“One Flesh”

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to spend more time with my wife, and since she didn’t object, this is one resolution that I have kept. My motivation is partly short term — my wife is my best friend, and I enjoy our times together. But I also am motivated by the idea of eternal companionship. Indeed, I like all of the doctrines of unity: marriage, Zion, exaltation. These concepts inspire me.

With regard to marriage, we are told that “man [shall] leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Genesis 2:24. Also, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” 1 Cor. 11:11. I understand these scriptures to mean that I must become one with my wife in the same way as Jesus become one with the Father. I can think of no better way of doing this than reading together.

When we were first married, we did not own a television, and we didn’t have enough money to finance an active social life. As a result, we spent a lot of time reading together. We read widely, from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. From Fox’s J. Reuben Clark: The Public Years to Boostin’s The Americans (all three volumes). We did this for years … until our children were old enough to understand real books, and then I started reading to them (Alice in Wonderland, Kon-Tiki, Lord of the Rings).

This year, my wife and I started reading together again. Even though we chose poorly on our first book, it has been great fun. Next up: Richard J. Evans’ new volume on The Coming of the Third Reich.

The experience of reading together has had a transforming effect on our relationship. For example, these shared experiences shape the way we talk to each other. When one of us refers to a character in such-and-such a book, the other understands immediately. To an outsider, these conversations would seem like coded messages — extended inside jokes — but we are not speaking for outsiders. In those moments, we are a closed system.

Marriages like mine are magical. I don’t mean that in a sappy, “my-marriage-is-better-than-your-marriage” sense. Just consider the obstacles facing two people with very different backgrounds who get together after knowing each other only a few months. That we can live together for years (18 so far) in relative harmony strikes me as almost miraculous. Although we still have frequent differences of opinion, consistent effort over time seems to be having the desired effect of creating a coherent unit. As I look back on that process and attempt to plan for the future, I think it is hard to overestimate the effect of seemingly little things, like the shared love of a good book.

3 comments for ““One Flesh”

  1. March 3, 2004 at 11:52 pm

    Your last paragraph underscores one of the greatest purposes of marriage – to humble ourselves enough to be able to get along with someone else forever. We learn a lot about ourselves in the process.

  2. March 4, 2004 at 2:31 am

    Gordon, I’m fascinated by the extremely positive results you get from readimg with your wife. If you don’t mind, could you give me some more detail? What I mean is that my wife and I have never gotten beyond reading the Book of Mormon together. And even then, we’re not that good at it. Why is it so enjoyable for the two of you? How do you do it? Do you each have the book? Or do you share one? Do you read out loud taking turns? Or silently with discussion here and there? I want to apply it to my own marriage, if possible.

  3. March 4, 2004 at 2:46 am

    Bob, We started when my wife was breastfeeding our first child. I was sitting on the couch reading a book, and we had no other form of entertainment in sight, so she asked me to just start reading it aloud. Although she reads occasionally, I do 95 percent of the reading, mainly because she is a better listener. (I am easily distracted if I am just listening.) With this latest book, we read at bedtime, which was often a problem because one of us would often fall asleep in the middle of a chapter. (Of course, if I am the one falling asleep, it can be very funny. Crazy things pop out of my mouth in the wierd state between wakefulness and sleep.) The best part of the experience is when one of us stops the reading to comment. We have great conversations, sometimes in just a few minutes. And then there are the conversations that spontaneously happen when we are not reading. With the Da Vinci Code, for example, my wife solved the mystery one afternoon, way before I would have; so we had a nice discussion about her logic, and she turned out to be exactly right. The key to this, in my view, is to find a book that both of you will love. If one person cannot progress without the other, you will encourage each other. Hmm. Something eternal in that!

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