Good Housekeeping Marriage Book, The

Dr. James L. McConaughy


Now That You Are Engaged

"Love is blind," says the adage. "Love should be open-eyed and wise," say the modern engaged couple.

A successful marriage depends upon two factors—emotions and brains; no marriage succeeds unless these are combined. "Falling in love" is essential, but one can fall out of love as well. Falling in love is the business of the emotions; staying there, holding your lover's affection, requires brains.

A lifetime of happy intimacy between two individuals as different as a young man and a young women can be attained if the mind is used. It is only the old fogy who thinks modern young people "know too much." Psychology teaches us that all emotions deserve study; if they are wisely utilized, happiness results; if they are thoughtlessly spent or thwarted, we may pay the price in unsatisfied lives, broken hopes, sometimes in psychiatric disturbances.

The engagement period—if it is approached intelligently—can be a time not only of supreme happiness, but of wise growth in understanding and preparation for marriage. Unfortunately, modern young people sometimes resent the idea that any one else can help them solve their problems. Advice may seem to them interference. "We are going to live our own lives. Why should any one else care what we do? Why should outsiders feel that they have a right to tell us 'do' or 'don't'?" Such an attitude is understandable, but it is unfortunate, and the young people are the ones who suffer. Perhaps it is true that the older generation feels that it must advise youth, even attempting to control it; but it is also true that we, nearer the end of the road, should be qualified to furnish a map of the way to those about to start out upon it. Thanks to modern scientific methods, the map is now much more accurate than the one handed over to us. There are certain well-charted highroads where there were once only brambled trails.

Among the scientific methods are the statistical studies of marriage; these show certain interesting conclusions. College people have a higher percentage of successful marriages—at least, they show a lower divorce ratio. Apparently college graduates use their minds in picking a mate and in preparing for marriage. Marriages between those who have gone to coeducational colleges appear to have a still higher chance of success. This is probably the result of close association between the sexes in such institutions. But the use of one's mind is what is important; marriage can be fully as successful for those who are not college-trained.

According to statistical studies, overdominance by parents decreases the chance of successful marriage. Apron strings never aid engaged couples. A good rule for families is to let the young people avail themselves of parental suggestion, not to force dictates upon them.

Statistically, more marriages succeed if each partner has had an earlier love affair. It is, say the experts, an asset to have had boy or girl friends with whom you thought for a time you were in love. Of course all of us know completely happy marriages of boy and girl sweethearts; most of us also know unhappy couples who first became engaged during their teens, one of whom has entirely outgrown the other, with mismating as a result.

Such mismating is not at first apparent—may not be for several years. The man usually, by the nature of his occupation, meets more people than does the woman. He finds himself in more varied and interesting situations, and may become a more colorful, a bigger person than his wife. Occasionally the converse may be true. At any rate, it is a tragic thing when either husband or wife so far outgrows the other that they have no common interest, no mutual pleasures.

The engagement period is the time to prove the quality of love. Are you—the girl—capable of growth? Can you, harassed by household tasks, keep up with your husband as he develops in the world of men? Are you—the man—so congenial with this girl whom you wish to marry that you will want to share your experiences with her, in situations very different from those of courtship and engagement days?

The engagement period itself is not altogether an easy time. Wise young people can make it one of fuller acquaintance and of growth in thoughtfulness and courtesy. On the other hand, most engaged couples will discover small faults in each other, even when they are deeply in love. Details that had been invisible before may now loom large. Carelessness in personal habits, manners, speech, and attitude may become irritants that jeopardize romance. A trait that may have been a source of amusement before now becomes irritating and exasperating. If the trait is a fundamental one, marriage should be even more searchingly questioned, although the wedding date may be only a few weeks off. Much has been written about the girl who marries a man to reform him; if the reformation is not completed during the engagement, the chances of success after marriage are small.

Yes, this new intimacy of the engagement period may indeed be trying. Tact is required to avoid fault-finding, nagging, and jealousy. A few "lovers' quarrels" do not matter—they give flavor to a romance—but scolding and criticism do. Romance dies when thoughtless quarreling enters. An engaged man should be even more of a gentleman than the courting swain; the girl with a ring on the third finger of her left hand should strive to be even more charming and feminine than the heart-free lass.

Besides the problems of personality adjustment that propinquity presents, there are such questions as these to look into: Is one standard of moral conduct after marriage to apply to both? How free is each partner to be? What opportunity is the girl to have to be herself, have her own interests and friends and money? How soon is the first child wanted? Further—and just as important—the problems of the financial outlook can be worked on during the engagement period.

The wise couple discuss thoroughly their financial setup, draw up a budget, and use their present resources to acquire equipment for the new home. They decide questions which are to form the basis of the marriage and largely influence its success: Is the wife to have her own share of the family income, her own checking account? Must she ask her husband for money for each household expense, or will she have an allowance on which to run the home? In addition, is she to have money for her own personal uses, with no more accounting required than is expected of the husband's expenditures for tobacco and other personal whims?

While such matters are being talked over and decided with mutual consideration, training for marriage itself is under way. The engaged couple may well learn to put into practice two simple yet very helpful suggestions for married people: never both lose your temper at the same time; make the other laugh once daily. They may also acquire an art which contributes definitely to happiness in marriage: playing together.

I think this is sound advice for brides-to-be: If he is a golfer, try to learn enough about the game at least to respond to his enthusiasm. If he fishes, encourage him and try to learn why such a simple sport thrills him. If baseball is his game, do not disdain his choice for an afternoon's relaxation; if he wants you to join him, go and learn enough to enjoy the game with him; if he wants to go with men friends, encourage him, and do not fear this means his love is cooling! (Romance thrives on occasional separations, even occasional vacations from marriage.) Be interested in his doings, but do not be a nuisance.

Grooms-to-be: If she likes bridge, improve your game and avoid embarrassing her by dumb bids and play. If she enjoys art and finds an art exhibit worth while, do not be the dumb male and say that this means nothing to you; let her teach you what pictures can mean—and to real he men, too. If she enjoys good music—going to concerts or listening to the radio—try to share her pleasure and discover what it is that really gives her such satisfaction. In other words, if either has a favorite sport or a hobby, the other should try to join in—at least in the evident satisfaction it gives. Just going to the movies, or sitting on the sidelines watching others play, is not the ideal joint use of leisure; young couples should actually do something together.

Exercise—active sports—helps keep every one up to par physically; good health is one of the surest foundations for a happy marriage. Divorce thrives among those below par; mental health, serenity, poise, and mutual consideration are all aided by good physical condition.

And remember that mental energy needs an outlet, too. The stimulation of good conversation in mixed groups has a favorable effect on the emotional life of women as well as men. American husbands often err in not drawing out their womenfolk; contempt for their ideas is too frequent.

Those who are wisest about successful marriages advise against long engagements. A hasty marriage and a short engagement are not the same thing. An engaged couple who are sure of their hearts and minds should be helped to marry as soon as the plans for the marriage can be wisely worked out. This usually involves finances—"How soon can we afford it?" Wise parents today cooperate so that the young couple do not have to wait too long. In many cases the older generation, if it can afford it, may give a small allowance to the recently married son or daughter. Money thus given on a definite monthly basis for a previously determined period means much more than a small bequest when the father dies. Or the parents may agree, on a plan carefully thought out, to help if unexpected financial problems beset the young couple. Father may say that if illness overtakes either, or if the first baby arrives earlier than planned, or if a sudden decrease in salary comes, he will gladly help—not with a loan or as a grudging charity but as an interested party to the success of the marriage.

If the man possibly can, he should take out some insurance, seeking unprejudiced advice before choosing between the many kinds of policies each company writes. Even if the policy is small, it is at least a back log if tragedy comes; furthermore, meeting the insurance premiums is a fine first step toward regular saving.

Marrying when either is in debt is to be avoided; such a weight hanging over two young married people all too frequently mars the chances of happiness. And if it is humanly possible, no man should marry while others are dependent upon him.

One comment to engaged students: Unless the circumstances are exceptional, do not marry until your professional training is done. If the girl has her own income or an assured job, perhaps so; if parents will help if an emergency arises, perhaps so; otherwise wait until you are through professional school. Hospitals dislike to appoint married men as internes; they are required to live in the hospital, which means no home life. Law school and marriage do not usually mix well—nor engineering school, nor any other form of post-graduate training. The engaged man who is preparing for college teaching is usually wise if he asks the girl to wait. Many of us know of graduate students who married with only a fellowship or the wages of a wife as income, whose marriages have been almost wrecked by sudden illness or a baby, with resulting financial worries which have aged both the man and woman prematurely. Late marriage for professionally trained men is, apparently, one of the unfortunate results of the long period of preparation for a calling.

The case for postponement is just as strong when one or both are under-graduates in college, with no professional training planned. College marriages are not so wise as marriage after college work is finished. There are exceptions, however; one knows of cases where marriage and return to college to finish was wise. It is unfortunate that some colleges have rules debarring students who marry during the course; secret marriages often result—and these are always to be deplored.

Sometimes parental opposition, or other factors, seem to the young couple to be sufficient justification for a secret marriage. The circumstances which can make this a wise decision are very, very rare. Marriage is a public matter; it should not be hidden. The couple may feel that only their own lives are involved, but they are all too often wrong. Even the best methods of birth control are far from 100 percent dependable; if a baby is coming, the couple face announcements and explanations and recriminations just at a time when serenity and freedom from emotional strain are desirable, particularly for the bride. Secrecy usually means hypocrisy; often it means deceit. Figures show that secret marriages often produce marital unhappiness and an abnormal number of divorces.

The wedding date is chosen by the bride; the honeymoon arrangements are the responsibility of the groom. A wedding is fatiguing, particularly to the girl; the thoughtful man will not plan a long train or motor trip or tiring sightseeing or visits to new relatives; new in-laws can be visited more wisely at a later time. These days should be a period of intimate companionship; a summer camp, perhaps lent by a friend, is ideal. Here, surrounded by nature and not mankind, relaxed honeymooners will find the rest and privacy which should be theirs.

Where to live after the wedding? Obviously where the husband's job is. No need to wait until his chance in the big city comes; the small town is a better place to begin marriage. Friendships come easier, life is simpler and usually cheaper. The divorce rate is much higher in the cities than in small towns or rural regions. Fortunate that couple who start their married life in a town small enough so that neighbors are interested and helpful. The city apartment house is the most impersonal form of dwelling mankind has devised. If the first home does not have all the modern improvements, it is no great tragedy. More marriages are wrecked by too much free time than by too many home tasks to perform. Our grandparents married in the days of covered wagons and sodhouses and drought; a dash of their spirit is a good ingredient in a modern marriage.

Above all else, the engaged couple should plan to have a home of their own, even if it is only two rooms. If economic considerations make them consider moving in with the in-laws, let some one warn them that the adjustment of two personalities which marriage involves demands some privacy beyond that of a bedroom. Parents, no matter how loving and wise, help the newly married most when they do not live under the same roof with them. Loving interference, irritation, nervous tension, usually go with "living with the folks."

If they have to live with the older folks, the young people should arrange to have two or three rooms of their own, with their own privacies, where they can entertain their own friends and be themselves. If they live thus under the parental roof, they can keep their self-respect by paying something a month as rent, no matter how small. Furthermore, they should own their furniture—at least some of it; it should represent their own joint taste; the possession of some lares and penates is a very good basis for a lifetime partnership. The joint possession of material things is almost an essential to successful marriage.

Should the girl hold her job after she marries? Some authorities say that a bride is better off, emotionally more serene, if she has some work—not too fatiguing—outside the home.

Modern young people do not marry until they know that each brings to the marriage bodily fitness. A medical examination, with blood tests, is required in many progressive states before a marriage license can be secured. A doctor's certificate of bodily fitness for marriage is fully as essential as a marriage license. Such an examination gives a feeling of security to each individual and forwards the well being of society.

To many modern engaged couples the most disturbing question is, "Shall we wait until marriage for physical union?" No question, I think, comes up more often in college courses and conferences on engagement and marriage. "We love each other devotedly; why should we wait for a mere license and a public ceremony?" That testimony which trained doctors, sociologists, and psychiatrists give is entirely in favor of postponing all such relations until after the marriage ceremony. Furthermore, statistics show that marriages in which the engaged couple do not "go all the way" seem to have a higher chance of success.

Modern life has made this a keener difficulty for young people than it was for most of us older ones. Inhibitions have largely gone, young people are allowed to work out their own problems; the automobile, tourist cabin, and hotels with careless standards for their guests allow any engaged couple plenty of opportunity, which we largely lacked. If, even though an engaged couple are passionately in love, the temptation does not present itself at all, they are fortunate; there have been millions of happy marriages before in which this has taken care of itself naturally. On the other hand, if they have to face this situation frankly, and decided to wait, they need have no fear that this indicates a lack of sex feeling or that after marriage this relationship may fail because it has not been indulged in earlier.

But let us all realize frankly how often this problem troubles the majority of engaged couples—no matter how fine their principles may be. Understanding and love are more helpful in such situations than general advice and "don't." Assisting the young couple to marry soon is usually the best help we can give.

If an engaged couple are willing to think this matter over as unemotionally as possible, the following points may be considered: Postponement of marriage because of economic conditions has been a problem almost as old as the race; they are not the first couple to face this difficulty. Revolt against the standards of home, church, and society is almost always an expensive decision; secret actions are to be deplored; worry about "what may happen" may destroy the serenity in love which should ideally characterize the engagement period. They should be glad that they do have "sex hunger," but should recognize that each person owes just a little to the preservation of morality and social standards; even if they feel that the conditions which beset them are hard, they should think twice before placing themselves "outside the pale of social sanction."

The engaged young man may well do some special thinking of his own. No birth-control methods are sure; the testimony of medical groups rates various procedures as from 20 percent to 90 percent safe; no man who really loves his fiancée would take the chance of "getting her in trouble." More of the responsibility of this decision rests on the man than on the girl. She may seem to be entirely willing, but the normal girl worries, even if only over what her parents would think if they knew. More than one marriage has been wrecked because of the psychiatric effect upon the girl of such practices during her engagement.

Furthermore, many engaged couples do not finally marry; memories of forbidden intimacies are not going to make it easier for either to give himself or herself fully to the right person later on; premarital relations with another may prove a real handicap to the full realization, later, of an ideal romance and marriage. The complete realization of sex after marriage is never so fully accomplished, emotionally and lovingly, if the two have refused to wait. Even the most sophisticated young people have somewhere inside them hesitations about the wisdom of defying social standards. There is a spiritual side to marriage; practices in secret, unapproved by others, detract definitely from this important phase of marriage.

Even if the young man can convince himself that not waiting is right, in spite of what his fiancée may say, she is unlikely to agree in her heart. Very few men who rationalize themselves into believing that such a course of action is wise would be as willing to have their sister or—some day—their daughter do likewise.

Remember these truths: In married life itself there are many difficult decisions, many things you would like to do, which wisely you do not. You are definitely preparing yourself for marriage in strengthening your character by saying "no" now.

If you have decided not to, do not allow yourselves to be in situations which make it unduly difficult to carry out your decision. Drink stimulates the sex urge; few decent people would enjoy remembering that their first sex experience came when they were stimulated by liquor. If you drink, avoid emotional situations in secret thereafter, until this stimulus has worn off. If you harass your serenity and loving contacts by reopening the decision every time you meet, try to do things together in which this sex element does not present itself as a perpetual problem. One couple beset each time they were together with the difficulty of carrying out their decision not to, deliberately decided to visit art museums together instead of merely "petting"; this new interest minimized the other problem and gave them something most worth while to discuss, and it is now one of the many fine things in their married life.

Margaret Culkin Banning, in The Reader's Digest for August, 1937, summarizes "The Case for Chastity." For the engaged couple, the following of her points apply: the girl who is unchaste with her fiancé often hesitates to get competent medical advice; venereal disease is a danger; abortions are dangerous physically and emotionally; fear should never accompany sex; sex experience before marriage may harm sex later on; one's "moral code" is violated; some discoveries should be saved for marriage itself; premarital relations stimulate jealousy after marriage; early marriage is a better solution.

From the sociological standpoint we should take great satisfaction in the increasingly wise way in which young Americans are approaching marriage. Fifteen years ago the subject was entirely neglected in our colleges; today at least 100,000 college boys and girls have the opportunity to enroll in college courses or to attend discussion conferences on marriage. Wise men and women have studied the basis for successful marriage and have written about it. Laws have been changed so that such books—written by American sociologists, doctors, and psychiatrists—are generally available in college libraries today.

However, even the best books do not answer all the normal questions which arise. In many progressive communities marriage clinics have been established, where both engaged and married persons may secure advice from wise, trained authorities.

The ideal consultant is a wise family doctor—especially if he has known both young people from childhood—to whom they can go together for a personal conference. Sometimes the family minister is wise enough to give help.

Appropriate knowledge about sex is necessary for the engaged. Sexual experience is not. Certainly it can now be said—as it could not five years ago—that no modern marriage need be wrecked because the young couple did not know where to turn for helpful advice.

1 of 2
2 of 2