10 October 2012
Traditional marriage, like any other type of marriage, is not exempt from frustration, and both husbands and wives have to deal with it at some point. One common source of frustration for a wife in a traditional marriage, especially during the first few years of growing into the traditional marriage role, is the inconsistent handling of rule-breaking. When the husband puts a rule in place, he should communicate what the consequence will be if the rule is broken. If the wife breaks the rule, and realizes what she has done, she expects the promised consequence to follow.
What happens if the expected consequence does not follow? What happens if the husband doesn’t even seem to notice that the rule he insisted on having has been broken? Or imagine that the husband does notice (and the wife observes this), but he ignores the offense for reasons he doesn’t communicate to his wife.
The non-responsiveness of the husband typically elicits a chain of reaction from his eager-to-be-submissive wife:
1. If the husband is in the same room, the wife may actually respond physically by tensing up and catching her breath when she realizes she has crossed the line. If the realization comes a little later when she is alone, the reaction may not be so physically noticeable, but it will trigger the start of a period of anxiety. As she waits for her husband to speak about or act on the broken rule, her state of anxiety may expand to match the magnitude of the consequence she expects.
2. After an appreciable time has passed and the wife finally concludes that her husband either hasn’t noticed or doesn’t appear to care, she may initially feel relief. Facing an unpleasant consequence is stressful, and having that consequence vanish after an anxious wait can evoke a rush of soothing calm. (For wives who are expected to confess their offenses to their husbands, they may only feel relief after the confession.)
3. The relief is often short-lived. Anger and disappointment may follow quickly on the heels of relief. Faced with the unfairness of being subjected to a stressful waiting period for no apparent reason, the wife may feel that anger (or at least some measure of irritation) is justified. Disappointment may flow from making the situation too personal - in the midst of the emotion she feels, the wife may convince herself that her husband doesn’t care as much about the marriage and her as she previously thought, simply because he didn’t notice what she did wrong or care enough to say or do something, if he did notice.
4. Uncertainty or confusion about the rule and its importance in the marriage follows. The wife is understandably confused by why her husband would make a rule that he himself does not respect enough to remember or defend. It’s not that she wants to experience the consequence that was promised - she probably dreads it - but the consequence brings some closure to the event which has (by this time) taken up a substantial amount of the wife’s thought life. Without the closure, the memory of the broken rule just gets pushed aside as unfinished business. If it takes substantial effort for the wife to obey the rule, it flies in the face of logic to continue to observe the rule if the husband behaves in a way which communicates that the rule is unimportant. Her previously clear expectations of the consequences for breaking the rule are now clouded by uncertainty. The husband's response to the rule-breaking is his opportunity to exercise his authority - by responding with no words or action, the husband is sending a subtle message that he is unable or unwilling to exercise his authority.
If the husband continues to repeat this behavior (of disregarding consequences that he put in place), his wife’s frustration will grow as her confidence dwindles. The wife’s frustration will gradually breed disrespect for the house rules and eventually for the husband’s authority. The end result? A husband who doesn’t feel respected, a wife who feels her submission has been a wasted effort, and a home and marriage in which the harmony and co-operation is eroding.