Marriage: A Brief A-Z

By Lisa Grunwald and Stephen Adler

Lisa Grunwald
May 11, 2015 · 8 min read

It is the source of high drama and low comedy, sublime artwork and guilty TV binges. Marriage touches every human emotion and at times every nerve. From Jane Austen to The Bachelor, the Code of Hammurabi to Louis C.K., marriage remains a subject so vast, so broad, and so timeless that millions of people over thousands of years have had something instructive, illuminating, or at least amusing to say about it. Here’s a brief sampling, from A to Z.

[ A ] :: Adam and Eve

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

— Genesis 2:18

[ B ] :: Bed

The bed is the heart of home, the arena of love, the seedbed of life, and the one constant point of meeting. It is the place where, night by night, forgiveness and fair speech return that the sun go not down upon their wrath; where the perfunctory kiss and the entirely ceremonial pat on the backside become unction and grace. [The bed] is the oldest, friendliest thing in anybody’s marriage, the first used and the last left, and no one can praise it enough.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board, 1965

[ C ] :: Communication

When entering into a marriage one ought to ask oneself: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman up into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory, but most of the time you are together will be devoted to conversation.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, 1878

[ D ] :: Devotion

Marriage is the earliest fruit of civilization and it will be the latest. I think a man and a woman should choose each other for life, for the simple reason that a long life with all its accidents is barely enough for a man and a woman to understand each other; and in this case to understand is to love. The man who understands one woman is qualified to understand pretty well everything.

— John Butler Yeats, letter to Oliver Elton,1917

[ E ] :: Expectations

Strike an average between what a woman thinks of her husband a month before she marries him and what she thinks of him a year afterward, and you will have the truth about him in a very handy form.

— H. L. Mencken, A Book of Burlesques, 1916

[ F ] :: Food

Don’t despise the domestic potato. There are a hundred appetising ways of cooking it; but unless you take it firmly in hand, it will arrive at table with the consistency of half-melted ice — mushy without, stony within. The boiled potato is the rock on which many a happy home barque has foundered.

— Blanche, Ebbutt, Don’ts For Husbands, 1913

[ G ] :: Grievances

We await with some interest the decision of Justice Burk of Harlem in the case brought by Mrs. Johanna Scheyer against her husband, Philip Scheyer, for abandonment. He is a well-to-do cloakmaker, aged 50 years, who married a few months ago a tall brunette of 27 years “with luminous brown eyes and clear-cut features.” In giving her testimony Mrs. Scheyer said she had not been in the house a week before he told her they must separate. “He told me I laughed too much and must behave myself differently.” Later, while making another complaint of her too ready laugh, he offered to give her $8,000 if she would get a divorce. She refused, and when she insisted on knowing what her fault was he said: “Nothing; you are not at fault in any way.” But still, after repeating his offer of $8,000, he left her.

The defense made by Mr. Scheyer is that his doctor told him he must separate from his wife or sink into hopeless melancholy. The doctor professed to have made an elaborate examination of his condition and to have discovered that the much laughing of the wife bore heavily on the spirits of the husband; and that as she seemed unable to control her cachinnatory impulses, the only hope was in a separation. It is probable that her alleged laugh is a giggle, in which case there is little reason to doubt the correctness of the doctor’s diagnosis and prognosis.

— “Marriage and Health,” Milwaukee Sentinel, 1893

[ H ] :: Happiness

There are six requisites in every happy marriage; the first is Faith and the remaining five are Confidence.

— Elbert Hubbard, Love, Life & Work, 1906

[ I ] :: Infidelity

I think a man can have two, maybe three affairs while he is married. But three is the absolute maximum. After that, you’re cheating.

— Yves Montand, Oui Magazine interview, 1973

[ J ] :: Jealousy

It is one of the best Bonds, both of Chastity and Obedience, in the Wife, if She think her Hus-band Wise; which She will never doe, if She finde him Jealous.

— Francis Bacon, “Of Marriage and Single Life,” 1612

[ K ] :: Knowing

Husband and wife did not need to speak words to one another, not just from the old habit of living together but because in that one long-ago instant at least out of the long and shabby stretch of their human lives, even though they knew at the time it wouldn’t and couldn’t last, they had touched and become as God when they voluntarily and in advance forgave one another for all that each knew the other could never be.

— William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses, 1942

[ L ] :: Lasting

At night we have time together; we pray together and read the Bible together every night. It’s a wonderful period of life for both of us. We’ve never had a love like we have now — we feel each other’s hearts.

— Billy Graham, Newsweek interview, 2006

[ M ] :: Money

My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world — marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing — and, when well used, a noble thing — but I never want you to think it was the first or only prize to strive for. I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace.

— Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 1867

[ N ] :: Names

I’d rather call him my husband than my partner! I think partner is such a weird name for a same-sex significant other. It sounds like we’re either business partners or cowboys.

— Neil Patrick Harris, interviewed, 2013

[ O ] :: Objections

I like to ride in trains too much. You never get to sit next to the window any more when you’re married.

— J. D. Salinger, “Zooey,” 1961

[ P ] :: Passion

Stella: Look, Mr. Jefferies, I’m not an educated woman, but I can tell you one thing. When a man and woman see each other and like each other, they oughta come together — wham! — like a couple of taxis on Broadway, and not sit around analyzing each other like two specimens in a bottle.

— John Michael Hayes, Rear Window, 1954

[ Q] :: Qualms

The music at a marriage procession always reminds me of the music of soldiers entering on a battle.

— Heinrich Heine, Thoughts and Fancies, 19th century

[ R ] :: Rings

I will say, candidly, that the sexiest thing in the world is to be totally naked with your wedding band on.

— Debra Winger, Esquire interview, 1986

[ S ] :: Sex

The husband’s interest, quite as much as his honour, prescribes that he shall never allow himself a pleasure for which he has not had the wit to awake a longing in his wife….

Just as ideas go on increasing indefinitely, so it ought to be with pleasures. . . .

Every night should have its own menu.

— Honoré de Balzac, The Physiology of Marriage, 1829

[ T ] :: Triumphs

[A second marriage is] the triumph of hope over experience.

— Samuel Johnson, circa 1770

[ U ] :: Unmarried

If I am to disclose to you what I should prefer if I followed the inclination of my nature, it is this: Beggar-woman and single, far rather than Queen and married.

— Elizabeth I, 1653

[ V ] :: Violence

Stanley: Stell-lahhhhh!

— Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947

[ W ] :: Who

As far as husbands are concerned, one is as good as another; and even the most inconvenient is less of a trial than a mother.

— Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, 1782

[ X ] :: X-Wives and Husbands

Walter: Yeah, I sort of wish you hadn’t done that, Hildy.

Hildy: Done what?

Walter: Divorced me. Makes a fellow lose all faith in himself. Gives him a — almost gives him a feeling he wasn’t wanted.

Hildy: Oh, now, look, Junior, that’s what divorces are for.

Walter: Nonsense. You’ve got an old-fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever — “till death do us part.” Why, a divorce doesn’t mean anything nowadays, Hildy. Just a few words mumbled over you by a judge. We’ve got something between us nothing can change.

— Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht, and Charles MacArthur, His Girl Friday, 1940

[ Y ] :: Youth and Age

When a man is young, it is too early for him to marry; when he is old, it is too late; and between these two periods he ought not to be able to command leisure enough to choose a wife.

— Thales of Miletus, circa 6th century BC

[ Z] :: Zoloft

Zoloft saved my marriage! Since on Zoloft, I no longer worry about the small stuff. This can be bad in some cases especially where money is concerned. While I am still “concerned” about cleanliness, it does not consume me. If the children have a toy mess it does not just drive me crazy. While I still have crying spells I do not cry near as often.

Pre-Zoloft, my husband and I fought — a lot!

Post-Zoloft we are more in love with each other than when we first met.

— Message Board User, “Anyone Taking Anxiety Drugs?” 2005

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Novelist Lisa Grunwald and Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler are the editors of The Marriage Book: Centuries of Advice, Inspiration, and Cautionary Tales, from Adam and Eve to Zoloft, to be published May 12, 2015 by Simon & Schuster. They have been married — to each other — for twenty-seven years.

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent.


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