josh Duggar's multiple sexual assaults in 2015, the Duggars did everything they could to alleviate the situation and lessen the impact of his actions. They went so far as to make the victims, his younger sisters and their own children, go on television to defend him and make it seem that the molestation was not that bad. They also worked diligently, along with the rest of Anna's church and family, to convince Anna to stand by Josh as a sign of a strong, Christian woman. They wrapped her in community and "love," manipulating her further into bending to their wishes. I was not there, but I know exactly what the church tells women in these kinds of situations because I personally know women who have been in them. Anna was likely given the same speech or worse.

The church tells her that god will bless her if she stays in the marriage. That redemption is possible through Jesus, and if he can forgive her husband, then so can she. They inform her how difficult life will be without her husband; how much the kids will suffer without their father; How bad of an example she will be to the world if she leaves, but how great of an example she will be if she stays. She is reminded of her blessings in heaven and told that she is working for something greater: god's will. Everyone in her life is telling her that the right thing to do-the godly thing to do- is to stand by her husband no matter what. And that if she doesn't, she will suffer. The church has divested her of any freedom to think rationally, question their authority, or make decisions for herself. They have deprived her of any community outside of them, which means she has no support without them. With seven mouths to feed, she is stuck in the only community willing to help her through as long as she is willing to obey.

She Is A Victim

I feel great sympathy for Anna. I do not disagree that she may be negligent, but I also recognize that she is a victim of abuse herself. She knows nothing outside of pleasing god, her husband, and the church. She knows that she will disappoint every person she loves if she leaves. Not only that, but she will have nowhere to go and no way to financially support herself, let alone six children and a newborn. She is stuck in the worst possible way, and without a miracle (ironically), she will likely remain stuck for the rest of her life. All because of religious ideology.

Anna didn't have the resources or ability to know anything outside of what her family and church taught her. She wasn't given a chance to find her own path, and neither are millions of others raised in similar situations. Our society is very tolerant of these kinds of organizations, despite the damage and harm done to those in them. Their stories are not often told, and when they are told, they are usually ignored. My hope for Anna Duggar is that she finds a way to break free from religious oppression and end the cycle of abuse. I hope she can stop the cycle so that her children do not fall into the same trap. I hope she finds people in her life that will show her real love and encouragement and support her right to get a divorce, finding freedom in autonomy. I hope her children receive help outside of the church to cope with who their father is and what he has done. I hope Anna finds healing and peace and a life where she feels she can finally use her voice, follow her intuition, and find true freedom of self.

Yours authentically.


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Follow Me On Instagram: @Artistkristiburke

Other Notable Posts:

"An Open Letter To The Trump Supporters Who Raised Me"

"Teaching Children To Fear Hell Is Psychological Abuse"

When Religion Turns To Abuse: How The Church Gave Me PTSD And What Helps Me Heal"

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