Father George Kelly’s take on marital happiness from

The Catholic Family Handbook

My Disclaimer

Three pillars of happiness:

To be a good wife, you must first understand your husband, recognizing the fundamental aspects of his character and how his personality differs from your own.

Secondly, you must accept him—accept him not only as a man, but as a man with an individuality unlike that of any other man on earth.

Finally, you must inspire him to achieve the fullest spiritual and emotional growth of which he is capable.

The good husband must also understand, accept, and inspire his wife so that she can achieve her full potentiality as a woman.

Let us examine these three requirements in detail.

Understanding:

Probably everyone over the age of six knows that men and women are different. Few of us understand the full extent of that difference. Their fundamental life interests are different; they think in a different way; they react differently to various emotional and physical stimuli.

The man who expects his wife to handle household affairs as he handles his affairs in the office, therefore, is expecting the impossible.

The woman who expects her husband to react as she does to the cry of a child overlooks the fundamental differences between the sexes.

Men are men, made with personality characteristics designed to help them do their work of providing leadership. Women are given endowments to enable them to perform their functions as bearers and educators of children.

As a result, a woman generally is more idealistic. She sees things in a more romantic, more emotional way. Her husband prefers to think of himself as more logical.

Faced with his wife’s statement that she dislikes one of his friends, he may demand to know why, appealing to her sense of logic. Because she thinks in a more intuitive way, she may not answer logically. “I can’t tell exactly why I dislike him,” she may say. “I just don’t feel he is a good influence.”

A man tends to be quick in his decisions. A woman tends to be slower and more deliberate. Observe how men and women shop at a department store. Before he enters the shop, the male has a fairly clear idea of what he wishes to buy. He goes directly to the appropriate counter, examines two or three samples, and makes his purchase. In a few minutes he is out of the store and about other business.

On the other hand, his wife usually will have no clear picture of what she intends to purchase. As she walks to the counter, she debates whether she should get one particular brand—or something else. She examines not three samples, but half a score, sometimes even as many as the clerk has in stock.

And even as she walks away with the package under her arm, she is not sure that she bought the right thing. She may still change her mind the next day and ask the shop to exchange the merchandise.

In his role as provider, the man must usually make decisions and act upon them quickly, and he generally cannot afford the luxury of worrying about them once they are made. Such emotions as he may have are pushed down deeply because of his continuing need to be decisive.

On the other hand, God has designed woman to be emotional. She could be no other way and still fulfill her goal of motherhood. The newborn infant and the young child need demonstrated affection, kissing and manifestations of love, just as they need food and clothing. A woman lacking the ability to give that love would be poorly equipped for her role.

A woman usually is less confident of herself—her attractiveness, her qualities as wife and mother—than her husband would admit to being about himself.

She wants to know that she is needed and loved, that her husband and children value her services. Her husband needs love just as desperately, but generally will not admit it openly. He seeks recognition of his masculinity. He must know that he is a satisfactory lover, that he is professionally competent, that he has personal charm.

Being direct, the typical man has no time for the subtleties characteristic of women’s thinking. If he says to his wife, “Let’s go out to dinner tonight,” he usually means just that. Her reaction is likely to be, “Does he say that because he dislikes my cooking? Has he done something he is trying to hide? Is it because of that cute waitress?”

If you try to understand your mate’s nature, you will be able to deal competently with problems that result from it.

Here are two examples: A husband usually returned home from work each evening in a highly irritable mood. His wife had learned through tearful experience to keep the youngsters from his sight at these times. Not until he finished dinner was it safe to bring them out. What caused his meanness? Simply the physical fact that he worked at a fast pace all afternoon and by evening he was hungry and his energy was at a low point. Many men are cranky under such circumstances.

When his wife recognized that his mean disposition had a physical basis, she made it a habit to have a large glass of fruit juice standing ready in the refrigerator. When she saw him turn into the driveway, she ran to the refrigerator and greeted him at the front door, juice in hand. After she learned that one basic fact about her husband’s nature, there were fewer tearful episodes in the household.

A wife was extremely tense on certain days and cheerful on others. Her husband did not realize that her moods were partly beyond her control until she casually remarked that she always felt low on the day or days preceding menstruation. It has been scientifically verified that millions of women suffer from a condition known as premenstrual tension which affects their personalities adversely.

When the husband recognized this fact, he began to make allowance for it. He went out of his way to avoid irritating his wife on those days, and he tried to ease her depression with patience and the assurance that she was passing through a temporary condition.

If you make an honest effort to understand your mate’s personality, the general characteristics of the sex as well as personal idiosyncrasies, you will help yourself to live with them harmoniously.  Often they are conditions you cannot easily change. It is simpler to adjust to them as best you can.

There would be little conflict in marriage arising from misunderstanding if spouses talked with each other gently but honestly. You cannot understand, let alone accept, what you do not know. And since husbands and wives are not mind readers, understanding can only begin in conversation.

John Warren Hill, Presiding Justice of the New York Domestic Relations Court, has expressed it this way: “If you have a real or imaginary grievance, complaint, or suspicion against your mate, talk it out. If you are becoming more and more irritated by a persistent action or habit, talk it out. If you are unhappy about something that is or is not being done, talk it out.”

Most of the time talking will remove the grievance and where it does not, the satisfaction of getting the complaint off your chest will be its own reward.

Often one may see a married couple go through a meal in a public restaurant with hardly a word to say to each other. They are not angry. They simply find it difficult to make conversation.

Not all couples are so mute in each other’s presence, but many husbands and wives, particularly after the children are born, get out of the habit of exchanging pleasantries and confidences.

When differences of opinion or resentments crop up, the tendency then is to bottle them within, except insofar as the local bartender and Mother are allowed to become confidants.

And yet how can two people be one in mind and heart if they are not each the other’s best confidant? The wife before whom the husband stands revealed loves him the more. The husband to whom the wife goes for attention or direction is magnified thereby, even when she is complaining about him.

Early in marriage a young couple should learn the art of communication. Learn to tell your mate all about your defeats as well as your victories. Usually your spouse will not be offended even by criticism—that is tactful, especially when it is not petty nagging.

It is better for the husband to indicate to his wife that he is displeased with her housekeeping or her cooking than to bear the wrongs impatiently. If the other realizes that love, not ridicule, motivates the criticism, there will perhaps be wounded pride, but no real anger.

Acceptance:

When you as a husband recognize that your wife needs to express herself emotionally and intuitively, you take a long step toward accepting her for what she is—a woman.

When you as a wife recognize your husband’s need to express himself forcefully and sometimes boisterously, you accept him for what he is—a man.

Many troubles encountered by modern couples result from a husband’s unwillingness to encourage his wife to be a woman, and from the wife’s unwillingness to let her man fulfill the masculine role assigned to him by God. Let us therefore consider what your acceptance of your mate really involves.

A woman by nature is generally warm, tender, understanding and loving. These are qualities she should have as mother, homemaker, and custodian of affection and love in the family. Women are not by natural disposition aggressive, authoritative, coldly analytical.

A woman also wants to be led by her husband. As a rule, only when he fails to recognize his responsibilities or discourages his wife from developing her womanly characteristics does the woman assume the dominant role.

Social commentators declare that despite her innate wishes, Mother has become the real boss in millions of homes. She often has the final word in the choice of the car. She selects the furniture, often even her husband’s clothes.

She may choose the movies she and her husband will see, may decide whom they will entertain, and often casts the deciding vote on where they will spend their vacation.

She often disciplines the children, handles the bank account and pays all the bills.

Her rise to domestic power can be explained in many ways. In great part the failure of the husband to assert his own authority is responsible. But regardless of the explanation, the change in roles has helped diminish that femininity of the woman which is so conducive to marital happiness.

But no woman truly wants a submissive husband, nor does she wish to take his place. She may often try to dominate; this is merely experimentation. No one is more disappointed than she if her husband weakly permits her to make an inroad.

When she challenges her husband to assert his leadership, she will be pleased to submit if he asserts himself. Let him refuse the challenge, however, and she will take over, even if reluctantly. She will pay a high price for her seeming victory.

It is not surprising, therefore, that surveys of women’s aspirations almost unfailingly conclude that they want to be women in the traditional role of their sex.

For example, in a survey of hundreds of women by Cornell University researchers, not one expressed a preference for a husband less intelligent than herself. Other researchers have asked women what they would do if somehow they found themselves married to men less intelligent than they. Answers seldom varied.

They would try never to emphasize their superiority; they would try never to let their husbands feel inferior. Why? Because to do so would deny the male his traditional role of leadership, and the female her traditional role of dependence.

A wife must allow her husband to assume his full prerogatives as the male; a husband must encourage his wife to be feminine. In no other way can two persons achieve their maximum potentiality in marriage.

Acceptance of a mate, like understanding, must also be based upon individual characteristics. Another word for acceptance is loyalty. Your mate deserves your loyalty at all times.

Some wives habitually compare their husband’s positions with those of relatives or neighbors. Often a wife nags her spouse because he does not earn as much as her brother or the man across the street. In such cases she is saying, in effect, that her husband is not competent. She is failing to accept him for what he is.

He may be a thoughtful husband, excellent father, considerate lover. By emphasizing one quality in which he does not compare favorably with another, she is expressing her failure to accept him as a husband and as a man.

She, therefore, is failing to provide the most important attribute for a happy marriage. She is failing to inspire her husband.

The Old-Fashioned Parents
The good old-fashioned mothers and the good old-fashioned dads,
With their good old-fashioned lassies and their good old-fashioned lads,
Still walk the lanes of loving in their simple, tender ways,
As they used to do back yonder in the good old-fashioned days.
They dwell in every city and they live in every town,
Contentedly and happy and not hungry for renown;
On every street you’ll find ’em in their simple garments clad,
The good old-fashioned mother and the good old-fashioned dad.
There are some who sigh for riches, there are some who yearn for fame,
And a few misguided people who no longer blush at shame;
But the world is full of mothers, and the world is full of dads;
Who are making sacrifices for their little girls and lads.
They are growing old together, arm in arm they walk along,
And their hearts with love are beating and their voices sweet with song;
They still share their disappointments and they share their pleasures, too,
And whatever be their fortune, to each other they are true.
They are watching at the bedside of a baby pale and white,
And they kneel and pray together for the care of God at night;
They are romping with their children in the fields of clover sweet,
And devotedly they guard them from the perils of the street.
They are here in countless numbers, just as they have always been,
And their glory is untainted by the selfish and the mean.
And I’d hate to still be living, it would dismal be and sad,
If we’d no old-fashioned mother and we’d no old-fashioned dad.
~Edgar A. Guest

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