Irritable Husbands

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.

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