7 relationship lessons you can learn from classic love stories
Looking for something to do this weekend? Have fun and work on your marriage at the same time while revisiting some classic love stories. By watching or reading these seven stories, you may ponder your own marriage and consider the deeper messages behind each novel and how it might reinvigorate your marriage.
1. Romeo and Juliet
This classic story definitely involves some “in-law” tension, to say the least. While most couples don’t experience this level of family animosity, in-law relations certainly factor into marriage. While your situation may not be as dire as the intense family disapproval of the romance between Romeo and Juliet, you and your spouse need to make sure you set firm ground rules when it comes to each other’s families.
Family issues inevitably come along when bringing two families together, but make sure you both agree that the two of you are the ones who make the decisions in the relationship, and steer clear of caring too much what family members might think of your choices or your marriage.
2. The Thorn Birds
Set on an Australian sheep ranch, The Thorn Birds follows the Cleary family, as daughter Meggie falls in love with Father Ralph de Bricassart, a young priest. The unrequited love leads Meggie to move on by marrying Luke O’Neill, but her love for the priest cannot be suppressed. The story shows many of the main characters hiding their feelings, keeping secrets and not truly expressing their needs and wants, so much so they go through a lifetime of longing and unhappiness.
Honest communication, as we write about often on marriage.com, should be a healthy part of every marriage. Talking and sharing thoughts and feelings in an open, truthful way can lead to a closeness that will bond you and your spouse through the course of your union. The close bond that can only be attained through mutual honesty will lead to loyalty, faithfulness and happiness between you.
3. Doctor Zhivago
This quintessential love story by Boris Pasternak takes place during the Russian Revolution and First World War. Adultery definitely plays a big role in this story, as Dr. Zhivago is torn between two women: his wife and a nurse he has befriended.
For some couples, infidelity is a very real issue. When someone you love breaks his or her commitment to you, it may feel like your marriage cannot survive and is inevitably over. Building back trust can happen over time, and some expert help and a shared commitment to making the marriage work allows many to move beyond the indiscretion and emerge stronger than before.
4. Gone with the Wind
Gone with the Wind spans some twelve years, and in that time, the characters have more than a few trials and tribulations — wealth to poverty, love to hate.
Marriage is a similar roller coaster. Too many couples enter marriage thinking life will always be sweet and you’ll always be as romantic and loving as on your wedding day. The reality is you and your spouse will navigate challenges together, and staying committed and nurturing your marriage will give you the strength to endure the bad times and savor the good.
5. Pride and Prejudice
An unexpected love story emerges from a seemingly unlikely pair: Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Opposites do attract, and sometimes opposites can balance out each other’s flaws or shortcomings.
Of course, sometimes opposites can also be devastating for a marriage. The key is to tackle differences head on. Take a hard look at those differences. Some may be so great you cannot get past them — for example, if you differ on whether or not to have children, where to live or how to spend money.
If the differences are more superficial — such as which one of you cooks or does the dishes or what kind of parenting style is best for your future kids — these things will be worked out and sorted through by listening to each other’s perspectives and working on them together.
6. The English Patient
Set in Italy during World War II in 1944, The English Patient centers on a nurse named Hana, left to care for a dying English patient who was burned and badly disfigured. Through their daily interactions, a beautiful love story emerges.
Just like the main characters in the story, taking the time to share stories and experiences builds intimacy. Through the sharing of their own stories, the characters begin to see the connections they have with each other even though their backgrounds are quite different.
In marriage, sharing, talking and having face time with each other every day is important to keep your bond strong. The importance of connection, as we write on marriage.com, is vast. Make time to slow down and really exchange thoughts and opinions, not just the functional minutiae of everyday life, family and kids.
7. Anna Karenina
Written by Leo Tolstoy, this drama-filled Russian love story features Anna Karenina, who travels to Moscow in the hope of reconciling her brother with his wife after an extramarital affair threatened to destroy their marriage. Unfortunately, while in Moscow Anna ends up falling in love with another man while she is still married. Her husband refuses to divorce her, making for a wrenching tale of unrequited love.
The idea of forgiveness resonates through this book, as Anna’s purpose at the beginning of the story is to convince her sister-in-law to forgive her brother for his infidelity. There's no doubt that forgiveness is central to a strong marriage — for small indiscretions as well as big ones.
Holding onto hurt and anger only serves to corrode the bond between spouses. We have so much fabulous advice on forgiveness on marriage.com. There will be times in your marriage when you are the forgiver and times when you are the one forgiven. Either way, both saying you’re sorry and forgiving is the part of marriage that takes practice and persistence but yields a stronger bond.
Malini Bhatia is the founder and CEO of marriage.com, a website dedicated to providing value in every marriage, including resources, information and a community that supports healthy, happy marriages. Bhatia has global experience in international management and communications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 11 years and two daughters.