The husband as the guru of the wife is an interesting topic. Some men operate under the paradigm that since I am the guru of my wife, she is duty-bound to do anything I ask of her. I am not saying it is not the duty of the wife to serve the husband, but the idea that a husband would be this demanding of his wife reflects a misunderstanding of the duty of the husband. I address this misunderstanding in this article.
You might think, “Are there really many men today in Iskcon who are that demanding?” Not only are there demanding men in Iskcon, many are more demanding of their wives than men outside of Iskcon. My experience as a counselor and teacher show me that many men have either been improperly trained or have misunderstood Prabhupada’s statements about the duty of a husband.
We have a high divorce rate in Iskcon, higher than in secular society. We also have a high rate of unhappy women in Iskcon who are still married (they remain married because they are dutiful wives, not because they are happy in their marriage). This problem is largely caused because there are not good husbands. They are not good husbands because they misunderstand what it means to be a real man.
In this article I discuss what it means to be a good husband, a real man, and a husband who acts as guru.
The Husband is the Guru
In sastra we read that the husband is the guru. Many men believe this means the wife should obediently do whatever is asked of her, no matter how difficult or unreasonable it may be. The husband does not have the right to be unreasonably demanding. This is not the kind of relationship a guru and disciple have.
When Prabhupada was asked by his disciple Vishal, “Should the wife do whatever the husband says?” Prabhupada replied, “And you should be so arrogant?”
What does it mean to be guru to a wife and what does it mean for the wife to see her husband as guru? Guru is one who is moving towards Krsna. If the husband is moving towards Krsna, naturally the wife will follow. And even if she doesn’t follow him perfectly, by serving him she shares in his spiritual advancement. So husbands, your duty as guru is to be steadily advancing in Krsna consciousness.
A Guru Shows Affection
A guru does not push the disciple beyond his or her limits. Neither should a husband. A guru encourages his disciple according to his propensity so that he is enlivened and happy. Show me a woman married to a man who is overly demanding, and I will show you an unhappy woman.
Of course, a guru guides the disciple. But to guide the wife, and for the wife to want to listen to the husband, she must be well taken care of emotionally, not only materially. Disciples follow their guru because of the love and care they receive from him. The guru is full of affection for his disciple, always giving to the disciple more than the disciple is giving back. Thus they want to reciprocate. It must be the same with a husband.
Walk Your Talk
It is important to recognize that the husband is not meant to mimic a formal guru/disciple relationship, because guru/disciple relationship is predominated by awe and reverence, whereas a husband/wife relationship is predominated by friendship and conjugal affection. So husband as guru refers primarily to the man being spiritually strong, setting a good example, and inspiring his wife in spiritual life by his example.
Being guru means to “walk your talk.” If a man does this, naturally the woman will respect him. If he wants respect, he must act in a way that commands respect. If he doesn’t act respectfully, but commands respect, he should not be surprised – or upset – when he doesn’t get it.
Listen to Me
Doesn’t the husband being guru mean it is his duty to instruct the wife? In Vedic times women did not receive diksa, so because the husband was trained in the gurukula he would take responsibility to give his wife the knowledge he received from his guru. Today, women have access to instructions from many gurus, so the role of the husband as sole spiritual teacher has changed.
Women appreciate husbands who follow Krsna consciousness well, but he may not always be the one she wants to receive most of her spiritual instructions from. Women want a partnership. Still, if they have a good relationship they are naturally more willing to listen to their husbands.
And men beware. Sometimes in the name of doing your duty to instruct your wife you latch into a fault-finding session. And then you scratch your head, wondering why your wife is reluctant to listen to you? When instructing your wife, especially in sensitive areas, do it with care, affection and sensitivity. If in the name of instructing your wife she becomes upset, unhappy and unenlivened, you are failing in your duty as a husband.
You Are Always a Servant
Men, remember you are a servant, not a master. I know that is sometimes difficult to remember, but it is written on just about every page of Srila Prabhupada’s books, and I haven’t read the disclaimer in any sastra that being a servant doesn’t apply to your wife.
Did I hear some of you say, “Ouch, that hurts my false ego,” thinking, “If I do this I will be controlled by my wife. Then I am not a man.”
Be a real man
Masculine doesn’t mean to control the wife out of fear of being controlled by her. Actually, to be masculine is to make the wife happy, to fulfill her needs, and be sensitive to her ups and downs. If a man cannot do this, then he is not being a real man and is actually being controlled by his inability to properly deal with the nature of a woman. This means he is being controlled by the lower modes of nature.
When sastra speaks of being controlled by women, it is not what most men think. To patiently take care of a women’s needs, to listen to her when she is upset, to be a stable force for her when she is emotional, is what it means to be a man. If you do this, you are sense controlled. If you can’t do this, then you are actually being controlled by a woman.
Unfortunately, many men are not good at being tolerant with their wives, and react to difficult situations by telling their wives they are emotional and they should just be normal. Sometimes when the wife is upset they will argue or fight with her rather than try to understand and help her. Despite what some men think, arguing or fighting with a woman has nothing to do with being a strong man. It is the sign of a man who succumbs to the mode of passion and ignorance. Somehow, this fact is so clear to women and so unclear to men.
Krsna is the supreme male, the supreme masculine, and this is how He treats Radharani. Krsna is never rough and tough with Radharani. He doesn’t yell at her or try to control her. He just tries to make her happy. This is what it means to be male. Of course, the movies portray male as being rough and tough, beating up other big rough and tough guys. But factually those “macho” men are only impressing other men, not other women. Women don’t like these “tough” guys. They like men who are sensitive to their needs.
Men who don’t want to (or can’t) regularly serve the needs of a woman as described above should not marry. If they already are married, they should understand that it is their duty to always show affection and kindness to their wives. Men who can’t take care of their wives well, and make them happy, are not fulfilling the duties of the their asrama.
When the man misunderstands his role as husband/guru, it is probably because his purusa nature is overtaking him (the enjoyer and controller consciousness). This is the potential danger of household life. The association of women tends to excite this enjoying and controlling nature. But bhakti is about serving. So a man shouldn’t think serving his wife means he is being controlled by her; he should think this is his natural position. His predominant role as protector and provider are both servant roles. And what is most important is that the service should be done with affection, sensitivity and understanding.
When there is affection and protection, then a woman will naturally subordinate herself. When there is force and demand, it doesn’t work well for her. Yet even if it works externally because the wife is dutiful, she won’t be happy. If a woman is not happy in her marriage, it usually means the man is doing something wrong. Normally, where there is a happy wife there is a good husband.
If a man thinks, “I am the guru of the family so my wife should simply obey me,” it means he wants the master-servant relationship to predominate in his marriage. But since conjugal and sakhya are the dominant relationships in marriage, the obedience he seeks will come naturally as a by-product of a good relationship, just as the disciple naturally wants to serve the guru in reciprocation of the guru’s affection. If a husband feels he has the right to force his wife to do things which cause her to be unhappy or put her in difficulty, he doesn’t understand his duty. To such husbands we must ask the question, “Would you be okay with your daughter marrying a man just like you?”
Earn Your Wife’s Affection
It seems that some men care more about being obediently served than having a good relationship. They want their wives to be more like a mother than a wife, to take care of them just because they are the husband. Your mother will happily take care of you even if you don’t do anything for her, but wives are not mothers. Wives will not take care of husbands who don’t take well care of them. And even if they do, , those wives will not be happy. Men should not think they automatically deserve the affection and service of their wives. They need to earn it by providing not only physical protection, but also by providing emotional support.
Make Your Wife Happy
A wife who serves no matter how the man treats her is a special woman. But being special often makes the man feel that he doesn’t have to treat her well because he knows she will put up with him. This is a common example of a marriage that continues because of the dutiful wife. But the marriage is actually a failure in terms of relationship. If a man cannot make his wife happy, he is setting a bad example of what it means to be a husband – and he is failing in his asrama.
If a man tells the woman he wishes to marry, that the husband is the guru of the wife (or even if he says this after they are married), she should ask him what he means by this. It is important that the man clearly understands what his role as guru means. If he misunderstands his role he will likely create an unhappy family life. Anyone who gets married for any other reason than to serve will both be let down and frustrate their spouse.
If a man acts like a real guru, his wife will naturally respect and serve him. If he demands respect without commanding it, it will not produce happy results.