Every woman of sense is prepared to do this in some measure when entering on a life partnership with any man, whether he be bachelor or widower. But reciprocity is a most valuable thing in married life; and if the wife discovers that all the giving in is to be on her side, she is apt to develop dissatisfaction with the state of affairs.
A Selfish Type
Perhaps of all human beings, the bachelor who has reached the age of forty-five or so is the most selfish, if considered as a type. Most men nowadays leave the paternal home and live in rooms or a house of their own from the age of twenty-one or later. This arrangement commits a man to living for himself alone. His housekeeper or servants humour him to the top of his bent; his " man" makes a god of him; he has no one to please but himself, and is not always successful in doing even that. A few years of this sort of life make him self-centred, consequently unhappy and discontented.
A Fateful Moment
The man who has nothing left to wish for is the least to be envied. His whole inner life is a wrangle between himself and destiny. If he has plenty of interesting or useful work to do, he may escape this horrid fate, but should he be so unfortunate as to have sufficient income on which to live comfortably without work, he is the victim of a permanent dissatisfaction. He is really lonely, though probably surrounded by troops of friends. Within him somewhere the child is crying, the child we all know so well, the eternal child, who never grows up, and whimpers in silence and solitude. Sometimes for months and weeks, perhaps years, the child whimpers unheard, unattended. But in some period of enforced quiet, in a moonlight hour, perhaps, we hear the lonely voice of the little prisoner, and discover that all is not well within us. We see that life means very little where it ought to mean so much. We remember the dreams of youth, and the aims with which we started, the high endeavour to which we pledged ourselves in early, enthusiastic years; and we realise, as we look back, how little we have achieved, how far we have fallen away from the standard we once set so earnestly for ourselves; and as Thomas
Hood so beautifully put it in an almost forgotten poem :
'tis little joy
To know I'm further off from Heaven
Than when I was a boy.
It is often a mood of this kind that induces a man to contemplate that thorough change in his existence implied by marriage. With the earnest mood upon him he looks round his circle of acquaintances, appraising every woman in it, and finding her either fall short, or realising his ideal of what a wife might mean to him, lifting him from his dreadful groove, and helping him to raise his life to a higher plane. Should he find such an one, and should she be free, he cultivates her acquaintance, and if there is no disappointing discovery to be made about her, such as dissimilarity of temperament, or even such comparative trifles as small habits which jar upon a refined taste, and make for possible discord in friendship, he may ask the fateful question and receive a pleasant answer.
They settle down together, and their joint life must begin with a certain amount of necessity for mutual forbearance. It is not a simple thing to give up the habits of some twenty years devoted to the satisfaction and comfort of self, but if the sentiment with which his wife has inspired him includes respect as well as love, he will gradually eliminate all that is uncomfortable to her from his conduct.
There was once a couple, a bachelor and a widow, who very nearly came to grief over such a simple matter as his constant reference to her previous husband, a man he had never seen. Inspired by a sort of retrospective jealousy, he could not leave the subject alone, in his anxiety to discover whether her affection for his predecessor had been stronger than the sentiment she entertained for himself. She got so exceedingly tired of this one topic, not the most agreeable one in the world to her in the circumstances, that there were one or two " scenes," and, in spite of all the poets, there is no greater enemy to married happiness than a " scene," in which each loses temper and shows himself and herself at the very worst. In a " scene " both say things that would be better left unsaid, that reveal some grievance hidden until then in a prudent reticence, but now revealed in speech. These little grievances are known to all married persons. It does no good to express them, but quite the reverse. Let sleeping dogs lie, says the old proverb, and one cannot do better than follow the advice with regard to small subjects for discontent in the conduct of each other. Such counsel applies to other than married friendships.
There are persons who think that when a quarrel is over, and forgiveness has been freely extended on both sides, the whole affair is ended; but things rankle and jar for months, even years, after they have been uttered in moments of irritation. Every wife, at least, knows this, and possibly every husband as well.
On the other hand, in another instance an unreasonable husband objected to the popularity which his widow-bride, almost immediately after their marriage, attained among his numerous men friends. Instead of taking it as a compliment to himself and his choice, he became jealous, and made her life so uncomfortable that the match ended in a voluntary separation. Jealousy is constitutional in some natures, but it can be fought against and cured.
The fact is, there are so many rocks on which conjugal happiness can split, that it would be useless to endeavour to enumerate them. It is certain, however, that the widow-bride has it greatly in her power to make her marriage a success, even if her consort be of the egoistic type of bachelor referred to, accustomed to treating himself as a small god upon earth, and to bestowing upon himself every luxury within his means, whether in food, clothing, travel, or the enjoyment of art. When he finds himself restricted in any of these directions, his first impulse is to be extremely indignant with somebody, and who more handy than a wife ? So, at least, thinks the average Briton. If a day's rain falls upon the farmer's outspread hay in the meadow, he goes home and says nasty things to his wife. If a barrister loses his case, he is a disagreeable companion at home until the impression of failure has become merged in other matters. But if the wife be a woman of tact, she knows how to allow for all these causes of annoyance, and sympathises so gently and so unobtrusively with her husband's disappointment that she makes herself more dear and necessary to him than ever.
And this can be done without any loss of dignity. Love is the reigning spirit in such a home, and love, as St. Paul said so many ages ago, "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
And truly it often has many things to endure; more, perhaps, than St. Paul could have imagined, for, as we all know, he never married.
There is one great and wonder-working thing that is more valuable than words can express, not only in married life but in every other kind of trial. It is patience. When we are put out or disappointed with anyone, we want to be happy again as soon as possible, and in our anxiety for a return of peace of mind we often go the very worst way to work to secure it. Instead of giving moods time to work themselves out, we try to force the temperament of another to a quick change, and in doing so cause an explosion. The chemistry of happiness is rather given to explosions, until experience has taught us to wait and see."