Lesson #4: Love Loyally
Lesson 4 will teach you one of the greatest lessons in the family relationship.
The men of the Greatest Generation took their marriage vows seriously. Brokaw wrote, “It was the last generation in which, broadly speaking, marriage was a commitment and divorce was not an option. I can’t remember one of my parents’ friends who was divorced. In the communities where we lived, it was treated as a minor scandal.” The numbers bear Brokaw’s anecdotal evidence out: of all the new marriages in 1940, 1 in 6 ended in divorce. By the late 1990’s, that number was 1 in 2.
This was a time where there was no hanging out or “hooking up.” Men asked women on real dates and had serious intentions of doing so. When a particular gal caught a man’s heart, he proposed, and they got hitched. And they were married for the next 60 years.
Peggy and John Assenzio had the kind of commitment to marriage typical of the Greatest Generation. They were married right before John headed off to basic training. Peggy kept her husband constantly in her thoughts while he was away. “I never went to sleep until I wrote John a letter. I wrote every single day. I wouldn’t break the routine because I thought it would keep him safe.” When John got home, he and Peggy picked up right where they left off. John would sometimes have nightmares about the war, and Peggy was always there to comfort him. John said, “The war helped me to love Peggy more if that’s possible. To appreciate her more.” Their commitment to each other was unshakeable. Peggy believes that young couples today, “don’t fight enough. It’s too easy to get a divorce. We’ve had our arguments, but we don’t give up. When my friends ask whether I ever considered divorce, I remind them of the old saying, ‘We’ve thought about killing each other, but divorce? Never.’”
The cynical among us are apt to think that while the divorce rate was low, that simply means that more men were stuck in unhappy marriages. These days we’re quick to think that anyone who gets married in their early 20’s and is married for decades after that, is bound to be living a life of quiet desperation. Yet I’ve met a lot of Greatest Generation couples and almost all of them are and were quite happy together. They’re companions and best friends. What’s their secret? The answer can really be found in changing expectations. As Brokaw observes, “When they got married and began families it was not a matter of thinking, “Well, let’s see how this works out.” Some would argue that marriages were less happy because divorce wasn’t an option. But could it be that the opposite was true? That with the divorce option off the table the whole tenor of your marriage would change? Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t think there was an escape hatch, and you knew that whatever bumps you hit in the road, you had to work through them together.