HOW THE MAYBURYS SAVED THEIR MARRIAGE
As Alice Maybury said, she and Don were an average unhappily married couple." The love affair which began so sweetly had turned sour after six years of marriage. Instead of breaking up, they looked for, and found, some of the answers to their problems. Maybe these are the answers you're looking for, too
THIS IS the story of a marriage that almost failed. It may be your story because Don and Alice Maybury are a fairly average Canadian couple who faced the usual problems that marriage brings. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending because Alice and Don sat down and found ways of saving their marriage before it cracked up.
In the summer of 1948, shortly after their sixth wedding anniversary, the Mayburys frankly faced up to the fact that they were not happy together. Their marriage had started off idyllically when Don was 26 and Alice 23. They were convinced they were ideally suited and their happiness would continue for the rest of their lives. As Alice said to Don: “As long as I have you, I’ll never want
But six years later their gay and romantic moments had all but vanished. Each night, Don gloomily returned to his suburban Ottawa home which he described as “filthy and disordered.” He resented the two children, Paul, 4, and Michael, 1, because they contributed to the disorder and demanded all his wife’s time. He felt that Alice was shirking her household duties by claiming to be tired and ill. Always a keen athlete, he had been forced to cut down his skiing and golf.
Alice, on her part, felt cheated by marriage. An attractive, red-haired girl once accustomed to frequent dates, she now felt shackled to home and children. Successful at university and later at her job with a publishing firm, she now felt herself a prisoner in the stagnant atmosphere of her home, “all dressed up intellectually with no place to go.” Don, tall, blond and wiry, works in the research department of a large corporation. He is thoughtful and serious and describes himself as a “cerebral type.” It was his idea that they tackle their unsuccessful marriage in a scientific manner: look at the problem, examine the causes, then take remedial action. Alice, who has always had confidence in her husband’s mental prowess, enthusiastically went along. “You might say,” she says, “that we were an average unhappily married couple who set out to lift ourselves up by our emotional bootstraps.”
,Today, three years later, the Mayburys feel that
they have made real progress. “Don’t get the idea that our marriage is now perfect,” they will tell you. “We still often make each other miserable. But we have succeeded in understanding each other.” Don and Alice don’t think that marriage will ever resolve all their frustrations, but they are convinced that living together has more advantages than living apart. And, perhaps most important of all—they have learned how to sit down and talk to each other frankly and honestly about things that matter.
The Mayburys first examined their relationships from the time they first met. Later, their probing went back still farther, because “We found that some of the most important answers were to be found in our childhood.”
Their first meeting at a Vancouver dance in October, 1940, had a fiction-story quality. One of his friends bet Don that he couldn’t get a date with a pretty stranger sitting at the next table. Don won the bet after a ten minute chat with Alice. He found her attractive, lively, fun-loving, yet at the same time capable of discussing serious matters. He was flattered by the careful attention she gave to his opinions. Nor was her interest feigned. “Intelligence was always the first thing I always looked for in men,” says Alice. “And I thought Don was also handsome in a serious sort of way.”
Prince Charming and the Dream Girl
They were married 18 months later, in May, 1942. By the time the honeymoon was over, both husband and wife were confident they had achieved the perfect marriage. They subscribed wholeheartedly to the romantic myth that one person alone in this world can bring another supreme love and happiness. To Alice, Don was the Prince Charming; to Don, Alice was the Dream Girl. What they didn’t fully appreciate was that they were two flesh-and-blood people with different tastes and attitudes because of the different lives they had lived before marriage.
Don’s father was a brilliant, successful engineer who believed that intelligence should completely rule emotion. He had little tolerance for human foibles: so he was distressed when his wife bought
a frivolous hat or went beyond the housekeeping budget. “What would happen if I ran my business that way?” he would ask her. A man of fixed habits, he would go for his Sunday morning walk come rain, fog or two feet of snow. He felt it dangerous to pamper women and children and often said, “No kid of mine is going to be a sissy.” Sickness, to him, was a sign of weakness. He insisted that his home be spotlessly clean, quiet and organized. The family could always afford a maid. “That was the kind of home I wanted my wife to keep when I got married,” says Don.
By contrast, Alice’s father, Mr. Morrow, was weak and passive. His interest in his son and daughter was limited to occasional criticism of their behavior. Mrs. Morrow, vivacious and smartly dressed, looked 10 years younger than her age. Alice’s boy friends would sometimes joke that they were only dating her as an excuse to see her mother. “To me there was a painful amount of truth in what they said,” says Alice. Mrs. Morrow’s favorite was her son, three years older than Alice.
Mrs. Morrow was an impulsive creature who often came home with $25 shoes or a $50 handbag. She was also possessive and seemed to enjoy having her children ill because it made them dependent on her. And she repeatedly warned Alice against the physical advances of men. Later, Alice was to realize this advice had a lasting effect on her.
After their marriage in 1942, Don joined the air force and was stationed in Calgary, where he and his wife lived together in a rooming house. The weeks that followed were a continuation of their courtship—love-making, dances, candle-lit dinners. “We felt pretty smug about our marriage,” says Alice. “We couldn’t understand all the talk about the problems of adjustment.”
As the months wore on, however, they were overtaken by a feeling of doubt, then disappointment. They didn’t talk about it, but each felt the marriage was losing its rosy hue. They were no longer satisfied to sit home nights delighting in each other’s company. When Don refused to go out because he was tired, Alice would impatiently shout, “It’s all very well for you. You’ve been with people all day. But I’m bored silly.”
Alice was disappointed with their sex life but
she didn’t dare discuss it openly. “I thought sex would leave me completely satisfied and nothing else would matter,” she says. “Now I felt cheated.” While Don was physically passionate, she felt he didn’t match her tenderness and sentimentality. Don, on his part, was convinced his wife was resisting him.
Both were disillusioned. Don felt his wife was a poor housekeeper and extravagant spender. Alice was annoyed because once-immaculate Don now wore sloppy clothes around the house and refused to shave unless he had to. He ate noisily and tended to be dogmatic and pompous, dismissing her opinions as if they didn’t count.
As an antidote, Alice decided to have a baby.
The first sign that perhaps this solution wouldn’t be successful came the evening she broke the news to Don. Instead of being enthusiastic and solicitous, he appeared detached and matter-of-fact. “That’s nice,” he said, and a minute later asked if dinner was ready.
The pregnancy aggravated their relationship: Don found both his wife’s figure and disposition adversely affected. Arguments about illness became common. He felt she was using sickness as an excuse to make him do shopping and housework. Alice was shocked by this lack of concern: when
the landlady phoned Don at his office that his wife was ill, Don told her that he couldn’t get home until after work. “Pampering would only encourage a flood of female complaints,” he thought.
The Mayburys’ suspicion that their marriage may have been a mistake was reinforced by the arrival of Paul, their first child. After the initial excitement, Don and Alice began to wonder if they really wanted a child. Alice felt guilty, since she always believed that love of children was an instinct with every woman. Don’s reaction was even more impersonal. “I had no feeling for the child,” he says. “I felt that baby-raising was strictly a woman’s job.”
Life became more hectic. Alice was now overwhelmed by household chores. Both parents ¡blamed the youngster for spoiling what time they might have had together. The tension increased when a second child, Michael, was born three years later. Don had been discharged from the air force and they were now living near his job in Ottawa. Watching her husband leave for work each morning
neatly groomed, Alice was swept by rebellion. Why must she spend her life washing the same dishes, ironing the same clothes, dusting the same furniture? Why didn’t she have the opportunity of using her brains and education at a stimulating job?
Her unhappiness reached an all-time low one June night in 1948 as she and her husband sat in their garden after the children had been put to bed. She had lunched with a girl friend from college, now holding down an $8,000 job in business. She burst into tears, confessing her unhappiness to Don and accusing him of not understanding her. Don was unexpectedly sympathetic. He said that he could appreciate her feelings because he, too, was not happy over the way things had been going.
“That night, was a turning point,” says Alice. “We talked for five hours about our life together. For the first time, we were completely honest with each other.” Then and there they decided that instead of brooding about the causes of their unhappiness they should openly discuss them and plan steps to eliminate them. They acquired the habit of discussing their problems each night after the children had been put to bed. From these discussions the Mayburys acquired an understanding of themselves and their relationship.
What To Do With an Ego?
One of the first discoveries they made was that they had come to marriage completely unprepared. They had overlooked the existence of human defects and weaknesses. They didn’t realize that two lives just don’t automatically mesh. They now recognized the “falling-in-love” phase as an abnormal period in their life. Excited physically, stimulated mentally, and anxious to make a good impression, they were glorified, souped-up versions of themselves. “But you just can’t keep it up after marriage,” comments Don. “Trying to keep alive the illusion of the perfect mate is like trying to believe in fairy tales for the rest of your life.”
The Mayburys have accepted the fact that the glamour and excitement of courtship cannot continue indefinitely. “If you’re not ready for the disillusionment of settling down,” says Alice, “then you’re not ready for marriage.” But glamour is replaced by other values—companionship, loyalty,
enjoyment of congenial friends, love of children, building a home.
Alice finds that much of her need for glamour is satisfied by dressing up and going to parties. She likes the admiration of men and sometimes flirts mildly—“A hang-over from the time I had to compete with my mother for male attention,” she explains. But she doesn’t think she would ever carry her flirtations to the point of having an affair. “I can satisfy my ego without getting involved,” she says.
Don doesn’t feel the need for extra-marital adventures. “I weigh the pros and cons of every situation too carefully,” he says. He is determined to make his marriage work after investing nine years of his life and several thousand dollars in it. “I’d hate to think of starting all over again,” he says. “I don’t think I’d end up any happier.”
The Mayburys plan their life to recapture some of the old mood of excitement and delight. A few times a year they manage to have an outof-town week end together. They stay at a good hotel, take in a show and night club and do some leisurely shopping. About once a month, Don brings Alice flowers, then takes her out for a few drinks, a dinner and a dance.
Because the Mayburys acquired the habit of frank discussion, it was now possible for them to honestly discuss their sex life for the first time. They agreed that neither of them had adequate preparation for the sexual side of marriage. Alice had never completely escaped the sexual fears implanted by her mother. For years she had rigorously conditioned herself to resist the physical advances of men. Later, in marriage, she was still unconsciously dominated by a mechanism accustomed to resist. This could only be overcome gradually by patience, tenderness, affection and wooing.
Don, brought up to be undemonstrative, was not able to meet these needs, and he simply wrote down his wife as “unco-operative.” As their relationship improved they grew closer together sexually. They now realize that sexual adjustment is often achieved as the result of continual and conscious effort. Thus, it may sometimes take months or—like the Mayburys—even years to achieve sexual harmony.
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CHECK YOUR MARRIAGE FOR THESE MISTAKES
These are the factors that almost wrecked the Mayburys’ once-happy marriage. Do they exist in yours, too?
V He was dogmatic and pompous and ignored his wife's opinions.
V He dressed sloppily at home and neglected marital courtesies, personal
V He was unsympathetic to his wife's health and thought her illness was a
ruse to escape housework.
V He refused to take his wife dancing or participate in party fun.
V He was unsentimental in love-making.
V She disliked housekeeping and neglected to keep the home neat and
V She was extravagant with family funds.
V She resented the role of mother and housewife and preferred a career
outside the home.
V She enjoyed innocent flirtations and competed for other men’s attention.
V She was inclined to resist her husband’s physical advances.
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was a frequent cause of conflict, it was only natural that they should talk about it a great deal. In time, Don realized that his impatience with illness was extreme. He was surprised to find himself echoing some of his father’s views — condemning all illness as “sheer weakness.” Since his father had repeatedly condemned grandmother’s 30 years of illness as a mean hoax, he was unduly suspicious of women using illness as a means of dodging responsibility. Now he has accepted the fact that women are physically different from men.
Alice has accepted his feelings about illness and has been able to convince him that she is never sick for the sake of being sick. “I think I’m a lot more sympathetic about Alice’s health now,” says Don, and in the last few years Alice has been healthier than in any period of their marriage.
The Mayburys faced up to the painful fact' that there was a good deal of resentment in their attitude toward their children. One of the things they have now learned through discussion and reading is that the “maternal” or “paternal” instinct is not necessarily an instinct at all: in
a large measure, it is an acquired reaction. Neither Don nor Alice could recall any small children in their own families and hence had to learn to appreciate them.
With an improvement in their own relationship, they found they were able to appreciate the children more. Don, for example, was touched by Paul’s boast that his Dad could out-fight any other Dad on the street. Alice found it exciting to watch Michael learning to identify various musical records. Both parents got increasing pleasure from the children’s responses to new experiences. Don now has a standing date with his sons: he’ll take them to the water front, to a hockey game, or to a bakery to watch bread being baked.
When Alice Took a Job
They learned how much security means to a child—and that security means his parents and his home. Don was warmed by the reception he got each evening on his return from the office. Alice became increasingly aware of her role as the protector of her children; there was no sloughing off of this responsibility. One morning, fed up with being cooped in the house, she hired a baby-sitter and stayed downtown until 6 p.m. On her return she found Michael wet and crying in his crib, surrounded by the remains of 20 licorice candies. Paul was outside, inadequately clothed. “That’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t do today,” says Alice. “I’ve matured to the point where my contentment comes from knowing that I’m contributing to the children’s happiness.”
One of Alice’s major frustrations has always been housework. “I learned to use my head at college,” she says, “but the mechanics of running a home
doesn’t give you much scope for thiu. ing.” On a typical morning Alice will wash, sweep, dust, answer the phone, arbitrate disputes between Michael and his friends, sew buttons, order groceries and so on down a long list. “You fine yourself always doing bits-and-piece jobs,” she says. “You haven’t got time to really do anything well.” But while Alice claims that she will never like housework she has grown to accept the fact that for the time being her place is in the home.”
She can speak with some conviction on this point because she tried working outside the home and gave it up as an unsuccessful experiment. Soon after her first talk with Don, they decided that perhaps the solution to her discontentment lay in getting a job. A housekeeper was hired and Alice went to work with a publishing firm.
She gloried in her new status— getting all dressed up each morning, working with interesting people, going out for lunch with the office crowd. And the monthly pay cheque gave her a new feeling of independence.
However, she began to feel uneasy about a number of things. Her time with the children was limited to a few hours each day and week ends. The news that Michael learned a new word or could blow bubbles came to her second hand. When Paul hurt himself or needed help in his pasting and cutting he turned to the housekeeper, who shared the children’s sorrows, joys and confidences. “I sometimes wondered if they really knew which one of us was their mother,” says Alice.
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And there were feelings of guilt. Once she came home to find that Michael’s cold had developed into pneumonia. Paul was bruised in an accident which might have been fatal. “Perhaps the same things might have happened had I been around the house,” says Alice, “but I couldn’t escape the gnawing feeling that I was being neglectful.”
Alice quit her job after six months. Michael and Paul had been alternately ill for three weeks and she couldn’t concentrate on the job. Then a letter came from Paul’s teacher complaining that his behavior had become boisterous, which Alice interpreted as a bid for more adult attention and affection. To top it all, Don became grumpy about the things that weren’t being done around the house.
He’s No Fancy Dancer
Alice was not unhappy about returning home full time. While she hasn’t developed into a demon housewife, she has managed to derive some sense of achievement from the things she does. She has acquired a local reputation for her chicken paprika and casserole dishes made with wild rice. Her furniture coverings and drapes are her own creation and have attracted friends’ praise. And she can see the results of her efforts with the children. Paul is a happy, imaginative child, Michael is a husky, healthy three-year-old.
Alice has not abandoned the idea of a career. In three or four years, when the children are established at school, she’ll have another try. In the meantime she keeps mentally active and interested as an executive of the local home and school club, working with a child welfare organization and taking French lessons. She and Don belong to the Ottawa Film Society and subscribe to a concert series throughout the fall and winter.
They often visit with friends and both like reading and music. Don thinks that Alice’s interests have broadened since he first met her. She would still like to go dancing more often, but has given it up as a lost cause. “I don’t think I’ll ever convert Don to the bright lights,” she says.
The Mayburys seldom have anxf serious conflicts about money ndf Don’s earnings are $3,600 salary pÊç, $700 from free-lance jobs—well abov)j the Canadian average. And he fourni that Alice’s extravagance was curbè^ by giving her an equal voice in the family budget. Don now has more confidence in his wife’s buying expeditions, although he doesn’t always understand them at the time.
For example, at one time when the family cash was at a low point she bought an evening gown for $70. “It was an original New York model selling for half price,” she said, “and I needed it for my morale.” She has worn it for two years and the other day at a party Don’s boss remarked admiringly, “How in the world can you afford to dress your wife that way?” Don is now convinced it was a sound investment.
No major expenditure is ever made without a thorough discussion. For a long time the Mayburys wanted a car. When they stacked up the pleasures a car would give them against the other things they wanted, buying the car was postponed. Instead, Alice got a $40(f fur coat, Don and the children sonu clothes and they bought a record player and house furnishings. Don often boasts of the help he receives from his wife in their budget and Alice rises to the occasion by being a sound manager.
Looking back at how ill prepared they were for it, the Mayburys marvel at how well their marriage has turned out. They give their marriage now a happiness rating of average. They are convinced that a happy marriage nevehappens: it’s something both partift -
have to work at. It calls for discipline unselfishness, intelligence and imaging tion. They believe that young coupled like themselves, could have been helped by trained marriage counselors.
Don and Alice don’t pretend that all their problems are completely solved, or that no new problems will crop i in the years to come. But, unde, standing each other, they feel they car. talk through any difficulty that arises. They say that their life together has advantages and disadvantages. Bal ancing the marital books, they fin more entries on the plus side than on the negative. it