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The Difficulty of Marriage

Published: June 29, 2016

In 1930s, humorist J.P. McEvoy wrote the Post column “Father Meets Son” presented to readers in the form of letters filled with advice for navigating life’s rocky road. Employing a mix of wry humor and tough love, Dad doled out life lessons on everything from work to women. Readers loved it.

Dad wonders if his son will fall on his face when he is married, but decides that marriage is really just another kind of job — the skills he has gained from one can transfer to the other.

Man talking to his wife

“And yet, all around you, you will see husbands and wives who don’t trust each other, and yet each blames the other because their marriage is not successful.”
Illustrated by Ralph Pallen Coleman

The Difficulty of Marriage

By J.P. McEvoy

Originally published on August 21, 1937

Dear Son: As the time draws near for you to take off the springboard, you seem to be increasingly anxious. Are you going to make a neat dive or are you going to land on your face? You have been getting a lot of advice about marriage, and you will get a lot more. As long as you live, people will be telling you what to do and what not to do. I wouldn’t have stepped into this, only you asked me.

The old man is no prophet. The only thing he can tell you with any degree of assurance is that you will get a lot of advice, but that you won’t take any of it. Young couples have to find out everything for themselves. All the old truths that millions fought and bled and died over must be rediscovered to have any validity. It seems a great pity and a terrible waste of time and energy, but apparently there is nothing to be done about it. Everything you will ever need to know about making your marriage happy is common knowledge, and I could tell it to you in five minutes, but unless you are the wonder boy of the age, you won’t register it — much less use it.

The principal thing to remember is so simple, it will take you years to figure it out: Making a success of marriage takes just the same kind of doing as making a success of anything else in life, for marriage is not something apart from life, it’s a part of life itself. You’ve already discovered that to be a success in your job, you have to work at it. If you want to get along with the boss, you have to make the effort. If you want to get along with your customers, you have to study ways to please them. You have learned not to make promises that you can’t keep; you have learned you must keep the promises you make.

Marriage is a job you know nothing about, so you will have to study it and you will have to work at it, and the very same technique you are using to make a successful career will go a long way toward making a successful marriage. Think of your wife as a partner and marriage as a going concern. Business partners divide the responsibilities and the duties of the business. They consult together, they compromise their differences, they trust each other and they present a united front against the world. If they didn’t do all these things, how long do you suppose their partnership would last? And yet, all around you, you will see husbands and wives who are in the business of life together, who don’t share the responsibilities and duties of the job, don’t consult together, don’t compromise their differences, don’t trust each other, don’t present a united front against the world, and yet each blames the other because their marriage is not successful.

You will be told wives are hard to handle; but there is nothing so easy to handle as a wife, provided you don’t try too hard. Just make her happy and keep her busy, and she will handle herself. And I would add you have gone a long way toward making her happy when you keep her busy. More women are unhappy because they haven’t enough to do than for any other reason. A man does a woman no kindness when he makes it difficult or impossible for her to keep her time fully occupied. Give her a lot of responsibility; let her have her own departments and let her run them. Let her feel that she is helping you, that you need her, that you couldn’t get along without her. Take a genuine interest in what she does, but keep your hands out of it unless she asks you.

You will be living on your salary, so you won’t have much money to argue about; but that’s when people argue the most. Arrange your finances so you have as few discussions as possible about money. If you have only $3 a week each for spending money, don’t dole it out to each other. Each of you should have your own personal account, just as you have your own toothbrush, and into these accounts should go your own personal allowances — they should go there quietly, painlessly, and automatically, to be spent any way you like, and should never be referred to again by either party. There is something indelicate, if not indecent, about handling money, or talking about it, and arguments about money are infinitely degrading.

Just now Gloria seems perfect. Go right on thinking so. After you have been married a while, you will see all kinds of things you would like to change, a lot of improvements you would like to suggest. Restrain that creative impulse! Let her alone. This may encourage her to let you alone too. People don’t change. Their characters are already established, their habits are fixed, their likes and dislikes all deeply rooted. Good energy is wasted by husbands and wives trying to remodel each other. You wouldn’t try to remodel your boss or your best customer; you ignore his faults and compliment him on his virtues. Apply the same technique to getting along with your wife. The effect is startling, the results miraculous.

One of the hardest things for a young fellow to remember about marriage is that his wife is a woman. Too often he gets to thinking about her as another kind of a man, only smaller and more unreasonable. Most of the time wives aren’t unreasonable at all — they are just feminine. Now you think it is cute and charming for Gloria to be so unpredictable; go right on thinking so, because she is going to get more unpredictable all the time. There is nothing mysterious about the feminine viewpoint, but it’s hard to explain. You have to experience it. For one thing, it’s very personal. It is very difficult for a woman to argue objectively. When you differ with a woman, it doesn’t mean that you have different views as far as she is concerned. It means that you don’t feel the same about her as you did before you expressed a different view. If you don’t understand that, imagine how difficult it will be to explain it to Gloria. Don’t try. Just remember what you have been learning in business: The customer is always right.

Are you polite to a customer? Are you friendly? Are you kind? Are you thoughtful? Do you keep your opinions to yourself if you feel they are going to start arguments? Do you set out to charm your customer? Do you look for points to be complimentary about? Do you flatter him; subtly, but as often as possible? Then you know all there is to know about getting along with a wife!

Affectionately,

Dad

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  • This particular column might have more than a few women upset with Dad’s advice; especially keeping her busy and she’ll handle herself, being unhappy not having enough to do…

    With few exceptions (for many years now) being able to live off the husband’s income has been an economic impossibility. Both husband and wife have to work just to stay afloat. Modern life has everyone “so busy” and stressed out in too many ways to mention.

    Suffice to say poor Dad would be spinning in his grave the way Dorothy’s house did in The Wizard of Oz before it finally crashed if he had any idea of the condition our beloved country is in 70+ years later. That aside, much of his advice here is still good despite drastically changed times.