3 Lessons Learned From a 38-Year Relationship


We've learned about preserving community as an interfaith couple

SR: Over the years since our own wedding, lots of other Jewish-Christian couples have talked to us and some have asked our advice about how to handle the actual ceremony. We're careful to stress we have no formulas that work for everybody. But I do think we learned several things from that process, and one was inclusion. Every effort that makes people feel wanted or respected is worth doing. We have young friends, a Catholic-Jewish couple, who got married under a chuppah, but the canopy was draped with an Irish lace tablecloth. In another case the bride's elderly father insisted on bringing his homemade chopped liver to the reception -- that was his way of contributing. Each couple works out the details for itself, but the basic idea of inclusion is very important. The other thing I've always believed is that the wedding itself becomes a metaphor for how you solve problems in a relationship. Part of that is tolerance. Part of that is realizing that when one partner feels really strongly about something, they get a little more weight. Part of that is figuring out what is really important, just listening to the other person.

CR: And listening to yourself as well. Saying to yourself, "Hold on here, does this really matter to me?" There are so many times when I automatically react, "That's the way I thought it would be or that was my image of it." And then, at least on my better days, I say to myself, "Why? Does it really matter?" Actually, I found myself going through that with Becca's wedding, too. She would say to me, "I don't want a white bouquet, I want a multicolored bouquet of bright flowers." My first reaction was, "That's wrong, brides don't do that." Then I thought, "Why not? What's wrong with that?" I think that's a very good jumping-off point for a marriage, to say to yourself, "Hold on here, is this really important to me or is this just some notion that I have?"

SR: Marriage is not only a ceremony between two people. It is a communal event, symbolizing a relationship between families and friends and relatives. That's one of the reasons we never listened to my parents when they only half-jokingly suggested we elope so they wouldn't have to deal with what could have been an uncomfortable ordeal. We worked hard to make it comfortable for them, and that told them something about how we would try to always make them comfortable. Cokie had wanted to be a bride ever since she was a little girl; she wanted a wedding. But more than that, even at that young age we somehow understood that the guests serve as witnesses, people who promise to support this young couple. That's a real job. That's a real responsibility. Healthy marriages need those kinds of relationships and connections as role models and advice givers and shoulders to cry on -- as we've learned over and over through the years. Marriage is hard enough, and doing it in isolation without those support systems makes it much more difficult. So if we had been faced with any sort of a breach with our families, it would have been devastating. From the beginning part of what we saw in each other was a shared value about family. So for us, there was only one possibility and that was to do both, to embrace both traditions. In some ways it was easier because there was an equality about the whole situation. We each care about our own traditions and our own families. We could see why the other did and we could respect that strength of commitment and not expect the other to compromise too much because each of us knew we wouldn't. In a curious way, that was a source of strength. It was never a puzzlement to me why Cokie was devoted to her family and her faith. I never for one second expected her to become more like me or accept my faith. I give our parents credit. They did come to understand what we had been trying to tell them. That the labels were less important than the core values and the individuals involved. In an ideal world, they would have preferred some things to be different. But they did come to see what we were trying to tell them, and have been wonderful about it ever since.

CR: They also came to love us and, better yet, like us.

From "From This Day Forward." Copyright (c) 2000, 2001 by Cokie and Steven V. Roberts, published by HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

More from Steve & Cokie: We've learned to be considerate of the small things
Take a look at An Interfaith Wedding
Back to Steve & Cokie Roberts on Marriage

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