Marriage Advice from Mrs. Ruth Peale

I think I’ve talked before about this book, The Adventure of Being a Wife by Ruth Peale, wife of minister and Guideposts founder Norman Peale. I will recommend it, just for those of you who think you might like it, but I must include the warning that this was written in the 60s…by a minister’s wife. The advice is very sage and practical but she does really focus it on women, women’s roles, and uses lots of gender stereotypes to broadly suggest tips for “the typical woman” to help her relationship with “the typical man.” I don’t mean to make it sound sexist, or even terribly old fashioned. There are only a few parts of it that made me raise my eyebrows, but I was reading it with the sense that this is good marriage advice, forall married people. It happens to come from a woman’s perspective, and therefore maybe more relevant towards other women, but in general, her advice is good, no great, for ALL MARRIED PEOPLE.

I always hate the assumption that to be pro-feminist it means you can never do anything remotely gender stereotypical, even to the point of avoiding all kinds of “submissive” roles in a relationship. That’s just absolutely stupid, and I think it’s that kind of thinking that turns people off to the feminist movement, and gets people divorced. There is no relationship in your life other than your marriage when people would think it’s ok to be as thoughtless, harsh, critical, and unbending as people do with their spouses. I’m shocked hearing the tone some people take with each other, just passing by in stores and things. Being free of gender stereotypes doesn’t mean that a woman has to just act unfeeling, egotistical, and staunch like (stereotypical) men, but rather that both can learn and incorporate things from both sexes to create a more “even distribution” of power, sensitivity, and day to day work. Like I said, I think this is great advice for all people, not just women,

Anyway, here are some tibits, in case you don’t feel like reading the entire thing:

On Divorce:
(Talking about modern divorce rates (which contrary to popular thought, actually hit their peak in the 70s at around 48%. Today’s divorce rate is actually much lower than it used to be, closer to 30%)), “A lot of people who get divorced quit too easily. They give up without a fight, because they don’t know that what they have is worth fighting for. They give up because they’ve been allowed to think that everything will be moonlight and roses, when it actually isn’t. They give up because unconsciously they’ve come into the marriage with an escape route already planned, via the divorce court, if everything isn’t automatically just dandy. Another reason is that they women involved aren’t using their heads. They ought to be able to study their man, figure out what his needs are, what makes him tick….But a lot of them are not, mainly because they’re too lazy or too spoiled, or too busy thinking about themselves and what they’re getting or not getting out of their marriages. The third reason is that too many people go around downgrading marriage these days. It has become a favorite indoor sport. The result is that wherever I go young married women come up to me and bewail their fate. They’ve been brainwashed into thinking that they’re caught in an unrewarding, unstimulating, unchallenging, drag existence.”

Accepting and Adapting to Each Other:
“Another thing I had to learn (and I truly think God gave me the wisdom, because in those days I had little of my own) was that whatever Norman’s basic characteristics were, they were not going to change. He was a grown man, twenty-nine years old, with his character fully formed, all its great gifts and talents and potentials established, but all its defects too. If I was going to love him (and I was falling as deeply and rapidly in love as a girl ever did)…I was going to have to take him as he was.”

Not Ignoring the Little Things:
“Look around you and decide how many of the best marriages you know are ones where a wife in a deep sense actually knows her husband better than he knows himself….On the other hand, the divorce courts are full of women who didn’t study their men, who didn’t try to anticipate and meet their needs, who failed to observe warning signs while there was still time to do something about them. Years ago, I remember, we knew a young clergyman whose father was a distinguished bishop. The first time we met him I was midly surprised to see that, along with his immaculate white shirt and sober dark suit, he was weraring a pair of flaming red socks. “Yes,” said Norman,”They do seem a bit flamboyant, don’t they? I understand that some members of his congregation think so too. They aren’t happy about those fire engine socks, and they’ve told him so, but he wear them anyway.”
“Why on earth,” I said,” would a quiet, conservative bishop’s son do a thing like that?”
“Maybe,” said Norman, half joking, “it’s to prove that he isn’t just a quiet, conservative bishop’s son.”
The young clergyman was married to a very proper and conventional young woman who was active in the parish doing all sorts of charities and church work. Imagine the sensation then, when one fine day, out of an apparently blue sky, the young minister left town and took with him the organist of the church. He left a note saying that he was sorry for the scandal he was causing, but that he had stoof being a minister as long as he could, that he had found at last a woman who understood him, and that he would marry her as soon as his wife saw fit to give him a divorce.
No one can condone what he did, but who knows how many signs and signals of unhappiness and frustration- aside from his flaming socks- that young man displayed thought the years before he made his desperate move? His wife must have had hundreds of indications through the years that he husband was miserable in a profession that was no doubt thrust on him by his illustrious father.”
(I know this story seems almost a bit harsh and unfair, that a woman should share some fault in spousal cheating or divorce, but since I’ve read this it’s amazing how many times I’ve seen it come to fruition. I’m shocked by how clearly it’s evident when someone, man or woman, is unhappy in a relationship, and how quickly afterwards it comes out that they’ve cheated, or are seeking a divorce or moved out, and I just want to look at the other person and say “are you serious? You’re surprised that he/she did this? Everyone knew it was coming.” Of course, it’s different when you’re in the situation (and there are those people out there who are just deceptive and deceitful, and cheaters in the true sense of the word) but that’s exactly why this is sage advice. Keep your heart receptive to other’s happiness. Think of them like the Sims, where everyone has that little green happiness bar above their head.)

The Love You Make is the Love You Get:
“Every bride should be made to realize, somehow, that the way a man feels about a woman depends ultimately on the way she makes him feel. If he has deep needs, emotional, physical, or psychological that he expects her to satisfy, and she fails to satisfy them, it will be very hard in the long run for him to give her the affection, admiration, and loyalty that she needs and wants from him.”

(I think Benjamin Franklin said something like this once. That if you want people to do something for you, you have to do something for them first. The same applys to feelings.)

Do Things Together:
“Studying your man should include a willingness to participate, at least occasionally, in activities that interest him, or her, more than they interest you. Some domestically-oriented women never learn to do this. Their husbands may be ardent golfers, or gardeners, or bowlers, or bridge players (Me here…I’m dying about this list of “sports,” aren’t you??) but the women they have married make no effort to join them in the areas where they are the happiest and where in most cases they would welcome the companionship of a wife.”
(I would also include in here spending time in groups. It amazes me how assumptive people are about “girls night” or “guys night,” like we’re all in 8th grade and only girls can spend time with each other, and only boys can spend time with each other. Relationships, friendships, conversation, and fun are all so much more dynamic when you have mixed groups.)

Try to Be Fun:
I’m convinced that anyone who will work at it can increase his fun capacity. It doesn’t require time or money so much as imagination and willingness to try something new. Any mother can make a meal more interesting by attempting some exotic or unusual dish. Any father, faced with a Sunday afternoon with the children, can think up something interesting or appealing if he’ll just put his mind to it.”

A Positive Life:
(Talking to a woman who says he husband complains about “his health, his job and finances, everything” make him pessimisitc and downbeat.)
“You’re married to one of the world’s great optimists Mrs. Peale. You haven’t any idea of what I’m up against.”
“Oh yes, I have,” I answered quickly. “Every wife runs into this problem from timeto time and I’m no exception.When he gets depressed he sees only the negative side of everything. Sometimes I think he writes about positive thinking because he understands so much about negative thinking! But I think it’s part of my job as a wife to understand all this, evaluated it unemotionally,  and then do something about it.”
“Do something about it? All I want to do is get out of the house and leave my husband alone with his miserable thoughts and hope he comes out of it quickly. I don’t think you realize how contagious pessimism can be.”
“No more contagious than optimism,” I said….”When your husband starts complaining or grumblilng or finding fault with things, what’s your reaction?”
“Usually I urge him not to be such a complainer. I tell him he’s getting me down. I invite him to shut up.”
“Tha’ts understandable,” I said,” but is it wise? Isn’t it possible that by shutting him up you’re just bottling up all his fears and worries inside of him? Mightn’t it be smarter to encourage him to talk, to verbalize all his frustrations, get them out of his system?….There are some techniques to do this. For instance, listen, but don’t listen.  Let it go in one ear and out the other and above all, don’t react emotionally to it….Then stop thinking of yourself as only a wife. You can influence your husband more than any other person in the world. Make up your mind that you’re going to help him  with this problem, instead of just enduring it. Now what, specifically can a woman with a gloomy husband do? She can try to change his state of mind by what goes in his mind. I’ve noticed that people who are gloomy or depressed seem to enjoy reading or hearing gloomy things. Try to conteract this tendency. Do a lot of upbeat reading yourself so you always have a story to tell that counteracts this kind of news-distortion. Feed upbeat things into your conversation with him. Deep down, he must be hungry for this kind of encouragement, most people are. Take a pen and pencil and write down all the good things you can think of about your life together. Or the place you live. Or a friend that you both know and like. And here’s another discipline. For one whole day, try to avoid saying anything critical or derogatory about anybody. This is harder to do than you might suppose. But if you slip on Monday, try again on Tuesday. Keep trying until you’ve done it for a whole day. There is no reason in the world why you and your husbad can’t become cheerful, optimistic people again. Start thikning that and believing it. Act cheerful and optimistic yourself. Forget about the past and its failures. Live in the present. Make the best possible out of today. Ask God to help and Guide you. He will. And since he does, what is there to be gloomy about?”

“Stop thinking of your marriage partner’s relatives as a special breed known as in-laws andthink of them simply as human beings with flaws and imperfections but also loveable qualities. Think of them as people. Treat them as people!”

Persuasion, Not Fighting:
(Talking to a young lady who disagrees with her husband about where to go on vacation)
“He doesn’t dislike Cape Cod. He’s one of these men who likes to keep on doing whatever he’s been doing. He loves whatever is familiar. He hates to try anything new. And it’s not fair! I thought about it all day yesterday, and the more I thought, the madder I became. So as soon as he got home from  work I let him have it.”Paul Johnson,” I said to him, “whether you like it or not, we’re going to Cape Cod this summer. Not to Nova Scotia. And that’s that!”
“And how did he react to this-er-greeting?”
“He blew up. He said some awful things, and so did I. This morning was even worse because he didn’t say anything. Just got up and drank some instant coffee and went to work.”
…..”Have you ever stopped to think how essential this thing called persuasion is, not only in marriage, but in life? It’s involved in just about everything that matters. You can’t force anyone to be your friend. You can’t make anyone love you or marry you. You can’t compel anyone to hire you, or give you a raise. No matter how much authority you may have, you can’t just bark orders and hope to get things done. There has to be a winning of acceptance, of agreement, of cooperation. There has to be successful persuasion, and there are rules for accomplishing this….The first rule is timing. Last night you broke that rule. Lets review the situation. Your husband comes home.  You said he works hard so we can assume he’s tired. He’s looking forward to a happy reunion with the woman he loves, a pleasant dinner, a restful evening.He opens the front door, and bang! As you put it, you let him have it. An ultimatum, on a touchy subject, before he’s even had time to take off his hat!  Now, an ultimatum is always a mistake, because it leaves everybody out on a limb with no way to climb down. But you werent thinking about that. You were thinking about yourself and what you wanted and how unfairly you’ve been treated. The second rules of persuasion has to do with self-interest. The other person’s. Edmund Burke, the great English statesman, once said “What you make it the interest of man to do, that will they do.” You could have made the summer on Cape Cod seem like something that would have been to your husband’s advantage….The third rule is this: Create a climate of acquiescence. It has become an old joke, but there is a lot of insight in the old story about the little woman who fetches her husband’s pipe and slipper and cooks him a splendid meal and tells him how young and handsome he looks and then asks him for a new car or a fur coat. I don’t mean that you have to go in constantly for fulsome praise of insincere flattery. But if you’re consistently thoughtful and considerate and just plain nice, your husband is going to love you that much more, and the more he loves you the more he’ll be willing to give your wishes priority over his own.Have you been working to create that sort of climate in your home? Or have you and your husband just been arguing about whose whims get preference, like two spoiled children quarreling over a lollipop?”

“If you want a man to keep loving you, my grandmother used to say, “you only have to do one thing–appreciate him, and let him know that you do.”

“One rule I’ve learned in my own efforts to master the art of appreciation is this: When the impulse comes to say the friendly thing, or do the little kindness that shows appreciation, act on it right away–otherwise it will vanish. Even when you realize how welcome a gesture of appreciation would be, it’s terribly easy to put it off– and then forget about it. I hate to think of the number of times I’ve thought of writing a note, or making a phone call, or sending a gift to express appreciation and then failed to follow through. There’s only one answer to this kind of procrastination: Do it now!”

“Every day every wife and husband should take a long, careful look at their married partner, decide what traits are most admirable, and seek out ways of expressing that admiration.Obviously, there’s a line that divides sincere appreciation from over-effusiveness or calculated flattery. But I’m sure that for every person who oversteps the line, there are ten thousand who never even approach it. That’s why most of us need to make a conscious effort to be more appreciative of our marriage partners.”

“Mrs. Peale,” the lady asked, “are you happy?”
Fortunately I didn’t have to hesitate. “Yes, I am.”
“Well,” she said, “how do you do it? What makes you that way? I’m not a really happy person. Oh, I pretend to be most of the time. But this thing called happiness eludes me. I think it eludes most of my friends too, although some will deny it. I know very few happy people, if any. There are just too many problems and tensions and frustrations in the average person’s life these days. So if you are happy, I wish you’d tell us how you got that way, and how you stay that way, and how we can be happy too.”
“I can’t offer you any absolutely foolproof formula for happiness. I doubt if anyone can. But I can tell you a few things that I have found out about it, things that have been useful to me. First of all, stop struggling with happiness. Happiness isn’t something that you can deliberately set out to achieve for yourself, like skill at typing or a college degree. In fact, the more you focus on your own happiness, or lack of it, the more it will continue to elude you. This is because preoccupation with self seems to be the enemy of happiness. The more concerned you are with your own pleasures and successes, or your own problems and failures, the less contented you are going to be.
As wiser people than I have pointed out for centuries, the best way to get happiness is to give it…..I don’t know why more women who are idle and restless and basically bored don’t grasp this fundamental fact. Playing bridge or playing golf is fine, as a diversion. But in terms of deep-down happiness that sort of activity can’t begin to compare with volunteer work in a hospital, or leading a Girl Scout troop, or helping underpriviledged people in somedirect and personal way. How many such outlets do you have in your life right now?”

Absorbing Life’s Blows
“Sometimes I think the best epitaph a wife could hope for would be just six words: “She was a wonderful shock absorber.” Carved on a headstone, that might not look very elegant or very spiritual, I know. But to go through life cushioning shocks or blows for other people calls for a set of characteristics very close to the Christian ideal. It calls for selflessness, service, compassion, kindness…just as religion does.”

“Being a shock absorber comes easily to a parent. Your toddler falls and bangs his forehead, your second grader burns his fingers on a hot stove, your teenager is in tears because her feelings have been hurt by some thoughtless friend. Here the protective instinct is swift and sure. You dry the tears, you say the consoling or comforting thing, you put on the right medicine, physically or emotionally….but it’s more difficult for husbands and wives to respond so automatically to each other’s needs. Here two adults are so involved, two separate and sometimes demanding egos. In dozens of marriage situations, affection whispers “this is my man (or woman). I love him, therefore I will try to spare him and protect him.” But there is also a contrary voice, a churlish sort of voice that grumbles “Well, he’s a grown man, isn’t he? He ought to be able to cope with his own problems. Besides, I’ve got my own difficulties, and what’s he doing to help me? In other words, where marriage is concerned, no one is a natural, ready-made shock absorber. It’s an art–and you have to learn it, just the way you learn other skills”

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