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Lessons in Wifery from Kristin Lavransdatter

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Kristin Lavransdatter lives a happy life of privilege. She has a wealthy and respected father who loves her and a betrothed who is devoted to her. But when she falls deeply in love with charming, impulsive Erlend Nikulaussøn, she defies them and all of fourteenth-century Norwegian society to be his.

Kristin’s life—and of the 1,000+ page epic Kristin Lavransdatter—is a parable about the true costs of disobedience and willfulness. Kristin learns that marriage isn’t a matter to be taken lightly:

  • Consult your parents.
    “You know I wouldn’t be against [your marriage] if I sincerely believed that it would be to your benefit.”

    For most Westerners, the idea of an arranged marriage seems foreign and backward. But that doesn’t mean our parents don’t have valuable advice to offer when it comes to choosing a spouse. Listen to your parents’ reservations or excitement about the men you date. If you choose to ignore their advice, be sure you have a good reason.

  • Accept his flaws.
    “Without knowing it, Kristin was gathering from all he said every little thing that might make him more attractive and good to her, and that would lessen his blame in all she knew about him that was not good.”

    You and your fiancé will grow and change in the years after your wedding, but the basic traits that make you you are likely to remain the same. Consider carefully whether the weaknesses that seem cute, charming, and excusable now won’t put your marriage on the path to trouble in the years to come. Habits of carelessness, inconstancy, and anger are particularly troublesome—and particularly hard to break.

  • Know that romance isn’t enough.
    “Surely you would demand more of a man you intend to take as a son-in-law than that he had made your daughter swoon with love before everyone’s eyes.”

    Marriage is a promise between two people choosing to spend their lives together. It requires a deep, selfless commitment to each other’s well-being. A marriage built on romance without a firm foundation of common values and generosity is unlikely to remain standing.

As she manages Erlend’s vast estate, raises seven tumultuous boys, and copes with the gravity of Erlend’s mistakes, Kristin struggles with the consequences of the choices she has made. But it is too late to dwell on the past and Kristin must learn to make her marriage to the man she has chosen work:

  • Accept that things won’t always be the way you dreamed.
    “I thought that when I finally had you, it would be like celebrating Christmas every day. But now it seems that there will be mostly long periods of fasting.”

    Kristin and Erlend struggle with each other from the moment they marry mostly because of their disappointed expectations. Marriage will never be exactly what we think it will be, but, with a positive attitude and an open-minded, it can be far richer than we could have imagined.

  • Learn to love him the way he wants to be loved.
    “Erlend had never given her much thanks for that; it was not the way he wanted to be loved. But she couldn’t help it; it was her nature to love with great toil and care.”

    Husbands and wives never stop learning about each other. There comes a day for most couples when they realize the loving gestures he does for her don’t mean nearly as much as the little gifts she longs for. Or when her self-sacrifice doesn’t make him feel as loved as an affectionate kiss. Find out what gestures tell your husband that you love him in a way he can understand. Communicate with him clearly so he can do the same for you.

  • Open yourself up to your spouse.
    “He had simply wanted to live with her without her always trying to seize what was in his heart—and what he refused to reveal.”

    For many of us, emotional intimacy is even harder than physical intimacy. But opening yourself up to each other, sharing your dreams and disappointments, is vital for a vibrant, happy marriage. Talk to your husband about the things that matter to you as often as possible and make space for him to do the same.

  • Make time for your marriage.
    “Even though Erlend invited her to stay with him, she would have to return home to her children… They were old enough now that she was embarrassed to imagine them living here with Erlend and herself, perhaps looking with astonishment at their parents who had become so youthful. But those two couldn’t be without her.”

    When Erlend doesn’t joyfully receive Kristin’s care and affection, she redirects her love toward her children. Erlend resents being relegated to second place and stays out of his wife’s way. Many couples get caught in this viscous cycle. Protect your own marriage by prioritizing time with your husband. Date nights and evening reflection rituals are great ways to get started.

Reading Kristin Lavransdatter is an epic undertaking that isn’t for the faint-hearted. But it is also a beautiful book full of vivid, historical settings and timeless lessons about being a better woman.

What books have taught you your own lessons in wifery?

Kristin Lavransdatter made Experimental Wifery’s List of 100 Books Every Woman Should Read. Join us in July as we read The Lord of the Rings.

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