The woman who talks of her cleverness in managing her husband is a foolish person.
One forms a poor opinion of her judgment. If she really manages her husband, in the sense of making him do what she wishes rather than what he prefers, she is selfish and inconsiderate. She may pride herself on using gentle methods in attaining her ends, but in doing so lays herself open to the charge of hypocrisy, and in boasting of success she convicts herself of guile. If she manages by coercive measures, she is self-accused of meanness. "I always give him cold mutton for dinner when he has been disagreeable," says such a one; "and when I want anything I give him his favourite curry and one of his pet puddings."
The Value of Sincerity
To do these things is bad enough, revealing a petty nature. To boast of them to other women is worse. Some may applaud, and follow her example with their own unfortunate husbands, making the managing woman the first source of much unhappiness in many homes. But for the most part the wives despise her and disapprove, though good breeding may restrain them from expressing either sentiment.
The woman whose influence is most powerful upon her husband is she who exercises it unconsciously. What she does and says is the outcome of her character. She is unaware that her perfect sincerity, her unselfishness, her innate integrity give her husband such confidence in her that very shortly after marriage he, often unconsciously, looks at his conduct through her eyes, and if he finds in it anything that would lower him in her estimation, he alters it rather than lose her esteem.
This is the highest beauty of true friendship. Each forms of the other an ideal in which good qualities are magnified, indifferent ones minimised. As the years go on, each rises to the height of this conception in the mind of the other. Character is formed as much by the belief of others in our possibilities as by the outer circumstances of existence. Growth is always going on in mind and spirit, and the comradeship that aids it is the most precious thing in life.
Compare it with the companionship that "manages" by the cold mutton versus curry kind of treatment.
There is just the same width of difference in the methods of the husbands who "manage" their wives. That unfortunate word "obey" in our Marriage Service is responsible for many marital mistakes. Due originally to a misconception of a passage in St. Paul's writings intended by the Apostle to apply in a modified sense to the duty of wives, it has never been appropriate to the conjugal relation. It has conveyed an idea of mastership to the husband which is extremely prejudicial to his own character, and destructive of domestic peace. He who really expects his wife to obey him blindly, and who compels her by varied methods to do so, develops into a tyrant, while she becomes a slave who "manages" him in return by all her arts of deception. Even in a man of gentle disposition this idea of a wife's obedience acts as an irritant. He discovers that his matrimonial partner has no intention of fulfilling this particular pledge. In a mistaken moment he may remind her of it, with the result that discord enters into their relations, and cannot be expelled without difficulty. But very few men, except in the working classes, expect or exact obedience from their wives. As a matter of fact, they usually have an effectual means of obtaining some deference to their wishes, in that they hold the purse-strings. This is the ordinary mode of management on the husband's side. It leads to servility and duplicity on that of the wife, or else to open rebellion and defiance, facts that form a good argument for a stated allowance adequate to cover all requirements.
But the majority of men are much too high-minded to use such ignoble means of managing their wives. On the contrary, their weapon, if so militant a word can be applicable to such gentle methods, is tact so consummate, so pliable, that ft can be adjusted to every possible variety of circumstance and to every phase of character, even to the woman to whom may be applied Shakespeare's singularly beautiful phrase: "Thy mind is a very opal."
To all rulers this quality of comprehending tact is indispensable. It reaches an ineffable development in the man who is master of his home in the highest sense, that in which he exercises influence with so little display of authority that each member of his household is inspired with genuine affection for him. But such men are rare. Of one such a wife said that she had never seen him out of temper during their thirty years of marriage. Other wives heard the statement with almost incredulous astonishment. The man of whom it was made was still alive, otherwise the high eulogium would have been set down to the amethystine mist which hides the faults of the departed from those who survive them. But the husband who never loses his temper is not only worthy of a glowing epitaph, but is also a splendid testimonial to his matrimonial partner.