How To Lose A Marriage–And How To Make One Work


Ken and Barbie first, and now Jennifer and Brad have called off their marriage. At least, Mr. and Mrs. Potato-Head are still together.

The post-breakup experts have taken over the cable outlets informing us that Brad wanted a baby and Jen wanted a career, that their movie-making jobs have often separated them for months at a time, and that the pressure of celebrity-hood was just too much. It’s an old story, one we have not heard for the last time. Part of it we understand.

What I do not comprehend are the statements from their publicist that Brad and Jennifer still hold each other in high esteem and will continue to enjoy a wonderful friendship together. For most of us, that should be enough to make them continue working at the marriage.

The other day I was thinking about how marriages break down, and remembered an old book gathering dust on my shelf. “Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight Eisenhower” by Kay Summersby answered a question that celebrity-hounds were asking during the Second World War: was General Eisenhower in love with the British lady assigned to him as his personal driver? Were the rumors correct about them? Did Ike try to leave Mamie for Kay?

Most historians of that war and writers about Eisenhower have skipped that issue altogether, seeing it as outside the bounds of their assignment and interest. When asked, they have replied that one’s personal life is his own business and serious historians are not tabloid writers.

By the time Kay Summersby wrote her book, former President Eisenhower was dead and she herself had only a few months to live. For reasons of her own, she decided to tell the whole story.

“Past Forgetting” tells of the casual contacts between driver and general when Eisenhower was first assigned to England. Gradually, a friendship developed and Ike insisted that Kay be assigned to him permanently. She sat in on meetings with the powerful decision-makers of the time, and listened and helped Ike talk through positions he would take. In time, Ike selected a house outside London for his team to work in private, and one thing led to another. Summersby retains her dignity in telling the story, but leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that they were in love and that the love was consummated.

Many years later, President Truman revealed how General Eisenhower wrote a letter back to Washington asking for permission to divorce Mamie and marry Kay. General George C. Marshall denied him that permission and in time, Truman had the file sent to the White House and destroyed. At least, that’s what Truman said and to my knowledge, no one ever contradicted him. In saving Ike’s marriage, Truman left no doubt that his future political career was also rescued.

If there is a lesson in the Eisenhower-Summersby affair, it’s a simple but two-sided one: absence from the wife weakens the bonds of marriage; continued close associaton between a married man and another woman creates the makings for a disaster.

It’s a matter of prolonged focus. I have discovered from drawing people over the past half century that when I zero in on one face for a period of time, I see a beauty in it. From drawing perhaps 10,000 people, my guess is I have found no more than one dozen persons in whom I did not find any beauty at all. It’s about focus.

When a man or woman focuses on the one they are married to, the other becomes beautiful in their eyes. Let them take their eyes off their beloved and put on another and they start comparing, with the familiar one always coming out on the short end. Let them remove themselves from their spouse and give prolonged attention to another of the opposite sex and, all things being equal, you have a recipe for big trouble.

Focus. In Old Testament days, when a man married, he was given a year off from military duty. “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army, nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” (Deuteronomy 24:5) Great idea, isn’t it?

The opening chapters of Proverbs pictures a father giving instructions to his sons on a number of matters. The relationship of a husband with his wife was rightfully a crucial matter to this wise father. My favorite part comes toward the end of chapter 5.

“Drink water from your own cistern, and fresh water from your own well.” That’s verse 15, and we are not to think for one minute that the father is talking about what kind of water to drink. If you doubt it, read on.

“Should your springs be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be yours alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

That makes the connection I was looking for. Then, putting it so plainly even a dumb kid could not doubt what Dad was trying to say, he went on. We can almost see the son blushing.

“As a loving hind (deer) and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love. For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress, and embrace the bosom of a foreigner? For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He watches all his paths.”

That surely is why the Hollywood industry is so destructive to young marriages–the total failure for a husband and wife to focus on each other. In fact, the complete inability to focus. After all, how can the husband focus on his loving wife back at home when he is spending all his days on the set a thousand miles away, playing the role of a single fellow romancing the sweet young thing in the chair next to him. Only the strongest could resist such temptation.

I admire those who get out of the entertainment industry–and a lot of other kinds of jobs–in order to save their marriages. After all, a wonderful home is one of the highest pleasures this life offers. The acclaim of millions who buy tickets to see your latest film is not even on the list.

5 thoughts on “How To Lose A Marriage–And How To Make One Work

  1. Joe: Pleasknow that you are in my prayers as you begin the radiation. I pray that it is effective and not too trying.

    In His love,

    Bob Ford

  2. Joe,

    You’re in my prayers as you go through the treatments. May God be especially close to you.

    Glenda Suggs

  3. This essay reminds me of 2 verses that came thru my email daily devotion on my birthday last year … 1 Timothy 4:15-16. I saved it as a reminder to stay focused and be diligent … two things that so often seem missing in these days.

    Love and prayers for You and Margaret as you face the treatment days ahead.

    Carolyn in Charlotte NC




  5. Joe,

    I just finished getting caught up on your articles … haven’t logged on in several weeks. I didn’t know about your cancer and wanted to assure you that you are in our prayers. Of course, I know who that great preacher friend is. He’s pretty important to me, too. I sent this to my oldest son who has started smoking a pipe. Thanks for saying it better than I ever could.

    Your friend, Jay

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