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A Guide Understanding Marital Problems

Aug 21, 2007
Marriage is both commonplace and intriguing, and it is only natural that through all the ages people have observed, commented on, and interpreted the marital behavior of other persons. Many of these observations, oft repeated, become part of the collective wisdom of society.

One finds these comments in a number of places. Literary anthologies contain many case studies of marital problems or types, both in prose and poetic form. Books of familiar quotations are full of references to men, marriage, and women which are the soul of wit or the essence of insight, or both. Advice to the unwed was available before modern books which seek to prepare for marriage. There was Sir Thomas Over-bury, an early seventeenth-century English poet, who wrote:

Give me, next good, an understanding wife. By nature wise, not learned much by art.

Or there is the suggestion in the English literary classic, The Vicar of Wakefield: "I choose my wife, not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would wear well." Similarly practical is the implication in a couplet by John Marriott, early nineteenth-century writer, written more than a century ago:

The conjugal fence, which forbids us to roam,
Looks lovely when decked with the comforts of home.

Again, one might examine a great many contemporary books to find better advice than seventeenth-century Thomas Fuller's commendation of the woman who "commandeth her husband, in any equal matter, by constant obeying him," or his reference to the man who "knows little who will tell his wife all he knows." Equally pertinent for both marital partners is Robert Dodsley's (1703-1764) poetic prescription that

To prevent or heal full many a strife
How oft, how long, must man have patience with his wife.

Perhaps contemporary Will Durant had the same thing in mind when he wrote that "the right to nag is one of the consolations of matrimony."

Even the unmarried have not hesitated to contribute their sage-like observations. Thus in recent years, H. L. Mencken, long-time bachelor, advised that the way to hold a husband is to keep him a little jealous, but the way to lose him is to keep him a little bit more jealous.

Collections of epigrams and proverbs are particularly rife with their accumulated insights into family problems. The risk of early marriage is a favorite topic. "Early wed, early dead," ran a very old English proverb, which came to be repeated many times in various forms.

Hasty marriages have been frowned upon for years. "Married in haste, we may repent at leisure," wrote William Congreve, in late seventeenth-century England. Shakespeare restated it in his play, King Henry VI, to say: "Hasty marriage seldom proveth well," and an old African proverb comes to the same conclusion in declaring that "quick loving a woman means quick not loving a woman."

Some of the conclusions of contemporary students of marriage were anticipated centuries ago in recorded folklore. How timeless is the statement in the Babylonian Talmud that "a man should first build a house, then plant a vineyard, and then marry."

Benjamin Franklin emphasized this in a model of brevity when he wrote: "First thrive, then wife." Or there is the old proverb, developed in a subsequent chapter in this book, which stated: "Be careful to marry a woman who lives near to you." Equally pertinent is another old-time reminder that "for any man to match above his rank is but to sell his liberty." Or there is Franklin's sage advice to "keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards."

Those wishing to marry would do well to follow the above advice!
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