The media often gets a bad rap. They are accused of setting bad examples, pushing boundaries and showcasing infidelity. And, it’s true. Watching shows like The Bachelor or Desperate Housewives probably isn’t the best advice for those who are seeking a permanent and stable relationship.
But, I have seen good examples of love and marriage on television. As I look at my own marriage of 20 years, I can see how some television and movie examples often ring true and highlight the best (and worst) aspects of love.
1) The dashing hero doesn't often make the best husband. In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett seems destined to be with Rhett Butler. He is strong, outspoken, impetuous, and pops randomly in and out of her life. While they have lots of sizzle, their marriage is a disaster. Contrast the Butlers with the more ho-hum relationship of Ashleigh and Melanie. Boring? Maybe. Stable? Definitely. Ashleigh and Melanie are loving and devoted to one another in a quiet, consistent way.
2) Couples who laugh together, stay together. Many of the tv couples I most enjoy are funny. Lucy and Ricky. Rob and Laura Petrie. Ray and Deb Romano. Laughter is the heart of a relationship - if you are tickled by his sense of humor, it will help you out of many arguments. If she makes you laugh, you will have a hard time staying upset. Even when I watch Lucy create a huge mess and try to cover it up, I know that Ricky will not be able to stay angry with his goofy and loving wife.
3) Patience is a beautiful and redemptive part of marriage. One of my favorite love-story movies is 50 First Dates. Although humorous, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore play a couple who are struggling with a major setback – she has no long term memory. In order to stay married, Sandler’s character must work every day to win the heart of his wife. It takes amazing patience and dedication to wake up each day and realize you must re-win the trust of the person you love. The ending scene, with the couple and their child, makes me realize how marriage takes work. And, that true love is patient and kind.
4) Hard work, even adversity, increases the bond between a husband and wife. No one said marriage was going to be easy, but trials do have a way of bringing people closer together. Consider Charles and Caroline Ingalls in Little House in the Prairie. Based on a true story, this television couple reflected the real-life drama of pioneer couples who faced illness, rugged climates, lack of supplies, medical emergencies, and solitude. They were forced to do everything together. There is a scene where they are building their first home, and Caroline is forced to help Charles lift the heavy timbers into place. He hates to have her help, but he needs her. Perhaps working together shows us how much we need one another.
5) Real relationships don’t happen in a few weeks. I must admit that shows like The Bachelor can be a guilty pleasure. I love watching couples meet and “fall in love.” Yet, I know that it is not really love. It is infatuation, at best, or lust, at worst. Relationships set on tropical islands and hot tubs are destined to failure. They are rushed to pick out rings, hurried toward commitment. Their love has not been tested. They do not really know one another. It is usually only a month or two “after the final rose” that the relationships begin to splinter and the tabloids report that the couple is no longer together. Love takes time. It must grow until people become real – thorns and all – and face their difficulties. Ask any couple who has reached a milestone anniversary...they didn't get there easily.
6) All couples fight, but keep your fights clean. Bad fighting leads to divorce. I think it is impossible to be married without fighting. Once in a while, I meet couples who say they never fight. I don’t really believe them. But, I have seen fighting get ugly – and it always leads downhill. For a bit, I was a regular viewr of The King of Queens. It happened to come on exactly when my night was winding down. I also loved the show because, like Doug and Carrie, I have my in-law living in the same house. However, the episode that I am thinking of is when Doug and Carrie begin to tape record their fights. In an effort to get help, they talk to a neighbor who is a professional counselor. He notices that their fights often degenerate into personal attacks and name calling. What I learned? Don’t attack your husband or wife. It is very, very bad. Work hard to walk away, cool off, and keep arguments under control.
7) Enjoy, even celebrate, one another’s quirks. I think of Cliff and Claire Huxtable of the 80s Cosby Show. Cliff had a passion for hoagie sandwiches and tried to fix plumbing problems – much to his wife’s chagrin. But, she adored that side of him and was quick to let him know. What if Desi didn’t appreciate Lucy’s wacky side? While all quirks get annoying, we must remember that these are often the very reasons we feel in love.
8) Don’t keep secrets or lead separate lives. In one episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Laura has a secret checking account. When Rob finds out, he begins to suspect all kinds of wrong doing. The innocent secret balloons into something much more problematic. Although it is tempting to keep some things to yourself. Secrets can have a destructive effect on marriage. Many of my modern day friends have separate checking accounts and take separate vacations. They may not share even one mutual hobby or activity. That is a recipe for disaster. Another King of Queen’s episode featured Doug and Carrie going their separate ways for movies and restaurants. The problem is that this grows a division between you. Do things together…remember that separate lives and separate beds were all-but eliminated by Mike and Carol Brady.
Real life, real marriage is not a 30-minute tv sitcom. It is not even a two-hour chick flick. A part of the difficulty is that real couples are more complex and multi-dimensional than the characters we love on screen. True love is definitely not always easy. Sometimes we forget to laugh and enjoy one another.
Maybe that's why we enjoy these couples. They give us hope. They make us smile. They show us examples of what to do...and what to avoid. They make us laugh at ourselves and realize that, despite it's troubles, marriage can be fun.I think we can learn a thing or two from these fictional depictions of love.