Marriage and Mystery

Tim Keller is his excellent book on marriage The Meaning of Marriage makes the shocking (to some) point that we never know who we marry. Once we bring two people together in such intimate closeness, they change each other so that the one we find ourselves married to in three or four or forty years is never quite the same person to whom we said ‘I do’ at the ceremony.

Poet and author Kathleen Norris makes a similar point in her memoir Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. After telling the story of how her husband came close to a drink-induced suicide, she says this:

Like faith, marriage is a mystery. The person you’re committed to spending your life with is known and yet unknown, at the same time remarkably intimate and necessarily other. The classic “seven-year itch” may not he a case of familiarity breeding ennui and contempt, but the shock of having someone you thought you knew all too well suddenly seem a stranger. When that happens, you are compelled to either recommit to the relationship or get the hell out. There are many such times in a marriage. (Page 83)

Long married couples understand this and agree. Engaged couples with whom I share it shake their heads up and down but really don’t believe me. They will.


Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Love StoryI managed to make it through the 70s without seeing Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw in Love Story, though it was nominated for 7 Oscars and won 1. If the IMDB summary is any indication, we’ve all seen variations of the same movie “A boy and a girl from different backgrounds fall in love regardless of their upbringing – and then tragedy strikes.”

What makes the movie memorable, apart from the theme song, is the tag line that was everywhere when the movie was released, and survives on the DVD cover:

Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

I’m not sure whether the line is intended to be taken seriously or not. But it’s prominence seems to suggest it is a theme at the heart of the movie. And if the line causes you to shake your head in stunned puzzlement, you are not alone.

It’s that common reaction to the line that lies at the heart of one of my favorite movie scenes. This one is from a movie that came out two years later, What’s Up, Doc? starring the same Ryan O’Neal falling in love this time with Barbra Streisand. It is something of a screwball comedy made memorable to me by this thirty second clip:

I can only add, “Amen.”

[If you can’t for some reason get this clip to play, you can see it in a slightly longer context here.]

Love and Marriage

“Love” and “marriage” may go together like “baby” and “carriage” but the relationship between the two is obviously a lot more complicated than our 90 minute romantic comedy fairy tales suggest. (I, by the way, like a good romantic comedy.)

Over lunch recently a friend pointed out how his wife and he, after several years of marriage, were working on and addressing issues that they never new existed prior to marriage. It was hard work, but they were getting through them. They are an example of the old maxim that says that no matter how well we know someone, and how much effort we invest in getting to know someone, before marriage, when we marry, we are still marrying someone who is largely a stranger to us. We have a lifetime to get to know each other, and in that lifetime we will learn to love a person we only marginally knew before. And that takes a significantly deep commitment.

Romantic love is a wonderfully warm and endearing thing, but it is no guide to deep and lasting relationship in marriage. We have to learn to love, and learning to love means sacrificing ourselves for the sake of another. Since that is something most of us are loathe to do, marriage vows are imminently wise, and deeply helpful when taken seriously. Without the commitment to love someone, we might not actually come to love that person in the way that they need to be loved.

I’ve always been touched by the wonderful segment, called ‘Bastille‘ in the movie Paris, je t’aime. Thought the overall story is sad, the confession that ‘by acting like a man in love, he became a man in love again’ has always seemed just right to me.

A Good ‘Find’

My wife spent $300 the other day.

Spending such sums is not something we do easily. And when we do, we will often spend many days second guessing our decision.

But there she went and spent $300. Actually, that’s my guess. I did not actually ask how much she spent. It may have been more. But that’s the thing. We normally discuss the details of such purchases. But not this time.

I was telling a friend this when I began to laugh. I realized what a wonderfully unique woman I married.

You see, she does not spend $300 on clothes – she’d feel so guilty doing that. Spending $300 on jewelry would only make her feel ostentatious. She does not spend $300 on decorations or accessories or, ordinarily, kitchen appliances.

No, my wife went out and spent $300 on a leaf blower. (I’d show you a picture of her wearing it, but our couch is not THAT comfortable.)

One of her greatest joys is mowing and caring for our lawn. So, she was as pleased with this as she was years ago when I gave her a mower for Mother’s Day. (Guys, KNOW your wives well before trying THAT stunt.)

Her virtues go way beyond this, I know. But this is a part of who she is, and it makes me smile. King Lemuel asks, “An excellent wife, who can find?” (Proverbs 31:10) I can’t answer how to find one, but I can say that I have graciously been given one. And I’m grateful.

Happy birthday, Mrs. Greenwald.

Marriage Book(s)

I have been asked by a friend to recommend a book for him and his fiancé that would be good for them to read as they prepare for their first year of marriage. That’s an interesting question which I would like others to weigh in on. I have certain books I recommend for marriage, but have not thought about any that would be particularly helpful in the early going. (For me, my first year of marriage was ⅓ of a century ago.)

Any suggestions?

Best Paragraph on Marriage

Both challenging and encouraging is this from Bill Mills, founder of Leadership Resources International. Most of you have never heard of Bill or of the mission’s organization he founded, but his servant’s heart and passion for grace oozes from this summary of the husband’s and wife’s role in marriage.

“There is no insight that will change a marriage. There is only one thing that will transform our lives together, and that is the heart of a servant. Only the heart of God pouring through us to one another can give life to a relationship. If all of the competition in our marriages was in trying to outdo one another in being each other’s servant, if all of our fights were over the towel and basin — trying to be there first to wash one another’s feet — there is nothing else we would need to learn about marriage. If God would give us the heart of a servant toward one another, our relationships would overflow with His life and His glory.”

This comes from Bill’s book Naked and Unashamed: Recapturing Family Intimacy available here.

Great Romances

In my wanderings last week, I heard about a PBS series called Great Romances of the 20th Century.
Great romances 20th

Great Romances of the 20th Century examines many passionate love affairs, including those of Jackie Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Juan and Evita Peron, and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Great Romances unlocks the secrets that were behind some of the world’s most famous and rapturous relationships.

I suppose those ‘secrets’ would be fun to hear, but this is really not about ‘great’ romances, but ‘celebrity’ romances and celebrity romances, as Donkey so unceremoniously pointed out, watching the dragon spit out Lord Farquaad’s crown, never last.

Hollywood is not the first place I’d look for great romances or for secrets of their longevity. More likely are such to be found at the tables around us at church dinners populated by broken people who have learned to love one another ‘for better or for worse’. More likely they are to be found in the lives of the old couple walking hand in hand on the beach. These relationships might not make good TV, but they would make a great study for those newly married or contemplating marriage.

A year ago, I surveyed a half dozen couples who had reached at least thirty years of marriage. These are not couples who have faced an idyllic life. They have experienced shattered careers, cancer, and near divorce. But they are together and thriving and I asked them why? Their answers, which are really no secrets, are wonderful and inhabit my hard drive still awaiting processing and posting.

While that waits a future day, on this one which will expose some of us husbands as being thoughtless and others as sweetly romantic, which will cause some to celebrate the ‘in relationship’ tag on Facebook and others to curse it, we remember that great relationships are not built upon romance at all, but on love, which is something far greater and deeper and harder.

Happy Valentines Day!


Separate Accounts

Here is a great little assessment of the “wisdom” of marriage partners having separate financial accounts. A snippet:

The way I see it, there are no individual expenses; that ended when 130 of our nearest and dearest watched us swear to love, honor and cherish. If Peter had no income at all, he would still need clothes, haircuts, and the occasional night out with friends; likewise with me. That’s one of the things we both signed on to provide the other person. So who cares whose income it comes out of?

My experience with marriages in trouble suggests that her concerns are absolutely correct.


Here is a corny little movie that I put together a couple years ago as an experiment (and posted here for the first time a year ago).

What it amazingly preserves are the actual voices of two very young and naïve and very much in love people making some incredible promises to one another 32 years ago today. (I post it again because, well, I like it, and there are new readers to this blog.)

We are no longer young, and not quite as naïve, and our love is richer having aged and weathered a few storms.

But the vows. How does someone keep such promises? Barb, in my case, has made it so much easier than it should be with her steady and ever certain love for and commitment to me. And we were told early on to never let divorce ever be an option for consideration. So we were wired for this.

And yet ultimately, we give praise to a gracious God who has given us the courage to deal with differences when they arise, the good sense to apologize when we have messed up, the humility to forgive when forgiveness is sought, and the brokenness to know that we are at all times dependent upon Him.

(Plus, I think she was and is really cute!)


Do you believe in magic? – John Sebastian

Could it be magic? – Barry Manilow (with help from F. Chopin)

It was like… magic. – Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks)

Don’t trust the magic. – Randy Greenwald

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Leave it to me to be the buzz killer. But actually, in my weekend article for the Bradenton Herald, my intention is to add stability to the spark, not to extinguish it.

Below is the article. Here it is online, though it will be accessible for only a limited time.

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A Few Words about ‘the Magic’

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend – a commercial reminder to those who want a relationship that they don’t have one, and an occasion for those in a relationship to enjoy some ‘magic’.

My counsel to singles: Watch The Return of the King, encourage Frodo up Mount Doom, cheer “I am no man!” Eowyn as she slays the Nazgûl. Eat some popcorn and trust the providence and wisdom of a good God.

To those in relationship, my counsel is different. Do what is appropriate to the day and your relationship status, but do NOT trust the ‘magic’.

In the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie Sleepless in Seattle what Annie (Ryan) is looking for and not finding in her relationship with her fiancé Walter is, we find out, ‘magic’. We are left to assume that she finds that magic with Sam (Hanks).

‘Magic’, that surge of romantic energy and emotion, is a wonderful thing. But don’t trust it.

It is possible to generate and program ‘magic’ by the right element of thoughtfulness, conversation, chivalry, and charm. And certainly a good and long term relationship will have sparks of ‘magic’ woven throughout.

But if all you see is ‘magic’, don’t trust it. Long term relationship is not about the ‘magic’. It is about commitment, devotion, and faithfulness.

Long tern love is a matter of daily wanting to have conversation with the one you love. It is a matter of forgiving one another daily. It is about refusing to go to bed angry, daily. It is about serving one another daily. It is about doing all of these things whether one feels like it or not.

Some days ‘magic’ will accompany service and forgiveness and conversation. Most days it won’t.

The movie Marley and Me is purportedly about a dog. But the real beauty of that film is the relationship portrayed by Jennifer Anniston and Owen Wilson as they grow together over time. Yes, there is ‘magic’. But there is also tension and argument and strife, as in any marriage. But there is also conversation, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

I overheard a family talking about seeing Marley and Me. A child commented that he did not think it was real. “The parents kissed too much,” he said.

Too much? I don’t think so. But that they kissed at the beginning and at the end of a long relationship was due more to the work they put into being friends than it was to magic.

Don’t trust the magic.

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UPDATE: I surveyed a number of insightful friends for help on this article. I want to pass on my thanks to them!