Living on a Prayer

October 16, 2019

Nothing defines the 80’s more than Bon Jovi and the song, Living on a Prayer.  I was a Freshman in high school the year this song came out. Going to the Slippery When Wet concert was the biggest event of the year. You Give Love a Bad Name, Dead or Alive and Living on a Prayer were chartbusters.  It was a time when the big hair music video on MTV was just as important as having the Bon Jovi cassette in the car. As with many songs, few people actually listen to or process the lyrics, even though you could recite them word for word when the song was at its height of popularity.  Does Living on a Prayer give us a true blueprint for relationships?  Can this couple make it?  Once you actually look at the song lyrics, you start to wonder.

Between my 80’s high school years and the present, lots of changes have taken place in my life.  For me, years of study and experience in the wedding and marital counseling world changed my perspectives.  I've worked with over 1000 couples seeing them through their wedding days.  I've continued with some of these couples years later working through marriage issues. I have even walking a few through divorce.  Ove the years, my thoughts on the song have changed.  My hopes for Tommy and Gina are just a little different, 30+ years later.

The song begins with the epic fairy tale line…

Once upon a time not so long ago…

But it quickly moves from fairy tale into stark reality…

Tommy used to work on the docks, union's been on strike
He's down on his luck, it's tough, so tough
Gina works the diner all day working for her man
She brings home her pay, for love, for love

We love this couple and we root for them.  Everyone who heard this song imagined themselves as Tommy and Gina.  It is a romantic idea that these two are working so hard to make it as a couple.  I’ve met them… not literally Tommy and Gina. But I have met the couples that resemble them.  I’ve met them as an engaged couple, sometimes I’ve met them as the married couple, and (unfortunately) I’ve met them as the troubled or divorcing couple.

Tommy and Gina feel like they can face anything.  They are both working as the lyrics say for love. Sometimes it is the military couple, the long-distance couple, the medical school students, the way too young couple… or it is (as the song describes) stringing together of 2 or 3 jobs literally to make ends meet.

She says, we've got to hold on to what we've got
It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot for love
We'll give it a shot

I am cautious of the couple who is just trying to give it a shot. “Let’s see if this works.”  Unfortunately, my experience tells me that this couple has lots of challenges ahead of them. And the more the challenges grow, the less likely the couple is going to take a real look at the viability of the relationship.  They are just too busy trying to make it.  Sometimes the best route is to have a third person look at the relationship, another voice. A minister, a premarital counselor or even just family and friends.  While the story or situation seems romantic to the couple, what does Mom think about how things are going? What are others seeing that maybe the couple can’t?

The biggest issue is defining what "making it" is.  How do we know when we have made it?  It is a length of time, an amount of income, kids, a house?  Couples need to be on the same page and know what the purpose of their relationship is. Just being together is not the answer.

It does make a difference if you make it or not.

So… it does make a difference if you make it or not. It makes a huge difference to the couple in the present, to their future, to future children or to future relationships.  It does make a difference.  Diving into a relationship with just hopes and dreams can wreck your life for years to come.  The pain of divorce, step families, financial burdens and simply a sense of brokenness.

Woah, we're half way there
Woah, livin' on a prayer
Take my hand, we'll make it I swear
Woah, livin' on a prayer

Now as a minister, the encouraging part of the song concerns prayer.  The research has been very interesting.  The idea of prayer for a couple is not a bad idea. Even secular counselors are seeing the need to incorporate religious beliefs and practices into the counseling room. It is not something that can be left out of the conversation. (see the blog Post What Does Google Say About Marriage?)

The easiest way to stop a cycle of conflict is through prayer.  Simply put, the idea of praying for each other can be transformational in their relationship. Prayer lays a foundation for putting the “other” first.  It also creates an environment that goes past the current situation.  If the couple has God as a central theme in their relationship, there is some strong glue here as well.  Being on the same page spiritually makes a huge difference in whether a couple can make it.  It shows they have a sense of purpose.  Understanding that God has put them together takes the couple from the temporary into a place of legacy.

But even with that, if it is just being together and prayer that get you halfway there, then every high school couple should be happily married today.

Tommy's got his six-string in hock
Now he's holding in what he used to make it talk
So tough, it's tough
Gina dreams of running away
When she cries in the night, Tommy whispers
Baby, it's okay, someday

Now this is where the song takes a turn.  Tommy has pawned his guitar. Maybe it was the guitar he played when he sang to sing to Gina. But the situation they are in now means that being together means giving up a lot.  Gina dreams of running away.  Is Gina dreaming of running away with Tommy or is she dreaming of running away from Tommy?  The financial struggles of this relationship override almost everything.  

Someone once said that couples fight over three things: money, sex, and money.  Many times, couples get together based on attractiveness, compatibility, etc. Finances are often never really discussed. Budgets and money should be the one of the first thing that needs discussion. No understanding of family of origin, personality or conflict resolution models will work if there is not a clear sense of where the financial picture is for the couple.  Money issues are also almost always more than the amount of money. Rich couples and poor couples alike can have conflict about money. Control, boundaries, expectations, and organization…all of these issues play into a couple’s financial situation.  What if someday doesn’t come?

Woah, we're halfway there
Woah, livin' on a prayer
Take my hand, we'll make it I swear
Woah, livin' on a prayer
Livin' on a prayer

Oh, we've got to hold on, ready or not
You live for the fight when it's all that you've got

So… did Tommy & Gina make it?

 In an interview a few years ago, Jon Bon Jovi does confirm that Tommy and Gina do in fact make it through that hard night and end up staying together.  They work it out.  On Bon Jovi’s follow up album, New Jersey, the song Born to Be My Baby is the conclusion to the story of Tommy and Gina. Though they are not mentioned by name, Jon Bon Jovi confirms the song is about them.

What is fascinating about the song is that while there is still a strong idea of the couple trying to make it and holding on the song opens with the idea that they both get better jobs.

We both got jobs 'cause there's bills to pay

And the couple also has a powerful idea that God has put them together...

Only God would know the reasons But I bet he must have had a plan
'Cause you were born to be my baby
And baby, I was made to be your man

Rock on!!!!

Songwriters: Jon Bon Jovi / Desmond Child / Richard S. Sambora

Livin' on a Prayer lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

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