Q Dear Miss Abigail:
How do couples live together and survive more than a few years?
A Dear Sergio:
Lucky for you I happen to own R. F. Horton’s On the Art of Living Together. I just love the fact that my copy has a wonderful little advert pasted to the inside cover:
Another of the
8 Hillside Ave. Summit, N.J.
I suppose the proprietors of The Mulberries really wanted their transients to get along…. Oh, pardon me, I got distracted. Back to your question. I believe this excerpt will provide some guidance for you.
1896: Living Together as Husband and Wife
Love is not enough for living together happily as man and wife, at any rate in the sense that love is usually understood in the days preceding the honeymoon. For the simple truth is, love is a delicate plant, which has to be cultivated and to grow; it is not a ready-made and infrangible chain of golden links. You may have a love as passionate, and as patient of death, as Romeo’s and Juliet’s; and if death throws his bridal veil over you both, you may pass into the unseen, an apparent proof that love is stronger than death. But love is not necessarily stronger than life. You may live and grow apart, though death would only have united you.
Let us suppose that Romeo and Juliet had survived, and had carried out their purpose of living together. It is a daring thought, and I doubt Shakespeare would not like it. But alack-a-day, I have seen Romeo and Juliet living together, and they have made a sorry business of it. For, to begin with, a passionate love cannot by the very nature of our emotional faculties be retained at full tension always, and what is to happen, when for the moment the harp must be unstrung? Unless there is a less taut tie of mutual respect and common interests, it is like enough that the harp will not be restrung at all. Disillusioned, disgusted, chilled to the soul, you will leave the fine instrument under cover in the corner of your drawing-room, and seek for other music to fill the empty house.
But even if this danger is provided for, and the love is secure against the fitfulness of those stormier emotions, and the dulness of their temporary exhaustion, it is still true that love in wedded life, as before, requires laborious and self-sacrificing culture. Woe betide the man who used courtesy as a mode of courting, and then put it aside with his court dress, not for home use but for state occasions. And what but the grace of God can save a married life in which a woman saves all her charms of manner, her wit, her accomplishments for the world which she would win, and not for the husband whom she thinks she has won?
If a man and a woman are to live together well, they must take the plant of love to the sunniest and securest place in their habitation. They must water it with tears of repentance, or tears of joy; they must jealously remove the destroying insects, and pluck off the dead leaves, that the living may take their place. And if they think they have any business in this life more pressing than the care and culture of the plant, they are undeserving of one another, and time’s revenges will be swift and stern. Their love-vows will echo in their lives like perjuries; the sight of their love-letters in a forgotten drawer will affect them with shame and scorn; in the bitterness of their own disappointment they will charge God foolishly, and think that every plant of love has a worm at the root because they neglected theirs, and every married life is wretched because they did not deserve happiness.
A man must give his mind to a wife, and a wife must give her mind to a husband, as well as the heart, if they are to make a success of it.
Source: Horton, Robert F. On the Art of Living Together. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1896.
~ pp. 72-75 ~