Ben Franklin on Marriage

January 17, 2024

"Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half shut afterward."- Ben Franklin

January 17th is Ben Franklin Day. If you are engaged or already married, I am not expecting you to give much thought to Ben Franklin's day. Although, with the rising cost of weddings, you will be spending (or trying to save) some Benjamins!

Ben Franklin with his wife Deborah

Ben Franklin Day is neither a national holiday, a bank holiday, or a candy or gift exchange holiday. But he does offer some wisdom that might be helpful regarding marriage. What is interesting about Ben Franklin is that his marriage was not ideal. He was married to his wife Deborah for 35 years. History tells us that he was a womanizer, and there are considerable gaps in their marriage of about twenty years where he was in Europe without his wife who was back home in colonial America.

As complicated as his marriage was, he understood the dynamics of Marriage & Romance. Personal life aside, he does provide some quotes that are worth remembering and learning from.

Where there is marriage without love there will be love without marriage.

That is an absolutely true statement. On the positive side, you must always keep love and romance at the heart of the relationship. On the dark side, this is a warning from Franklin and a possible reference to his own marriage relationship.

Franklin was romantic at heart in terms of marriage and family. He would often slip into a poetic word-picture kind of guy.

A ship under sail and a big-bellied woman are the handsomest two things that can be seen.

He understood that marriage was not just a personal life pursuit, but the formation of a family simply grows the happiness.

Ben also had numerous statements about grace and forgiveness, specifically extending grace to your spouse. Here are some of my favorites:

You can bear your own faults, and why not a fault in your wife?

Picking out the errors in someone else is always easier than looking at your own. This echoes a famous teaching by Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.(Matthew 7:1-4 ESV)

While the words of Jesus can apply to anyone, Ben Franklin takes them to the most straightforward application: your spouse. You will quickly see the faults in your spouse, and they will soon notice your flaws.

Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.

While not specifically a marriage quote, it does speak to the idea of receiving criticism. It is another statement that echoes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus taught, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 ESV). Franklin finds a similar thought in this statement:

Write injuries in dust, benefits in marble.

In The Apostle Paul’s famous Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. He has a similar idea. He says, “Love does not count up wrongs that have been done.” Another translation says that love does not keep a record of wrongs.

Marriage is the most natural state of man and the state in which you will find the most happiness.

Marriage is what makes couples happy. Some couples get into trouble when they expect their spouses to make them happy. Most often, your spouse is there to make you better, not happy. Being together produces happiness. What Franklin is suggesting is marriage is what we were created for. Another idea is that we genuinely do not find wholeness until we find our partner. In weddings, you will often hear the clichéd statement, “The two shall become one.” This is a quote from Jesus, who himself quoted the book of Genesis.

Jesus said, “Moses wrote that command for you because you were stubborn. But when God made the world, ‘he made them male and female.’ ‘So a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one body.’ So there are not two, but one. God has joined the two together, so no one should separate them.” (Mark 10:5-8)

Franklin's more humorous and ironic quotes shed some light on some of the estranged periods in his marriage. Again, history honors Franklin for his thinking, politics, and being a Founding Father, but he was not a model husband.

 Never take a wife till thou hast a house (and a fire) to put her in.

A play on words and grammar to be sure, but my favorite marriage quote from Franklin:

Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half shut afterward.


Absolutely true.

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