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Marriage Advice From An American President To His Son

Days before his 26-year-old son got married, future United States President Ronald Reagan sent him a letter of advice about how to have a happy marriage. He wrote it in June of 1971, but the message is eternal (no wonder he was such a great man, and a good husband).

Dear Mike:

Enclosed is the item I mentioned (with which goes a torn up IOU). I could stop here but I won’t.

You’ve heard all the jokes that have been rousted around by all the “unhappy marrieds” and cynics. Now, in case no one has suggested it, there is another viewpoint. You have entered into the most meaningful relationship there is in all human life. It can be whatever you decide to make it.

Some men feel their masculinity can only be proven if they play out in their own life all the locker-room stories, smugly confident that what a wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her. The truth is, somehow, way down inside, without her ever finding lipstick on the collar or catching a man in the flimsy excuse of where he was till three A.M., a wife does know, and with that knowing, some of the magic of this relationship disappears. There are more men griping about marriage who kicked the whole thing away themselves than there can ever be wives deserving of blame. There is an old law of physics that you can only get out of a thing as much as you put in it. The man who puts into the marriage only half of what he owns will get that out. Sure, there will be moments when you will see someone or think back to an earlier time and you will be challenged to see if you can still make the grade, but let me tell you how really great is the challenge of proving your masculinity and charm with one woman for the rest of your life. Any man can find a twerp here and there who will go along with cheating, and it doesn’t take all that much manhood. It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended him while he was sick and washed his dirty underwear. Do that and keep her still feeling a warm glow and you will know some very beautiful music. If you truly love a girl, you shouldn’t ever want her to feel, when she sees you greet a secretary or a girl you both know, that humiliation of wondering if she was someone who caused you to be late coming home, nor should you want any other woman to be able to meet your wife and know she was smiling behind her eyes as she looked at her, the woman you love, remembering this was the woman you rejected even momentarily for her favors.

Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others. Now you have a chance to make it come out the way it should. There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.



P.S. You’ll never get in trouble if you say “I love you” at least once a day.

ronal reagan letter to son

I found this letter in an old TIME magazine I saved, because I just loved his tips for a happy marriage. It was among a collection of letters from Ronald Reagan to various people, and displayed his integrity and inner heart. Apparently this great man loved the art of letter writing, and it was a lovely tribute to him after his death. It can also be found in the book Reagan: A Life In Letters.

  • Love this…. I’ve heard about letters between he and his wife too. Thanks for sharing.

  • I like how he talks about manhood and faithfulness going hand in hand. 🙂

  • Jenn

    Wow. We need someone with character and integrity like that in politics today.

  • How touching!

  • What a great message from a great President.

  • Heather!

    Penelope, this is yet another example of why I subscribe to your blog. Not only do you bring us lovely gems like this, you remind me and others that a good marriage doesn’t just happen by itself. One must keep principles like the ones described above in mind all the time. Like a healthy body, a healthy marriage needs the occasional check-up and sometimes needs adjustments in exercise or diet (LOL). You inspire me to do my ‘marriage exercises’ and the rewards have been great. Thank you, for this and all the other good stuff you share! (Which I inevitably go on to pin…!) 🙂

  • Penelope

    I love the analogy…a marriage does need check-ups and occasional adjustments to keep it healthy! I’m glad you appreciate it, and do you know I kept this copy of TIME for almost 15 years now, because of his amazing letters? He was a special person, an example of a good father who taught his children to live with integrity…definitely the definition of a real man.

  • Amanda

    That’s a great letter. I hadn’t heard about his letters before, I’m going to have to check it out! Thanks for posting!

  • I like the “I love you everyday” advice.

  • Katy P

    Love it! Great advice form a great man!

  • Katy P

    Love it! Great advice from a great man!

  • So sweet. <3

  • This is heartfelt, beautiful and most importantly, TRUE!

  • April Decheine

    Love this, they were a really sweet couple, very much in love..

  • This is wonderful!

  • marg

    This is very sweet!

  • I love this! He was such a great man, husband and father.

  • What a wonderful thing for a father to do for his son.

  • the men in charge of this country have definitely changed

  • Penelope

    To say the least! (then again, so has the general thinking :-/ )

  • What a great letter and I love how you saved it – I love little treasures like this.


  • Very nice letter. Love his P.S. 😉

  • Great tips and so heartfelt.

  • He was one of my all time favorite presidents and funny you should save a magazine and find something some useful today

  • I love that letter. RR was such a wonderful man.

  • Penelope

    I save all things happy marriage related 🙂

  • That is so heartfelt.

  • Flora Jennings

    This is wonderful. It is just overflowing with truth and good information. Ronald Reagan was an intelligent man who knew what he was talking about. His second marriage to Nancy Davis was idyllic, and she absolutely adored him until the day he died. Any husband would be wise to follow his counsel. So many guys are so tied up in themselves that they fail to understand just what they should be contributing to their marriages and the well-being of their wives. While most wives have inborn qualities of nurturing, showing love, and the desire to do little things to make their husbands happy, these qualities seem to be missing in a lot of men, probably because of their desire to seem macho and the fact that kindness has been bred out of them for the sake of masculinity. Men who have the sense to put these things back into their marriages are the ones destined for long, happy relationships.

  • hannah

    What a sweet and truthful letter! Why don’t we have men like this running the country any more?