5 Lessons Ruth and Marty Taught Us About Relationships
by Melanie Gasmen-Fleck
In any relationship, staying on the same page is at the top of the pyramid for our own hierarchy of relationship needs, no matter if it’s a romantic relationship, friendship, or kinship we’re cultivating. When it comes down to it, your relationship is a partnership that needs constant balancing so neither person feels mentally or emotionally drained. It takes not only hard work but teamwork, especially in these uncertain times, when you may be stuck indoors more hours in the day than you ever thought possible.
A power couple who nailed down the love equilibrium while also being best friends: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Marty Ginsburg. The two set the modern standard for a healthy relationship during a time that focused on strict, toxic, heteronormative gender roles. When they got married in 1954, society perpetuated husbands as the heads of the household and wives as the homemakers.
But unlike many couples at the time, the Ginsburgs stayed grounded in true equality, deep respect, and unmistakable love to the highest degree. These were the pillars of Ruth and Marty’s 56-year union. To this day, they are a model for how to have a thriving partnership, whether it’s with your significant other or your bestie (or both!). In issue 12, you can read about Marty’s supportive and caring role throughout Ruth’s rise in the legal world.
It’s no wonder we look up to them and think they are in fact #relationshipgoals. Let’s break down lessons from Ruth and Marty’s marriage and how we can apply them to our own relationships.
1. Make life decisions as equals. From the very beginning of their courtship at Cornell University, Ruth and Marty were intellectual, professional, and personal equals. Their son, James Ginsburg, wrote in The Hollywood Reporter how his father wasn’t intimidated by his mother’s wits. Ruth once said how Marty was the first person she dated who cared about her intelligence, how “he always thought I was better than I thought I really was.”
Even though Ruth and Marty were polar opposites (according to CNN, “she was quiet and reserved while Marty was the gregarious life of the party”), they had mutual respect for one another and decided it was best for both of them to pursue the same profession.
According to James, Marty wanted to achieve a higher education at Harvard, but “ruled out business school as [Harvard Business School] did not admit women at the time. So law school it would be.” It was a future both of them could benefit from. And Marty didn’t hesitate to brag about his fiancée, who was one of only nine women in her class of roughly 500 men and who brilliantly made the Harvard Law Review.
“I became a lawyer in days when women were not wanted by most members of the legal profession. I became a lawyer because Marty supported that choice unreservedly,” Ruth shared with CNN.
Takeaway: In any relationship, it seems like a no-brainer to discuss your aspirations openly and communicatively. But how often do you check in? This leans more toward romantic relationships, but do you each have a timeline to tackle your goals? If so, do they align? Be sure to figure out a path that elevates both of your futures so you can take on the world together on an equal playing field.
2. Share the mental load. Ruth and Marty worked together to share their household’s mental load. What’s a “mental load”? It’s the neverending list of to-dos in your home that makes more sense to do than to delegate. This includes grocery shopping, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, and more recently, in COVID-19 times, making sure your kids are adapting to stay-at-home curriculums and routines. (FYI Bravery issues and companion guides help with this!)
“In the course of a marriage, one accommodates the other. So, for example, when Marty was intent on becoming a partner in a New York law firm in five years, during that time, I was the major caretaker of our home and child,” Ruth shared on the Rachel Maddow Show. “But when I started up the ACLU Women's Rights Project, Marty realized how important that work was."
And Marty stepped in to act as the primary parent while Ruth’s career took off. He was proud of his wife and took over the domestic responsibilities, including cooking. Throughout their marriage, Ruth and Marty continued to tag team while co-raising their kids, knowing it was a joint job for both of them—no one’s time was more important than the other’s.
However, if your other half is out of commission, sometimes sharing the mental load isn’t possible. While at Harvard, when Marty was sick with cancer, Ruth cared for their daughter Jane, who was a toddler at the time. Ruth also collected and typed up Marty’s class notes while taking care of him as well.
"If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it,” Ruth said in an interview with Katie Couric. “I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me."
Takeaway: If you’re in the same household, divide up tasks evenly. Don’t be afraid to call each other out if you see the other taking on too much by themselves—be aware of their workload and self-aware of yours. Delegate to-dos and solutions so both of you can each find downtime to rejuvenate yourself, even if that means possibly finding outside help.3. Challenge your loved one when it’s in their best interest. Ruth and Marty both opened their spouse’s mind to new, positive, and honest insights. When law firms in New York refused to hire Ruth because of her gender, she became one of the first female law professors in the country. Marty persistently supported and respected Ruth’s legal skills and astuteness, so much so that he sought her help in 1972’s Moritz vs. Commissioner of Internal Revue, a tax case focused on gender discrimination against a man. Ruth had never argued in court before, but Marty urged her to do so, even if it was outside of her comfort zone.
The Ginsburgs argued the case together and it was Ruth’s first win against gender discrimination—all of this was chronicled in the movie On the Basis of Sex. According to RBG biographer Jane Sharron De Hart, Ruth told her that Marty "believed in me more than I believed in myself. He was always so secure within himself that he never regarded me as a threat.”
Marty also persuaded Ruth to go to physical therapy after her initial treatment for colon cancer in 1999. "I didn't want to do it," Ginsburg said to NPR. "I was exhausted, and Marty said, 'You do it.' And he was quite insistent about that.”
Takeaway: If you see an opportunity for your loved one to better themselves, urge them to while also making sure to respect each other’s boundaries and not be pushy. Continue to inspire them to make healthier and more fulfilling decisions.
4. Have unstoppable support for one another. Marty, undoubtedly, was Ruth’s number-one fan. And vice-versa. They weren’t intimidated by each others’ accomplishments and expressed pure joy when the other succeeded. And both relocated for their spouse’s jobs. Ruth transferred law schools to accommodate Marty’s career and Marty moved to Washington D.C. when Ruth became a judge for the D.C. Federal Court of Appeals.
According to The New York Times, when his colleagues were floored by his decision to leave a successful law firm and his tenured position at Columbia Law School to follow his wife, Marty answered with, “I have been supportive of my wife since the beginning of time, and she has been supportive of me. It’s not sacrifice; it’s family.”
To endorse his wife even more, he literally did just that. In the early 1990s, when there was a vacancy in the Supreme Court, Marty worked diligently to shine a spotlight on his wife. “Well, he was my campaign manager,” Ruth said in an interview, according to TIME. To push her name to the top, Marty lobbied women’s rights organizations and sent letters to the press. “Sure enough, President Bill Clinton nominated Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to become a Supreme Court Justice in 1993,” TIME reported.
Takeaway: Believe in their potential; show up and be their cheerleader. Demonstrate your unrivaled support throughout major decisions, like making a career move, or even minor decisions, like suddenly deciding to learn how to play the accordion. Just remember that encouraging their talents reflects your sincere respect for them.
5. Carve out special bonding time each week. As a couple, the Ginsburgs loved spending evenings reading classics to each other and listening to opera music. They also made sure to spend quality time with their kids as a whole family unit.
“One of the many things that bound our family together was love of music,” James wrote. “I remember trips to the Little Orchestra Society at Hunter College with Mom; New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts with Dad; and Light Opera of Manhattan, New York City Opera and The Metropolitan Opera with both.
“Weekend family time was spent on the golf course. Dad was one of the better golfers in the club, I was an eager learner, and Mom was along for the ride, literally: She would read her legal briefs in the golf cart between shots. I remember my father’s loving teasing of my more serious mother…”
Takeaway: For couples, it may be even harder to get alone time together (aka without the kids) during quarantine, but sharing a special activity with your significant other for even just a few minutes a day can strengthen your bond. (Even if that means taking one random dance break in the middle of the day together.) Furthermore, establishing weekly activities with your family and friends will help make more meaningful memories that last.
So, what’s the recipe for a strong relationship? Consider the many examples Ruth and Marty showcased throughout their lives and the vows Ruth used in different marriages she officiated over the years, inspired by her and Marty’s half-a-century-long love story. Academic Jeffrey Rosen, whose own wedding was performed by Ruth, shared these vows in his book Conversations with RBG:
“Your commitment is rooted in a deep appreciation of each other's talents and experiences. You have learned the importance of patience, of good humor, and of the joy you bring each other. May the love you bear, each for the other, ever make of the two of you magically more—wiser and richer in experience, happier than either would be alone."
Melanie Gasmen-Fleck is a copywriter, editor, and all-around Merriam-Webster fanatic based in Los Angeles. When she’s not writing, she’s watching fantastic TV, burying her head in a new read, or trying to pet all the cats.