Love is not always a fairy tale. Sometimes it begins as such and then time and other priorities throw water on the flame. Love is depicted as flowers and romance most of the time, but many know love to be the hardest battle in their lives – and that is not always bad. Sometimes challenging marriages produce amazing people. For example, consider Abraham Lincoln.
Abe and Mary Lincoln
I am honestly not sure what was harder for Abraham Lincoln: the pain and anguish of the ongoing Civil War or his extremely difficult marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln. From what I have come to understand, she fit the model of a quarrelsome wife. In other words, Abraham Lincoln may have been better off living on the corner of his roof than in the White House with her (ref. Proverbs 25:24).
Gary Thomas’s awesome book, Sacred Marriage, which I strongly recommend, has a short excerpt in chapter eight about this beloved president, the Great Emancipator. Merriam-Webster defines emancipate as “to free (someone) from someone else’s control or power.” Ironically, the president who emancipated the slaves probably felt like a slave to his own marriage.
In reading Sacred Marriage, I discovered that Mary Todd Lincoln went on crazy spending sprees – even though the Lincolns were not abundantly wealthy. She wanted another floor added to their home to keep up with the socially elite in their area, so she waited until Abraham was out of town and had a contractor add another floor. I cannot even imagine how Eric would react if he came home from a business trip to an extra floor in our home.
She also had an incredible temper. She threw coffee in his face. She constantly got into fights with the help. A mistreated salesman approached the Oval Office to complain to the President about how his wife had spoken to him. Lincoln’s response was priceless: “You can endure for fifteen minutes what I have endured for fifteen years.”
To make matters worse, the Lincolns lost their third-born son, Willie, and Mary did not handle the loss very well at all. A few years later, their fourth and youngest son, Thomas (known as “Tad”), became ill adding to Mary Lincoln’s stress. In the midst of all this turmoil – a horrible war and a horrible home life – Abraham Lincoln was only able to jot down a few notes before addressing a group in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His speech, thrown together as it was, turned out to be one of the most famous American speeches ever given.
I love Gary’s synopsis of Abraham’s difficult life and marriage. Thomas wrote, “He shown brightest when his personal life was darkest.” Perhaps the difficulties Lincoln dealt with at home engendered patience in him that he needed for his historic presidency. Lincoln is remembered as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, US president of all time. He could have made excuses – “Look at what I have to put up with at home! I would be an amazing leader if it were not for my witch of a wife!” But he didn’t. He probably did not know it, but his marriage was a training ground for greatness.
A difficult marriage is undoubtedly draining; it can leave a person feeling helpless. However, remembering the example of Abraham Lincoln, we can thank God if we find ourselves in a trying marriage. To God be the glory!
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt
Perhaps the most famous presidential couple in history, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt partnered together to bring a “New Deal” to the American people during The Great Depression. Due to FDR’s bout with Polio in his late thirties, he was not able to effortlessly travel. This made Eleanor indispensable to his presidency.
Before FDR was elected president, Eleanor was happy with her life. She had found her voice, was teaching, and was involved in many causes. Going to the White House would mean losing her privacy and having to fit a first lady mold. But, instead of fitting the mold, she broke the mold. She travelled, she worked hard for civil rights, and she refused to simply stick to hosting state dinners and charming the press.
Because this couple worked together so well, I was surprised to find out that before FDR was president, he was unfaithful to Eleanor with a lady name Lucy Mercer. When Eleanor found out, she was devastated and offered him a divorce. It surely would have been the end of his political future if he had gone through with a divorce – and if that was not enough incentive to keep him from ending his marriage, his mother told him she would cut him off financially if he left Eleanor.
They never fully reconciled. FDR never received wholehearted forgiveness from Eleanor. She moved into a home without him and began enjoying her own life. He was welcome to visit the home, but he did not live there. So, going to the White House for Eleanor was more than simply moving with her husband. She truly feared losing the life she had built for herself. Sources say they never again shared the intimacies of marriage, but they were able to buckle down and work together for what they would call “the good of the country.” Their liberal approach was obviously not popular with everyone. ~smile~
Though the affair saddens me, I think it also shows that marriages can still be incredibly functional even after betrayal. Yes, I so wish they had been able to work through their problems and fallen in love with each other again; but, even though they did not, they still went on to become one of the most famous couples in history. FDR won four presidential elections (something never before achieved and something not allowed by current US law as of 1947) and I think Eleanor had a lot to do with his success. In fact, sometimes she had so many new ideas for helping Americans that she exhausted her husband. He had an “Eleanor basket” in his room to hold all of her messages and eventually had to relegate her to dropping in no more than three notes a day. ~wink~
Their marriage shows that two people can remain married without feeling crazy in love; and, not only that, but they can be a powerful force. I wonder how history would have changed if they had gotten a divorce? Let this couple serve as a reminder that a husband and wife can continue to work together and break ground whether they are head over heels in love or simply loyal companions and teammates.
Richard and Pat Nixon
I would like to go back in time and hug Pat Nixon. The press often referred to her as “Plastic Pat” because she often looked so reserved and emotionless. However, decades before Richard Nixon took office, I think she was a happy woman. President Nixon pursued Pat for a while and went to great lengths to spend time with her. He even drove her to Los Angeles so she could go on dates with other men! Eventually she would agree to marry him.
However, Nixon too had an affair that would rock Pat’s world. He did not have an affair with another woman (to my knowledge), but politics became his mistress. He loved politics and he poured his life into his work. I think by the time Pat had been with him through his 1952 “Checkers Speech” (a televised appearance where he shared all the nitty gritty details about their personal finances due to political accusations of financial improprieties), a vice-presidency, a failed presidential campaign, and a successful presidential campaign, her heart was exhausted. In fact, the night of his inauguration she ate her dinner upstairs in her room instead of joining in on the festivities downstairs.
Once in the presidency, I don’t think Nixon sought Pat’s advice very often. And it is sad, because she probably had a lot of wisdom to share with him. You cannot go with a man through multiple decades of political life without learning something!
It seemed that Pat truly loved her husband, but in his pursuit of the presidency, I think her heart was neglected. Regardless of a powerful, larger than life status, even presidents need to prioritize their wives. No, they may not be able to commit to a weekly date night, and they cannot share every detail of their days due to security clearances, but there are still ways even the busiest man can pour into his wife’s heart. Flowers, cards, meaningful conversations whenever time allows, looking into her eyes and saying “I love you. I don’t know what I would do without you.” – these are all ways even presidents can connect with their wives.
The job of the first lady is largely undefined, and no matter how much she works, chances are the country will never know the half of it. I don’t envy the first lady’s lack of privacy and I applaud her ability to live a constantly changing life.
History shows us that even difficult presidential marriages, such as the Lincolns and the Roosevelts, can serve a powerful purpose. History also shows that a woman’s heart, no matter how famous or rich she becomes, still needs to be nurtured by her husband.
As we end President’s week, let’s remember to pray for our nation’s leaders, and their families. Let’s also remember to treat our marriages (or future marriages) as sacred partnerships, regardless of the circumstances that come our way. And, lastly, let’s remember to prioritize our relationship no matter how long we are married or how busy we become. No matter who you are, if you want something to live, you have to keep feeding it.
How can you grow from the difficulties in your relationship?