As a child I watched a good amount of TV. It was the 1980s and sitcoms and dramas were bountiful. My weekly roster of shows included The Cosby Show, Magnum P.I., Growing Pains, Family Ties, and Full House to name a few. In my innocence, I believed that many of these shows reflected family life with accuracy and authority. And I was convinced that they portrayed some kind of ideal. When I watched the married couples handle an assortment of challenges from unruly children to tough decisions regarding the stay-at-home parent, I was surely satisfied with the conclusions. But let’s face it, nearly every problem was nicely wrapped up with a lovely bow on top at the end of each episode—that’s television. The exception was with the show All in the Family and then the spin-off show Archie Bunker’s Place.
It must have been Archie Bunker’s Place that I watched, occasionally. I know it wasn’t with any regularity because that show plain scared me. There was a mean man of the house who yelled most of the time and with the yelling came condescending, racist, and seemingly misogynistic insults. I didn’t understand why anyone in the family wanted to live with Archie. And I especially didn’t understand how his wife Edith could handle such meanness. The show’s intentional bigotry for the purpose of defeating bigotry was lost on me. However, when I look back now on the dynamic between Archie and Edith I realize that while there was inequality in their marriage, they actually appeared to be a compatible couple. Edith wasn’t a complete pushover and Archie did yield to her guidance on more than one occasion. It was a different time then and the expectations of marriage seemed to be different.
The TV family no longer influences my ideals nor does it contribute to any potential fears that I may have toward marriage, partly because I don’t watch much TV now, but mostly because I’m not as impressionable. I’ve witnessed enough in my life to understand that marriage is complex. There are countless ways that couples must work at being loving and compassionate and at compromising. So where do people gather skills for marriage? If not from TV, we all learn how marriage functions from somewhere.
For most of us we learned about marriage through what we witnessed in our environments. If our parents were married when we are children, we observed how they related to each other, how they dealt with issues and stress. If they weren’t married or weren’t present, then we still may have gained some knowledge of our parents’ relationships, or by watching other couples. When I think about it, our society makes many assumptions about marriage preparation. How are we to learn about marriage by only witnessing? Shouldn’t there be required classes on the subject? Like with math and science, isn’t it a necessary course?
The answers seem obvious to me. Yes, we need marriage preparation because it is a necessity. I don’t imagine that I have inherent knowledge and wisdom about how to contribute to a successful marriage. I’ve heard about parenting classes and I’ve heard about marriage preparation courses. I even know of people who went to counseling before they decided to get married. This all makes sense to me, but I wonder if this type of preparation is common. I imagine it may be viewed by some as a sign of deficiency. However, even if two people have previous relationship experience, that doesn’t mean that they’ve acquired the tools and skills for marriage. My vote is that we make marriage preparation courses somehow mandatory, or at least encourage others to investigate.
Personally, I’ve peeked at some marriage preparation material, but I haven’t taken the time to really study it. I think it’s now time to study.