In July of 1953, Collier’s ran an article titled How to Live with a Woman. If at first glance the title alone isn’t enough to ignite fury, then the caption reading
A noted marriage counselor lets the men in on the secret of understanding a woman. If your wife seems to be illogical, there’s a reason–and you can do something about it.
should do the trick. But although this article is dripping with misogynistic anecdotes (from our point of view), the advice really isn’t terrible and can absolutely be applied to contemporary long-term couples of any type, married or not.
So how do you live with a woman? Well, the author of this article, Margaret Blair Johntone used her 18 years of experience as a minister and marriage counselor, along with her 14 years of experience as a wife to explain some common misconceptions and it seems as though it all boils down to communication.
Photograph for Collier’s By Philippe Halsman. Collier’s July 1953
The piece begins with a story of a husband telling her [Johnstone] about how his wife was illogical and constantly making a fuss over small trifles. From his perspective women are unpredictable, aggressive, and out of control stating, “Women always make a big personal issue out of everything. You say something completely innocent and suddenly you’re in an argument,” “Women are unreasonable. They don’t say what they mean and they blow up when you believe what they say,” and “You can’t argue with a woman. whichever side you’re on, you’re wrong.”
Johnstone also interviewed men whose complaints involved wives asking them to do chores after work, wives that never seemed to be happy despite “having it all,” and wives that chronically moved the furniture around. She then laid out a detailed explanation of the 4 rules to a happy marriage, full of anecdotes to drive the point home:
Rule 1. Establish an us-against-the-world feeling, and never lose it. It makes a marriage practically invulnerable. Johnstone focused this piece of advice around the concept that although marriages begin with the vow, “Never again will it be you and I; from now on, it’s we,” many couples lose the sense of we once the honeymoon phase is over. She explains that once the united feeling begins to slip blame, resentment, and misunderstanding are close to follow. The we-feel is “the life source of marriage.”
Rule 2. Don’t take your wife for granted. She’s making a tremendously import ant contribution to your happiness–let her know you appreciate it and you’ll eliminate a lot of apparently unreasonable quarrels. According to Johnstone,
“There’s no formula for understanding a woman, but there’s a secret I’ll let the men in on. Often a woman has to be illogical, for a perfectly good reason: it may be the only way she can make her husband act like a man.”
“When a woman’s ‘no’ means ‘yes’ time and time again, it should be a clear sign to her husband that his masculinity is slipping.”
Okay, seriously WHAT? What she’s saying here is that the “no” means “yes” thing is a type of reverse psychology the wife plays on the husband in an attempt to trick him into being more proactive in the relationship. She claims its particularly easy for couple that have lost that we-feel to fall victim to this type of behavior. Women speak in code as a way of challenging their husband. She also explained that sometimes women reacted the way they did out of fear that their husbands no longer loved them. Starting an argument was a form of fishing for compliments. One woman interviewed for the article explained,
“A lot of women never bother to make breakfast for their husbands. I do, and what thanks do I get? No matter how I try, you take everything for granted. You never even say you love me. I often wonder if you do. I can’t ask you, for your answer wouldn’t mean anything. Perhaps if I tell you what I really fear–if I say you don’t love me–you’ll tell me you do.”
Rule 3. Respect your differences. Agree to disagree. Don’t fight your partner–remember you’re on the same team. In this section, Johnstone provides quite a few statistics about the overall happiness of the average marriage. She states that realistically, “Marriage, of course, should be a 50-50 proposition. But the experts find only one couple in three ever achieves that goal.” The statistics focused on the issue of domination, stating that of the male dominated relationships examined only 61% were happy and of the female dominated relationships only 47% were happy, but of the 50-50 relationships examined 87% reported being happy. Some of the couples interviewed expressed their distaste for how much arguing they experienced, and Johnstone assured them that while constant bickering is unhealthy, a once-in-a-blue moon fight to re-balance the marital harmony was totally okay.
Rule 4. See to it that she gets an occasional change of scene and interest. Most women spent their entire day in the home with a few brief trips to the shops and the school. They didn’t share the same luxuries and daily freedoms as their contemporary counterparts do now. Women often waited for their husband to come home from work and then they would spend the evening out on the town. But when the husbands worked late frequently or wanted to spend their evenings in, it was common to feel restless and imprisoned in the home. This one is probably the least applicable today, as most stay-at-home partners are quite mobile and can have change of scenery much more easily than in 1953. However, a change in pattern is always applicable and a good idea whether you work out in the world or in the home.
Johnstone wrapped the article up with a suggestion that husbands make a bigger effort to re-balance their marriages through small steps and provides another anecdote about a mother and daughter she encountered out to lunch. The mother received a surprise gift of jewelry and claimed to be happier than a schoolgirl.