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Vintage Marriage Advice from the Eve of World War I

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We modern women tend to be focused on our rights. So focused on them, in fact, that we occasionally forget that our rights also come with responsibilities. Healthy marriages aren’t built on the love, devotion, and selflessness of one partner alone. Marriage ought to be built on mutual love and sacrifice.

In her 1913 Don’ts for Wives, Blanch Ebbuttt unapologetically presents a simple picture of what marriage for women of her generation ought not be: neither spouse should dominate the other. Instead, she suggests that we keep our husbands’ needs and desires constantly in mind in the hope that they’re the ones looking out for what we need and want.


Expectations

Many conflicts in marriage come down to unrealistic expectations. Blanche reminds us to keep an open mind and heart to the needs and feelings of our husbands.

  • Don’t expect your husband to have all the feminine virtues as well as the masculine ones. There would be nothing left for you if your other half were such a paragon. (Read more about honoring your husband’s masculinity…)
  • Don’t expect to know your husband inside and out within a month of marriage. For a long time you will be making discoveries: file them for future reference.
  • Don’t expect your husband to make you happy while you are simply a passive agent. Do your best to make him happy and you will find happiness yourself.
  • Don’t expect your husband always to share your recreations while you refuse to share his. If you like concerts best, and he prefers plays, let each sacrifice to the other in turn, and you will be surprised to find how your tastes become more [similar] as time goes on. (Read more about a great recreation to share…)

Attitude

When each partner looks out for what the other needs, both will ultimately be better, happier people.

  • Don’t let your husband make you selfish, and don’t you make him selfish. If there is one specially comfortable chair that you both like, don’t let him always put you in it, and don’t persuade him always to sit in it himself. Turn and turn about is a very good rule.
  • Don’t think anything too much trouble to do for your husband’s comfort; remember he is occupied all day in working for you. Don’t be afraid of thinking and planning and working for him.

Self-Worth

Healthy marriages require two emotionally healthy people. It is our responsibility as wives to treasure our own self-worth.

  • Don’t be a household martyr. Some wives are never happy unless they are miserable, but their husbands don’t appreciate this peculiar trait. The woeful smile is most exasperating.
  • Don’t brood; that way madness lies. Don’t hesitate, if you catch yourself brooding, to “take a day off” in the best way you can. Go out and gossip with your friend; get to a theater where there is a play that will make you laugh; or try a concert or cinema show—anything that will take you out of yourself. Take the brooding habit in time before it gets too strong a hold of you.
  • Don’t omit to fill your time with plenty of outside interests. If you sing, join a choral society; belong to a lecture or literary society; keep up your French and your music; visit your friends, and invite them to visit you. Nothing induces dullness, and even illness, so easily as lack of congenial occupation. You will come back to your husband with a bright face instead of a doleful one.

Interactions

It’s an unattainable but beautiful ideal to strive for: when thoughtfulness governs every action of both partners, harmony reigns in the home.

  • Don’t let your husband feel that you are always criticizing everything he does. Leave the role of critic to others. This does not mean that you are to give no friendly criticism. There is a happy medium between constant carping and fulsome flattery which you should seek.
  • Don’t omit the kiss of greeting. It cheers a man when he is tired to feel that his wife is glad to see him home.
  • Don’t bother your husband with a stream of senseless chatter if you can see that he is very fatigued. Help him to the tid-bits at dinner; modulate your voice; don’t remark on his silence. If you have any cheery little anecdote to related, tell it with quiet humor, and by-and-by he will respond. But if you tackle him in the wrong way, the two of you will spend a miserable evening. (Read more about preventing arguments…)
  • Don’t talk to your husband about anything of a worrying nature until he has finished his evening meal. (Read more about having great conversations with your husband…)


For more vintage marriage advice, check out Don’ts for Wives by Blanche Ebbutt. Have you ever found marriage advice in an unexpected place? Let us know in the comments.

2 responses »

  1. I was bought this book as a jokey birthday present last year, and was amazed by how sound and useful all the advice is for relationships. It’s so interesting to see that good sense hasn’t changed with time!

    Reply

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