Sometimes the best thing you can do to get a bigger perspective on any area of your life is to view it from someone else’s eyes.
This is doubly so if it is someone you respect and admire greatly.
Unfortunately, with things like marriage, talking it out with family and friends carries the risk of getting advice laced with subjectivity or personal emotion. Yes, they may want what is best for you, but what is best for you from their point of view may end up giving you more trouble than you bargained for.
The next best thing is to learn from the greats in history – how did they maintain healthy and loving marriages while conquering their worlds, whether political, intellectual, artistic, athletic or business?
In this post, we’ll get inspiration from some of the most prominent and powerful men in their respective fields…
“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.” – Winston Churchill
Said the man who was at the forefront of one of the most difficult periods of world history - a man whose intelligence and strength defended the free world from the biggest threat it had encountered yet.
When Winston Churchill married Clementine Hozier, he was 34 years old and not yet Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. When he met her, he saw her as a woman of great intellect, and this had such a big impact on him that he married her only six months after that fateful night.
Upon reflection of his marriage to Clementine, he said:
“[my marriage] was the most fortunate and joyous event which happened to me in my whole life.”
Though they had children and his career as a politician and wartime figure had taken much attention, the couple always placed their marriage and each other as the priority. Clementine did everything she could to support her husband in his ambitions and work, and he in turn encouraged her independent nature and adventurous spirit, booking her lone trips to exotic locations.
They strengthened their marital bond with constant communication, writing letters and notes not only when apart, but also when together.
They maintained a “never go to bed angry” policy which seems to have been a cornerstone of their health as a team.
But they also fostered their individual needs and desires, each one having different hobbies and morning routines – another tip that saved them a lot of friction. They never ate breakfast together as they felt that this time of the morning was not when they could put their best foot forward.
The success of Churchill’s career and the success of his family life seem to have been built on the commitment he had to his life companion. And, luckily, he found someone who did the same for him.
So, the take-away here is to make your marriage the foundation from which the rest of your independent lives and endeavors spring forward. And never go to bed angry.
“Husbands and wives should have separate interests, cultivate different sets of friends and not impose on the other... You can’t spend a lifetime breathing down each other’s necks... We are very, very different people and yet somehow we fed off those varied differences and instead of separating us, it has made the whole bond a lot stronger.” – Paul Newman
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward – probably the first couple that comes to mind when you think of successful celebrity marriages, right?
What you might not know was that this 50-year love affair did not start out too innocently.
Newman was already married and had three kids with another woman when his love with Woodward began, and he carried feelings of guilt and shame about that for many years.
But he made something special of his second marriage. When a Hollywood star as handsome as Newman stays faithful to his woman for that long, you know that he managed to keep his head on straight. Temptation abounds in the world of stardom, and when asked how he staved it off, his answer was simple:
“Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?”
Throughout their married life, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward acted together in movies, hosted parties, traveled the world, raised children, created projects and donated to charity all while having many independent hobbies and activities.
How did they stay in love all this time through all of that? Joanne’s take on it:
“Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.”
Thankfully, you, too, can choose to keep your sense of humor long after you lose your youthful looks. All it takes is just a little light-heartedness. And please remember, even if hamburgers look tasty sometimes, they’re not worth giving up on steak for the rest of your life.
“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” – Carl Sagan
Like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, this is another life-long love that started while one partner was already married.
In 1977, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, the creative director of the Golden Record Project that he was working on, realized that they were in love and decided to spend the rest of their lives together, even though he was already married to his second wife. But in the end, Sagan and Druyan married in 1981 and stayed together till his death in 1996.
Of this moment of realization, Ann said:
“Carl and I knew we were the beneficiaries of chance, that pure chance could be so kind that we could find one another in the vastness of space and the immensity of time. We knew that every moment should be cherished as the precious and unlikely coincidence that it was.”
As you can see, from their perspective, it is an incredible thing to find love within the limitlessness of this expansive world. So when you do, it all comes down to not taking it for granted, making sure you appreciate every moment as the gift that it is.
So, whenever you start to feel a little complacent, just contemplate how vast the universe is, and how lucky you are to have a companion on this spaceship hurling through space.
“Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one.” – Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell is probably the most prominent mythologist in modern history. He popularized the entire field and made it attractive to the masses, as Carl Sagan had done with physics and science in general.
His influence reached, and still reaches, far and wide, inspiring people from all walks of life, from Oprah to Russell Brand.
Some of his greatest inspirations came from his wife Jean Erdman, a dancer and choreographer whom he was married to for 49 years.
They both had a lot of influence on each other’s work – she incorporated some of his interpretations of myths into her dancing and plays, and his academic work was infused with the creativity that was inspired by her art.
The other lesson from Joe about marriage is to stop expecting a lifelong commitment to be like a love affair:
“Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. A love affair isn't that. That is a relationship for pleasure, and when it gets to be unpleasurable, it's off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you're not married... The Puritans called marriage ‘the little church within the Church.’”
He goes on to to say:
“In marriage, every day you love, and every day you forgive. It is an ongoing sacrament – love and forgiveness.... Like the yin/yang symbol.... Here I am, and here she is, and here we are. Now when I have to make a sacrifice, I'm not sacrificing to her, I'm sacrificing to the relationship. Resentment against the other one is wrongly placed. Life is in the relationship, that's where your life now is. That's what a marriage is – whereas, in a love affair, you have two lives in a more or less successful relationship to each other for a certain length of time, as long as it seems agreeable.”
So, yes, marriage is hard work, so is any serious commitment. As Erich Fromm teaches, love is an art like any other – one must put in the time to learn the theory and practice of love just like a physician would for her profession or an artist of his craft. Joseph Campbell believed that this commitment is a daily act of love and forgiveness, where one sacrifices his or her ego on the altar of relationship.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Success in marriage depends on being able, when you get over being in love, to really love.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
We saved the most interesting for last. Truly, Franklin and Eleanor’s relationship is one of the most controversial yet simultaneously celebrated romances in the history of politics.
How did a couple with such an unconventional style, even by today’s standards, carry on for so long and become so prominent?
Franklin and Eleanor attributed it to giving each other space, even though it sometimes came at a cost. FDR had affairs, and it seems Eleanor was also romantically interested in others as well.
Their marriage was fraught with difficulty, with FDR’s mother’s power struggle with Eleanor, his affair with Lucy Mercer threatening to separate them, and with polio almost cutting short his political career.
But in the end, they managed to work through their issues and use their time in the White House and in the political arena to fight for civil rights and women’s rights all while in the middle of the Great Depression and other precarious political situations.
This was a couple that did not let what others say or think deter them from their work. They carved out their own arrangement of relating and partnership, and made their mark on history.
If there’s a take-away here, it is that you don’t have to follow tradition exactly as is to make something last or to leave a legacy, sometimes all it takes is an open mind and a bigger picture.