What Marriage Would C.S. Lewis Give You?

Though it’s just as unsurprising as hearing someone likes chocolate or sleeping in on Saturdays, I’ll still say it: I love C.S. Lewis. When the marriage advice started rolling in after I got engaged, I wondered just what sort he give me. Our conversation may have gone something like this:

Setting: Imagine a wood-trimmed room with large-paned windows letting in a late morning’s sun. The armchairs and warm-colored rugs tell of a space often-used and well-loved. A fire smolders in the corner hearth. Mr. Lewis, legs crossed and relaxed in posture, sits cradling a steaming cup while a young man, his bachelorhood now quite in jeopardy, sits across from him. The man’s forward tilt divulges his eagerness for the marriage advice he’s traveled so far to get. So does the forgotten cup of tea on a nearby table.

Unfortunately for him, he’s passing up excellent tea.

Lewis: I think there are four ages about nearly everything. Let’s give them names. They are the Unenchanted Age, the Enchanted Age, the Disenchanted Age, and the Re-enchanted Age. I suppose the most obvious application of these stages is love.

We all remember the Unenchanted Age – there was a time when women meant nothing to us. Then we fell in love; that, of course, was the Enchantment. Then, in the early or middle years of marriage there came – well, Disenchantment. All the promises had turned out, in a way, false. No woman could be expected to fulfill them all – the thing was impossible – I don’t mean any disrepect either to my own wife or to yours.

Young Man:Does the Enchantment count for anything, then? I mean, if all the promises turn out false in a way, what good do they do us?

Lewis: It certainly counts. Whether there is, or whether there is not, in this world or in any any other, the kind of happiness which one’s first experiences of falling in love seemed to promise, still, on my view, it is something to have had the idea of it at all. The promise of the Enchanted Age is that this woman is utterly angelic – all heaven without any earth. Even though this is false, in a way, there is still something deep within this promise which is true.

Young Man: Do you find out what is true in the Fourth Age – in the Re-Enchantment?

Lewis: There comes a time when you look back on that first mirage, perfectly well aware that it was a mirage, and yet, seeing all the things that have come out of it, things the boy and girl could never have dreamed of. You realize that it was telling you truths in the only form you would then have understood.

Romantic Love, having made his gigantic promises and shown you in glimpses what its performance would be like, has ‘done his stuff.’ He makes the vows; it is we who must keep them. It is we who must labour to bring our daily life into even closer accordance with what the glimpses have revealed. We must do the work of Romance when he is not present. This all lovers know. The glimpses of the Second Age aren’t false, just incomplete. The error comes in thinking the part that they show us is the whole of what marriage will be like.

Young Man: But the Second Age seems the most satisfying – can one stay there?

Lewis: It seems that way to those who haven’t been Re-enchanted. Many unfortunate efforts have been made to try to remain in the Second Age, but mortal lovers must not try stay there: for lasting rapture is the dream from which we wake in despair. This Romantic Love whose voice seems to speak from the eternal realm is not himself necessarily even permanent. We have all heard of people who are in love again every few years; each time sincerely convinced that ‘this time it’s the real thing,” that their wanderings are over.

What you must remember is that the Second Age comes, but can’t stay. The glories which we experience there are supposed by modern thinkers to be the basis for marriage but, all the while, they are really pictures of something God promises as its result. While there inevitably comes some Disillusionment from thinking all of marriage to be Enchantment, the Fourth Age in marriage is its sweetest season. It may be that you may pass in and out of these ages a few times in your life, but to be sure, the deep love – hinted at in the Romantic Stage – is worth waiting for and working for.

Young Man: And what of those times in Disenchantment? This seems to be where motivation is at a minimum.

Lewis: Well, those who are not reflective or articulate will be able to express it only in a few conventional phrases about “taking the rough along with the smooth,” not “expecting too much,” and having “a little common sense,” and the like. And all good Christian lovers know that this programme, modest as it sounds, will not be carried out except by humility, charity, and divine grace; that it is indeed the whole of Christian life seen from one particular angle. One can be thankful and rejoicing in all the stages, but remember that love hits its crescendo when it is mature.

Young Man: This all sounds quite heady and abstract. How do big ideas help me at breakfast or when we’re in the midst of an argument?

Lewis: Well, just as 12 inches fit into a foot (in your country), so the small strokes of life fit in the broad. Within a generality you find many particulars thus, these “big ideas” which seem impractical are the context for living each week’s groggy Mondays. But if you are looking for a maxim that you could, this very hour, start attempting, here is one:

Sensible lovers laugh and, until they have a baby to laugh at, lovers are always laughing at each other. Marriage is serious, so serious that you cannot risk laughter’s absence. Fun and play encourage charity, courage, contentment, and other virtues. Many things can be said about marriage, but this lighthearted word I give you: make sure laughter is often in yours.

Now, what do you say about us having a little more tea, hmm?

Sources: Many of Lewis’ lines are direct quotes from his works. Where I needed to be brief, I added summary or interpretation of longer passages. If you are interested in reading from the sources themselves, they are listed below. All items are available on Amazon.

1. “Eros,” The Four Loves.
2. “Talking About Bicycles,” Present Concerns.
3. Chapter 18, The Screwtape Letters.
4. (Minor influences on the article) The Pilgrim’s Regress and “The Weight of Glory,” The Weight of Glory.

Kyle McManamy is the director of Apologia Mission and brand manager for Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. He holds two graduate degrees from Southern Evangelical Seminary, is newly married, and lives in North Carolina with his wife – who is awesome.

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  1. Thank you, Kyle. I truly enjoyed this and it made me reflect back over 25 years of marriage, I can see how this has truly played out in our marriage. This is an excellent question, “And what of those times in Disenchantment? This seems to be where motivation is at a minimum.” Very true! Satan would love nothing more than for a couple to just give up on the covenant made before God. Thank you so much for this article. Blessings to you and your awesome wife 🙂

  2. Great article and it smacks of truth! 🙂 thanks for putting it out there- it’s also nice to hear from the “men folks” around here once in awhile too!

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