November 22, 2019

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Age-old advice: Read strict husband the riot act

We mine the Free Press archives for advice that still applies today (...or doesn’t)

From Personal Problems by Elizabeth Thompson, published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Feb. 10, 1938

Dear Mrs. Thompson: I am 20 years old and have been married two years. I have a steady position but would like to stay home. My husband is 34 and has a steady position earning $100 a month. I earn $12 a week. The plan was for me to work for the first year. Now if I mention giving up my job he gets real nasty. We have had so many quarrels about the money I earn. He sits and counts my wages before I get them. He expects me to pay food, light, stove, laundry and buy my own clothes, and if I do buy something for myself there is a big fuss. All he pays is $25 a month for the rent of the suite.

One thing I can’t understand is that he still goes to dances and won’t take me. The excuse he has is that someone might find out he was married to me, and I would lose my job. He has a very bad habit of telling me about all the girls he meets when he goes skating. That is the first thing he starts about as soon as my sister and her husband visit us, talking about all the girls that have fallen for him. It really has got on my nerves, and he sure loves to criticize me before other people. What could one do with a man like that, Mrs. Thompson? 

It's a "wise little wife who protects the freshness -- the daintiness -- that won her husband's love! Carelessness is so fatal to romance," reads this 1938 ad for Lux soap, marketed as "better than a nap." </p>

It's a "wise little wife who protects the freshness -- the daintiness -- that won her husband's love! Carelessness is so fatal to romance," reads this 1938 ad for Lux soap, marketed as "better than a nap."

Answer: Well, you could leave him, and be much better off, though probably you prefer to try some reform measures before giving him up as a bad job. But first of all, reform your own attitude. By spoiling him so badly you have helped make him a bully. Start standing up for yourself without further delay.

First of all, understand a few facts about your rights as a wife. According to law, a husband has to support his wife in this province, no matter how much money of her own she has or earns, and a wife does not have to support her husband. Make up your mind to stop being a sap.

Keep your job for a while longer, but put every cent of your salary in the bank. Tell your husband he has to be the breadwinner from now on and needn’t expect another nickel from you. If he threatens you, tell him that even one slap will make you lay a charge of assault at the police station; that if he locks the door on you, it will be technical desertion and you will sue him on that count; that if he doesn’t provide you with food and clothes, you will bring a charge of non-support.

Another possibility would be buying what you need on credit. You can order food, clothes, furniture and anything that would be included in the term necessaries, according to his means, and he will have to pay for them. He could not be held responsible for purchases of perfume, fur coats, jewelry and other articles that were not necessaries or were beyond his means, but you could certainly get everything you needed. Most likely he would rather agree to your demands than be involved in a court case or have bills pouring in.

A husband has to support his wife while she lives under his roof and keeps clear of scandal. She can be the world’s worst housekeeper, she can refuse to wash or iron or cook, she can scold and snarl and never utter a civil word, but he still has to provide for her and cannot put her out without running afoul of the law.

On the other hand, if a woman leaves her husband without getting a legal separation, he has no obligation to support her while she remains apart.  That is why some men resort to all sorts of meanness in order to drive their wives away. If they refrain from physical cruelty and buy bare necessities, they care not breaking any law. Your husband may try something of the sort when he finds you are no longer a meal ticket for him, but don’t let yourself be intimidated.

I don’t say your home life will be pleasant, but then it isn’t very pleasant now. At least you should stay with your husband until you get some money of your own ahead, and have taken time to consider whether your marriage is hopeless or not.

Also, while you are being firm, try to make your husband believe that you really think a lot of him. He is an unhappy man, you know. That is why he behaves so queerly. He has a pretty poor opinion of himself at heart, and it makes him feel better to pick flaws in you. Probably he is underdog at work, and he tries to be a heartbreaker because it is the only way he can appear important. It would tickle his vanity if you appeared to be a little jealous and insisted on going to dances with him.

You could pay him compliments on his dancing, card playing, conversation, appearance and anything else you could make sound convincing. Perhaps you could get him interested in some club or hobby where he could behave like a big shot.

Take the stand that you are going to stop work soon because his salary is good enough for you and you want to make a real home for him. There is a possibility of getting along.

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