The Conjugal Relation
( Originally Published 1879 )
Have you taken upon yourselves the conjugal relation? Your high and solemn duty is to make each other as happy as it is in your power. The husband should have, as his great object and rule of conduct, the happiness of the wife. Of that happiness, the confidence in his affection is the chief element; and the proofs of this affection on his part, therefore, constitute his chief duty—an affection that is not lavish of caresses only, as if these were the only demonstrations of love, but of that respect which distinguishes love, as a principle, from that brief passion which assumes, and only assumes, the name—a respect which consults the judgment, as well as the wishes, of the object beloved—which considers her who is worthy of being taken to the heart as worthy of being admitted to all the counsels of the heart. He must often forget her, or be useless to the world; she is most useful to the world by remembering him. From the tumultuous scenes which agitate many of his hours, he returns to the calm scene, where peace awaits him, and happiness is sure to await him; because she is there waiting, whose smile is peace, and whose very presence is more than happiness to his heart.
In your joy at the consummation of your wishes, do not forget that your happiness both here and hereafter depends—0 how much!—upon each other's influence. An unkind word or look, or an unintentional neglect, sometimes leads to thoughts which ripen into the ruin of body and soul. A spirit of forbearance, patience, and kindness, and a determination to keep the chain of love bright, are likely to develop corresponding qualities, and to make the rough places of life smooth and pleasant. Have you ever reflected seriously that it is in the power of either of you to make the other utterly miserable? And when the storms and trials of life come, for come they will, how much either of you can do to calm, to elevate, to purify, the troubled spirit of the other, and substitute sunshine for the storm?
We cannot look upon marriage in the light in which many seem to regard it—merely as a convenient arrangement in society. To persons of benevolence, intelligence, and refinement, it must be something more—the source of the greatest possible happiness or of the most abject misery—no half-way felicity. You have not had the folly to discard common sense. You have endeavored to study charitably and carefully the peculiarities of each other's habits, dispositions, and principles, and to anticipate somewhat the inconveniences to which they may lead. And as you are deter-mined to outdo each other in making personal sacrifices, and to live by the spirit of the Savior, you have laid a foundation for happiness, which it is not likely will be shaken by the joys or sorrows, the prosperity or adversity, the riches or poverty, or by the frowns or flattery, of the world. If there is a place on earth to which vice has no entrance—where the gloomy passions have no empire-where pleasure and innocence live constantly together—where cares and labors are delightful—where every pain is forgotten in reciprocal tenderness—where there is an equal enjoyment of the past, the present, and the future—it is the house of a wedded pair, but of a pair who, in wedlock, are lovers still.
The married life, though entered never so well, and with all proper preparation, must be lived well or it will not be useful or happy. Married life will not go itself, or if it does it will not keep the track. It will turn off at every switch and fly off at every turn or impediment. It needs a couple of good conductors who understand the engineering of life. Good watch must be kept for breakers ahead. The fires must be kept up by a constant addition of the fuel of affection. The boilers must be kept full and the machinery in order, and all hands at their posts, else there will be a smashing up, or life will go hobbling or jolting along, wearing and tearing, breaking and bruising, leaving some heads and hearts to get well the best way they can. It requires skill, prudence, and judgment to lead this life well, and these must be tempered with forbearance, charity, and integrity.
The young are apt to hang too many garlands about the married life. This is so as this life is generally lived. But if it is wisely entered and truthfully lived, it is more beautiful and happy than any have imagined. It is the true life which God has designed for his children, replete with joy, delightful, improving, and satisfactory in the highest possible earthly degree. It is the hallowed home of virtue, peace, and bliss. It is the ante-chamber of heaven, the visiting-place of angels, the communing ground of kindred spirits. Let all young women who would reap such joys and be thus blessed and happy, learn to live the true life and be prepared to weave for their brows the true wife's perennial crown of goodness.
The experience of an excellent lady may be of benefit to some reader. She had a very worthy husband, whom she did not love as she should. The trouble was she had not entirely surrendered herself to him until after she had been very ill. She says: "I have been very ill, almost dead. Such care and devotion as I have had! What a rock my heart must have been, not to be broken before. Day and night my husband has watched me himself; sleepless and tireless; nobody else could do so much. Now I know what love means. My husband shall never say again, ' Love me more.' He shall have all there is to give, and I think my heart is larger than it was a year ago. What a thrill of joy it gives me when I catch his eye, or hear his voice or step. My heart runs to meet him and my eyes overflow with tears of happiness. How mean and contemptible it seems to me to desire the attention of other men, or to wish to go anywhere he cannot accompany me. I despise myself for ever thinking such pleasures desirable. I delight to say, 'My husband, my good, noble, generous, forgiving husband, keep me close to you. That is all the happiness I ask.' I know now that all the trouble was the result of not having a full, complete giving up of myself, when I promised to be a wife—a consecration of true love."
The warmest-hearted and most unselfish women soon learn to accept quiet trust and the loyalty of a loving life as the calmest and happiest condition of marriage; and the men who are sensible enough to rely on the good sense of such wives sail round the gushing adorers both for true affection and comfortable tranquility.
Just let a young wife remember that her husband necessarily is under a certain amount of bondage all day; that his interests compel him to look pleasant under all circumstances, to offend none, to say no hasty word, and she will see that when he reaches his own fireside he wants, most of all, to have this strain removed, to be at ease; but this he cannot be if he is continually afraid of wounding his wife's sensibilities by forgetting some outward and visible token of his affection for her. Besides, she pays him but a _poor compliment in refusing to believe what he does not continually assert, and by fretting for what is unreason-able to desire she deeply wrongs herself, for
"A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Make a home; beautify and adorn it; cultivate all heavenly charms within it; sing sweet songs of love in it; bear your portion of toil, and pain, and sorrow in it; con daily lessons of strength and patience there; shine like a star on the face of the darkest night over it, and tenderly rear the children it shall give you in it. High on a pinnacle, above all earthly grandeur, all gaudy glitter, all fancied ambitions, set the home interests. Feed the mind in it; feed the soul in it; strengthen the love, and charity, and truth, and all holy and good things within it
When young persons marry, even with the fairest prospects, they should never forget that infirmity is inseparably bound up with their very nature, and that, in bearing one another's burdens, they fulfill one of the highest duties of the union. Love in marriage cannot live nor subsist unless it be mutual; and where love cannot be, there can be left of wedlock nothing but the empty husk of an outside matrimony, as undelightful ' and unpleasing to God as any other kind of hypocrisy.
We have all seen the trees die in summer time. But the tree with its whispering leaves and swinging limbs, its greenness, its umbrage, where the shadows lie hidden all the day, does not die. First a dimness creeps over its brightness; next a leaf sickens here and there, and pales; then a whole bough feels the palsying touch of coming death, and finally the feeble signs of sickly life, visible here and there, all disappear, and the dead trunk holds out its stripped, stark limbs, a melancholy ruin. Just so does wedded love sometimes die Wedded love, girdled by the blessings of friends, hallowed by the sanction of God, rosy with present joys, and radiant with future hopes, it dies not all at once. A hasty word casts a shadow upon it, and the shadow darkens with the sharp reply. A little thoughtlessness misconstrued, a little unintentional neglect deemed real, a little word misinterpreted, through such small avenues the devil of discord gains admittance to the heart, and then welcomes all his infernal progeny. The presence of something malicious is felt, but not acknowledged ; love becomes reticent, confidence is chilled, and noislessly but surely the work of separation goes on, until the two are left as isolated as the pyramids—nothing left of the union but the legal form—the dead trunk of the tree, whose branches once tossed in the bright sunlight, and whose sheltering leaves trembled with the music of singing birds now affords no shade for the traveler.
There are two classes of disappointed lovers—those who are disappointed before marriage, and the more unhappy ones who are disappointed after it. To be deprived of a person we love is a happiness in comparison of living with one we hate.