Chapter 68

  1. Trials of Married Life

We celebrate the wedding and make merry over the honeymoon. The poet paints the beauties and blushes of the blooming bride; and the bark of matrimony, with its freight of untested love, is launched on the sea of experiment, amid kind wishes and rejoicing. But on that precarious sea are many storms, and even the calm has its perils; and only when the bark has weathered these, and landed its cargo in the haven of domestic peace, can we pronounce the voyage prosperous and congratulate on their merited and enviable reward.

As long as human nature is what it is, we must expect that life of any kind will abound in trials. To conceive of a life utterly devoid of these is to conceive of a vegetative kind of existence. Trials, then, are to be expected, and they must be overcome. This is none the less true of married life. Marriages may be celebrated in bowers as fair as those of Eden, but they must be proved and put to test in the workshops of the world. And as each state of existence has its peculiar trials and cares, we need not be disappointed when experience teaches that, though marriage hath indeed great joys, it has also its trials and vexations.

In prosaic, every-day life romantic minds are speedily sobered down, and the gloss of pretension is soon worn off. Hands that have heretofore seen no harder work than to entice strains of music from ivory keys, perhaps find themselves engaged in the less poetical, but equally as praiseworthy, occupation of mixing bread, or in the performance of other plain household duties which require to be dispatched, not by angels, but by women. And the possessor of faultless clothes and a silken mustache finds himself weighed down with altogether different burdens than those of holding fans and carrying parasols; and he is called upon to solve other questions than those relating to social etiquette.

Courtship is to many a dreamy resting-place betwixt the joys of youth and the cares of maturity. Under the light of hope married life is nearly always a land of rainbows to the youth; but, as to produce the rainbow it requires the falling rain as well as the shining sun, so, when the nature of these prospective joys is carefully investigated, it will not surprise one to find that trials and duties are interposed between their present stand-point and the pure happiness of domestic life.

To many a young couple, when life’s realities come, come also the discovery of traits of character in each other which perfectly astonish them. Every day reveals something new and something unpleasant. The courtship character slowly fades away, and, with sorrow be it said, too often the courtship love as well. Now comes disappointment, sorrow, regret. They find that their characters are entirely dissimilar; they also awake to the fact that married life is full of cares, vexations, and disappointments. This, indeed, should have been expected; but it is human to see naught but joys in the future, especially from the stand-point of youth. This discovery often shipwrecks the happiness of the unfortunate couple.

We have all seen the trees die in Summer-time. But the tree, with its whispering leaves and swaying limbs, its greenness, its umbrage, where the shadows lie hidden all the day, does not die all at once. First a dimness creeps over its brightness; next a leaf sickens here and there, and fades; next 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, blessed with the prayers 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 deepens with the sharp reply. A little thoughtlessness misconstrued, a little unintentional negligence, deemed real, a little word, misinterpreted,—through such small channels do dissension and sorrow enter the family circle. Love becomes reticent, confidence is chilled, and noiselessly but surely the work of separation goes on, until the two are left as isolated as the pyramids, nothing remaining of the union but the legal form—the dead trunk of the tree, whose branches once waved in the sunlight. Is it not a melancholy reflection on human nature that petty trials and difficulties, from which no life is free, should have wrought such a startling effect?

The great secret is to learn to bear with each other’s failings; not to be blind to them—that were either an impossibility or a folly. We must see and feel them; if we do neither, they are not evils to us, and there is obviously no need of forbearance. We are to throw the mantle of charity around them, concealing them from the curious gaze of others; to determine not to let them chill the affections. Surely it is not the perfections, but the imperfections, of human character that make the strongest claims on our love.

All the world must approve and even enemies must admire the good and the estimable in human nature. If husband and wife estimate only that in each which all must be constrained to value, what do they more than others? It is the infirmities of character, imperfections of nature, that call for pitying sympathy, the tender compassion that makes each the comforter, the monitor of the other. Forbearance helps each to attain command over themselves. This forbearance is not a weak and wicked indulgence of each other’s faults, but such a calm, tender observation of them as excludes all harshness and anger, and takes the best and fullest method of pointing them out in the full confidence of affection.

It should be remembered that trials and sufferings are the real test of merit in all life, as they bring out the real character. In married life husband and wife are often adapted to each other through trials, and the closest union is often wrought by suffering, even as iron is welded by heat. As much of the happiness of real life is artificial, so many things in wedded life that to third persons must seem as trials are, after all, only the sweetness of domestic life. How many couples, now in mature life and surrounded by luxury and all the comforts of wealth, look back to the days of early privation as amongst the happiest days of their life! Succeeding years have brought them wealth, but it took with them their domestic happiness.

Marriage is too frequently the end instead of the beginning of love. The dreams of courtship vanish too often into thin air soon after the wedding ring is put on. The realization of that perfect and unalloyed happiness that each partner anticipated is seldom found in the holy bonds of matrimony. Cool and distant, with a feeling that the sweet courtesies of wooing-time are now out of place, they treat each other with an indifference that ends in mutual aversion and contempt. This is altogether wrong. As reasoning men and women they have entered the relation; it is vain to suppose it is one of unmixed delights. It has its trials. You must expect to meet them. The conditions of happiness there are much the same as elsewhere, therefore the only sure way of finding it is to forget self in the furtherance of the happiness of others. The trials of wedded life are seen to be but the approaches to its joys when once the spirit of kindly forbearance is spread abroad in the heart.

It must seem to all who seriously meditate on this subject that many of the trials of married life arise from mistaken notions of economy and the right use of money. Every wife knows her husband’s income or ought to know it. That knowledge should be the guide of her conduct. A clear understanding respecting the domestic expenses is necessary to the peace of every dwelling. If it be little, “better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” If it be ample, let it be, enjoyed with all thankfulness. Partners in privation are more to each other than partners in wealth. Those who have suffered together love more than those who have rejoiced together. Where a wife, seeing her duty, has made up her mind to this, she will brighten her little home with smiles that will make it a region of perpetual sunshine.

We account these two things essential to the happiness of married life,—to have a home of your own, and to live distinctly and honestly within your means. A great proportion of the failures in wedlock may be traced directly to the neglect of the latter rule. No man can feel happy or enjoy the sweets of domestic life who is spending more than he earns. No sensible person will account it a hardship to begin on a moderate scale; and those who do thus begin, and afterwards attain to the possession of wealth, always look back to the days of “small things” with peculiar satisfaction as the golden days of their hearts, if not of their purses. True affection delights in the opportunities of self-denial and in the little acts of personal service, for which there is scarcely any place in the house of the rich.

At the shrine of domestic ambition much of the comfort and happiness of home life is immolated, and, for the sake of appearance, happiness and content are exchanged for wearying cares. To regulate our expenses by other people’s income is the height of folly, and to contract debts for a style of living which is of our neighbor’s choosing rather than our own is nearly akin to insanity. There is no happiness, social, domestic, or individual, without independence; and no dependence is so bitter as that of debt. And when you reflect how needless this is, you can readily see that in this instance, as in many others, the trials are of our own choosing, and might be avoided by consideration and care.

, In, pager

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