Undoubtedly, to most married people, the ideal relationship is where each is so perfectly in accord with the other—they think alike, agree, are as one mentally— that there are no irritations, no differences of opinion, no serious questions to discuss.
Others have a different ideal. They do not object to differences, serious, even, and wide. They are so thorough believers in the sanctity of the individuality of each person—that every individual must live his own life, and thus learn his own lessons, that what they ask is a love large enough, big enough, sympathetic enough, to embrace all differences, and in confidence that the "working out" process will be as sure for one as the other, to rest, content and serene in each other's love in spite of the things that otherwise would divide them.
This mental attitude, however, requires a large faith in God, a wonderful belief in the good that is in each person, and a forbearing wisdom that few possess.
Nevertheless, it is well worth striving for, and its possession is more desirable than many riches. And how different the outlook upon life from that of the marital worrier. When a couple begin to live together, they have within themselves the possibilities of heaven or of hell. The balance between the two, however, is very slight. There is only a foot, or less, in difference, between the West and the East on the Transcontinental Divide. I have stood with one foot in a rivulet the waters of which reached the Pacific, and the other in one which reached the Atlantic. The marital divide is even finer than that. It is all in the habit of mind. If one determines that he, she, will guide, boss, direct, control the other, one of two or three things is sure to occur.
I. The one mind will control the other, and an individual will live some one else's life instead of its own. This is the popular American notion of the life of the English wife. She has been trained during the centuries to recognize her husband as lord and master, and she unquestionably and unhesitatingly obeys his every dictate. Without at all regarding this popular conception as an accurate one, nationally, it will serve the purpose of illustration.
II. The second alternative is one of sullen submission. If one hates to "row," to be "nagged," he, she, submits, but with a bad grace, consumed constantly with an inward rebellion, which destroys love, leads to cowardly subterfuges, deceptions, and separations.
III. The third outcome is open rebellion, and the results of this are too well known to need elucidation—for whatever they may be, they are disastrous to the peace, happiness, and content of the family relationship.
Yet to show how hard it is to classify actual cases in any formal way, let me here introduce what I wrote long ago about a couple whom I have visited many times.
It is a husband and wife who are both geniuses—far above the ordinary in several lines. They have money—made by their own work—the wife's as well as the husband's, for she is an architect and builder of fine homes. While they have great affection one for another, there is a constant undertone of worry in their lives. Each is too critical of the other. They worry about trifles. Each is losing daily the sweetness of sympathetic and joyous comradeship because they do not see eye to eye in all things. Where a mutual criticism of one's work is agreed upon, and is mutually acceptable and unirritating, there is no objection to it.
Rather should it be a source of congratulation that each is so desirous of improving that criticism is welcomed. But, in many cases, it is a positive and injurious irritant. One meets with criticism, neither kind nor gentle, out in the world. In the home, both man and woman need tenderness, sympathy, comradeship—and if there be weaknesses or failures that are openly or frankly confessed, there should be the added grace and virtue of compassion without any air of pitying condescension or superiority. By all means help each other to mend, to improve, to reach after higher, noble things, but don't do it by the way of personal criticism, advice, remonstrance, fault-finding, worrying. If you do, you'll do far more harm than good in ninety-nine cases out of every hundred.
Every human being instinctively, in such position, consciously or unconsciously, places himself in the attitude of saying: "I am what I am! Now recognize that, and leave me alone! My life is mine to learn its lessons in my own way, just the same as yours is to learn your lessons in your way." This worrying about, and of each other has proven destructive of much domestic happiness, and has wrecked many a marital barque, that started out with sails set, fair wind, and excellent prospects.
Don't worry about each other—help each other by the loving sympathy that soothes and comforts. Example is worth a million times more than precept and criticism, no matter how lovingly and wisely applied, and few men and women are wise enough to criticise and advise perpetually, without giving the recipient the feeling that he is being "nagged." Granted that, from the critic's standpoint, every word said may be true, wise, and just. This does not, by any means, make it wise to say it. The mental and spiritual condition of the recipient must be considered as of far more importance than the condition of the giver of the wise exhortations. The latter is all right, he doesn't need such admonitions; the other does. The important question, therefore, should be: "Is he ready to receive them?" If not, if the time is unpropitious, the mental condition inauspicious, better do, say, nothing, than make matters worse. But, unfortunately, it generally happens that at such times the critic is far more concerned at unbosoming himself of his just and wise admonitions than he is as to whether the time is ripe, the conditions the best possible, for the word to be spoken. The sacred writer has something very wise and illuminating to say upon this subject. Solomon says: "A word spoken in due season, how good is it!" Note, however, that it must be spoken "in due season," to be good. The same word spoken out of season may be, and often is, exceedingly bad. Again he says: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." But it must be fitly spoken to be worthy to rank with apples of gold.
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