Chapter V. Some Difficulties
Marriage love is something which has to grow, and it grows as a result of care and nurture. It is something which has to be achieved. As in all other worth-while things, this requires effort, and it implies that there will be difficulties to overcome.
Such difficulties can both be under-estimated and overestimated. It will not do to imagine that a general acknowledgment of the need for repentance and an acceptance of the New Church faith will clear away all obstacles, and the necessary adjustments of character on the part of one or both married partners will come to pass of themselves. Something much more definite than that is required, and possibly the effort that must be put forth will be required over a period of years; not continuous effort, of course, but nevertheless a watchfulness on oneself which should not be relaxed.
On the other hand it is an even bigger mistake to be looking for trouble, to anticipate circumstances that will be too much for married happiness; and to imagine that some unkind fate stands by ready to upset things as soon as they begin to go right. This sort of attitude creates the very conditions for unhappiness, which will almost certainly be ascribed by the people concerned to circumstances, when in reality the fault is in their own mental disposition. Unconsciously they select from every-day experience the little things that make for trouble, and let opportunities for good pass them by. To say this, is not to ignore the fact that circumstances can sometimes be crushing and even tragic, through no fault of anyone, but it is also quite certainly a fact that a persistently negative attitude will make things much worse even in this case. Briefly, we should neither indulge in the silly pastime of counting chickens before they are hatched, nor jettison the future by our own hopeless attitude. It is for us to do the best we can in all things in the light of the truths of the Word and then leave the issue to Providence. The critical phrase in this last sentence is "to do the best we can." How do we know what is best, and how do we make ourselves do it?
In the unregenerate states in which most of us are, some misunderstanding and even differences are apt to arise between husband and wife on occasion. For example, when the husband has a great deal of exacting work requiring considerable concentration, and is perhaps worried about it, his wife's endeavour to distract his attention from it to things which seem utterly trivial and ludicrously domestic gives him the feeling that she is only concerned with herself. She either will not see or does not care that he is already overburdened and simply hasn't the energy to take a tremendous interest in things that do not seem to matter in the least. It seems to him as though her partnership with him is altogether too possessive. In order to have him and his whole attention, she is ready to break him.
To take another example, the wife who has had the attention and the love of her husband since the days of their engagement, has unobtrusively given everything she has to make him happy in return, perhaps without thought of her own needs, becomes disappointed and then secretly mortified to find that his attention is so much elsewhere that he hardly notices her presence. He may not deliberately hurt her feelings or be unkind, but he seems to grow more and more indifferent, and she can forecast with certainty that when he comes home he will go through the rituals of a happy household without putting meaning into any of them. In time her mortification becomes bitterness.
These examples are comparatively simple, but in a quite average household such instances may in actual fact be very much more complicated. In the first example, the wife may be predominantly selfish, and she may be quite deliberate about it. Yet in some cases she may seem to be so by a natural disposition which is purely external and not her real self, or because she had a very unaffectionate home life up to the time of her marriage, so that her longing for affection has for the time being got the better of her good sense. Or it may be that she is not quick enough "to put two and two together" so that she understands what her husband's difficulty is. In all these instances, she does not really want to upset her husband and irritate him to the point of exasperation. Thus the tension between the husband and wife is indeed caused by the wife's overeagerness from some quite innocent cause, and yet a word or two from him at a time when he was not too busy would have put matters right long before they had got out of hand. Instead, his neglect may be as much responsible for the unhappiness as his wife's bothering stupidity. In this particular instance there may be another variation. The husband may be in the right, but it is possible that in the past he has similarly ignored his wife and devoted his whole attention to something that was certainly not deserving of it. Perhaps he has regretted it, and said so, but even then he can hardly be surprised if his wife expects it to happen again when the circumstances seem to be similar.
In the second example, the husband's increasingly callous indifference may indeed be due to conceit and love of having his own way, or simply to a selfish love of comfort, even though he may profess high ideals at Church meetings. It may be due also to reaction from over-indulgence in the physical pleasures of marriage, which was all he really intended to get from it or put into it. In all these cases he is undeniably in the wrong, and not to be excused. In some instances, however, his growing indifference may be the result of his wife's continual pampering or may be a reaction against her never-ceasing watchfulness of his every movement, the result, as she sees it, of her love for him, but making him feel that he is imprisoned as soon as he is in her company, so that his share in their partnership must at all times be passive if trouble is to be avoided. In such cases the wife's perception of her husband's affections has never been used for his good, though the appearance is the contrary. She has merely used it to dominate him, and thinks herself a martyr when he does not react exactly as she thinks he should. She is at least partly responsible for his indifference.
What is to be said of all this? How can any sort of advice be given in a book, when obviously individual cases differ so much and can only be dealt with individually? And who is competent to give it?
There are a number of very valuable things to be said about them all, as it happens, and the authority for saying them does not rest upon the wisdom of the writer of this or any other book, but upon the rational authority of the Doctrines of the New Church.
One thing that should be said at once is that in the great majority of cases no advice need be given except that which is drawn from the truths of religion relating to regeneration. Certainly no clinical advice is necessary. In other words, it is of the Divine Providence that the married partners should themselves solve their difficulties as of themselves in the light of truth from the Word. In fact, the very attempt to make an effort to put things right will be of immense benefit spiritually. It is, indeed, this effort against the pull of psychological circumstances in ourselves, that gives us a sense of freedom. In the case of husband and wife, it makes them feel that their harmony is real when it is at last achieved.
In the attempts which are frequently made to-day to make married life psychologically easy, this truth is often forgotten. In some cases it is never thought of at all. The tendency is to assume that psychological comfort should be achieved at all costs. Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of an easy life, in marriage as in other things. The result is that people who advocate this, even quite eminent authorities, tend to look towards separation, or even divorce, as a straightforward solution of difficulties between husband and wife. They do not seem to see that the clear and definite way to overcome such problems is not easier separation, but better husbands and wives. As was mentioned in considering so-called trial marriages, if the idea of possible separation is present from the beginning, it is certain that in some cases the people concerned will not trouble to make the essential effort to rearrange their lives. It can be said that many such marriages are failures before they have begun.
We should face the fact that psychological ease is not necessarily the best way of living together as husband and wife. Very often it is not the happiest way to live. It is only a short-term policy, and frequently is merely a matter of taking the line of least resistance. It may mean that certain definite causes of future trouble arc allowed to go unchecked and lead on to inevitable disaster. In this as in most things the brave way is the best, and a fine-spirited attempt to re-establish good relationships may succeed where "charitable" tolerance will certainly fail.
As has been said, differences appear in every marriage, and in the great majority of cases can be resolved by the husband and wife themselves. Sometimes, however, matters get beyond this stage, in which case it is sound advice to try to consult some person whom both can trust and who has some understanding of their problems. Since this book is written mainly for New Church people, or at least for those who are interested in the New Church approach to the subject, it is hardly necessary to add that ideally such a person should be someone who holds to spiritual principles. When the differences reach a stage of deadlock, an outsider can often make suggestions of a useful kind, not so much because he may happen to be cleverer than the husband and wife, but because his own affections are not involved.
The value of the New Church principle that influx is into effort should be pointed out here. If there is unhappiness, and things are allowed to drift, it is only commonsense to conclude that it is extremely unlikely that they can get any better. But if some real effort is made to start again, to look at the cause of differences from a fresh point of view, with the positive intention to settle them, and with the recognition that it is part of "the life of religion" to do so, then at least there will be some hope. There will be that basis into which Providence may operate, and frequently in such instances some new solution, psychological or otherwise, comes to light, and usually it is so simple that the two people concerned wonder why they haven't been able to see it before.
So far no word has been said in this chapter about the possible intervention of a third person into the lives of a married couple, with whom one of them falls in love. It may perhaps be thought that the "eternal triangle," without which the money-making efforts of many film magnates, authors, publishers and others would be considerably less successful, ought not to obtrude itself into such a book as this, where a religious interest and motive is assumed in the reader. It certainly ought not to follow the popular example and take a place which it does not deserve, but on the other hand it would be either self-righteous or stupid to ignore so important a problem.
It is fairly certain that even differences which do not appear to be connected with a third person, do in fact often refer indirectly to such a person. A very unfavourable comparison is drawn between one's husband or wife and some other member of the opposite sex, and in such comparisons there is all the charm of novelty without any of the drawbacks of day-to-day stress and strain. The man or woman making the comparison does not often stop to think that the novelty would have worn off in this case also after a few years of married life. Nor does he or she stop to think that there may be undisclosed faults in the new love, perhaps worse than those of which so much complaint is made regarding husband or wife, whose virtues also are forgotten, sometimes in favour of virtues which are problematical and may possibly be described as "flashy." A whole-hearted attack on one's psychological processes, when the urge to make such comparisons is present, can be very revealing.