( Originally Published 1918 )
A STILL greater problem is presented to the wife who discovers that her husband has been unfaithful to her.
We are apt to feel that there can be no degrees of comparison in unfaithfulness. One act of infidelity seems as great an outrage as a long period of unfaithfulness. In reality, there may be a great difference. The man who is carried away by the passion of a moment, but whose real, underlying desire is to be true and faithful, is a very different being from the one who permits himself to remain in a state of infidelity. The one act may be but the result of an overwhelming impulse which sweeps the individual away from his moorings for the time being. As soon as reason regains her throne, however, he returns once more to his allegiance. The other seems to lack the very essentials of loyalty.
Of course, the wife whose husband has momentarily transgressed may say that he had no right to allow himself to be placed in a position where he could be so tempted, and to a certain degree she is right. Yet women should take into account the designing actions of other women, the way in which they many times throw themselves into the path of some man who has attracted them, and artfully draw him into a net before he has become aware of their real purpose. For this he is more to be pitied than blamed, and his wife should be the first one to realize his helplessness in the hands of a designing female.
It will be apparent from these remarks that I do not feel it the wife's duty immediately to repudiate her husband upon the discovery that he has been unfaithful to her. Let her first learn what the real state of his heart is. Suppose he has become temporarily enamoured of another woman, even to the point of unfaithfulness; does that mean that he has no love in his heart for his wife? Has he considered what it would mean to him to be deprived of wife and home and children, and is he ready to sacrifice it all for what seems to him to be another's love? These are questions to which she should know the answer before she decides upon her course of action.
A wife who feels herself outraged in her tenderest, holiest thoughts and emotions by such an act on the part of her husband is tempted to give way to violent denunciation. This can have but one consequence, and that a complete disruption of the home. In after years she may look back upon that scene and wish that she had met the great crisis of her life in a different frame of mind. She may realize then that life still holds much for two people who have been able to pass through such a crisis successfully. She may even be able to see that part of the blame rested upon her own shoulders.
It is difficult indeed for the one who is wronged to feel that she can, by any stretch of. the imagination, be made to share in the blame. She has been faithful and true. She has worked from morning till night with but one thought in her mind—or so she thinks—and that the welfare and happiness of husband and children. But a little deeper analysis may show her that, in some way, she failed to bring to her husband the companionship, the complete understanding which he longed for, and that this was the reason he fell an easy victim to another woman's wiles.
It is true that a man will not turn to another woman so long as he devotedly loves his wife. It is only when a feeling of loneliness has begun to come over him, when he feels a sense of emptiness in his life, that he allows himself to be first amused, then attracted, and finally, it may be, overcome by the fascinating and flattering ways of some other woman.
It would be well, therefore, if the wronged wife would hold her judgment in abeyance when she first learns of the tragic situation in which she has been placed. Let her ask herself why she has failed to hold her husband's affection, and honestly and searchingly scrutinize the past, dealing with herself as unmercifully as she would deal with another. How has it come about that she has ceased to be attractive to him? Has her thought been centered too much upon herself, or her babies? Has she neglected her personal appearance, or failed to take a genuine interest in the things that interested him? Allowed her-self to become cross and peevish and irritable? Refused to join him in the recreations which he craved and needed, and so contributed to-ward making life such a dull, drab affair that his spirit revolted and turned to other sources of pleasure?
It may be that the marriage relation between them has been unsatisfactory. The wife has found it impossible to respond to her husband's ardent advances. She may have resigned herself in what she considered wifely submission; but such a one-sided relationship is inevitably unsatisfactory. She has offered but the husks, and his soul has remained unsatisfied. Unless some basis can be found for mutual satisfaction in this relationship, the marriage is bound to be more or less of a failure.
All this is not meant as an excuse for unfaithfulness in husbands. A man has no more right to be untrue to the marriage vow than has his wife. She has a right to resent his unfaithfulness, and even, if she so desires, to seek a complete separation from him, because of his in-fidelity. Sometimes this may be the only way out of an impossible situation. There are other times, however, when the wife will make a great mistake if she seeks thus to redress her wrongs. Where love is strong enough and big enough truly to forgive, it is possible to build up a new relationship and sometimes a completer under- standing when such a situation has been bravely faced and overcome.
Let the wife count the cost well, however, before she definitely decides to take the step to-ward reconciliation. If she does not feel assured that she can put all of these things behind her, and never refer to them in any way which will humiliate the husband, it would be better to end the situation at once. Many times an at-tempt is made at forgiveness without a true understanding of the depth of the magnanimity implied by that word. The woman who in after years reminds her husband that she has over-looked his unfaithfulness in the past, does not begin to understand its meaning. Furthermore, if she is going to live in a continual state of apprehension lest he prove unfaithful again, she ought not to attempt the role of a forgiving wife.
It has been said that to understand all is to forgive all. The saying is equally true when reversed. If she wants to forgive, the wife must come to understand not only the possibility of a temporary weakness, but the loyalty and strength of the love for her which may nevertheless be the underlying fact of her husband's life. In that knowledge her faith may rest secure. This is her golden opportunity to prove the intensity and loyalty of her love for her husband, and, by so doing, it may be, to make of him such a man as he would never have been otherwise.
When the husband is guilty of repeated acts of infidelity the wife finds herself in a different and a very difficult situation. Here is a man who is apparently incapable of faithfulness. Is it her place to forgive his repeated offences and receive him always with open arms whenever he feels impelled to return to her? Is she doing him any real good by so doing? Are there children in the home, and under what conditions are they being brought up?
Many a wife, with the idea that it is her place to forgive, receives her erring husband when he returns, only to discover that her leniency has proven to be an encouragement to him in wrong-doing and has almost lost her the respect of her children. For example, I know of one woman who took this attitude toward her erring husband until her sons had reached the age of understanding—about fifteen and seventeen years of age—when they turned upon her one day and informed her that if she allowed that drunken reprobate, her husband, to continue to come into her home they would go somewhere else. It seemed a bitter thing for children to say, but it brought her to a realization that, if she would retain the respect of her children, she must cease to allow herself to be used as a convenience by one who was utterly unworthy of her and of them.
Mothers must not forget that children are influenced by the moral atmosphere of those in the home. A man who is living a life of unfaithfulness sends forth an atmosphere of deceitfulness and sensuality which cannot but be most detrimental to the impressionable souls of little children.
Not only may it be necessary for the wife to separate herself from the erring husband for her own sake and the sake of her children, but his welfare also may demand it. It may be the only thing which will cause him to pause and ponder upon the path which he is pursuing. It may serve to bring him to his senses, so that, whether their lives are rejoined or not, he will master himself to the degree of being faithful to someone, and thus he will really be benefited by the separation.
The question as to what should be done when unfaithfulness has been discovered, therefore, is one which can be answered only by those who are involved, and the right solution can be found only by considering the welfare of all concerned. This much may be said, however, for the guidance of all under such unhappy circumstances, that what is really best for one will be found to be best for all concerned.