‘Counting On’: Family Critics Believe the Duggars’ Dating Rules Create Unhealthy Relationships

The Duggar family’s entire media brand is centered around its somewhat peculiar way of viewing the world. Interest in the family was initially founded in their massive number of children, but as the series carried on, followers became more and more interested in the family’s strange rules, especially when it comes to dating, relationships, and sex. As more Duggars marry and start families of their own, interest seems to be growing, but a group of critics is concerned that the family’s odd dating rules may lead to unhealthy relationships. There is anecdotal and scientific evidence to back up the theory.

Do the Duggar women enter into an unbalanced power structure when they get married?

Duggar family followers have long feared that many of the women of the Duggar family have been left vulnerable to unhealthy relationship habits because of the way they were raised. Specifically, critics take issue with the fact that women within the family, and their broader social circle, are told from a young age, that their entire worth is directly connected to the man they marry and their ability to bear children for that man. Many critics also take issue with the fact that women are expected, and often praised for a “meek” demeanor.

In fact, a Reddit user, who claims to have a connection to the Duggar family, alleges the men of the family specifically look for subservient women when courting. Most of them seem to find them, too. Kendra Caldwell, who married Joseph Duggar when she was still a teenager, comes across incredibly meek and immature, at least on camera. Anna Duggar, who married Joshua Duggar, allegedly at the urging of her father and Jim Bob Duggar, has served as a doormat for poor behavior for years. Jeremy Vuolo, who married Jinger Duggar in 2016, once praised his wife for her “meekness.”

Meekness aside, viewers are also concerned that the women of the Duggar family are in a particularly vulnerable situation because they have precisely zero power in their relationships. They do not manage the family money, and rumors have swirled that Jim Bob, in particular, has stolen earnings from his children for more than a decade. They do not have the education, nor do they have the skills necessary to gain employment. Intrinsically, the ladies of the Duggar family are tied to their husbands (or their father in some cases) for their very survival, which creates an incredibly unbalanced power dynamic. Psychology Today notes that unhealthy power dynamics occur when one partner has a more significant say in decision making. That power dynamic can exist for a plethora of reasons.

The Duggar women’s obsession with their relationships concern many fans

Jill Duggar has spoken incredibly highly about her husband, Derick Dillard, on more than one occasion. She’s even been spotted following him to school or stopping by to check in with him. Jinger appears to turn to her husband, Jeremy, whenever a big decision needs to be made, and Joy-Anna Duggar has perfected the “Duggar Gaze” when sitting next to her husband, Austin Forsyth. The “gaze” is a tendency for Duggar women to look up adoringly at their husbands whenever they are speaking. The action, whether conscious or subconscious,  has led many followers to believe the women of the family are unnaturally obsessed with their spouses.

Jill, in particular, has been highly criticized for her seemingly unhealthy obsession with her husband. She once stated that the saddest part of her day was watching her husband leave the house each morning. Where does the compulsion come from, though? Followers are worried that because the young women — and men for that matter — aren’t allowed to actively date or be alone with a person of the opposite sex until marriage, that they never get past the blinding, but incredibly immature, feelings of first love.

Do the Duggars have unhealthy relationships?

To hear the Duggar family tell it, their marriages are all great. Fans and followers, however, aren’t buying it, and research would suggest fans and followers are probably right. According to a Washington Post article written by a woman who stepped away from a marriage similar to the ones entered into by the Duggar women, leaving isn’t easy, and may allow unhealthy relationships to persist for far longer than they should. The fear of walking away also appear to force young women into submission, aiming to please the man who has authority over them, for fear of being accused of being not good enough. Research has found that those who marry their first love find it more difficult to grow as an independent person.

While there is no concrete evidence that any of the Duggar women are in an unhealthy relationship, followers believe there are red flags of potential trouble flying everywhere. Followers often point to Anna and Josh’s marriage as proof that unhealthy dynamics exist. Josh reportedly has a list of controlling rules Anna is expected to follow, regardless of his own inability to follow basic laws of decency.