The more we invite into our life the elements promoting respectful dealings, the more hope we will have of guarding ourselves against overfamiliarity. From the Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.23.2), we derive valuable insights into the fact that true intimacy between husband and wife can only grow out of respect for each other.
Srila Prabhupada explains in the purport to the verse above:
"The husband is a very intimate friend; therefore, the wife must render service just like an intimate friend, and at the same time she must understand that the husband is superior in position, and thus she must offer him all respect. […] Visrambhena means ‘with intimacy’, but it must not be familiarity that breeds contempt. According to the Vedic civilisation, a wife cannot call her husband by name. In the present civilisation the wife calls her husband by name, but in Hindu civilisation she does not. Thus the inferiority and superiority complexes are recognised. Damena ca: A wife has to learn to control herself even if there is a misunderstanding. Sauhridena vaca madhuraya means always desiring good for the husband and speaking to him with sweet words.
A person becomes agitated by so many material contacts in the outside world; therefore, in his home life he must be treated by his wife with sweet words."
Srila Prabhupada nicely explains to us the importance of a wife serving as an intimate friend, and yet with great respect, always remembering the husband’s superior position.
Any intimate relationship has to be based on deep respect. If this foundation is absent, intimacy may invite overfamiliarity, which spoils any relationship. Overfamiliarity means that we treat each other cheaply and take each other for granted. As the saying goes: Familiarity breeds contempt. Thus, disrespect will infiltrate our relationship and, as a result, we may begin using each other for our own gratification.
The marital relationship is particularly prone to this issue, as engaging in sex can add to the tendency to be overfamiliar. One cannot be careful enough to protect one’s marriage from this destructive phenomenon! For this reason, respect and reverence are the foundation of every relationship of intimacy – especially the marital bond.
• As Srila Prabhupada mentions above, traditionally, husband and wife would not call each other by name, and would instead use the terms Prabhu or Devi. This may initially feel rather awkward and formal. But it is simply a matter of our mind getting accustomed to it. Once we introduce such a new habit, we will develop a liking for it, and it will become our new standard. Let us remember that most of us would never call our mother or father by their first name, but would always call them Mom, Mum, Mother or Dad, Daddy, Papa – depending on the language we may speak. To call our parents by their first name would feel rather inappropriate – downright wrong. And yet the relationship we have with our parents ought to be a close one.
A husband does not address his wife as mataji, and he calls each and every woman, except his wife, in this way. Likewise, a wife may not feel comfortable calling her husband Prabhu, since she is accustomed to calling all other men in this way. She may therefore address her spouse as Pati.
• Just as devotees like to offer Vaishnava pranamas to each other in the mornings after mangal-arati, similarly, both husband and wife can start the day by bowing down before each other every morning after rising. It helps to remember that our spouse is a Vaishnava, and we should treat each other accordingly. It’s not that only the wife should pay obeisances to her husband; the husband too should respond likewise. After all, his wife is
considered to be an expansion of Laxmidevi, and is addressed as Goddess by the husband! Such dealings create a culture of humility and reverence in one’s home.
Just imagine what wonderful impressions such respectful dealings between husband and wife will leave on the minds of their children! If a child witnesses from his youngest age that his parents treat each other in such a humble and reverential mood, the child in turn will also respect the parents, offering obeisances as well. Such an upbringing will empower a person to likewise create a respectful atmosphere within his own married
• Traditionally, the wife should serve prasadam to her husband first, and only when he is fully satisfied does she take her meal. This also has a practical side, since we have to wash our hands after eating and before touching the serving vessels and pots. So, rather than repeatedly jumping up and running to wash our hands, the person distributing prasadam should simply serve until everybody is satisfied. This is common practice. It cultivates respect if a wife maintains this tradition of serving the husband first – at least until he has taken seconds and knows that he will not require any more. Then she can join him, and he may remain seated even after he has finished his meal, to give his wife company and engage in conversation with her.
Especially when there are children, a mother will naturally care for the children first, and only when the situation allows will she take her own meal. Oftentimes, the mother will eat the leftovers of the children. Her mood is, ‘I am last – everyone else comes first’.
• Husband and wife can express their gratitude and appreciation for the service rendered and care given by their spouse. In this way, they can guard against the tendency to take each other for granted. He can thank her for cooking delicious meals, and for keeping the home very neat and clean; for assisting him in various ways and serving as an inspiration to him. And she can appreciate the fact that he goes out into the material world and works hard, tolerating numerous inconveniences and agitating situations, so that he can provide for her and the children.
• In order to increase our appreciation for our spouse, we can write down ten things about him/her that we appreciate, and five ways our life has changed for the better since we accepted him/her as our spouse.
• We can then reflect on how much we would miss our partner if they were not in this world.
Moreover, there may be other elements that can be accepted in order to create a respectful atmosphere within family dealings. Just imagine how wonderful it is for children to grow up in such a culture of respect...!
On the 30th of March I moved on to Kishiniev/Moldova
Your servant, Devaki dd