SEVEN RULES FOR MAKING YOUR HOME LIFE HAPPIER
1. How to Dig Your Marital Grave as Quickly as Possible: Don’t Nag!
Napoleon III of France, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, fell in love with the most beautiful woman in the world and married her. His advisors counseled against it because she was the daughter of a mere Spanish count. But Napoleon would not hear of it. He loved and respected her; and, her grace, youth, charm, and beauty filled him with extreme happiness. But, his happiness did not last because she could not resist nagging him.
Carnegie wrote: “Bedeviled by jealousy, devoured by suspicion, she flouted his orders, she denied him even a show of privacy. She broke into his office while he was engaged in affairs of the state. She interrupted his most important discussions. She refused to leave him alone, always fearing that he might be consorting with another woman. [¶] Often, she ran to her sister, complaining, weeping, nagging, and threatening. Forcing her way into his study, she stormed at him and abused him. Napoleon, master of a dozen sumptuous palaces, Emperor of France, could not find a cupboard in which he could call his soul his own.”
Carnegie quoted from E. A. Rhinehardt’s Napoleon and Eugenic: The Tragicomedy of an Empire: “So it came about that Napoleon frequently would steal out by a little side door at night, with a soft hat pulled over his eyes, and, accompanied by one of his intimates, really betake himself to some fair lady who was expecting him, or else stroll about the great city as of old, passing through streets of the kind which an Emperor hardly sees outside a fairly tale, and breathing the atmosphere of might-have-beens.”
Eugenic, Empress of France and the most beautiful woman in the world, could not keep her husband home at night because of her constant, insufferable nagging. Nagging kills even the strongest, most sublime love and passion.
Carnegie also wrote about Abraham Lincoln’s troubled marriage: “The great tragedy of Abraham Lincoln’s life also was his marriage. Not his assassination, mind you, but his marriage. When Booth fired, Lincoln never realized he had been shot; but, he reaped almost daily for twenty-three years, what Herndon, his law partner, described as ‘the bitter harvest of conjugal infelicity.’ ‘Conjugal infelicity?’ That is putting it mildly! For almost a quarter of a century, Mrs. Lincoln nagged and harassed the life out of him.
“She was always complaining, always criticizing her husband. Nothing about him was ever right. He was stoop-shouldered, he walked awkwardly and lifted his feet straight up and down like an Indian. She complained that there was no spring in his step, no grace to his movement; and, she mimicked his gait and nagged at him to walk with his toes pointed down, as she had been taught at Madame Mentelle’s boarding school in Lexington. [¶] She didn’t like the way his huge ears stood out at right angles from his head. She even told him that his nose wasn’t straight, that his lower lip stuck out, and he looked consumptive, that his feet and hands were too large, his head too small.
“Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln were opposites in everyway: in training, in background, in temperament, in tastes, in mental outlook. They irritated each other constantly. [¶] … the late Senator Albert J. Beveridge, the most distinguished Lincoln authority of this generation, wrote, ‘Mrs. Lincoln’s loud, shrill voice could be heard across the street, and her incessant outbursts of wrath were audible to all who lived near the house. Frequently, her anger was displayed by other means than words, and accounts of her violence are numerous and unimpeachable.’
“To illustrate: Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, shortly after their marriage, lived with Mrs. Jacob Early—a doctor’s widow in Springfield who was forced to take in boarders. [¶] One morning, Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were having breakfast when Lincoln did something that aroused the fiery temper of his wife. What, no one remembers now. But, Mrs. Lincoln, in a rage, dashed a cup of hot coffee into her husband’s face. And, she did it in front of the other boarders. Saying nothing, Lincoln sat there in humiliation and silence while Mrs. Early came with a wet towel and wiped off his face and clothes.
“Mrs. Lincoln’s jealousy was so foolish, so fierce, so incredible, that merely to read about some of the pathetic and disgraceful scenes she created in public—merely reading about them seventy-five years later—makes one gasp with astonishment. She finally went insane. And, perhaps the most charitable thing one can say about her is that her disposition was probably always affected by incipient insanity.
Did all this nagging and scolding and raging change Lincoln? In one way, yes. It certainly changed his attitude toward her. It made him regret his unfortunate marriage; and, it made him avoid her presence as much as possible. [¶] Springfield had eleven attorneys; and, they couldn’t all make a living there. So, they used to ride horseback from one county seat to another, following Judge David Davis while he was holding court in various places. In that way, they managed to pick up business from all the county seat towns throughout the Eight Judicial District. The other attorneys always managed to get back to Springfield each Saturday and spend the weekend with their families. But, Lincoln didn’t. He dreaded to go home. And, for three months in the spring, and again for three months in the autumn, he remained out on the circuit and never went near Springfield. He kept this up year after year. Living conditions in the country hotels were often wretched. But, wretched as they were, he preferred them to his own home and Mrs. Lincoln’s constant nagging and wild outbursts of temper.”
Bessie Hamburger, who spent 11 years in the Domestic Relations Court in New York City, and who reviewed thousands of cases of desertion, said that one of the main reasons men leave home is because their wives nag. As the Boston Post put it: “Many a wife has made her own marital grave with a series of little digs.”
2. Love and Let Live: Don’t Try to Make Your Partner Over
Carnegie illustrated this point with the marriage of Disraeli and Mary Anne: “‘I may commit many follies in life,’ Disraeli said, ‘but I never intend to marry for love.’ And, he didn’t. He stayed single until he was thirty-five. And, then, he proposed to a rich widow, a widow fifteen years his senior, a widow whose hair was white with the passing of fifty winters. Love? Oh, no. She knew he didn’t love her. She knew he was marrying her for her money! So, she made just one request: She asked him to wait a year to give her the opportunity to study his character. And, at the end of that time, she married him.
“The rich widow that Disraeli chose was neither young, nor beautiful, nor brilliant. Far from it. Her conversation bubbled with a laugh-provoking display of literary and historical blunders. For example, she ‘never knew which came first, the Greeks or the Romans.’ Her taste in clothes was bizarre; and, her taste in house furnishing was fantastic. But, she was a genius, a positive genius, at the most important thing in marriage: the art of handling men.
“She didn’t attempt to set up her intellect against Disraeli’s. When he came home bored and exhausted after an afternoon of matching repartee with witty duchesses, Mary Anne’s frivolous patter permitted him to relax. Home, to his increasing delight, was a place where he could ease into his mental slippers and bask in the warmth of Mary Anne’s adoration. These hours he spent at home with his aging wife were the happiest of his life. She was his helpmate, his confidante, his advisor. Every night, he hurried home from the House of Commons to tell her the day’s news. And—this is important—whatever he undertook, Mary Anne simply did not believe he could fail. [¶] For thirty years, Mary Anne lived for Disraeli, and for him alone. Even her wealth she valued only because it made his life easier. In return, she was his heroine. He became an Earl after she died; but, even while he was a commoner, he persuaded Queen Victoria to elevate Mary Anne to the peerage. And so, in 1868, she was made Viscountess Beaconfield.
“No matter how silly or scatterbrained she might appear in public, he never criticized her. He never uttered a word of reproach. And, if anyone dared to ridicule her, he sprang to her defense with ferocious loyalty. Mary Anne wasn’t perfect; yet, for three decades, she never tired of talking about her husband, praising him, admiring him. Result? ‘We have been married thirty years,’ Disraeli said, ‘and, I have never been bored by her.’ (Yet, some people thought because Mary Anne didn’t know history, she must be stupid!)
“For his part, Disraeli never made it a secret that Mary Anne was the most important thing in his life. Result? ‘Thanks to his kindness,’ Mary Anne used to tell their friends, ‘my life has been simply one long scene of happiness.’ Between them, they had a little joke. ‘You know,’ Disraeli would say, ‘I only married you for your money anyhow.’ And, Mary Anne, smiling, would reply, ‘Yes, but if you had it to do over again, you’d marry me for love, wouldn’t you?’ And, he admitted it was true. No, Mary Anne wasn’t perfect. But, Disraeli was wise enough to let her be herself.”
3. Do This and You’ll Be Looking Up the Time-Tables to Reno: Don’t Criticize
Carnegie wrote: “Dorothy Dix, America’s premier authority on the causes of marital unhappiness, declares that more than fifty percent of all marriages are failures. And, she knows that one of the reasons why so many romantic dreams break up on the rocks of Reno [famous for quick, easy divorces] is criticism—futile, heartbreaking criticism.”
Carnegie further advised that if you are tempted to criticize children, read W. Livingston Larned’s “Father Forgets” in its condensed version as it appeared in Reader’s Digest:
Listen, Son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw
crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your
damp forehead. I had stolen into your room alone. Just a few
minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave
of remorse swept over me. Guiltily, I came to your bedside.
These are the things I was thinking, Son: I had been cross to you. I
scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face
merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes.
I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down
your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too
thick on your bread. And, as you started off to play, and I made for my train,
you turned and waved a hand and called, “Good-bye, Daddy!”
and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!”
Then, it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the
road, I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were
holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boy friends by
marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive—
and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine
that, Son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you
Came in, timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I
glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you
hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped.
You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and
Threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small
arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your
heart and which even neglect could not wither. And, then you were
gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, Son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my
hands; and, a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit
been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding—this
was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love
you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you
by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your
character. The little heart of yours was as big as the dawn itself over
the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush
in and kiss me goodnight. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have
come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement. I know you would not understand these
things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But, tomorrow,
I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you
suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when
impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is
nothing but a boy—a little boy!”
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet, as I see you now,
Son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby.
Yesterday, you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her
shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.