If the title of this post reminds you of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it should. The movie about her, “Julie & Julia,” inspired me to write this.
Even though I am a relationship expert, I have yet to master the art of marriage; though, I believe I’m in the process of mastery. Watching “Julie & Julia” where Paul and Julia Child’s marriage was so sweetly and richly on display, I believe the audience was handed some secret ingredients about how to build up a marriage – how to keep a relationship thriving for many years.
What do couples do who have mastered the art of marriage? Based on what I saw at the movie combined with what I have observed in real life, I offer the following.
1. Masters of the art of marriage are friends as well as lovers. The way Paul and Julia interacted, it was apparent that neither of them censored themselves in the company of the other. That is how friends are when they are together.
They trusted each other to be supportive, present, and interested. Things we expect from our friends but don’t always receive from our spouses.
2. Paul and Julia were clearly devoted to each other. A couple of times in the film we saw Julia struggle with her childlessness and the regret and hurt that was a result. Each time, she tried to hide her feelings from Paul. Each time, he simply chose to be with her in her grief. The first time we see her struggle in the film, they are walking arm-in-arm and pass a woman walking with a baby stroller. Julia, with longing and sadness, watches the woman walk past her. Paul notices, says nothing, but takes her hand in his and kisses it reassuringly.
The second time, she’d gotten a letter that told her she would soon be an aunt. Her newlywed sister, Dorothy, was expecting. This time, the grief poured out of her in tears. Paul crossed the kitchen to put his arm around her. When she protested that she was happy for Dorothy, he told her he knew and held her closer.
Devotion in a marriage is priceless. It means the other person matters to you more than anyone else in the world. It means you know his or her idiosyncrasies so well you can anticipate the full range of emotions from your spouse. It means you support each other in fulfilling your dreams and goals.
3. Which leads us to the next tip. Julia Child reinventing herself in Paris in her late forties shows us that we are happiest when we have a passion for and commitment to something larger than ourselves. Her wanting to do something with herself and not giving up until she found the thing that fulfilled her was the expression of her deep desire to be a part of something meaningful, something bigger than herself.
Life has taught Joseph and me that a marriage cannot be the thing you commit yourself to in order to have a passion bigger than you. That is too narrow a focus and puts too much weight on the marriage.
The same is true for children. Your children cannot bear the weight of being the thing that gives you meaning in your life beyond yourself. They are the little ones in your life that you are responsible for. They are too fragile to be the thing larger than yourself that you pour your commitment and passion into.
Whether it is cooking, volunteer service, religion, spirituality, reinventing yourself, taking your business to the next level, politics, whatever it is – there is nothing either too small or too large if it fires your imagination and takes you out of your ordinary life to be a contribution to your family, your neighborhood, even the world.
There may be other tips found in “Julie & Julia” but these are the ones that jumped out at me. In an interview before the movie opened, Nora Ephron said that we are in the habit of watching romance blossom or end on the screen. We are not used to seeing romance in the middle of a good marriage. The romance between Paul and Julia that we are privileged to witness here is inspiring!