Mr. Reagan on Marriage

In June of 1971 Ronald Reagan wrote his son Michael a brief but powerful letter of advice on marriage. Having recently gotten married, this letter proved itself moving to me. The truth is we live in an overly sexualized, individualized, materialistic society that has little room for commitments, especially those before God. We want our relationships either “our way” or we want them handed down to us from heaven, wrapped in a bow that says “the one.” This deterministic fantasy where we meet the one through some indefinite force of attraction simply is a delusion. The best piece of news that somebody can receive at the alter is this: “the one” is the one you marry. 

Reagan was not speaking from inexperience. He is the only President to have been divorced (though, obviously several have cheated). His first marriage to Jane Wyman lasted for eight years and brought forth three children including Michael. The third child, Christine, died the day after she was born and probably led to the end of their marriage. Three years later he married Nancy Davis and began what Charlton Heston called “the greatest love affair in the history of the American Presidency.” The loyalty and love the two expressed has served for me as an inspiration. If men so popular, busy, and important can still place their families–and specifically their wives–at the top of their list of importance, then why is it that so many of us fail for stupid, minimal reasons?

I am not talking as an individual who has been married long. But I am talking as one who has already realized the permanency of the vow. It’s not easy. There are difficult days, days in which you wonder what the heck you chose to do. You look around and you see single women. Other women that are attractive. Perhaps some are interested or show you that slight hint of wonder. Perhaps there’s a shadow in the past where the “what if” never fully recedes. Husbands, be honest, there’s a part of us that tends to play out the “what if” in our heads. Everyman who stays in a marriage is bound towards this eventually. But listen to the former President’s words:

Any man can find a twerp here and there who will go along with cheating, and it doesn’t take all that much manhood. It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended him while he was sick and washed his dirty underwear.  Do that and keep her still feeling a warm glow and you will know some very beautiful music.

While there are days that you wonder there are other days in which you realize why you got married, when you realized that this really is, in Mr. Reagan’s words “the most meaningful relationship there is in all human life.” It’s vastly important that when you begin to play out those scenarios of “what if” that we remember the truth and beauty of covenant. It’s difficult. If our relationship and intimacy with God is difficult, you bet it will be the same for your marriage. As in each, work through it.