What You Can Learn From Ruth Bader Ginsburg & Her Husband Martin About How To Make Your Marriage Work

Peter Sheras and Phyllis Koch-Sheras

How Couples Can Support Each Other’s Greatness: The Example Of RBG

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a shining example of outstanding professional achievement and contribution. What is not often highlighted is how her marriage and close relationship with her husband, Martin Ginsburg, enabled her to perform and succeed at such an extraordinary level. 

The Ginsburgs’ relationship clearly demonstrates how partners can cooperate and benefit each other individually, as a couple, and as a family. This exemplifies how not only individuals can support a couple, but also how a strong couple supports the individuals in the relationship.

The Ginsburg Marriage 

Lisa Bonos writes in The Washington Post: “Ginsburg is admired for her legal achievements, especially toward ensuring gender equality, and her 56-year marriage put that theory into practice. Ruth and Marty, who died in 2010, both worked outside the home decades before that became the norm. They split child care and other domestic duties; she relocated for his career and he relocated for hers… Ginsburg emphasized that Marty was ‘the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain.’ This pair forged in the 1950s reflects the relationship of many singles and couples today.”

Our Marriage…

This is certainly true for our relationship. From the very beginning of our relationship nearly 50 years ago, we had to negotiate how to make our careers and relationship work for us both. We met and fell in love while we were both in training to be couple counselors and family therapists. Like the Ginsburgs, we respected each other’s brains and hearts. Falling in love was the easy part. After that, we had to find jobs together in the same city and decide to get married. 

Miraculously, we both found good jobs at the same university and agreed to make the bigger decision about staying together for the long term by the following spring. We made this agreement so that Phyllis could feel secure enough to move from California to Charlottesville, VA. 

Once the decision was made, Peter rented separate places for us to live, which is what we both wanted. We got engaged on April first–which made Phyllis’ mother question if it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke! It wasn’t. We found a home to purchase that was far enough in the country for Peter and close enough to town for Phyllis. We were learning how to make commitments and to support each other so our joint decisions worked out for both of us.

Our next big cooperation challenge came when we had children.This was especially true after the second one. We learned to share changing diapers, cooking, driving kids to school, taking kids to the doctor, and so on. It wasn’t easy for either one of us, but we realized it was best for the good of the family. It didn’t require self-sacrifice or compromise. It was about cooperating as a team.

Cooperation Versus Compromise

The first thing we had to learn about operating as a team was the difference between cooperation and compromise. As we say in our book, Lifelong Love: 4 Steps to Creating and Maintaining an Extraordinary Relationship, “cooperation involves the creation of something new together, not just agreeing to do what the other person wants.” 

In contrast, cooperation does not require compromising. You do not need to “give in” or “give up” what you really want in this kind of situation. Your choice to do something new is a mutual decision and removes the need for one or the other to get your way or “win”.

Neither of us felt like we were compromising when we agreed to move together to a new city. We worked together until we came to an agreement that really worked for both of us. Phyllis would not have moved without a job she really liked; Peter would not have agreed to the possibility of getting married if he didn’t really want to.

We saw our future as a great adventure, one that we would invent together.

Building A Team

Ruth and Marty Ginsburg worked together as a well-functioning team. Each one knew what the other’s goals and roles were in the relationship. That is what is required to make it all work.

To begin to work as a team, you must decide the purpose of your team. What goal would you like to achieve? What are you aiming for? A sports team knows they are aiming to be the best they can be, to be a winning team. To be a successful couple, you must have a vision for your team and set goals together. 

Somewhere in their life together, Ruth and Marty made the joint decision to help Ruth become a judge. They worked together as a team to make that happen. The result was a long career for her sitting on the bench serving the world. 

As You Think About How To Make Your Marriage Work, Think About These Things:

  • What goals do you have for your relationship? Sit down and discuss them together.
  • Clarify who takes on what roles. 
  • Get clear about your expectations of each other. 
  • Look into getting some coaching from friends or other married couples you trust. Or look into couples coaching couples for extra support.
  • And if you have challenges with getting on the same page with your spouse, that’s a good reason to seek out some help from a marriage counselor.

Creating Greatness In Your Own Couple

The Ginsburg’s marriage, just like our own, isn’t all that different from yours. If we can do it, so can you! With cooperation, you can take on anything together. This will help you develop the confidence that you can accomplish anything together if you remember to support each other along the way. 

When cooperation is added to the mix, what may have started out as incompatibility or obstacles between you can turn into inspiration to continue working on the greatness in your marriage.  

Phyllis and Peter have been coaching couples for over four decades on how to make a marriage work and be a powerful team. They have helped countless couples achieve success in their relationship, and they can help you accomplish your goals. Call them at 434-971-4701 for a consultation or visit their website www.couplepower.com for more information on how to achieve greatness in your own couple.

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