Regulating The Relation Of Husband And Wife
( Originally Published 1918 )
TWO young people starting out on life's journey together have a great work of adjustment to perform. Heretofore they have lived a more or less self-centered existence. To a very large degree they have consulted only their own preferences and considered only the working out of their own plans. Now they must discover how the two personalities can be adjusted to work harmoniously together, and together get the most of life.
Probably the first great essential to success in this enterprize is the proper regulation of the marital intimacy. As has been suggested, the wife's instinct, normally, will be a fairly competent guide in these matters. If she is normal, she is only responsive to the husband's advances at certain periods of the month, and this would seem to indicate that the greatest satisfaction to both would come through the observance of this characteristic of her nature. To be sure, many women desire to avoid this particular period, be-cause it is during the days immediately preceding and following the menses that conception is most likely to take place, but to postpone this intimacy from the time when it would be acceptable to the period when results are least likely to follow, will not be conducive to the greatest satisfaction and happiness of the two concerned.
I would like to repeat here the words I have used in another volume upon this point. "Sex was not intended primarily for the pleasure associated therewith. The Creator had a deep under-lying purpose, and when we defeat this purpose, using this important function solely as a means of pleasure, we can rest assured that the full penalty will be exacted from us."
When a wife discovers that she is apparently lacking in all sexual feeling and does not reciprocate in the sexual act, she should make a study of herself to discover, if she can, the reason. It may be that she is suffering from general physical weakness, in which condition it is not to be expected that she will have enough surplus vitality to enjoy the marriage relation, because it will make too great a drain upon her system.
If this is the case, she should set herself to work to build up her general health through a regime of regular exercise, plenty of bathing, proper food, and a great deal of sunshine and outdoor air. Cold bathing is exhilarating to the nerves, if there is enough physical vigor to react well afterward. One can take a cold shower bath, or half fill the tub with water the night before and in the morning step into it and quickly dash it over the body, stepping out at once and rubbing the body vigorously with a rough towel. The skin should become a healthful pink, and there should be a general feeling of well-being as a result. If the body is blue and cold, there is not enough vigor to react, and the cold bathing should be postponed until, through other means, greater vitality has been produced. Air baths have a very tonic and soothing effect upon the nerves. If a wife is at home and alone during the day, let her lock herself in, remove all her clothing, and take some gentle exercises in the sunshine.
It is important that the sexual relationship should not be indulged in too often. It is difficult to say just what is excess in this matter, because what is permissible for one may be excessive for another. This, at least, may be said to all: Do not allow the relationship to become such a commonplace, through its frequency, that it loses all real meaning. Those people who al-low themselves to enter into this relationship as regularly as they perform other functions of their lives have lost the real charm and zest of married life.
This act is meant to be the culminating expression of an overpowering passion. Its purpose is to bring into existence another human being, who shall be the living representative of the union of two souls. Such intensity of emotion cannot be frequently produced, and those who enter into the marital relationship with anything like regularity have taken it from its high place of symbolism and lowered it to where it has simply become a source of physical gratification.
It is because this physical act should be the expression of a spontaneous outpouring of love that anything which causes it to appear premeditated desecrates the whole relationship. A married pair should learn to express their love in the closest endearments without the feeling that they must always eventuate in physical union. Other-wise, the moment any advances are made by one in the direction of the expression of love, the other, not desiring this culmination, at once feels it necessary to draw back, and thus a habit of coldness may spring up between the two.
Many a woman has lost all interest in life because she finds herself compelled to give herself up in this way night after night, when there is nothing within her own nature which calls for this form of expression. She feels degraded in her own eyes, and longs for something to free her from such slavery.
She should remember, however, that it is only those who are afraid to assert their right to freedom who remain slaves. Many times the wife's failure to speak out and make her true wishes known at the beginning of their life together has been the cause of the husband's tyranny. Therefore, the blame is as much hers as it is his. Where there is perfect confidence between the two, each is able to speak his or her own mind without fear, and, as a result, matters eventually are satisfactorily and harmoniously adjusted.
Man's passions are more easily aroused than woman's, and more insistent, because it is man's nature to be active and energetic. Woman is by nature negative, passive, and, for this reason, is less easily stirred and can more readily control herself. It is for this reason she is the natural guardian in these matters, and if they are not properly adjusted, she should look into the mat-ter to discover where her own shortcoming may be.
Sometimes the use of separate beds will be of assistance in this matter. We are coming to realize more clearly today than ever before the advantage of retaining one's own individuality. So we are considering more carefully the right of each individual to separateness from all other individuals. Children are no longer unquestioningly put together into the same bed at night. Each child has his or her own little crib. It sleeps much more comfortably and healthfully as a result. Husbands and wives have the same right to and need for separateness, and if separate rooms are not feasible, should at least have separate beds.
Without doubt, much of the marital excess which occurs in the first few months of married life would be prevented if the persons concerned occupied separate beds. The beds may be in the same room, they may be placed side by side ; but so long as they are separate it may be expected that only the normal instincts of the husband and wife will bring them together at the proper times. Without doubt, a better nervous condition would result, as there is likely to be less over-heating of the body, and sleep is more comfortable.
Although the marital relation may be considered as, in a way, the fundamental question in the adjustment of the two lives, nevertheless there are many other matters which call for consideration.
For instance, there is the question as to how much the wife should wait upon the husband. It is very beautiful for the young bride to feel that devotion which leads her to endeavor to anticipate every wish of her husband, and see that he has at hand everything which he may desire. For a little while he will doubtless be very appreciative, but, very soon, he will begin to take it for granted. Then, the first thing the young wife knows, she will find that he is demanding of her that which she gave in the first place as an expression of her excess of devotion. When that time comes she may discover that, all unconsciously to herself, she has been training a husband into a tyrant.
Mothers do the same thing with their children. They button their clothes, cut up their food, pick up their books and wraps, find everything they have lost—and then wonder why their children are so helpless.
The wife can 'Very easily turn her husband into a child of larger growth, unless she has the care-fulness which comes from wisdom. Let her do many little things for him; but let her expect the same devotion from him.
It would be well for her to make a rule, how-ever, not to do for him anything which he can just as well do for himself. For example, the wife who always lays out her husband's clean shirt for him, with cuff buttons and studs, and collar button all in place, may not perceive in the beginning, but eventually will learn, that she has been rendering him selfishly helpless and dependent upon her. The time will probably come when he will never think of changing his shirt unless she performs this preliminary for him. Although he has done all of these things and many more before he was married, now he suddenly loses the power to do anything for himself. He must run to her for everything, from his collar button to his shoe polisher.
A few brides form an exception to this rule. One with whom I am familiar made it a rule never to put away her husband's clothes for him. When the laundry arrived, his package was placed upon his chiffonier, he opened it and placed the various articles in their proper receptacles. As a result, when he wanted to dress himself he could put his hand upon everything he needed, and if, perchance, he should turn to her to ask where something was, her invariable reply was, "I don't know, dear. I didn't put it away."
While this may appear to be a heartless attitude on the part of the young wife, in reality it saved the two a great deal of unnecessary friction. If his things were not in place, he had no one but himself to blame, and that he was the first to realize.
Moreover, if the wife refuses to burden herself with the multiplicity of things which the husband can just as well do, she then has more time to give to the hundred and one little attentions which only a wife can show.
Corresponding to this comes the question as to the husband's attitude toward the wife. There are certain little attentions which he should be expected to show her under all circumstances. For example, she should not let him grow rusty in such little, matters as seeing that she has a chair, opening the door for her, and other little acts of courtesy. Neither, on the other hand, should she turn him into her slave, always expecting him to fetch and carry when he is in the house.
It is well for him to feel that he carries half of the responsibilities of the home. As a rule, a man does not object to doing the little tinkering jobs that sometimes come up, because it adds to his feeling of possession.
It would seem to be the wife's natural privilege to know something of the details of the business in which the husband is engaged, and, certainly, the amount of income which the family can expect. As she is naturally the dispenser of the family funds to a very large degree, it is only reasonable that she should be supplied with the needed information to govern those expenditures. A wife cannot be blamed for spending more than her husband's income warrants, when she is kept in complete ignorance of the amount of that income. She should be interested in the little events of the day's experience ; and he will many times gain light upon the perplexities of the day's doings if he can discuss them in detail with one who has his interest at heart, and looks upon all matters with a woman's intuition.
Just as some wives develop selfishness in their husbands through waiting upon them too much, so do husbands develop selfishness in their wives through unwise expenditures of money. The man loves to shower gifts upon his wife in order to hear her expressions of gratitude ; and so he tries to buy everything for which she expresses the least desire. The time comes when he finds he has developed the one who should be his help-meet, standing by and assisting him in all emergencies, into a helpless, dependent parasite.
A problem that arises with increasing frequency nowadays is the question as to whether or not the wife should continue to work after marriage.
If she is by instinct and training a business woman, or has a profession for which she finds herself much better adapted than for the duties of a housewife, it may be most conducive to the happiness of all concerned for her to follow her desires in the matter.
The matter should be thoroughly considered, however, before such a step is taken. In the first place, she should not plan to do housework before she goes to business and after her return, in addition to her daily task. No man would think of attempting such a thing. Women almost invariably do, through a mistaken desire for economy. It is too much of a drain upon her system, as a few hours of relaxation are needed after a day's work, and this she cannot get if she must devote this time to the work of the home. If being in business means that she would be able to employ some one for the home work, well and good.
She must realize, however, that this plan in all probability will not always be possible. When children come it will not be advisable for her to continue her business or professional life. During the years of infancy, at least, children need the personal care and supervision of their mothers ; and, let it be stated with equal emphasis, mothers need the training and development which comes from this living with their children. Even though, as some have suggested, experts could be found to take care of the baby from the moment of birth onward, it would nevertheless not be a desirable thing to do, because, by so doing, the mother would lose her greatest opportunity for self-development. Every true woman will be glad to devote herself during the early years of her children's lives to their welfare, knowing that, through the experience that will come to her in this way, her own personality will be so unfolded and enriched, that if, later on, when the child is sufficiently developed to be put into the care of others, she should wish to return to her former occupation, she will be, in all probability, more efficient than ever before.