Monday, January 01, 2024

Making Lady Lawyer happy

One of the mistakes in modern culture is the idea that a husband can, and should, make his wife happy. If he fails in this task, then she considers herself aggrieved and justified in seeking to divorce.

You can see this mindset in the following exchange on social media, with a woman going by the moniker of Lady Lawyer.

Notice that Lady Lawyer has the expectation that the wife is "owed" happiness in marriage. This is not how traditional Western culture understood things. Being a wife and mother was thought of as a moral vocation requiring emotional self-discipline:

Nor does it make much sense to think that you can be "owed" happiness by a husband, not when you consider the kinds of factors that generally support happiness.

For instance, happiness can be influenced by genetic predisposition. It can depend on a healthy, self-disciplined lifestyle, on a good diet, exercise, sleep and sunshine. It can depend on the range and quality of our friendships. On the quality of the parenting we received and of our early childhood experiences. On the positive or negative influence of the culture we inhabit. In can depend on our level of connectedness to nature, to a family lineage, to a people and place, to a tradition and culture, to a history, and to a church. 

To be happy requires, to a considerable degree, an internal locus of control. We need, for instance, to take care with our inner monologue, to ensure that it does not talk us out of a positive mood and into a negative one (as per the Milton quote above). We need to cultivate a responsiveness to the world around us that includes gratitude, reverence and even delight. We need to cultivate the virtues that allow us to deal well with the difficulties life presents us with, such as fortitude, patience and forgiveness. We need to combat our own vices: envy and avarice, for instance, will leave us forever discontented.

We need the ability to both give and receive love, but this requires us to take care in embarking on relationships, particularly sexual ones, so that we avoid becoming jaded, hurt and withdrawn.

Our self-concept and world picture can influence our happiness. What kind of cosmos do we inhabit? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a man? A woman? How we answer these questions can make a difference in how we experience life.

Similarly, it helps to have a reasonable level of self-esteem. This can come as a gift from motherlove in childhood, but achieving a certain level of mastery in some thing, i.e. being good at something and being recognised for it, can also help.

Our ability to stay oriented to transcendent sources of meaning is important as well. Do we register beauty, truth and goodness? Particularly as connecting us to something meaningful outside of mundane existence? Is there a higher good embedded within virtue? Within the masculine and the feminine?

Our larger identities can promote our well-being. Do we identify positively with a communal tradition of our own? One that we can take pride in and wish to contribute to? That helps to give meaning to our work and to the sacrifices we make on behalf of others?

Then there is the issue of retaining a sense of integrity and self-respect. To what extent do we successfully resist the pressures toward entropy and dissolution? Are we still able to order ourselves toward the good? 

Having a sense of role ethics can make our inner lives more stable. This is because happiness is sometimes more a by-product of fulfilling our duties to others, particularly when we serve others whom we love and are closely bound to. I think this is what the following comment is suggesting:

Finally, a good level of self-knowledge and intelligence can help to promote our happiness. What we need at any particular moment can vary, and it helps if we know ourselves well enough to recognise what is lacking and what character flaws need addressing. Similarly, it helps if we react to those around us with intelligent insight. A woman, for instance, who makes no allowance for sex distinctions will undermine her relationships with men - she will be upset by well-meaning masculine behaviour that doesn't correspond with how she would act as a woman.

I hope this is enough to demonstrate that no-one can passively "receive" happiness from someone else. It is not the kind of thing that you can hand over to a spouse. That doesn't mean that a husband shouldn't do nice things for a wife. Or that he shouldn't be concerned for her well-being. A husband can help his wife by being a source of reassuring strength, by being warmly protective, by providing material security and physical safety, by offering physical and emotional intimacy, and by being a source of practical, worldly knowledge, as well as a wisdom derived not only from experience but from a rational discernment of Logos.

Ideally, also, men would cooperate together to create spaces that would best foster a good life for women and children - and this would include maintaining a healthy culture, with positive social norms, a high level of social connectedness, and a morality that encourages an elevated expression of human nature.

A good marriage does have an influence on our happiness. We were not designed for solo living. There is a deep impulse within our nature as humans to connect intimately to someone of the opposite sex in marriage.

But we are setting up marriages for failure if we suppose that a wife can passively expect happiness to come from the husband alone, i.e. that it is something that she is simply owed and that if it is missing, it is due to neglect on his part. A woman working within this frame will tend to have a judging attitude to her husband, focus on his faults, lack genuine gratitude for what he does contribute and, over time, develop resentments and distance herself from him. She will not achieve a genuine spousal union. 


  1. Personally I’m interested in where this attitude came from and who made it common. I suspect the answer at least for the latter is “TV."

    1. That's a good question. I don't have a ready answer. Maybe it has to do with the amplification of the fairy tales by Disney, where a woman only has to marry her prince and she gets a happy ever after - there is nothing about what marriage is or requires of the woman herself. Maybe it has to do with the decline of Christianity. Christianity does hold women accountable as moral agents, ultimately responsible to God for their actions.

    2. TV and the culture around it are a good guess. This attitude doesn't seem to have been present much before the onset of the television age.

    3. The basic premise of feminism is that men are the oppressor class. They have the power, women do not have the power. If a woman is denied something (be it money, career advancement, or personal happiness) it is because some man used his power to prevent her from having it. Men, the oppressors, are hoarding the happiness just like they are hoarding power, privilege, money, and all the other good things of life.

  2. The essay inspired by your last post is the perfect answer to this one: