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Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Key To A Happy Marriage–A Calm Wife

A new study by researchers at Berkeley has demonstrated that wives are a calming influence on their husbands – never vice-versa – and therefore they are the key to a happy, long marriage:

Bloch and fellow researchers at Berkeley and Northwestern University analyzed videotaped interactions of more than 80 middle-aged and older heterosexual couples, focusing on how they recovered from disagreements. Time and again they found that marriages in which wives quickly calmed down during disputes were ultimately shown to be the happiest, both in the short and long run. (UC Berkeley New Center 11.4.13)

Now, this is great news for men who want their wives to keep quiet but have nothing in their armory except bluster.  Despite their testosterone-fueled stereotype, most men are pussies. Even not-so-smart women get away with murder, taking big slices out of manhood, male ego, and machismo. In knock-down, drag-out fights women always seem to win. Women have had to hone their feminine skills to survive in an earlier, male-dominated, and more violent times.  Shakespeare showed again and again how women learned to run rings around men, get exactly what they want, and show unworthy suitors the door.  Portia is lighthearted when she laughs at the pomposity of princes who have come from the world over to seek her hand. She savages all of them and sparing none. When asked by Nerissa what she thinks of the Duke of Saxony’s nephew, Portia replies:

Very vilely in the morning, when he is sober, and
most vilely in the afternoon, when he is drunk: when
he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and
when he is worst, he is little better than a beast:
and the worst fall that ever fell, I hope I shall
make shift to go without him.

Beatrice makes a fool of Benedick, Rosalind runs rings around the dopey Orlando, Maria makes a fool of Malvolio, and on it goes.  Margaret takes over command of Henry VI’s armies to fight the French; Cleopatra bests the besotted, lovesick Antony; Lady Macbeth attacks her husband’s manhood to get him to kill the king:

Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,'
Like the poor cat i' the adage? (I.vii)

So Benedick, Macbeth, Malvolio, and many other men want their women to shut up, but they simply can’t make them. 

Masha in Chekhov’s Three Sisters is openly dismissive of her weak husband, berates him to his face and denigrates him to her friends.  The Captain cannot shut up his manipulative wife, Laura in Strindberg’s The Father as she sows the seeds of jealousy in him. Christine Mannon in O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra abhors her husband Ezra and wants him dead; but he is no match for his wife and his protests are hollow and repressed.

The woman who most needs to calm down is Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. She is a succubus, a harridan, a vixen, and an absolute bloody terror.  She howls throughout the play, blazing away at her husband George, and progressively emasculating the party guest, Nick.  Every man fears that his wife will turn into a Martha, a woman with a big mouth, a big ego, and with no love lost for men.

Now, there is hope, say the Berkeley researchers:

Emotions such as anger and contempt can seem very threatening for couples. But our study suggests that if spouses, especially wives, are able to calm themselves, their marriages can continue to thrive.”

Martha does nothing but spew anger and contempt upon poor George, and he always tries to calm her down to preserve his sanity and their marriage.  But he has no argument to soothe her violent rage, her Genghis Khan marauding slaughter. 

Thanks to Berkeley there will be no more wives like Martha, Margaret, or Beatrice. Once the results of this study are widely publicized, men can lay all the blame for the deteriorating marriage on them. They will no longer have to resort to that most ingenious of Victorian inventions, the ‘wife-tamer’:

Of course real men have known for a long time how to keep their wives in check. They have figured out what women want, and have used that knowledge to their own advantage.  The shrew of all shrews is Kate in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew; but Petruchio knows that her bilious ill-temper is due to her frustration, having been corralled and emotionally bound by her father since she was a little girl.  He knows that she wants to be free from male domination not male dominion. Once Petruchio has won her over, released her from her sexual frustrations and from the locked emotional chambers of her father, Kate says:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee, 2655
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands 2660
But love, fair looks, and true obedience-
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour, 2665
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?  .

Cristina Odone writing in The Telegraph (11.7.13) objects to the implications of the Berkeley study.  What would marriage be without some spice and frisson?

It is neither natural nor necessary for a wife to always coo at, and comply with, her husband. Serene submission to his every whim spoils the man in the short run and, worse still for any marriage, risks boring him in the long run. Anger, raw and unbridled, can produce a real frisson of sexual excitement. Who wants to sleep with a woman who is as challenging as a wet-nosed Labrador?

Psychologists suggest that the secret to a happy marriage is a calm wife

Well, sorry to say, a lot of men would be quite happy to have a faithful, obedient, complaisant, and completely docile Labrador in bed with them. For those who don’t there are plenty of Kates and Marthas around for the asking.

In any case not all men need to use what will eventually become known as ‘The Berkeley Defense’; but it is nice to know it is there.

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