Quarreling And Making Up
( Originally Published 1918 )
WHEN two young people, deeply in love with each other, are planning for the future, they picture it as one long honeymoon, where nothing but love and harmony will ever find expression. It would, indeed, be a happy thing if nothing inharmonious ever came into the home life.
But since it is not possible, nor even desirable, for the world to be filled with people who are always in a unanimous state of mind, it is necessary for human beings to learn how to differ with-out bringing in harmony into their relationship.
One might well study the art of differing. It is not necessary that two people should be absolutely of the same opinion in order to live together harmoniously. One need not be the walking echo of the other. In fact, such a condition of affairs- would, in reality, be most unsatisfactory for anyone blessed with average intelligence. A great deal of pleasure is to be derived from discussing many things with those who view them from an angle different from one's own. We are enlightened by seeing through other's eyes ; we are broadened in our sympathies by learning how others feel; our life is, therefore, enriched through differences.
To derive benefit from such circumstances, however, it is necessary for one to learn to consdier matters dispassionately, and with nothing but the most harmonious feelings at heart. As one spiritual teacher has aptly phrased it, "Agree to differ, but never disagree." This means that there will always be an atmosphere of agreement and of harmony in every difference which may come up.
One reason why it is so difficult for the newly married to differ harmoniously is because their feelings are so keenly involved, and they have not as yet learned to consider instinctively, as it were, the other's point of view. The bride will find herself thinking, when some disputed house-hold matter, it may be, comes up for discussion: "Well, I don't care. I think he might consider my wishes in this matter. If he loved me, he would rather do what I want than anything else in the world." Without doubt, her husband is thinking approximately the same thing; and in a little while they are accusing each other of having already begun to lose some of the deep devotion which has drawn them together.
The difference in itself, in all probability, is very insignificant, but the question of each other's love, which it has raised, is of serious import. It is only where there is perfect confidence in each other's unselfish devotion that there is found the necessary tolerance for an harmonious, united life. After years of marriage, that confidence generally comes, so that the two can differ with the utmost good humor and mutual understanding.
It is well for the young wife to make rather a careful study of this subject of quarrels, because in many cases she has it in her power to avoid a great many of them. A man in the business world learns to overlook a great many things. He is obliged to, in order to hold his position. He gets the sharp corners knocked off, and he learns to mind his own business and pay very little attention to other people. Men talk to each other with brutal frankness, as a rule, anyway, and here possibly will be found the beginning of trouble in the home.
The husband, feeling that in his wife he has found a good "pal," instinctively begins to talk to her as he does to the other fellows. He tells her that the way she has hung the parlor curtains makes them look sloppy; that he does not like all this fol-de-rol, referring to specimens of her handiwork, it may be, which are meant to adorn the home ; and altogether shows a brutal disregard for her feelings, which probably drives her to her room in a spasm of tears. Of course, it is all very unkind and unfeeling of him, and he should know better. He should have learned the little tactful ways which would enable him to sugarcoat his criticism with such words of appreciation as would enable her to take the dose without a qualm. But he hasn't learned these, and she should, therefore, be willing to overlook the acts and words which are the outcome of his ignorance. That does not mean that she should always put up with such boorishness, but only that she should have enough self-control not to let these little things upset her. If she retains her equanimity, she may be able, later on, to point out to him a better way.
We lose all our power when we let our feelings drive us to tears. That is a waste of energy which we can ill afford. The woman who has the power to rise above all of these petty disturbances will be the one who eventually will dominate the home atmosphere and bring it into that harmonious condition which both really desire.
In the first place, she must have complete confidence in her husband's love. No matter how many times he walks roughshod over her tender sensibilities, no matter how clumsy and blundering he may be in the expression of his desires and wishes, she must hold fast to that fundamental fact and never let it escape from her. When she is fairly quivering from some bit of apparent heartlessness, she must learn to say to herself, "Well, poor fellow, he doesn't know any better. I must try to teach him."
There is only one way in which she may teach —and that is not by word of mouth. It is easy to talk, but it is difficult to do. She must teach the better way by showing it ; and the first step in that direction is for her to ask herself, when-ever an inharmonious condition has arisen in the family, "Where was I to blame in that? What was my fault?"
In order to find the answer to these questions it is not enough for her to dwell simply upon the last five minutes of the quarrel, going over all of the unkind things he said when his anger was finally aroused, and justifying all of the equally unkind things she said in that way. To find the cause of the quarrel, she must go back to the very beginning. What was it that caused the first remark that eventually led to the unpleasantness? She may be able to put her finger on some very inconsiderate remark of her husband's; but was she not too hasty in interpreting it in the most unkind way? May it not have been that he meant it very differently from the way in which it sounded in her ears? Suppose, instead of flaring up at his apparent unkindness, she had had enough self-control to smile up into his face and say, jocosely, "Well, now, just how do you mean that?" If she had given the poor, blundering, masculine creature a chance, he might have been able to show her that, back of it all, was a sincere desire for her happiness, or for their mutual benefit; but, of course, when she took it in the wrong way, he wasn't going to back down from his original position. And so they went on, making a bad matter worse, until the final crash came.
Now, what are they going to do about it? She has gone to her room, thrown herself upon her bed, and given way to a flood of weeping. He went around down stairs for a while, hoping that she would reappear, and then slammed his way out of the house and went back clown to the office, for he was too proud to go to the club and let others see that married life was not all a bed of roses, as he had pictured it.
Somebody has to take the first step toward a reconciliation. Who should it be?
The most important thing about a quarrel is the making-up afterwards. The sooner that can be brought about, of course, the better.
Let not any two young people think, in the stubbornness of their pride, that they can come together at their next time of meeting and ignore what has just taken place. They sometimes try to meet on the basis of cold formality, and some of them may succeed in putting it over, but it is a most disastrous procedure. The quarrel, which, if properly gone over together, might have drawn them into closer harmony and a better under-standing of each other, remains a sore spot in the heart of each; the poisonous sting of the heart-less words spoken in the heat of the controversy continues to do its deadly work. They have laid the first stone of a barrier which some day will be found to separate them irrevocably.
It is always hard to take the first step toward a reconciliation, but the two young people should know that the one who is able to take the first step has the advantage. It makes no difference which one was the most to blame in the beginning. Tacitly to admit your share of the blame by saying, "Will you forgive me," is to call forth an overflowing love which is the sweetest possible recompense for the effort which may be involved.
Individual differences are of very little consequence. The great eternal fact of a true and sincere love can be made to drown them all.
The serious differences arise when one or the other nurses a grievance for a long time without giving expression to it. There is a feeling in the atmosphere which indicates that things are not as they should be, and yet nothing is apparent on the surface. There seems to be a cloud hanging over the home. An occasional grouchy remark may be explained away on the basis of business worries, whereas in reality it is the expression of a hidden grievance. This is a serious condition and especially trying for the one who has no definite knowledge of it, and yet suffers from its presence. This brooding over a fancied wrong is the product of an unfortunate disposition which lacks confidence in another's love and sincerity, and it is this lack of faith which makes the life of the two together so difficult. Many times the innocent victim of this brooding disposition is obliged to provoke a quarrel in order to find out what the real trouble is. After the explanation, the air is cleared for the time being, and happiness reigns. But, in time, the poison again shows itself.
The person who is afflicted with this sort of a disposition should make every possible effort to overcome it, and should enlist the heartfelt and understanding co-operation of the other member of the life partnership. Such an individual should never allow the least little incident that causes the slightest feeling of unhappiness to lodge in the mind and remain there unexplained. Every such little matter should be taken at once to the wife or husband, as the case may be, with the words, "I'm sure you don't mean anything, but such and such a thing has hurt me. Won't you explain just how you meant it?" The free and frank discussion which will follow will serve to bind the two into a close harmony of mutual confidence and trust, and little by little the unfortunate tendency may be overcome.
One way to avoid quarrels is for husband and wife to learn when not to speak upon troublesome or trying matters. If the husband is going through a business crisis, the wife who is wise will put her personal preferences out of sight for the time being, and bring to him as little of the annoying details of daily life as possible. On the other hand, husbands should also remember that there are periods when the wife is not entirely herself. There comes a period each month when she is more or less under the weather and inclined to feel a little cross and irritable, and especially unduly sensitive. This is the time for the husband to give full expression to his love and appreciation, reserving all words of criticism for a time when she is more strong in spirit to receive them. Pregnancy is another period during which the husband will need to exercise unusual consideration. On the other hand, the wife should not feel during pregnancy that she has a right to give full and unrestrained expression to her disagreeable feelings. She must remember that the little new life needs a harmonious atmosphere in which to develop.
Above all, neither one should attempt to domineer over the other. Each should look upon the other as a human being who has human rights to be observed and regarded. Neither one of the two is expected, in this day and generation, absolutely to give up his or her individuality on entering into the married state. Life will be much richer and more satisfactory with two distinct individualities which have learned to adapt them-selves to each other, than where one has become a washed-out replica of the dominant personality.
Quarreling is too serious a thing for young people ever to indulge in it as a pastime, In the first excess of devotion they are in danger of thinking it sometimes amusing to pretend to be hurt over some little occurrence. It is, in the first place, merely pretense, but, before they know it, simply assuming the air of an aggrieved individual eventually brings the feeling itself into existence. Or, it may be, the two start "knocking each other," as the slang phrase goes, purely in fun, and before they know it find themselves in a truly acrimonious exchange of uncomplimentary phrases.
Love is too precious a thing ever to be treated in any other way than the most reverential. While humor is a great essential to success in life; and especially in married life, it must be humor of the right sort.