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Sunday, October 21, 2001
Article

The wife who surrenders  is the one who conquers!
Mohinder Singh

KAPURS, Hari a surgeon and Mohini a beautician, began a dream marriage 15 years back. But by now much of the mutual adoration has evaporated. What exactly went wrong?

ILLUSTRATION BY SANDEEP JOSHIIs it because Mohini got more and more into the habit of ‘correcting’ Hari in things big (how he managed finances or handled the growing son) and small (how he drove the car or put away his shoes)? Evidently, it stemmed from her intense desire to run a model home, wherein Hari’s imperfections may well be ironed out. But instead of the anticipated improvement, Hari is behaving in an increasingly aloof manner and is withdrawn. Mohini would love to pep up her marriage but is at her wits’ end how to go about it?

There is a new batch of self-help books on the subject, mainly from women writers advising troubled wives—hardly any on what the husband should do. Prominent among these publications: The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle (Simon & Schuster), Surrendering to Marriage by Iris Krasnow (Talk Miramax), and The Marriage Sabbatical: The Journey That Brings you Home by Cheryl Jarvis (Perseus).

 


After 25 years of marriage, two children and a journalistic career, Jarvis became firm in her notion that a Sabbatical from marriage would give her room to escape for a while without renouncing marriage. She quotes the Mosaic law which required land to lie fallow every seven years as a Sabbath to the Lord.

At 48, Jarvis moved to a writers’ colony for three months and felt much better. She had a room of her own, no cooking, no daily interaction with the husband. And she discovered that her absence from home had pepped up the marriage.

Jarvis has interviewed 55 who did just that: one went to India for yoga, another did a couple of years in Namibia with the Peace Corps, another took to mountains for months with a trunkload of books. And almost all her interviewees expressed satisfaction with the same, as it helped their personal growth as well as invigorated their marriage.

Jarvis’s diagnosis: Marriages — even the strongest of marriage — is predicted upon wifely confinement, saddled with the usual household chores. And she thinks the institution of marriage is in serious trouble. "How do we stay married to one person for a long time when the only constant in life is change," she asks. "If married women are going to fulfil their dreams, they will sometimes have to say, ‘I can’t take care of you right now’. Saying "no" to others is saying "yes" to something deeper within ourselves."

The practicality of managing a fairly long sabbatical from marriage, especially in our typical conditions, is another matter. In Surrendering to Marriage, Krasnow has in mind mutual submission to the institution, as "a commitment we made, a spiritual promise larger than our own selfish desires". Surrendering means deciding to stand by marriage vows even when boredom becomes the dominant theme; learning to live with less than great sex, or with no sex at all. She cites several instances of husbands who are derelict in their conjugal duties.

Krasnow concedes that marriage does not provide happiness (though it can often provide an environment in which to experience happiness), and that it is not an exhilarating journey of self-discovery but a mode of living in the social world. It is actually the most sensible, practical way of living in the world that has thus far devised. And so her counsel, especially to her American sisters: instead of breaking up a less-than-satisfactory union, better make all efforts to "surrender" to the institution of marriage. Nobody is perfect, so you may as well love the one you’re with.

Laura Doyle’s The Surrendered Wife, a best-seller by now, is the most provocative of them all. And it bears a cover endorsement as "practical and valuable" by John Gray, the author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

"When I was newly married at twenty-two, I had no idea I would ever call myself a surrendered wife. At that time, the very phrase (coined by her later) would have repulsed me.

At first our marriage was blissful. Then, I started to see John’s imperfections more glaringly, and I began correcting him. It was my way of helping him to improve. From my point of view, if he could just be more ambitious at work, more romantic at home, and clean up after himself, everything would be fine. I told him as much.

He didn’t respond well... The harder I pushed, the more he resisted, and we both grew irritable and frustrated. While my intentions were good, I was clearly on the road to marital hell. In no time I was exhausted from trying to run my life and his. Even worse, I became estranged from the man who had once made me happy. Our marriage was in serious trouble and it had only been four years since we’d taken our vows."

This is how Doyle starts her book, and it has been quoted at length, because the book grew out of her own marital experience. When none of her agitation produced the marital bliss she had assumed, Doyle stopped trying to change her husband and instead changed herself, becoming a "surrendered wife". The book is shaped as an instruction manual. Doyle also runs a Web site, Surrenderdwife.com, and offers one-to-one "relationship training".

The basic theme of Doyle’s message: A wife should not strive to exert inappropriate control over her husband. Most importantly, she should resist the temptation of finding fault —"some people find fault as if it were a buried treasure". She ceased "correcting" John about his driving — conceding he had been driving all right for years before marriage without outside advice. She stopped buying clothes for him (yes, even his underwear), even when she was worried that he wouldn’t buy any for himself. She stopped bossing him, giving him advice. And John began reciprocating with an appreciation reminiscent of their early marriage days. Instead of bickering all the time, they were laughing together, holding hands, and enjoying an electrifying closeness that they hadn’t had for years.

Doyle’s recipe for a wife wanting to be "treasured, pampered, protected and adored": leave most decision-making to the husband; express gratitude for everything he does; give him charge of the family finances; respect his thinking; and receive his gifts graciously. She goes as far to advocate no denying of sex to him, at least join in once a week, whether she likes it or not.

And Doyle wants wives listen to husbands, instead of voicing the usual complaint, he isn’t listening. Her advice: On some evenings, make a point of really hearing everything he says. Demonstrate you’re listening rather than plotting your next sentence, or jumping up to talk to a toddler or answering the phone. Even if you disagree, don’t dismiss his ideas, or laugh at him or make fun of him. Smile and invite him to say more. He’ll love it and can be very forthcoming. "A man is already halfway in love with any woman who listens to him," says Brendan Francis.

What to say of correcting the husband, a wife should resist giving him guidance even when he asks for it, says Doyle. In the interest of allowing him to develop his natural dominance, she could respond with a deflective "Whatever you think" or "That’s a good question". All in all, wives not condescending to their husbands by treating them like children.

Doyle does concede that the "surrender" she advocates won’t be easy to attain for many a wife. There’ll be the ever-present temptation to revert to the earlier, bossing mode. But then, it isn’t impossible to manage if a sustained effort is made. And, whenever there’s a slip up, an instant apology should be forthcoming.

Of course, Doyle doesn’t recommend surrender to a husband who is guilty of verbal or physical violence, given to grievous addiction like drugs, or chronically unfaithful. According to her, any attempt by a wife to "control" a normal husband whom she adored and respected enough to marry in the first place, proves counterproductive; makes him resentful, even drives him away from her in favour of work or golf.

The surprising appeal of The Surrendered Wife may have something to do with disillusionment with the kind of feminism which urged women to take control in marriage. It often led to bickering and disappointment, with a marked deterioration in the quality of marriage. The Surrendered Wife is no simple solution for marital harmony, but it does elaborate a point of certain validity: Most husbands are inclined to please their wives and stay loving, if they aren’t put off by spousal bossing or what’s called ‘mothering’. In any event, a majority of husbands show little improvement in their behaviour under pressure from their wives. "When a man does not feel loved just the way he is, he will either consciously or unconsciously repeat the behaviour that is not being accepted," says John Gray.

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