Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known Molière, was a famous French playwright of the 17th century. While he wrote many plays that today we consider to be classics, one of his most well-known theatrical works was a comedy called The School for Wives, centered around a marriage plot gone awry. When it was first written, the play raised many questions about women and marriage — some of which are still around today, such as what is the goal of a marriage, and what is a woman’s role in it?
Modern Christian author and marriage coach Linda Dillow has written several books that tackle just this subject. One, entitled What’s It Like To be Married to Me?, offers women advice from her own 47-year marriage on how to change yourself for a better marital relationship. Her self-help philosophies have gained traction, and become particularly influential in some parts of Europe — so much so that workshops based on her philosophy have begin to pop up in Polish cities like Warsaw and Krakow. In these sessions, Catholic women — wives, mothers, and friends — come together to read Dillow’s book, and help each other to test out her philosophy, which, among other things, promises to help women fall back in love with their husbands.
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But can changing your own bad habits (like complaining) really strengthen a marriage? We talked to women participating in these workshops to find out:
“It’s tempting to think that a woman just automatically becomes a wife after marriage. But the longer you’re married, the more you can see just how much work it takes, not just to be a wife, but a good wife at that,” says Mirka Lukowska, one of the leaders of the workshops for wives. It’s easy at the start of a union to feel like you’re entering into an idyllic life — a “happily ever after” after your fairytale wedding — but then all the little bumps and bruises of everyday life serve as a harsh reality check.
So the workshop begins by asking women (whether married for decades or just days) to recall all the reasons they originally wanted to marry their husbands.
“We want to remember the dreams that we had before our wedding,”explains Agnieszka Strzoda, one of the founders of the workshops. “Personally, I imagined that my marriage would be wonderful and romantic, that we would have plenty of time for dates — but eventually all the time spent on laundry, cooking, and taking care of the children got in the way, and we began to forget about those things. Part of the goal of doing these workshops is to help women remember those kinds of dreams and to return to them,” she says.
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Another woman in the workshop, Malgorzata Czapska, has been a wife for almost 25 years. She says that she prepared herself for marriage in the best way she knew how: she read, she studied, she asked for advice from people that she respected and trusted. “It was so important to me to find out what makes a good wife and a strong marriage,” she says, “especially from a spiritual perspective because I wanted to build a relationship on the true sacrament of marriage. What I quickly realized from my research is that even the best Catholic marriage would not be fruitful without a lot of hard work. So I joined these workshops to keep myself accountable for that work in my marriage.”
A ban on complaining
After wives recommit to the reason they married their husbands in the first place, the workshops give the women participants a simple rule to follow: a ban on complaining about their husbands.
“It’s easy to complain about anyone, but it’s crucial to remember that when we decided to marry our husbands, we saw something special in them. Something about my husband drew me to him, something about him enchanted me. The idea of the no-complaining rule is to return to that initial perspective, “ explains Mirka Lukowska. (But while Lukowska is following the rule, she didn’t tell her husband right away that she was attending these “workshops” for wives. “I hid the book — I wanted to do the workshop without him knowing about it,” she admits.)
At the workshops, the wives are given many different assignments and — just like in high school — homework. Among the assignments, women are asked to employ positive thinking and practice saying nice things about their husbands. And they’re even given physical tasks to keep track of their progress: “I was supposed to move my bracelet from one hand to another whenever I had a negative thought or simply when I start to complain about my husband [as a reminder to stop]. Sometimes I moved it several times an hour. He didn’t notice the bracelet, but I noticed that my husband was happier.”
Once Lukowska finally told him about her workshop, though, something even more surprising happened — he proposed also wearing a bracelet, “so that he, too, couldtake on the challenge,” she says.
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Participant Malgorzata Czapska found the same exercise worked wonders, too, because the basis of a marital relationship is communication. By not focusing on complaints, you allow yourself to open up to your spouse in new ways, and to see their needs more clearly. She even suggests taking it one step further, by sending your husband complimentary texts throughout the day or writing him sweet little notes on post-its or via email.
So what’s the point?
“The purpose behind these workshops is to find a way forward for our marriage,” Malgorzata Czapska says confidently. “Atour meetings we share our questions, our hopes, and our desires. We look at what we can fix, what we can change. And the other women in our little ‘school for wives’ help each other uncover all these emotions and solutions.”
Agnieszka Strzoda, yet another woman trying out the workshop, adds that because her husband is the one person to whom she has vowed her life, it’s worth the time she spends in the workshop to take care of their relationship. “I don’t try to be the ideal wife [anymore]. I want to be a supportive wife, one to which my husband would like to return to after work — a friend and a partner,” she says.
Many of the participants also say that they’re hoping to make their marriages more holy — closer to the way God envisioned them. So not only are the working on better communication with their husbands, but on the spiritual health of their relationships.
“The priest who blessed our marriage said it was very important for us to live in a three-way relationship, the two of us and God,” Czapska explains. “These relationships must be in continuous movement to work. A sacramental marriage should imitate the Trinity — and seek unity [between those three parts].”
Interested in wife workshops or want to start one in your own U.S. hometown? More information can be found here (just don’t forget to hit google translate if you don’t speak Polish!): www.spotkaniamam.pl