Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Matrimonial Unhappiness - Sexual Maladjustment

( Originally Published 1936 )



THOSE who have tried to estimate the comparative prevalence of unhappiness in modern marriages have come to very different conclusions.

Dr. Norman Haire writes: " Any moderately intelligent person who goes about the world with his eyes open—who is willing to face the truths of life even if they are disagreeable—must be struck by the appalling frequency of unhappiness in marriage. I can find no reason to believe that my circle of friends and acquaintances is an exceptional one, and if I am to judge by them I must conclude that a large majority of marriages are unsuccessful. . . Speaking broadly, I should say that only one marriage in four may be judged as even tolerably successful, and a very much smaller proportion can fairly be considered as really happy ". But he adds: " On careful reflection I fear that I have given an unduly large proportion of successes, and an unduly small proportion of failures ".

A civil servant in Stockholm told a Swedish professor that he did not know a single bright and harmonious marriage among all his acquaintances; but the latter answered that his own experience was different. Yet an inquiry made by a newspaper concerning Swedish marriages led to the conclusion that more than one-half of them must probably be regarded as unhappy.' Thomas Mann writes: " Truly one may, even without malice, easily gather the impression that today ninety per cent. of all marriages are unhappy ". Bertrand Russell maintains that among civilised peoples in the modern world " not many marriages after the first few years are happy ". Dr. Everett thinks that probably from one-third to one-half of all men and women who marry find themselves unhappy sooner or later, not to mention those who are simply moderately contented. According to Dr. Tenenbaum, " one rarely finds a couple that enjoys real happiness, unless it be a sort of resigned acquiescence which, in itself, represents a mute protest against the implications of marriage ". An American judge points out that statistics show divorce to occur in about one in six marriages in the United States, which implies that there would be about 167 publicly admitted failures in 1000 marriages.

Against this ", he says, " I must oppose my observation that if there are 167 truly successful marriages in the 1000 I should consider it a very good average! " Two other American writers have much more cheerful opinions about the marriages of their own country. Raiford Pyke thinks that only a very small proportion of them are really unhappy.' R. O. Lang had 7412 marriages rated by persons who knew the couples very well, with the result that 72 per cent. were declared to be happy, and only 9 per cent. unhappy.' Dean Inge believes that " marriage is the best thing in human life, and that most marriages are happy ".

As to the unfavourable estimates, it has been argued that people are easily misled concerning the actual marriage situation by the fact that the smoothly going and satisfactory marriages do not obtrude themselves upon public attention. They have no sensational or dramatic quality. They are little spoken of, they do not figure in the newspapers. It is not about them that the stage, the screen, and the novelist build their plots, but it is the marriages in which there is conflict, suffering, cruelty, unfaithfulness, desertion, or the like that hold the stage and come to the public eye. Moreover, an outsider is often quite unable to know whether a marriage is happy or unhappy. Much unhappiness may exist in homes which are outwardly harmonious, but there is also often conjugal happiness in cases where the onlooker would not have expected it. Such points have to be decided by the feelings of those concerned.

Of the one hundred married men and one hundred married women studied by Dr. Hamilton, 109 stated that their marriages were successful and 21 gave a qualified denial that they were unsuccessful. They were asked: " If by some miracle you could press a button and find that you had never been married to your husband (or wife), would you press the button? " One hundred and thirty of them said " No ", 16 said " No " with qualification, and only 28 said, without hedging, that they would press the button. They were also asked: " Knowing what you now know, would you wish to marry if you were unmarried? " One hundred and fifty-one said " Yes ", 15 " Yes " with qualification, and only 13 of the 200 said " No " without qualification.) Of 988 married college women belonging to the Davis group 872 answered unequivocally that their married lives had been happy, and only 116 that theirs had been either partially or totally unhappy. It has been remarked that these figures must not be considered representative of the general population, considering that the Davis study had as subjects women who possessed a comparatively high degree of intelligence and other qualities which ought to be conducive to success in marriage. But Raiford Pyke thinks that the really unhappy American marriages are chiefly found just among the more cultured classes, in which the movement of expansion in women's interests and lives is taking place, and marriage to-day is thus becoming more and more dependent for its success upon the adjustment of psychical conditions. The large percentage of successful marriages among the women of the Davis group is presumably connected with the fact that marriages consummated between college students are on the whole more successful than marriages generally. In one particular discussion of this matter it is reported that only one in every 75 marriages among college couples ended in divorce during a recent period of years, when there was one divorce for every seven marriages in the United States as a whole., As Dr. Nimkoff observes, the chances for a successful marriage are greater if the two persons come to their new experience with a fund of common interests. " If college marriages are more successful than marriages generally, this is chiefly due to the fact that the two persons develop much the same tastes as the result of their common college life. The college experience offers an excellent common situation for prospective mates, but other common situations may just as readily conduce to common interests ".

Some statistics from Russia may also be worth quoting. In 1908 a medical society there appointed a committee to study, by means of questionnaires, the sexual life of the female students of the University of Moscow. As the undertaking, however, was considered by the Government to be dangerous to society, the material thus collected was confiscated by the police, but some of it was saved and afterwards published under the present regime. One hundred and fifty - four students looked upon marriage as indispensable to their happiness, while 1 04 thought that they might find an equivalent to it in some kind of work; and in the former group the percentage of married women was greater than that of unmarried ones. Of 550 women who were studying at the University of Kazan in the winter term of 1922-23, 55 per cent. of the unmarried ones saw their future happiness in marriage, 42 per cent. in durable sex relations, and 3 per cent. in transitory ones; but only 40 per cent. of the married women were in favour of marriage, while 53 per cent. " allowed also extra-matrimonial intercourse ". Among 1162 male and 332 female students belonging to various institutions in Kharkov in 1926, of whom the unmarried ones and those who were or had been married were almost exactly equal in number, 88.3 per cent. of the men and 96.2 per cent. of the women looked upon marriage and durable sex relations as the highest forms of sexual life; and of those who preferred marriage the widowers presented the highest percentage.' The only difference between marriages and durable sex relations is that the former are registered and the latter not; both kinds of unions can be dissolved if either party wishes it.

A vigorous and harmonious sex life is one of the corner-stones of the temple of love and marriage, while relative or absolute impotence of the husband and frigidity of the wife are highly important causes of marital discord. The popular impression that women tolerate sexual inadequacy in their husbands less well than men tolerate it in their wives may have some foundation in fact; but the frigidity of the woman makes the man's pleasure tasteless nourishment which barely appeases his hunger. No highly civilised or sensitive man appreciates union with a woman who re-mains unmoved and listless in his arms; the merely passive, submissive, and frigid wife will speedily fail to attract him, and as soon as sexual attraction is extinguished sexual repulsion easily manifests itself, leading to enmity or even intense hatred. In any case the spiritual side of marriage would have no chance to develop while the natural side is out of gear.

The frigidity of the wife is very frequently due to the husband's lack of skill or consideration, or to his ignorance. It has been said that " if men were to give to their married life one-tenth of the trouble and thought they give to their business, the majority of marriages would be happy ".1 " Marriage is a science ", says Balzac. He compares the average husband to an orang-utan trying to play the violin, and adds: " Love is the most melodious of all music, and a taste for it is inborn in us. Woman is a delightful instrument of pleasure, but it is necessary to know her trembling chords, the attitude in which to approach her, and the difficult changes of fingering needed for a delicate keyboard. How many orangs—men, I mean, marry without knowing what a woman is! . . . Almost all married in the most profound ignorance, both of women and of love; they began by forcing the door of a strange house, and they expect to be well received in the drawing-room ".

Numbers of married women are left cold or unsatisfied because their husbands give no heed to the fact that in coitus the orgasm tends to occur more slowly in women than in men. Of the hundred married women belonging to the Hamilton group 37 stated without qualification that their husbands' orgasms occurred too quickly for their own (the women's) pleasure. This point is much better understood in the East than in the West, the prolongation of the man's excitement, in order to give the woman time for orgasm, being carefully observed both by Moslems and Hindus.' In the Kama Sutra of Vatsayana, written nearly two thousand years ago and considered a gem in Hindu erotic literature, we read: " Males, when engaged in coition, cease of themselves after emission, and are satisfied, but it is not so with females. ... If a male be long-timed, the female loves him the more, but if he be short-timed, she is dissatisfied with him ".

In another respect, also, the husband should have patience in order to make himself acceptable to his wife: he should court her. An instinctive impulse to prevent the male's approach is a feminine characteristic found in mankind, as well as among the lower animals, and in order to overcome it the male has to arouse in her an emotional condition which leads her to surrender herself to him. This is done by the process of courtship, which precedes a marriage, but is not definitely brought to an end by it: it has to be repeated, in some measure, before every act of coition. Vatsayana writes: " The husband who would like to keep the love of his wife all to himself, should press with nails or scratch with them the different erotic parts of her body as well as kiss all those parts every time he seeks an embrace. By these means the wife gets prepared for the sexual act, reaches her orgasm quickly and loves her husband fervently ". He is of opinion that all the parts which can be kissed should also be slightly bitten, but so gently as to produce only pleasurable sensation in the woman and no discomfort. Balzac says that " a husband's own interest, at least as much as his honour, forbids him the indulgence of any pleasure which he has not had the talent to make attractive to his wife ". We find similar remarks made by female writers. According to Ellen Key, " every developed modern woman wishes to be loved not en male but en artiste ". Marie Stopes writes:

" A man does not woo and win a woman once for all when he marries her: he must woo her before every separate act of coitus, for each act corresponds to a marriage as other creatures know it ". Sofie Lazarsfeld asked many women what seemed to them to be the man's best and most valuable quality during intercourse, and though the answers she received were very different in detail, there was always one common denominator, so to speak, namely, intensity of wooing, together with tenderness.

The first night of a marriage is a particularly critical occasion. Here again I may refer to the wisdom of Vatsayana, who thinks that if the husband completely wins over his bride in a loving manner on the first night, he wins her love for the whole life. " The unseasoned girl is nearly always very bashful and the proper way to obtain her consent for sexual union is through kind words and showering warm kisses upon her. The husband should also repeatedly promise his life-long love to her. If in the storm of his passion the husband uses brute force to overcome the person of his young wife, it will seriously hurt her feelings and she may never afterwards be made to love him with the same love as a good wife should have for her husband ". Balzac utters a similar warning: " Never begin marriage by an assault. . . The fate of a marriage is decided in the first night ". It has often been pointed out that the defloration performed by an unskilful and over-eager husband is a frequent cause of lasting frigidity in the wife. Mrs. Sanger says that " the importance of the first step into the conjugal life cannot be over-emphasised. Initiation demands all the foresight, self-control and skill that the bridegroom can summon to his aid. . . . After the horrors of a bridal night, women have been known to leave inexperienced husbands for ever. . . . Through inexperience, ignorance, and a lack of self-control, due to excitement, many bridegrooms have recklessly thrown away all possibilities of subsequent happiness ". Fortunately, however, such horrors of the bridal night seem to be exceptions rather than the rule. One of Dr. Hamilton's questions was:

Did you feel any reluctance or aversion to the act the first time you had sex intercourse with your husband? " Sixty-five of the hundred women answered it in the negative. Another question was: " Did your wife show aversion to the sex act the first time? " Seventy-one of the hundred men answered it in the negative. Sixty-one of the women said that the first sex act did not cause them much pain, or that " it was painful but not seriously so ", or something similar. Fifty-seven said that it neither frightened, disgusted, nor surprised them; but only seventeen said, without reservation, that they enjoyed it. Among the Moscow students mentioned above, the first coitus caused rapture and enhanced self-feeling in 28, but disgust, anxiety, and depression in 46.5 In none of the cases now referred to is it said that the first coitus took place during the first night; it is often postponed, maybe even for months.' It is not always, however, the husband's fault if the wedding-night becomes a tragedy. Of 65 women belonging to the Hamilton group who had not had pre-marital intercourse, 23 answered in the negative his question, " Were you prepared by instruction before marriage to expect the sex act your wedding-night? " and 11 answered " No " with reservations.

It is said that in normal women there is a periodical ebb and flow of sexual desire which only too often escapes the husband's observation or his care. According to Marie Stopes, there are fortnightly periods of desire, arranged so that one period comes always just before each menstrual flow, and the other period comes about eight or nine days after the close of menstruation. She maintains that this fortnightly rhythm fundamentally affects the marriage relation, and that a husband who desires lasting and mutual happiness in marriage should carefully study his wife, observe how far she has a normal rhythm, and how far she has little personal traits. Margaret Sanger likewise observes that the sexual desire in women consists of a series of wave-like periods determined by the monthly cycle. She says that " authorities and investigators are not in complete agreement upon the point when desire rises to its highest point. This undoubtedly varies in different women, according to age, climate, and general environment. . . Intelligent husbands should make a thoughtful study of the inner nature of their wives and seek to carry to consummation their own amorous desires on the rising movement of this wave ".

If sexual incompatibility is often due to the ignorance of the husband, it is also in no small measure due to the ignorance of the wife; although, as Montaigne said, women may know more of love than men can teach them, because it is a discipline that is born in them.' A highly educated lady told Marie Stopes that, when she was about eighteen, she suffered many months of agonising apprehension that she was about to have a baby because a man had snatched a kiss from her lips at a dance; and the belief that a kiss on the lips from a man may cause pregnancy is also found among girls in the United States, France, and Austria. There are said to be English girls who, when they marry, are unaware that married life will bring them into physical relations with their husbands which are fundamentally different from those with their brothers. An American doctor writes: " Many a woman has told me that she expected from marriage a prolongation of her betrothal days, with more intensity; that a bunch of flowers or a box of sweets would be the daily contribution of her husband to her happiness, and that her responsibilities would be confined to keeping the flowers in fresh water and the sweets in appropriate bowls ". Of the 992 educated married women belonging to the Davis group who answered the question, " Had you been at all adequately prepared by instruction for the sex side of marriage? " 438 stated that they had no preparation at all; and many of those who answered the question in the affirmative, altogether 554, or 55.8 per cent., revealed by their answers how inadequate were their notions concerning " adequate preparation ". Some thought a knowledge of contraception all that was wanted, and a few mentioned the duty of a wife to submit to her husband as a satisfactory basis for married life.' The average age of all those women was thirty-eight, so that their youth belonged to a period when the knowledge of matters relating to sex was even less than it is at present. Nowadays there is more instruction in this respect; in some countries, as Germany and the United States, public lectures are given on sexual hygiene; the University of Konigsberg has a chair of sexual science, Berlin its Institute of the same science. The movement of enlightenment really commenced in the eighteenth century, although it afterwards came to a standstill. Musitanus' book, De morbis mulierum tractatus, published in 1709, anticipated even in little details Van de Velde's present-day attempts to teach married people the A B C of sex.

It is to be hoped that increased enlightenment will, to some extent, diminish marital unhappiness. It was recognised to do so already in ancient India, where Vatsayana expressed the opinion that ignorance of how to perform the sexual act in young men leads to many family disasters and that, consequently, all young people who are about to marry should be taught this science in all its details.' If we compare the women in the Davis group who considered their marriages happy with those who considered them unhappy, the difference in the percentages of women who had, and those who had not, received specific preparation for the sex side of marriage certainly suggests that proper preparation is a factor for happiness; 8 and so also the women belonging to the Dickinson-Beam group who had received pre-marital examination and instruction were more generally successful in making their adaptations in marriage than were those who had not had such professional assistance.' At the same time, however useful such instruction may be, we must not forget the difference between knowledge and behaviour. Dr. Hamilton says he has encountered a discouragingly large number of spouses who have failed to obtain any substantial and lasting relief from sexual maladjustments by reading and attempting to profit by the always optimistic literature of erotology.

The sexual impulse also endangers marriage through its deceitfulness: even when raised to the rank of love it frequently leads to early marriages that soon come to an unhappy end. It is not quite so blind as it is proverbially said to be. It is stimulated by useful qualities in the opposite sex: by physical beauty, which implies the full and healthy development of those visible properties that are essential to the human organism, or to the sex, or to the race. They are all the outward manifestations of physical perfection or fitness, and the instinctive preference for them is therefore evidently within the power of natural selection. But they are useful in connection with the propagation of the species, as tending to produce a vigorous and healthy offspring; on the other hand, they are no guarantees for lasting unions between the sexes. Personal appearance may also excite the sexual instinct as expression of mental qualities; emotional, moral, and intellectual qualities may act as stimulants by evoking affection, approbation, or admiration. But under the influence of an impetuous sexual impulse such qualities are easily exaggerated beyond all reason, and the beloved person acquires, in the imagination of the lover, an immeasurable superiority over all others. He is seen, not as he is, but as he appears irradiated by a delusive light.

Love-matches, especially early ones, easily come to grief. This is a very common observation. Montaigne writes: I see no marriages where the conjugal intelligence sooner fails, than those that we contract upon the account of beauty and amorous desires; there should be more solid and constant foundation, and they should proceed with greater circumspection; this furious ardour is worth nothing. Those who think they honour marriage by joining love to it, do, methinks, like those who, to favour virtue, hold that nobility is nothing else but virtue." 2 Balzac asks: " What sensible father would think of marrying his son at twenty? The danger of these precocious unions is too well known. It seems that marriage is the opposite of all natural acts, since it demands a special maturity of reason. Everyone knows the saying of Rousseau:

There must always be a period of licence, at one age if not at another; a leaven is only bad which ferments too soon or too late '. And what mother would risk her daughter's happiness by exposing her to the risk of this fermentation, when it is not past and over? "

Schopenhauer quotes in support of his own opinion the Spanish proverb, " Quien se casa por amores, ha de vivir con dolores " (" He who marries for love has to live in sorrow "),I Lord Beaconsfield wrote in his younger days: " All my friends who have married for love and beauty either beat their wives or live apart from them. This is literally the case. I may commit many follies in life, but I never intend to marry for ` love ', which I am sure is a guarantee of infelicity ". " It is a well-known fact ", says Bloch, " that . . . marriages of reason are often more enduring than love-marriages. This depends upon the nature of human love, which is by no means inalterable, but changes in accordance with the various developmental phases of the individual, needs new incitements and new individual relationships. . . . All those who are well acquainted with humanity, all poets and psychologists, are in agreement respecting the fugitive character of youthful love. For this reason they advise against marriage concluded during the passion of early youth ".3 Loewenfeld points to cases of so-called " marriages of convenience ", which had in the first instance been entered into without any expectation of marital happiness, and yet in the course of years took on a form that converted connubial fellowship into a source of purest conjugal happiness for both parties concerned. Though love is commonly considered to be the proper motive for a marriage, it is, after all, more important that the parties should love each other after marriage than before.

In France it is suitability rather than sexual passion that is regarded as the best foundation for marriage, and the parents have quite a great deal to say in the matter. There and in other Latin countries the Roman notions of paternal rights and filial duties have to some extent survived throughout the Middle Ages and till modern times. According to the French Code Civil, a son under twenty-five and a daughter under twenty-one could not, until 1907, marry without the consent of their parents; and between the ages of twenty-one and thirty they must still ask for it, although, if it is refused, the matter can be regulated by means of an act before a notary, and in case the consent is not given within thirty days the marriage can take place without it. Van de Velde says that " quite a number of modern men and women have regretfully had to admit to themselves, during the course of their marriage, that the victory they gained once over their parents' opposition has led to their own unhappiness ".3 But there is nothing that " Modern Youth " would oppose more violently than any attempt on the part of their parents to interfere with their sex life. The economic obstacle to early marriage may be to some extent removed by contraception, and on the other hand contraception may also be a remedy for it by facilitating non-matrimonial intercourse. Timerding advocates easier divorce for a couple who have married early in life. Others think that trial unions of some kind or other will, more frequently than at present, help to put off marriage till a later age.

A peculiarity of the sexual instinct which creates much disturbance in married life is its taste for variety. It is dulled by long familiarity and stimulated by novelty. This is true both of animals and men. Montaigne wrote: " I was fain to turn out into the paddock an old stallion, as he was not to be governed when he smelt a mare: the facility presently sated him as towards his own, but towards strange mares, and the first that passed by the pale of his pasture, he would again fall to his importunate neighing and his furious heats as before ".I Mr. Heape thinks that all breeders will agree that animals brought into contact with strangers experience increased sexual stimulation. Dr. Hamilton, basing his observations on eighteen macaques and two baboons at his laboratory in California, states that continuous confinement of one male with one female resulted in a marked diminution of sexual enthusiasm in both, particularly in the male, a condition which the animals sought to remedy by special stimulations; whereas vigour was immediately restored by supplying each with a new mate.

There is a saying that " marriage is the death of love ", and this may be true enough if by love is meant sensual desire; as in the frivolous French ditty:

Quand on est en menage On se voit sans desir, Mais hors de mariage II fait toujours plaisir.

If love is taken in this sense, Dr. Bloch may be right in stating: " The eternal uniformity of daily companionship puts love to sleep, damps its ardour, and even gives rise to a sense of latent or open hatred between a married pair. This hatred is observed most frequently in love matches ". It is a matter of ordinary experience that sexual indifference and a desire for new gratifications of the sexual impulse are frequent causes of divorce; and according to Von Oettingen, the statistics of divorce and remarriage in Europe show that the taste for variety, in many cases, is the chief cause of it. Here again certain answers given to Dr. Hamilton's questions may be of some interest. Thirty-three of the women stated categorically that they did not crave variety of sex experience in the sense of having sex desire directed toward men other than their husbands; while only 6 of the men said they did not crave variety of sex experience, and 20 said they were not naturally polygamous. Forty-one of the men and 29 of the women said they craved such variety. To the question, " If your spouse has ceased to be sexually attractive to you, how do you account for this fact? " 12 of the men gave the answer that the cause of it was desire for variety, the lack of novelty, being with her continually, or something similar; while 2 of the women said the cause was continued intimacy or too much proximity. These figures seem to lend support to the opinion that the feminine love of variety is less acute than the masculine.

Attempts are made to gratify the desire for variety and relieve the monotony within the matrimonial boundary. " Each night should have its menu ", says Balzac; " there is a devouring monster that marriage should instantly combat, its name is habit. If a man cannot make a difference between the pleasures of two successive nights, he has married too soon ". Medical writers describe and advocate a great variety of sex plays and many variations of method of performing the act itself, and are convinced that such plays and variations are not only permissible to spouses, but are of definite value for overcoming marital sex maladjustments. Dr. Hamilton's tables give us an idea both of their multifariousness and their frequency. Separate beds for the married couple, which on the Continent has long been looked upon as a matter of course, and, better still, separate bedrooms, may also serve the same ultimate purpose. " When a husband and wife sleep in separate rooms, you may know that they are either virtually divorced, or that they have learnt the secret of happiness; they either abominate or they. adore one another ". Ellen Key believes that in another generation separate dwellings will perhaps have ceased to attract attention. But nothing can more effectively counteract the craving for variety than the feeling of conjugal love. While the sensual desire is abated by frequent gratification, the spiritual side of love has a tendency to increase in the course of time. The sexual element is pushed into the background, and can no longer disturb the harmonious relation between husband and wife. Unfortunately, however, many marriages do not turn out to be so successful. The craving for change often finds its outlet in adultery.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com