Sources: Nerves And Common Sense
SUPPOSE your husband got impatient and annoyed with you because you
did not seem to enter heartily into the interests of his work and
sympathize with its cares and responsibilities and soothe him out of
the nervous harassments. Would you not perhaps feel a little sore
that he seemed to expect all from you and to give nothing in return?
I know how many women will say that is all very well, but the
husband and father should feel as much interest in the home and the
children as the wife and mother does. That is, of course, true up to
a certain point, always in general, and when his help is really
necessary in particular. But a man cannot enter into the details of
his wife's duties at home any more than a woman can enter into the
details of her husband's duties at his office.
Then, again, my readers may say: "But a woman's nervous system is
more sensitive than a man's; she needs help and consolation. She
needs to have some one on whom she can lean." Now the answer to that
will probably be surprising, but an intelligent understanding and
comprehension of it would make a very radical difference in the
lives of many men and women who have agreed to live together for
life--for better and for worse.
Now the truth is man's nervous system is quite as sensitive as a
woman's, but the woman's temptation to emotion makes her appear more
sensitive, and her failure to control her emotions ultimately
increases the sensitiveness of her nerves so that they are more
abnormal than her husband's. Even that is not always true The other
day a woman sat in tears and distress telling of the hardness of
heart, the restlessness, the irritability, the thoughtlessness, the
unkindness of her husband. Her face was drawn with suffering. She
insisted that she was not complaining, that it was her deep and
tender love for her husband that made her suffer so. "But it is
killing me, it is killing me," she said, and one who saw her could
well believe it. And if the distress and the great strain upon her
nerves had kept on it certainly would have made her ill, if not have
actually ended her life with a nervous collapse.
The friend in whom she confided sat quietly and heard her through.
She let her pour herself out to the very finish until she stopped
because there was nothing more to say. Then, by means of a series of
gentle, well-adapted questions, she drew from the wife a
recognition--for the first time--of the fact that she really did
nothing whatever for her husband and expected him to do everything
for her. Perhaps she put on a pretty dress for him in order to look
attractive when he came home, but if he did not notice how well she
looked, and was irritable about something in the house, she would be
dissolved in tears because she had not proved attractive and pleased
him. Maybe she had tried to have a dinner that he especially liked;
then if he did not notice the food, and seemed distracted about
something that was worrying him, she would again be dissolved in
tears because he "appreciated nothing that she tried to do for him."
Now it is perfectly true that this husband was irritable and brutal;
he had no more consideration for his wife than he had for any one
else. But his wife was doing all in her power to fan his
irritability into flame and to increase his brutality. She was
attitudinizing in her own mind as a martyr. She was demanding
kindness and attention and sympathy from her husband, and because
she demanded it she never got it.
A woman can demand without demanding imperiously. There is more
selfish demanding in a woman's emotional suffering because her
husband does not do this or that or the other for her sake than
there is in a tornado of man's irritability or anger. You see, a
woman's demanding spirit is covered with the mush of her emotions. A
man's demanding spirit stands out in all its naked ugliness. One is
just as bad as the other. One is just as repulsive as the other.
It is a radical, practical impossibility to bring loving-kindness
out of any one by demanding it. Loving-kindness, thoughtfulness, and
consideration have got to be born spontaneously in a man's own mind
to be anything at all, and no amount of demanding on the part of his
wife can force it.
When this little lady of whom I have been writing found that she had
been demanding from her husband what he really ought to have given
her as a matter of course, and that she had used up all her strength
in suffering because he did not give it, and had used none of her
strength in the effort to be patient and quiet in waiting for him to
come to his senses, she went home and began a new life. She was a
plucky little woman and very intelligent when once her eyes were
opened. She recognized the fact that her suffering was resistance to
her husband's irritable selfishness, and she stopped resisting.
It was a long and hard struggle of days, weeks, and months, but it
brought a very happy reward. When a man is irritable and ugly, and
his wife offers no resistance either in anger or suffering, the
irritability and ugliness react upon himself, and if there is
something better in him he begins to perceive the irritability in
its true colors. That is what happened to this man. As his wife
stopped demanding he began to give. As his wife's nerves became calm
and quiet his nerves quieted and calmed. Finally his wife discovered
that much of his irritability had been roused through nervous
anxiety in regard to his business about which he had told her
nothing whatever because it "was not his way."
There is nothing in the world that so strengthens nerves as the
steady use of the will to drop resistance and useless emotions and
get a quiet control. This woman gained that strength, and to her
surprise one day her husband turned to her with a full account of
all his business troubles and she met his mind quietly, as one
business man might meet another, and without in the least expressing
her pleasure or her surprise. She took all the good change in him as
a matter of course.
Finally one day it came naturally and easily to talk over the past.
She found that her husband from day to day had dreaded coming home.
The truth was that he had dreaded his own irritability as much as he
had dreaded her emotional demanding. But he did not know it--he did
not know what was the matter at all. He simply knew vaguely that he
was a brute, that he felt like a brute, and that he did not know how
to stop being a brute. His wife knew that he was a brute, and at the
same time she felt throughly convinced that she was a suffering
martyr. He was dreading to come home and she was dreading to have
him come home--and there they were in a continuous nightmare. Now
they have left the nightmare far, far behind, and each one knows
that the other has one good friend in the world in whom he or she
can feel entire confidence, and their friendship is growing stronger
and clearer and more normal every day.
It is not the ceremony that makes the marriage: the ceremony only
begins it. Marriage is a slow and careful adjustment. A true story
which illustrates the opposite of this condition is that of a man
and woman who were to all appearances happily married for years.
They were apparently the very closest friends. The man's nerves were
excitable and peculiar, and his wife adjusted herself to them by
indulging them and working in every way to save him from friction.
No woman could stand that constant work of adjustment which was in
reality maladjustment, and this wife's nerves broke down
unexpectedly and completely.
When our nerves get weak we are unable to repress resistance which
in a stronger state we had covered up. This wife, while she had
indulged and protected her husband's peculiarities, had
subconsciously resisted them. When she became ill her subconscious
resistance came to the surface. She surprised herself by growing
impatient with her husband. He, of course; retorted. As she grew
worse he did not find his usual comfort from her care, and instead
of trying to help her to get well he turned his back on her and
complained to another woman. Finally the friction of the two nervous
systems became dangerously intense. Each was equally obstinate, and
there was nothing to do but to separate The woman died of a broken
heart, and the man is probably insane for the rest of his life.
It was nothing but the mismanagement of their own and each other's
nerves that made all this terrible trouble. Their love seemed
genuine at first, and could certainly have grown to be really
genuine if they had become truly adjusted. And the saddest part of
the whole story is that they were both peculiarly adapted to be of
use to their fellow-men. During the first years of their life their
home was a delight to all their friends.
Tired nerves are likely to close up a man or make him irritable,
complaining, and ugly, whereas the tendency in a woman is to be
irritable, complaining, and tearful. Now of course when each one is
selfishly looking out for his or her comfort neither one can be
expected to understand the other. The man thinks he is entirely
justified in being annoyed with the woman's tearful, irritable
complaints, and so he is--in a way. The woman thinks that she has a
right to suffer because of her husband's irritable ugliness, and so
she has--in a way. But in the truest way, and the way which appeals
to every one's common sense, neither one has a right to complain of
the other, and each one by right should have first made things
better and clearer in himself and herself.
Human nature is not so bad--really in its essence it is not bad at
all. If we only give the other man a real chance. It is the pushing
and pulling and demanding of one human being toward another that
smother the best in us, and make life a fearful strain. Of course
there is a healthy demanding as well as an unhealthy demanding, but,
so far as l know, the healthy demanding can come only when we are
clear of personal resistance and can demand on the strength of a
true principle and without selfish emotion. There is a kind of
gentle, motherly contempt with which some women speak of their
husbands, which must get on a man's nerves very painfully. It is
intensely and most acutely annoying. And yet I have heard good women
speak in that way over and over again. The gentleness and
motherliness are of course neither of them real in such cases. The
gentle, motherly tone is used to cover up their own sense of
"Poor boy, poor boy," they may say; "a man is really like a child."
So he may be--so he often is childish, and sometimes childish in the
extreme. But where could you find greater and more abject
childishness than in a woman's ungoverned emotions?
A woman must respect the manliness of her husband's soul, and must
cling to her belief in its living existence behind any amount of
selfish, restless irritability, if she is going to find a friend in
him or be a friend to him. She must also know that his nervous
system may be just as sensitive as hers. Sometimes it is more
sensitive, and should be accordingly respected. Demand nothing and
expect nothing, but hold him to his best in your mind and wait.
That is a rule that would work wonderfully if every woman who is
puzzled about her husband's restlessness and lack of interest in
home affairs would apply it steadily and for long enough. It is
impossible to manufacture a happy, sympathetic married life
artificially--impossible! But as each one looks to one's self and
does one's part fully, and then is willing to wait for the other,
the happiness and the sympathy, the better power for work and the
joyful ability to play come--they do come; they are real and alive
and waiting for us as we get clear from the interferences.
"Why doesn't my husband like to stay with me when he comes home? Why
can't we have nice, cozy times together?" a wife asks with sad
longing in her eyes.
And to the same friend the husband (who is, by the way, something of
a pig) says: "I should be glad to stay with Nellie often in the
evening, but she will always talk about her worries, and she worries
about the family in a way that is idiotic. She is always sure that
George will catch the measles because a boy in the next street has
them, and she is always sure that our children do not have the
advantages nor the good manners that other children have. If it is
not one thing it is another; whenever we are alone there is
something to complain of, and her last complaint was about her own
selfishness." Then he laughed at what he considered a good joke, and
in five minutes had forgotten all about her.
This wife, in a weak, selfish little way, was trying to give her
husband her confidence, and her complaint about her own selfishness
was genuine. She wanted his help to get out of it. If he had given
her just a little gracious attention and told her how impossible it
was really to discuss the children when she began the conversation
with whining complaint, she would have allowed herself to be taught
and their intercourse would have improved. On the other hand, if the
wife had realized that her husband came home from the cares of his
business tired and nervous, and if she had talked lightly and easily
on general subjects and tried to follow his interests, when his
nerves were rested and quiet she might have found him ready and able
to give her a little lift with regard to the children.
It is interesting and it is delightful to see how, as we each work
first to bear our own burdens, we not only find ourselves ready and
able to lighten the burdens of others but find others who are
helpful to us.
A woman who finds her husband "so restless and irritable" should
remember that in reality a man's nervous system is just as sensitive
as a woman's, and, with a steady and consistent effort to bear her
own burdens and to work out her own problems, should prepare herself
to lighten her husband's burdens and help to solve his problems;
that is the truest way of bringing him to the place where he will be
glad to share her burdens with her as well as his own.
But we want to remember that there is a radical difference between
indulging another's selfishness, and waiting, with patient yielding,
for him to discover his selfishness himself, and to act unselfishly
from his own free will.