Researching and writing about puritan poet Anne Bradstreet

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Seven Steps to Marital Bliss

As a seventeenth-century marriage counselor, William Gouge wasn't bad. Here's his seven points for maintaining peace at home. Notice that the husband and the wife are equally responsible for maintaining domestic harmony and that they have the same duties. Now, this sort of egalitarianism was not true of Gouge's counsel overall; at times he laid out specific roles for the husband and the wife based solely on their gender (like the importance of obedience in wives). But it's clear that a successful marriage was not simply the assertion of power by the husband over the wife.

As you read this, don't miss the preacher's use of catchy phrases. "The second blow makes the fray," "Wrath must not lie in bed with two such bed-fellows." I'd bet any number of groats that he used those in his sermons on many a Sunday.

Here is Mr. Gouge:

1. All offences so much as possibly may be must be avoided. The husband must be watchful over himself that he give no offence to his wife: and so the wife on the other side. Offences cause contentions.

2. When an offence is given by the one party, it must not be taken by the other; but rather passed by: and then will not peace be broken. The second blow makes the fray.

3. If both be incensed together, the fire is like to be the greater: with the greater speed therefore must they both labour to put it out. Wrath must not lie in bed with two such bed-fellows: neither may they part beds for wrath sake. That this fire may be the sooner quenched, they must both strive first to offer reconciliation. Theirs is the glory who do first begin, for they are most properly the blessed peacemakers. Not to accept peace when it is offered is more than heathenish: but when wrath is incensed, to seek atonement is the duty of a Christian, and a grace that cometh from above.

4. Children, servants, nor any other in the family must be bolstered up by the one against the other. The man's partaking with any of the house against his wife, or the wife against her husband, is an usual cause of contention betwixt man and wife.

5. They must forbear to twit one another in the teeth with the husbands or wives of other persons or with their own former husbands or wives [in case they have had any before]. Comparisons in this kind are very odious. They stir up much passion, and cause great contentions.

6. Above all they must take heed of rash and unjust jealousy, which is the bane of marriage, and greatest cause of discontent that can be given betwixt man and wife. Jealous persons are ready to pick quarrels, and to seek occasions of discord: they will take every word, look, action, and motion, in the worse part, and so take offence where none is given. When jealousy is once kindled, it is as a flaming fire that can hardly be put out. It maketh the party whom it possesseth implacable.

7. In all things that may stand with a good conscience they must endeavour to please one another: and either of them suffer their own will to be crossed, rather than discontent to be given to the other. S. Paul noteth this as a common mutual duty belonging to them both, and expresseth their care thereof under a word that signifieth more than ordinary care, and implieth a dividing of the mind into divers thoughts, casting this way, and that way, and every way how to give best content.


  1. Love this, Joyce!
    And I agree, the phrasing is so nice. I like that "forbear to twit one another in the teeth," and also "theirs is the glory who do first begin."
    Great stuff!

  2. Joyce! This is fantastico! Thanks so much!