March 27, 2005

75/25 + 75/25 = 50/50:

Longtime marrieds tell how it's done in book (Susan Reimer, February 13, 2005, Baltimore Sun)

There is plenty of other good advice in [Sheryl] Kurland's new book, Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years or More.

"Remember your children will hear if you lived right," wrote Alice Chancey of Tampa, Fla., married to Guy since 1931.

"Family and friends talk a lot, make it good."

"We got one piece of advice from the minister who married us, and it is one we carried with us from the beginning and one that works," wrote Suzanne Concelman of Pittsburgh, married to George since 1950.

"He told us that there is no such thing as a 50/50 marriage. A good marriage is 75/25 - and both sides give 75 percent."

The book has the look of a wedding album and it includes the wedding pictures of the couples who agreed to write down for Kurland the secrets to their long marriages.

Both the husbands and the wives responded, including such pearls as this one from Sydney Cooper of Lake City, Fla., married to Rosalie since 1942:

"Always allow your wife to win [she will anyway]." [...]

"These couples grew up very fast," said Kurland. "But the part that intrigued me about the war stories was the will and determination and commitment of these people.

"Divorce just wasn't in their vocabulary. I am sure there were points when they were miserable, but they learned how to weave their way out of it."

Themes repeat themselves in the written responses included in Kurland's book: the importance of faith and church; the importance of sharing the financial decisions; the need to give each other "space;" the value of children; and the tremendous pride these couples have in them. [...]

"One of the things that sticks with me is that, for so many of these couples, marriage is a way of thinking. It is selfless.

"You are always thinking about the other person's well-being and welfare, about how to make them happy and their life richer.

"If you do that, it will come back to you."

And, she said, the happy couples had one more thing in common.

"They always praise the other person for making the marriage successful."

Interesting to note what a closed loop this is--the personal qualities that made their marriages work are those they learned from their religion. It suggests the futility of trying to expand the institution to those who aren't qualified.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 27, 2005 7:13 PM

My wife was raised with no religious indoctrination whatsoever, and I am a former Catholic turned pantheist. We are both independent minded and outspoken, but we share a common background, values, tastes and aspirations. Our two adult daughters, raised with clear values but no religious training, are among the most moral people I know.

My wife and I have been married since 1964, without a single infidelity. Can we all be that rare?

Posted by: ghostcat at March 27, 2005 10:19 PM

Yes. Mimicry is admirable but unsustainable across an entire society.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2005 10:28 PM

I quite disagree. There are values which are common to any number of religious teachings and, more importantly, grounded in the nature of both material and spiritual reality. One need not have witnessed Christianity to behave very much like a Christian. Any charismatic leader who understands the nature of things can create a decent religion de novo.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 27, 2005 10:40 PM

No there aren't.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2005 10:51 PM

Yes there are.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 27, 2005 11:15 PM

Orrin sets up these vast claims without checking to see, for example, if people stay married for long periods in, say, Japan.

They do.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 27, 2005 11:16 PM


Yes, that's a function of Japanese values. we aren't likely to adopt those anytime soon.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2005 11:27 PM

I haven't followed this blog long enough, Harry, to know whether OJ is Catholic ... though he certainly sounds it. If so, there is an elemental problem: since "catholic" means "universal", there can be no universal values other than Catholic values ... by definition. This limits discussion rather severely.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 27, 2005 11:33 PM


Except that you're making an identical argument and that you and others can conform to that set of values even if you can't derive it.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2005 11:36 PM

We will eventually focus on shared values; rather than the differences in dogma, liturgy, and ritual. Not easy, but inevitable. A lot like the history of American railroads: all the industry leaders knew consolidation was necessary for survival, by nobody was willing to give up being a CEO.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 27, 2005 11:51 PM

And you think human nature will change suddenly? Selfishness will always be a powerful counterweight to selflessness, which is all morality consists of.

Posted by: oj at March 27, 2005 11:54 PM

For all practical purposes and timeframes, OJ, human nature will never change ... at least not naturally. (What the clever human beast might do to himself is another, somewhat chilling, matter.) Something will eventually force a change in behavior, however, as distinct from nature. And no human behavior is self-less. Simply not possible. All motivation occurs inside one's brain, although the factors at play there are obviously complex. We appear to be programmed to risk our own survival to help others. Sometimes even if the others are lesser animals. Of course lesser animals often exhibit the same behavior.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 28, 2005 12:11 AM

PS: Morality can be as easily, and more plausibly, viewed as self-control ... not self-lessness. It's surprisingly easy to teach that kind of behavior, when you consider the power of temptation, regardless of culture or religious affiliation. Which suggests innate propensities ... isolated group of humans tend to establish workable norms fairly quickly, even with language barriers.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 28, 2005 12:44 AM

People stay together if it's easier than falling apart and starting over. Many traditional cultures make it difficult or even impossible to leave your marriage, so people stay together. Islam makes it easy to divorce your wives (they limit you to only four at a time, so you need to divorce the old one for a new model).

The one thing Christianity and Judaism have going for them is the model of Abraham and Sarah. His treatment of his wife was uncharacteristic of such a powerful man of the time, and stands up to this day. As a matter of fact, marriage is the core concept for the Christian church, with the church being the bride of Christ.

Jesus made divorce a whole lot harder than even Mosaic law by allowing it only in the case of infidelity. Therefore, Christianity demands that marriage be for life. There is no alternative. This is why a vibrant Christian culture makes for long marriages.

Certainly not because Christians are any easier to live with.

Posted by: Randall Voth at March 28, 2005 4:15 AM


Yes, control of self in favor of others...selflessness. You can teach it because you have the template and an entire culture that forces it. You just can't arrive at it without religion.

Posted by: oj at March 28, 2005 6:57 AM

Ghostcat: We do it because we're programmed to do it, and we know we're programmed to do it because we do it. Not much room for argument there, except to upset the applecart and deny that we're meat computers and that we are programmed in any meaningful way.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 28, 2005 7:37 AM

And that people who aren't so programmed don't so believe and behave.

Posted by: oj at March 28, 2005 7:46 AM

Let's climb down from the stratosphere for a moment and ask what Christianity really does say about marriage.

As you know, I left the church because Catholicism devalued marriage, which I valued because I was fond of and admired my parents.

We were taught, relentlessly, that marriage was an inferior way of living, resorted to only by the spiritually unblessed. We were even taught that, if we were so weak as to marry but if our spouse died, it was not too late to give up sex and enter a convent.

For me, atheism came later. Disgust with Christian values concerning marriage was germinal.

I was surprised, two weeks ago, when Orrin proposed that a woman whose husband had been killed in an industrial accident did not deserve compensation from the company that caused the death because she could remarry to gain support for her young children.

Setting aside the distasteful hint of prostitution, if she were a Catholic Christian, she could not remarry. No widows in the Italian Catholic side of my family ever have remarried. While not ex cathedra church doctrine, the attitude toward remarriage is intense.

I'd like to think that, now that my cousins have been infected by American secular values for six generations, some of them will remarry if occasion presents. But it hasn't happened yet.

The non-Catholic Christians among whom I was raised were hardly examples of sects that valued marriage, with their 50% and higher divorce rates.

I suppose there may be some obscure Christian cult that really does value long, stable marriages based on love and mutual respect, but I have never encountered one.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 28, 2005 3:16 PM



Posted by: oj at March 28, 2005 3:44 PM

Boy oh boy, Harry, you sure do throw some wild curves. So the Catholics are contemptuous of marriage but won't let anyone leave it, the secularists think its great provided anyone can walk at will and the Prots are just confused hypocrites as usual.

I guess I'd better try and get my kids into mountaineering.

Posted by: Peter B at March 28, 2005 4:09 PM


All you really need to know about Harry is that he's a protestant, who insists not that Christianity is wrong but that it is insufficiently pure for him.

Posted by: oj at March 28, 2005 4:18 PM

Late to the match today, I'm afraid.

David and OJ -

The near-universality of what OJ insists on calling self-less behavior ... especially regarding members of one's own "tribe" ... strongly suggests a natural predisposition. I very much doubt that the predisposition is purely cultural, i.e. learned and handed down. (Note again: lesser animals, lacking anything close to human culture, nonetheless exhibit "self-less" behavior.)

I have the same sense about the innateness of archetypal human stories: creation narratives, quest narratives, reformer narratives, etc. We're getting close to pinpointing the location in the brain where these archetypes are stored. And I actually do believe we are self-aware, universal-soul-sharing critters acting out preordained roles known only to the omniscient almighty. But meat computers, no, not naturally. Although man may insist on going there technologically. Brrrrrrrrrr.

One of these threads, perhaps, we will chat about god experiences, out-of-body experiences and the like. Fascinating stuff, that, with fresh insights coming all the time from neurological research.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 28, 2005 7:49 PM

No, Orrin. I say Christianity is evil, not wrong.

It;'s wrong, too, but what would I care about that? People are wrong about all sorts of things, and most of them don't matter.

Being wrong about salvationist, universalist, monotheism, though, has really bad consequences, for insiders and outsiders.

And, yes, Peter, Catholics are contemptuous of marriage. Make a mistake, and you get stuck with it permanently, unless you have gelt.

One of my cousins married a guy who turned out to be insanely jealous. Kept her imprisoned. None of us had suspected this beforehand.

There was quite a bit of derring-do, and she managed to smuggle out a message and her brothers rescued her. It would make a somewhat unconvincing made-for-TV movie, but it was real enough.

Anyhow, her father had enough dough to go to Rome and get one of those phoney-baloney anullments that, despite dishonest claims of equality, the Church does not make available to most of its adherents.

So she remarried and is content with her new guy.

A religion that does not provide recourse for error is useless, wouldn't you say?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 29, 2005 12:46 AM

Ghostcat - the danger is not in pinpointing where "feelings" originate in the brain, but in attributing the reason for those "feelings" to their mechanical implementation.

Take love, for instance. I believe heroin (or morphine?) is the chemical equivalent, but to equate a heroin addict with a happily married person is ridiculous.

Jesus was a physical implementation of God. We are a physical implementation of our spirit. Jesus was recognized by his disciples even with his resurrected body. We can recognize someone we have only seen as a baby, even when that person is old. This contact is spiritual, not physical.

As David hinted at, reverse engineering a computer program does not reveal the programmer; and it certainly does not show the reverse engineer to be creative. As a matter of fact, it demonstrates the opposite. All we are capable of doing is showing that something does, in fact, work for a reason. Science has a tendency to rest its case. I say, "Well, duh!" When I write a computer program that works, the fact that it works doesn't mean it wrote itself.

You are onto something with archetypes. We are all seeking confirmation of the things to which we are naturally attracted. I believe we are functionally subsets of our selves, with the limiting factor being our fears.

Selflessness is the result of conquered fears, or maybe a cause that overwhelms those fears. (Such as a mother sacrificing her life for her child.)

Posted by: Randall Voth at March 29, 2005 12:58 AM


But then you try to arrive at all its conclusions youself without any institutional "evils." You're just another protestant egoist.

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 1:09 AM

Harry, hypocrisy is premeditated. It is not failure to live up to a higher standard.

Obviously, men who imprison their wives should be executed, freeing the woman to marry again.

But your argument that one has contempt for a contract if one demands fulfillment of said contract is, I think, premeditated disdain for the concept of a contract. For example, calling your relationship with your wife a marriage is truly hypocritical because either of you could leave the marriage at any time. It is understood by both of you that your relationship is, in fact, not a marriage, even though you call it a marriage.

Computer software nowadays is "leased" under contracts that are agreed can be changed at any time. This is the sort of contract you are saying is superior (not evil) to the traditional contract (evil). But it is not a contract, it is a terms of use.

The idea of "leasing" a woman until I get tired of her has a certain appeal and, as I mentioned earlier, is the basis for Muslim marriage.

It could also be described as prostitution, which you claim to find distasteful.

Posted by: Randall Voth at March 29, 2005 1:56 AM

Harry: Responding to OJ's statement that you're a protestant by emphasizing the importance of divorce was very funny.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 29, 2005 7:56 AM


You say, The near-universality of what OJ insists on calling self-less behavior ... especially regarding members of one's own "tribe" ... strongly suggests a natural predisposition.

We also have a history of dashing out the brains of our enemies and their children. If a woman is killed, the killer is most likely her husband or lover. We kidnap children off the street, abuse them and kill, filling their last moments with terror. We take women, bind them, torture them and kill them. We rape and murder. We lie and cheat. The memory of man goeth not to the contrary. Evil, too, must be an innate predisposition.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 29, 2005 8:00 AM

You're right, David, it was funny.

The situation is not, however.

Randall's concept of marriage seems repellant to me. True, women were in it for life during the heyday of unrestrained Christianity. But how did they get in?

At least contracts are concluded between willing partners. That has not been the history of Christian marriage.

Christianity would still be evil even if all its adherents lived up to their own standards. I'm not demanding specific performance.

I do wish the arrangements could be rewritten to be more humane.

I notice a deep silence, too, on the subject of widows not being allowed to remarry.

The history of Christian marriage has not been such that you would want to hold it out as a model for your own children.

We can do better, merely by recognizing the inhumanities of our own family history. We don't need a Big Spook to do that.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 29, 2005 4:38 PM

The Harry Eagar experience, it's like knowing Luther:

"Christianity would still be evil even if all its adherents lived up to their own standards. I'm not demanding specific performance.

I do wish the arrangements could be rewritten to be more humane. "

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 5:21 PM


"I do wish the arrangements could be rewritten to be more humane."

Me too. So, write us up some more humane arrangements. We're all ears.

(P.S. Don't forget to deal with the wife and kids who are abandoned for the pretty young assistant because "we've grown apart".)

Posted by: Peter B at March 29, 2005 6:32 PM

Well, I was referring to the entire moral arrangements of Christianity (or any other religion), but specifically for marriage how about:

Voluntary unions by equal partners. Widows or widowers to remarry without opprobrium.

Just those two would make a pretty big difference but would be rejected by most, perhaps nearly all, Christians. Remember Maribel Morgan?

I've been married to the same hot babe since before Orrin was born. I suppose your wives might take comfort from the fact that even if you stop wanting her, you're obliged by fear of the Big Spook to keep up a charade. My wife thinks I stay with her because I like her, and she's right.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 29, 2005 11:04 PM


You're more Spooked than anyone I know, but in trying to outdo Him you tread the straight and narrow, so all to the good. He truly does work in mysterious ways...

Posted by: oj at March 29, 2005 11:15 PM


Some days it's hard to believe you actually live in Hawaii and not some remote Greek village untouched by the 20th century, but no matter. Yeah, sure, voluntary unions to be severed at will. Hey, do you mind if I call you the next time I have some distraught abandoned wife in my office who is torturing herself into mental illness by wondering 24/7 what she did wrong to make him not want her anymore?

Posted by: Peter B at March 30, 2005 8:49 AM

Ick. I thought Edith Wharton drew a distasteful picture of Christian marriage, but you guys make it look even worse.

So the only thing that restrains you hormone-intoxicated guys from trading in the saggy, baggy old wife for one with less mileage is fidelity to a bargain that isn't holding up so well?

If your wives knew that, and if they had any self-respect, they'd kick you out.

Don't worry. Most of you are safe enough. Self-respect is not a notable quality of a Christian wife. See Maribel Morgan again.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 30, 2005 1:09 PM


It's worked for you. We all take hope from your pious example.

Posted by: oj at March 30, 2005 3:24 PM

Don't marry people you don't like and the question never comes up.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 30, 2005 4:49 PM

Divorce is extremely low in cultures where folks marry people they don't necessarily like beforehand.

Posted by: oj at March 30, 2005 4:53 PM