Are Jehovah's Witnesses a Cult?

A Psychologist Dissects the Harmful and Downright Laughable Watchtower Advice on Marriage

unhappy-marriage-1024x600The August 2016 JW TV broadcast program, in one of its segments, presents tips on how to choose a marriage mate. I call this portion of the program “tips” because I think that the advice given is, at best, laughable and insufficient, and at worst, misleading and harmful.

The governing body’s direction is that focusing on Jehovah will secure a happy marriage, where “spirituality” is defined as being involved in the local congregation’s activities.  Empirical research (meaning based on observation or experience rather than theory) points toward certain demographic factors (or personal characteristics) associated with marital satisfaction, and this “spirituality” as defined by the JWs is not one of them.

(Note that, in the following comments, marriage and cohabitation are treated equally. The word “marital” refers to any long-term, committed relationship.)

The Watchtower’s Best Shot at How to Form a Lasting Marriage

The broadcast outlines the steps they say can lead to forming a good marriage:

  1. Speak to people who know the person you are interested in, such as congregation elders.
  2. Pray and ask Jehovah to let you see who the person you consider really is.
  3. Observe their reactions and how they treat others.
  4. Husbands should love their wives; as a man, are you ready to love?

Let’s consider how helpful this advice is.

It seems to be suggested in the program that someone deeply engaged in the proselytisation activities might be considered a better candidate for marriage than someone who is not very active in congregation activities. Such assumption is likely to be, frankly, useless if partners want to form an intimate bond based on the compatibility of their personalities. This is because it is not uncommon for two people to engage in the process of indoctrinating others for different reasons, so taking their zeal at face value might lead to a mistake in assessing their character.


Are gossip and hearsay really the best sources of information about potential mates?

The suggestion to seek out an opinion of others can potentially create a strange feeling of being evaluated based on the third party’s views and perceptions.

I would say that the ability to see someone for who they are is not a skill gifted through prayer, but a lifelong habit of observing people and reality as they are. Well, individuals who have an honest evaluation of themselves and the world around them are least likely to ever become Jehovah’s Witnesses! From my perspective, the advice to pray is aimed at activating the cult indoctrination and filtering out information that can actually be very helpful in assessing the compatibility of the other person, in favour of details confirming to the world view of the group.

I would agree that it is important to notice the behaviours of people we feel attracted to, but what is more important is to notice what motivates their choices; this knowledge can be gained through self-revealing conversations. I would argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses in general are not very much aware of their own emotional complexities and, as such, have a diminished ability to share and receive full disclosure about themselves.

Men who want to marry are to ask themselves if they can truly love; I assume that the same question is to be answered by women who are thinking about getting married. However, love is a word that has been hijacked by the Watchtower, devoid of its meaning and injected with the Watchtower definition of love. The governing body, when talking about romantic relationships, love and sex, often does so in the context of bigotry, small-mindedness and fear.

I am not here to tell anybody how and who to love. Every person makes choices for themselves. My intention is to provide information that can be helpful to some people in increasing their understanding of love and healthy relationships, taken from psychological research and therapeutic practice, away from unhelpful indoctrination of the Watchtower. Consider some of that research:

What Positively Influences a Marriage?

Newman and Newman, in their book, “Development Through Life,” among factors linked to the marital satisfaction, listed:

  • high levels of education
  • high socioeconomic status
  • similarity of spouse’s interests
  • intelligence and personality
  • sexual compatibility
  • later marriage for women

It has been speculated that high level of education and higher socioeconomic status are connected to better problem solving skills and fewer life stresses. People who are similar can empathise with each other better, and work out their roles and patterns that are mutually satisfactory. Surveys reveal that frequency of sexual activity is less important to marital satisfaction than sexual compatibility. The satisfaction associated with a later marriage for women is probably linked to the maturity of their social roles and established career status.

The Process of Selecting a Mate

Bert Adams, in his book, “The Family: a Sociological Interpretation,” presented a four-stage mate selection process. In the first phase, the selection takes place from among available partners. The most popular tend to be people who are physically attractive and similar in interests, intelligence and personality. In the second phase, self-disclosing conversations allow comparison of values.

In the third phase, there is an exploration of the role compatibility and mutual empathy; if the benefits of forming a strong bond of compatibility and empathy are outweighing the difficulties that are associated with staying together, the couple can move towards the decision to stay together. In the fourth phase, people make a decision about long-term compatibility and commitment, and the marriage or long-term cohabitation may occur.

Life Affirming Love

loveIn his book “Don’t Call It Love”, Patrick Carnes outlined the phases of building a healthy relationship and abilities required to experience each phase:

Noticing. Here people have the ability to become aware of, and to discern the attractive or unattractive traits in others. During this phase, each partner considers if he or she wishes to discover more about the other.

Attraction. People feel physically drawn toward the other and imagine carrying out those feelings. During this phase, patterns are formed that will enhance one’s arousal “template.” Curiosity, spontaneity, fantasy, and play are experienced as enjoyable attributes to sexual arousal.

Flirtation. At this phase individuals display an ability to make playfully romantic or sexual overtures to another person; each partner sends and receives signals of interest.

Demonstration. Partners have the ability to show off the pleasure of having a potential sexual partner while being aware of the appropriateness of the context and the other person’s response. This phase may involve athletic prowess, dress, and other skills that may enhance the others person’s interest. One must be who he or she is purporting to be. This is the first test of one’s honesty and integrity.

Romance. At this time partners have the ability to experience, express and receive passion. Expressing those feelings can bring out feelings of attraction, vulnerability, and risk, which need to be tolerated and managed. At this point, partners differentiate true feelings from projections, both to and from the other, and respect boundaries.

Individuation. This is an ability to separate from one’s partner and remain true to one’s self. During this phase truth, trust, and full disclosure are necessary components. One does not operate out of fear of disapproval or control by the other.

Intimacy. Here partners have the ability to respect the “otherness” of the other despite shortcomings. During this phase, partners enter an “attachment” phase that deepens the meaning of the forming relationship bond. Trust and integrity nurture the relationship, and each partner is able to experience a deeper vulnerability.

Touching. With touching comes the ability to feel valued. During this phase, healthy touch is given with permission and is respectful of the situation, boundaries, and timing. Touching can be healing; it involves trust and judgment.

Foreplay. Partners have the ability to lead to genital sexuality. In this phase all above steps are used.

Intercourse. Partners have the ability to experience passion, to give up control and expectations of each other. During this phase people share trust as well as emotional and spiritual connection.

Commitment. Partners have the ability to form a bond to another and stay attached despite difficulties that may unfold. During this phase, each person matters and deserves to be honoured by faithfulness and the willingness to keep the relationship honest  and vital over time.

Renewal calls for the ability to continue courtship. During this phase, both partners participate in problem solving.

Not a Witness Anymore

The broadcasting asserts that friendships and family should not take priority over our relationship with Jehovah. I would say that friendships and family should always take priority over relationship with a god or any orders given by the governing body. If you are a believer, you might find that a relationship with god enhances your ability to be loving and generous toward your family and friends; however, the call to abandon people you care the most for, if asked by a group, is quintessentially a call to become a drone, ready to follow instructions blindly and at the cost of human bonds of love. The psychological damage created by such rules aiming to destroy the human attachment to others can’t be overstated.

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Karuna, a Sanskrit word meaning any action taken to diminish the suffering of others, is the pen name of a former Jehovah’s Witness originally from Poland and now living in Ireland. Karuna received her Master’s degree in psychology while one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but left the organization after learning of their devastating “two witness” rule and other policies that put children in harm’s way. She is currently looking to continue her higher education and use her learning to help children who have been victims of abuse. JWvictims is deeply grateful for her contributions.

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