Spouses/Partners

In five ways should a wife as the western direction be respected by a husband: by honoring, not disrespecting, being faithful, sharing authority, and by giving gifts.
And, the wife so respected reciprocates with compassion in five ways: by being well-organized, being kindly disposed to the in-laws and household workers, being faithful, looking after the household goods, and being skilful and diligent in all duties.
In this way, the western direction is protected and made peaceful and secure.

In ancient India, wives had to depend on the kindness of husbands and the husbands’ extended families. Even though the situation may be quite different now, there are a few important lessons to take from this paragraph. Being faithful is the one element that is mentioned as essential in both directions of an upright relationship between partners. Where there is no faithfulness, no honesty and loyalty, little else can go right.

For our purposes, the whole list might apply to both committed partners: showing honor and respect, sharing authority (regardless of who is the primary provider), giving gifts, looking after common spaces and resources, and making life easy for the other person by trying to be well-organized and diligent. Different families have different customs about gift-giving, but I haven’t yet witnessed a relationship in which the absence of gifts is a positive sign. The practice of visible generosity is an important nourishment to intimate relationships.

The relationship with one’s partner’s family could be a book in itself. Human psychology lays a trap here — sometimes a conflict in loyalty arises between one’s parents and one’s partner. But the discourse rightly points out that “being kindly disposed” towards relatives and non-relatives alike is the policy with the best outcomes for all. Assume the best about people for as long as you can. And when something unseemly in someone’s behavior comes to light, don’t forget that this doesn’t represent the whole of the person’s character. There is good and bad in all of us, and we’d do well to focus on the good and overlook the bad as often as possible.

I’m reminded of a story in which the daughter-in-law of a cantankerous woman goes to a healer, seeking a way to make the extended family more peaceful. The healer gave the young woman a small jar of oil and said, “Rub this oil into your mother-in-law’s back once a day.” And so she did. As these back-rub sessions were repeated over time, eventually the mother-in-law relaxed a bit and started to tell her worries to the daughter-in-law. Slowly, they came to care deeply for each other and the whole family benefited.

Sometimes we might think that at home is where we can relax our efforts at kindness, honesty, or politeness. But this is inverted logic. Why would we show our worst side to the people who mean the most to us? At home is where we should practice the highest standard of love and care.

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