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Lessons in Wifery from The Divine Comedy

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In The Divine Comedy, Beatrice gives women a model for how to encourage—and challenge—the men we love. The books tells the story of one man’s journal through hell, purgatory and heaven, with the inspiration, help, and reprimand of his true love.

Midway through life’s journey, Dante Alighieri finds himself in a dark valley from which he cannot escape. From her position in the highest heaven, Beatrice sees Dante and takes pity on him. She sends the Roman poet Virgil to guide Dante through hell and purgatory toward ultimate redemption.

Dante met Beatrice Portinari only twice in his life: once, as a nine-year-old little boy and once on the streets on Florence. But even after her marriage to someone else and death at the age of twenty-four, Dante wrote of her as a model of feminine grace and virtue. 

Inspire him

Know him better than he knows himself.

“…the desire for me that was directing you to love the Good beyond which there’s no thing to draw our longing.”

Dante passes through the horrors of hell and the difficult climb up Mount Purgatory because he dreams of meeting Beatrice at the end of his journey. Her name, after all, means blessed or happy. She doesn’t just make Dante happy: she is his happiness.

A woman can model what is true, good, and beautiful. When we make good choices, we help the people around us do so, too—including our husbands. We aren’t all saints, but we can all hope to inspire our men to be their best.

So how can you inspire him? Know him better than he knows himself. Sometimes men need a little help picking through their own thoughts and emotions. Ask him about his day and really listen to what he has to say. You’d be surprised what you learn about him, especially things he doesn’t even know about himself. For example, Adam came home from work grumpy every afternoon for more than a month. He started feeling sick more often and had a hard time getting up in the morning. He didn’t see the pattern, but I did: he hated his job! I was able to inspire him to look for work he finds fun and meaningful.

Be his strongest supporter

Let him take risks

“Bring help to him for I am Beatrice who send you on… Love prompted me, that Love which makes me speak.”

Beatrice isn’t willing to sit back and watch Dante suffer in his dark valley. She asks Saint Lucy and Mary, Mother of God to come to his aid. For her own part, she journeys from heaven to hell to ask Virgil, author of The Aeneid, to guide Dante to her.

Most of us won’t need to go to hell and back to support our husbands. But it’s the little things—sticking up for him in an argument, taking his side in a conflict at work, refusing to undermine him in front of other people—that can make all the difference to the health of a relationship.

So how can you support him? Let him take risks. Risks are scary. But a man who has a dream needs space to make that dream work. Be willing to make sacrifices. Help him when you can. Encourage him when you can’t. And most importantly, remind him how much you believe in him. If you need more inspiration, check out this beautiful story of a family that worked together to earn a husband’s nursing degree debt-free!

Don’t be afraid to expect more

Help him see and wrestle with his faults

“[Dante] turned his footsteps toward an untrue path; he played counterfeits of goodness, which will never pay in full what they have promised.”

Most readers are shocked to read canto 30 of Purgatorio, when Dante finally meets Beatrice on the doorstep of Heaven. Her first response isn’t to welcome him, but to chastise him for failing to live up to his promise.

I had to learn that it isn’t a woman’s job to tolerate her husband’s faults. Not only can those habits cause serious harm to a man and to his family, but pretending not to notice Adam’s faults made me feel self-righteous—like I could lord it over him that I had the patience and goodness to ignore them. Part of being married means being willing to correct your spouse in love and help him become a better person.

So how can you expect more of him? Help him see and wrestle with his faults. Real love means being willing to chastise, even when it’s hard. If your husband is doing something wrong, from speaking rudely to your sister to struggling with an addiction, find an appropriate, private time and place to have a serious conversation with him. Be honest and open. (Make sure you disagree without having a fight.) Offer to work with him to overcome his weakness. And, most importantly, let him know that you love him and forgive him for what he’s doing wrong without him even having to ask.

Your husband may not be a world-famous poet, but he still needs your inspiration, support, and help to be a better person.

What books have taught you how to be a better woman or wife? Let us know in the comments!

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