It was the best of times in the good ole USA. The war against fascism was over, the troops were back in the states, communities were growing, and the economy was finally on the upswing. As the Greatest Generation began to marry and plant roots in communities across the United States, families flourished. A baby boom was underway, houses were growing, baseball diamonds and football fields were becoming a staple of life in America. Marriage was changing too. With personal income on the rise and disease on the wane, families flourished in ways that were just not possible in the prior generations. Ironically, divorce rates ticked-up too, as empowered partners sought help from the legal system to exit unsavory marital situations.
In this piece, we take a look at marital advice from the 1950s that still has some relevance in the postmodern world. Interestingly, these nuggets of wisdom from a bygone era, are good medicine for families facing marital woes. Take it all in with a grain of salt, friends, as every marriage is different.
Create and island of emotional intimacy
Every time I imagine a garden in an architectural setting, it turns into a magical place. I think of gardens I have seen, that I believe I have seen, that I long to see, surrounded by simple walls, columns, arcades or the facades of buildings – sheltered places of great intimacy where I want to stay for a long time.
Zumthor is onto something. We encounter safety in the spaces and relationships that feed the good soil of our hearts. In the 1950s, couples were encouraged to create islands and gardens of intimacy. Essentially, we should all be yoked to partners who are willing to “bear all things” for us even if it requires sacrifice from the other. Do all that you can to make the core of your relationship island-like in its intimacy. Our most significant relationships should afford us respite from the heaviness of the world.
I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful – for all of it.
Armstrong will attest that we are not capable of being generous all of the time. But, if we learn to give more than we take from the world, we are adding value to the human community. Born of the gratitude and altruism of the 1950s, the ideal of generosity has a contemporary place in marriage. For a partnership to be deeply affirming and beneficial, we must be willing to give abundantly of ourselves to our partners. We must be willing to give without an expectation that we will receive a whole lot in return. Practice generosity, friends. It will not always be easy, but we will always be better for it.
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King, married in the 1950s spoke eloquently and timelessly about the power of forgiveness. A gifted but very flawed man, ML King leaned on the forgiving nature of his wife’s love to help him overcome personal demons and relational missteps.
If we want our marriages to stand firm amid the rigorous tests of a broken world, we must be willing to extend and receive forgiveness on a daily basis. Forgiveness does not discount the necessity of accountability, but certainly partners with it. If you want a healthy marriage, practice forgiveness.
Cultivate sexual intimacy
If you age with somebody, you go through so many roles – you’re lovers, friends, enemies, colleagues, strangers; you’re brother and sister. That’s what intimacy is, if you’re with your soulmate.
Despite the slow emergence of the “shared bed,” Fifties couples appreciated the power of sexual intimacy. Indeed, intimacy is a gift that provides a physical dimension to the emotional bond shared by lovers. But, intimacy must be cultivated and practiced often.
On the downside of conflict or stress, couples are encouraged to craft a physical bond with their beloved. Kiss, cuddle, and embrace as often as you are able and see where the opening acts of intimacy take you.
Everything old becomes new again. Believe or not, this old adage applies to marriage advice. Our neighbors from the Greatest Generation continue to teach us about the power of community, vision, shared sacrifice and love. Our marriages are bettered by the foundation laid by those “connected” to their partners long before we met ours.