Don't Fire your Husband

Motion Picture Magazine – May 1958
By Deborah Kerr

lovelydeborah1958Somewhere I read that a great man once said: “The essence of genius is knowing what to overlook.” I thought of this the other night, at a dinner party, when I watched a woman all but destroy her husband.

During the course of the evening, in full view of everyone, she corrected his pronunciation, interrupted a story he was telling (“Oh, John, you’re not going to tell that one again?”), sighed with patient martyrdom the moment he started discussing his business and, when he inadvertently dropped something at the table, turned to the other guests and cried, “Did you ever see anyone so clumsy?”

Later, as my husband and I were driving home, he said to me, “What that woman was doing was telling that man that he was no good—both as a man and a human being. Yet she’d be the last to admit it. And I’ll tell you something else. More husbands are lost this way than in the other woman’s arms”

I couldn’t agree more strongly. It may be Victorian of me, but I still believe that a woman’s world should revolve around her guy, and that to show him up in public is the worst kind of disloyalty.

What marriage demands is mutual respect. I have seen too many women, consciously or unconsciously, shatter the ego of their men by talking disparagingly of them, by exposing their weaknesses to the world. What man can stay in love when, by innuendo and action, his wife makes him feel incompetent. It is as though he were being fired in his own home.

It’s time we women realized that the “man’s world” we sometimes envy is actually a kind of battlefield from 9:00 to 5:00. The moment your guy leaves the house to go to the job, he is, you might say, engaging the enemy: executives who covet his position, salesmen who are after his customers, superiors whose good will is vital to him, ruthless rivals out to cut him down in any way they can.

It’s a no-holds-barred world, and the man you married or are going to marry, must fight its battles with all his strength, with all his courage—with his mind and his muscles and his male pride, hour after hour, day after day.

And when he comes home, often weary and worn, perhaps sorely wounded in his male ego, it must be shattering to be attacked again, criticized, however subtly, and clawed at by trivia, like the laundry he failed to pick up, the dog food he forgot to buy, the task of whaling little Bobby for bringing home that naughty word, the trip to Miami that the Joneses next door are planning.

What a reception!

After a day of coping with his co-workers, his customers, his boss, all a man wants is to come back to the safer, smaller world of home, to lick his wounds, to restore his shattered pride, or happily, to celebrate his victories.

The pressure on a man is terrific. Almost from boyhood on, he is told (by his mother, his father, his family, society) he must “be successful”… “make money”…”make money” … “make money”…  His is a constant struggle to avoid losing face, to avoid the stigma of failure. His home should not be the scene of his defeat.

Am I making too much of this? I don’t think so. All I am saying is that home should be a place where peace is found, not war; support, not doubt; a pat on the back, not a blow to the middle; a compliment, not a sneer. I’m thinking, particularly, of a rather charming thought I ran across not long ago: “It’s all right to use your arms in an argument, but don’t flail them or pound the table with them. Use them to hug somebody.”

Everyone has, of course, his own conception of marriage. I, for one, won’t be unrealistic and say that Tony and I are the perfect match. Perfection comes from heaven: marriages are made on earth. We do, however, have a meaningful relationship, and it should, like good wine, grow more mellow with each passing year.

Naturally every woman has moments of doubt. But if you doubt your husband or sweetheart, it may be because you don’t believe in yourself. I’ve had that feeling: I know what it is. You must fight against it.

My marriage to Tony was based on a love which transcended our many faults. By love, I don’t mean a “roaring passion.” I think sex is part of love, but not the sum total of one’s relationship with one’s husband. If you want to keep the man you love, you must offer something beyond the physical.

I’ve always believed that the paramount quality in love is simply compassion. Compassion is a caring for something or someone outside of yourself. It has nothing to do with sexual attraction. It is just sheer love of another human being. Sometimes I think that what we miss today is simply loving each other, really caring about the problems of our fellow human beings.

When we first came to Hollywood, Tony couldn’t work because, having been born in India, he was unable to get an immigration quota number. It was awful for him, for three years, but it was awful for me, too. I suffered with him. He wanted to do certain things, and I couldn’t believe they would work out, but I had to encourage him at all costs. He was really struggling to make a place for himself in a new field, and often I was tempted to urge him to try something else. My mouth was saying one thing, while my heart said another. Yet I could not take a defeatist attitude: I had to show respect for Tony’s wishes. Happily he won out in the end.

I don’t always demand attention from Tony. No two people can live always in each other’s pockets. There are times now when Tony’s work as a TV producer takes him to the ends of the earth, but I have never felt that a husband should be constantly around, like a painting on the wall.

My confidence in him is evident in the fact that we are comfortable together no matter how our moods may differ. Tony may come home and say “Ah!” and sink into a chair and never say another word all evening, but I know he is paying me the compliment of being relaxed with me.

I make a point of not greeting him at the door with what’s gone wrong that day. I don’t want our love to go down the garbage disposal with all the chop bones and leftovers. Like every couple from Adam and Eve onward, we have our problems, and we try to laugh away some of them. The rest, we discuss. And if things get too bad, Tony says, “What the blazes!” and walks around the garden a couple of times, and I go in the bathroom and take a hot bath.

True, some men have to be driven. In virtually every marriage, one or the other is the leader. It’s just as it is in making pictures: there is the masterful, driving producer or director, and the more sensitive, introspective writer. One must be led, the other do the leading. But the leading can be done smartly, intelligently—with respect and consideration.

I think, most of all, a woman’s job is to make herself lovable. You might even ask yourself, once in a while, “What on earth did he see in me?”

And remember this: the primary purpose of marriage is the success of the pair, not the self-assertion of an individual. Honesty is not always the best policy, if honesty means trampling on the soul of another human being.

I remember reading about a man who was appointed to the president’s cabinet in the early part of this century. He married a schoolteacher who was grimly determined to make a real success of him.  Earlier, their engagement had extended over several years, while the woman was teaching in another state. Every other day, he wrote his fiancée a love letter; every other day, she sent it back to him carefully corrected with a red pencil as to grammar and syntax and handwriting.” She improved him, all right. But perhaps she did something else to him. He left the cabinet in disgrace—one of the two or three cabinet members in the last fifty years who have gone out of Washington in a cloud of scandal.

The way to improve your husband really—or even the man you plan to marry—is to give him more of your sympathy, your understanding, your appreciation. What you need to furnish is less admonition and more inspiration.

I’ve often wondered why a man is everything in life a woman wants. Yet, in too many instances, the minute she gets him, she starts cutting down his ego and building up her own. And she’ll tell you she really loves him. It’s no accident that the god of love, Eros, is pictured as blind!”

There’s the old saying that “Happiness in marriage depends merely on leaving a few words unsaid each day.” When you’re tempted to lash out at your husband, it might be better to ask yourself, “If I start picking on Joe about this, will it help in strengthening our marriage? Or will it just make me feel more important and show him who’s boss around here?”

I know there have been times when I’ve gotten a bit annoyed with Tony when he’s wanted to stick around at parties long after I’ve had it. So I just  park myself on my hostess’ sofa and go to sleep when I’ve gotten tired of waiting. Or else I wait just so long and then call a cab—or at least reach for the phone. I must say this for Tony, most of the time I’ve only gotten as far as the phone!

Conflict in marriage—or in any relationship—is a normal thing. It helps us to keep our emotional balance by releasing the tensions we accumulate. I’m sure that if Romeo and Juliet had lived together long enough, they would have had their big and little battles like everyone else. Whenever two people live together in close and intimate association, there just can’t help but be an occasional clash of wills. But an honest clash of wills is one thing: subtly belittling your spouse is something quite different. There is poison in it.

There is also poison in the embittered and aggressive female who talks of “a man’s world.”

No woman looks good wearing a man’s pants!”

I was appalled when I heard about a Hollywood couple that moved into the wife’s house after the honeymoon because it was fancier and “smarter” than the man’s modest apartment. Then, the wife, who was a bigger star immediately decided she would keep her own salary separate, and on top of that, charged her husband rent for the use of her house!”

To me, the whole idea of “your money” and “my money” is horrible. Perhaps I’m too trusting, but I just couldn’t understand any other kind of arrangement. When Tony and I married, I was already fairly well established in films in England, and Tony said, jokingly, “Aren’t you afraid, ever. It just didn’t occur to me. Even if a woman does earn more, the man must feel that he’s head of the family, no matter what. The splitting up of money into “mine” and “thine” denotes suspicion.

As long as you live, know this: If you care for a man, really care, there  is only one thing you can give him that has value. It is not a thing of money or pride, intelligence, or position. But it’s the greatest thing you can offer as a woman. Just say, quite simply, “Have I told you today how much I love you?”

  1. Honesty is not always the best policy if it means trampling on your husband.
  2. The only time a man likes to walk behind his wife is when he’s escorting her to the table.
  3. In our family it doesn’t matter who earns what. It goes into a community pot.
  4. Sex is part of love, but not the sum total of one’s relationship with her husband.
  5. The nicest compliment I ever received was from my husband, Tony. On the first day of shooting Separate Tables, he sent me a card reading: “May we never sit at separate tables.”

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