Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.... (Ephesians) As a serious young Christian those words burned themselves into me. I now know why. At the very centre of my being is the conviction that I must keep Her happy... that I am responsible for Her being happy. It is so central that it is scarcely a conviction. It is an un-stated given which is part of the fabric of me. I say her because I suspect it is beyond the person of my partner... it is not who she is, but something about me.
Rumpole of the Bailey spoke of "she who must be obeyed." Is there something beyond mere misogyny that recognises this need to please the woman of our lives? Many men seem to witness to a need to "keep Her happy" that goes beyond sexism, or the personality of the woman to whom they are partnered.
There is part of me which is sick of this, and resentful. It responds with anger each time She is upset and my inner voice immediately assumes responsibility. And I often verbally lash out at her... resenting the call for responsibility for something which that other part of me knows is not my fault.
So from where does this stupidity come? It is not the church. The church has hated woman for centuries and ignored that text from Ephesians. The indoctrination of the old pre-modern church is a shallow thing by comparison to what I feel, and easily overthrown. Not even overthrown, just fading away when the basic theistic assumptions are seen to be so ridiculous.
This thing about Her is much deeper.
The immediate temptation of course is to blame Mother. It's fashionable in some male circles. There is a certain logic... she was a woman. The first woman. A woman with absolute power. I was alone with her for hours each day... I was the first child and my father was out about the farm. She was lonely and unhappy, perhaps. She had life and death power over me. I had to keep her happy. And true, I do find occasional resentments at her surface in my thoughts.
Her father was a hard taskmaster, I am told. Fair, but expecting much... perhaps too much. I have felt for years that much was demanded of me, too. So to say it all comes from my Mother would make some sense, I guess. It would be arguable.
On the other hand, she is my friend. I like her. And I can't remember anything from life with my mother that would lead to this great need to keep my partner happy. In other words, although the argument may be convenient, it is not convincing.
I have been trawling my early memories. I remember the bassinet in the shed doorway, with me alone protected by the dog... but that is a memory constructed from family stories only, I think. I can't remember life in the shed... I remember the lighting of lanterns at night... but I think that was in the house... perhaps it was in the shed. Unsealed verandas and large black dogs... and me alone playing. Aloneness is a memory. I know she was unhappy from things she has said... What plot did we collude in for her to survive and me to keep her happy and survive too?
It's important to suss this one out. You see my boss has lots of power over me... livelihood's thousands of dollars a year. And yet I don't get anything like as uptight about the boss being upset. If a parishioner were upset, distraught, frantic and enraged, I would listen and help with hardly a ruffle. I do not have to keep them happy, only listen and help. But if my wife has a minor problem which she expresses... nothing to do with me... explicitly stated as nothing to do with me... and if she catches me off guard when she mentions it, then I am instantly needing to solve it. It is my problem. I must make it right to keep her happy.
Even if I am fully on an even keel, relaxed and unstressed or distracted, I will often go on full alert. I corral my emotions, carefully listening and responding, alert to every nuance in a way I would never be with a parishioner. Why? Even at my best, I must keep her happy. That is the ruling idea. It is bizarre. It is destructive. And those of us who are wounded with this need to find healing. It is not a good corrosion to have within a relationship. There are enough acids eating at us from the outside.
Posted 12 Feb 2002
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