Chapter 67

  1. Duties of Married Life

Happiness in life is of such momentous importance that it becomes all to study well the conditions of happiness, and to none does this truth apply itself with greater force than to those who have taken upon themselves the duties of matrimony. It is vain and useless now to ponder the wisdom and propriety of the choice. The step has been taken, and it only remains now to take up the duties thus voluntarily assumed, and, in the due performance of the same, do what is in their power to gather the happiness with which God, in his goodness, has invested the marriage relation.

Husbands and wives should learn to live happily together, for the lesson can be learned. By living happily together we do not understand a calm, passive existence, unbroken by a single dissenting word or look, because persons are incapacitated for happiness who can adapt themselves to such an impotent existence. Occasional differences of opinion indicate mutual vitality, and, when backed by common sense and self-control, are no drawbacks to a peaceful life. But in all vital points of mutual interest husband and wife should agree perfectly, understanding that their interests are mutual, and that in every sense of the word they are one.

Life is real, and our every-day wants and desires remain the same after as before marriage. All the infirmities of our nature must still be fought against. The marriage ceremony does not do away with the necessity of self-control; the passions still have to be subdued, and a careful watch maintained against hasty words and actions. Many, in failing to recognize these truths, are laying the foundation for future unhappiness. It is so easy to imagine that the loved one is all perfection, and when the soul is filled with the sweet influence of love it is so easy to think that this is sufficient for all the ills of life, that now these two “harps of a thousand strings” will henceforth always be attuned to each other, and thus, ignoring the fact that human nature is extremely frail, forget to strengthen it by the exercise of reflection and judgment, fail to summon to their aid consideration and a disposition to bear and forbear, suddenly awaken to the fact that life has ever its trials, and that—

“For the busiest day some duty waits.”

They then learn that happiness comes only as the result of persistent following in the paths of duty, that no ceremony or rite can change their nature, that the plain rules of courtesy and kindness, consideration and respect, are as necessary now as in the Spring-time of love.

Love on both sides and all things equal in outward circumstances are not all the requisites of domestic felicity. Young people seldom court in their every-day dress, but they must put it on after marriage. As in other bargains but few expose defects. They are apt to marry faultless. Love is blind, but faults are there and will come out. The fastidious attentions of wooing are like Spring flowers—they make pretty nosegays, but poor greens. The beautiful romance with which so many have invested the morning-time of wedded life is apt to wear off under the burden and heat of its noon. That this should not be so all will admit; that wedded love, like the river running to the ocean, should grow in magnitude as it rolls through life should, no doubt, be the result of all well-lived matrimonial lives. But, from the constitution and nature of man, such, unfortunately, is not always the case. The honeymoon, at times, gets an unexpected dash of vinegar, and at last it disappears altogether in the prosaic duties of home life. This is the trying hour of married life. Between the parties there can be no more illusions. The deceptions of courtship are no longer of avail.

Right here is the chance to make or mar the happiness of life. Why not look the matter plainly in the face? Why not recognize the fact that life is not romance? It is a real thing, and altogether too precious to be thrown away in secret regrets, or open indifference. It is your duty now to begin the duty or adaptation. If you have neglected to study the conditions of happiness heretofore begin at once to do so. If you have been derelict in duty resolve to do your share now. If you find you do not love each other as you thought you did double your attentions to each other, and be zealous of any thing which tends in the slightest way to separate you. Acknowledge your faults to one another, and determine that henceforth you will be all in all to each other. There is no other way for you to do. It is not too late for you to look for happiness. You are yet young. It is folly to expect naught but disappointment the rest of your life.

The fault is in human nature, and, like most faults, has a remedy. It is well to study for the remedy, for the man or woman who has settled down on the conviction that he or she is attached for life to an uncongenial mate, and that there is no way of escape, has lost life; there is no effort too costly to make which can restore the missing pearl to its setting upon the bosom. No doubt much of the unhappiness of married life would be saved if only the sober views of life and duty were more carefully considered before marriage. If only every couple would consider that over against every joy stands a duty, and that tears and smiles alternate with each other through life, they would save themselves much disappointments. It is not too late, however, to begin; and so, if this truth be not recognized before marriage, do not delay an instant when once stern facts have withdrawn the pleasing illusions with which an untaught fancy invested matrimony, and life, with its duties as well as its pleasures, appears to your view.

It has always seemed to us that much of the danger of home life springs from its familiarity; that in the intimate relations of husband and wife the parties are too apt to forget the claims of courtesy which are constantly pressing upon them. While there should be no strictness of formal etiquette between the parties, it is none the less true that, since life is made up of forms and ceremonies, and much of the pleasures of life depend on the due observance of the same, that a spirit of courtesy should constantly exist between husband and wife. Before marriage each would be cautious of a breach of manners, and would strive to demean themselves as became ladies and gentlemen. Are not the claims of courtesy just as pressing now as ever? Has the marriage ceremony given you any right to be less than polite? And, in a still higher sense, when you reflect that true courtesy is ever accompanied by the spirit of kindness and a dignity of carriage the more pressing are its claims.

It is difficult to conceive of any station in life where the exercise of patience is not imperatively demanded. All life is effectually teaching and emphasizing this lesson of patience. But marriage affords a field where too great an importance can not be attached to it. Its claims are fresh every morning and new every evening, and it were difficult to conceive of any thing which had more to do with home happiness than bearing patiently the innumerable vexations which are constantly thrown in your path. Every coupled pair flatter themselves that their experience will be better aid more excellent than that of many who have gone before them. They look with amazement at the coldness, complainings, and dissatisfaction which spoil the comfort of so many, homes as at things which can not by any possibility fall to their happier lot. But like causes produce like effects, and to avoid the misfortune of others we must avoid their mistakes.

The acquaintance of courtship is a very one-sided affair, both parties seeing through the peculiar atmosphere which magnifies virtue, changes defects into beauties, and makes the discovery of faults impossible. The discovery will certainly come, and those who had thought each other next to perfection will soon discover that some few, imperfections and the common weaknesses of humanity remain. Disappointment is felt where there is no just reason for it. They had thought they were perfectly adapted to each other, and that mutual concessions would involve no self-denial, and that whatever either desired the other would instantly yield. But experience teaches that the work of mutual adaptation is precisely what they have to learn, to understand each other’s peculiarities and tastes, weaknesses and excellencies, and by self-discipline and kindness of construction on both sides to receive and impart a modifying influence, bringing them nearer each other all the time, until through this interchangeable moral and spiritual culture the hopes of happiness are fully realized.

But this happy result, which is unquestionably the highest earth affords, depends in a great degree upon the manner in which the first few years of married life are spent, and the success with which its first unavoidable trials are met and overcome. Some allow themselves to lose sight of the great truth that happiness is surest found in consulting the happiness of others. The husband should have as his great object and rule of conduct the happiness of his 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 shows itself not in caresses alone, as if these were the only demonstration 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 head.

Do not forget that your happiness both here and hereafter depends upon each other’s influence. An unkind word or look, or an unintentional neglect sometimes lead 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 seriously reflected 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 change clouds for sunshine!

It is emphatically the duty of all who have entered into marriage to strive to forget self, and in furthering the happiness of the other to advance their own; ever remembering that, even though attended with the fairest of outward prospects, infirmity is inseparably bound up with your very nature, and that in bearing one another’s burdens you are fulfilling one of the highest duties of the union. Love in marriage can not subsist unless it be mutual; and where love can not be there can be left of wedlock nothing but the empty husk of an outside matrimony, as undelightful and as unpleasing to God as any other kind of hypocrisy.

, In, pager

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