Love takes many forms, many of which may seem unconventional by social standards. By looking at some famous couples in history, we can appreciate the intensity and quality of the bond two people share and how their love impacts each other. These love lessons from seven notable couples from history will inspire you to write your own love story and experience relationships from a place of openness. (Estimated reading time: 8-9 minutes)
“Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs.” – William Shakespeare.”— William Shakespeare
Have you ever walked through a park and seen an elderly couple sitting on a bench by a lake, holding hands?
Or perhaps you caught a glimpse of a young, starry-eyed couple at a restaurant gazing at each other, talking about sweet nothings, oblivious to the world around them.
If you’re anything like me, you might wonder what their secret is. You admire the elderly couple for the longevity of their partnership, while the intensity between the young pair inspires you.
In his work “Eclogues,” Roman poet Virgil wrote “Amor vincit omnia, et nos cedamus amori” which means, “Love conquers all things, so we too shall yield to love.” This suggests that there’s nothing in the world that love cannot overcome — true love conquers all obstacles.
The key phrase here is “true love,” i.e., a love that’s meaningful, and has substance and depth. While we can write a list of the characteristics that constitute true love, it only manifests itself through our actions when we’re in a partnership.
Love is a verb. It’s a continual choice we make that informs how we show up in our connections. We can see love in action by looking at couples who get it right (for the most part).
By looking at some famous couples from history, we have a better chance at experiencing the type of love that’s true and life-changing.
Real love vs. fictional love: knowing the difference
At some point, every person in a partnership learns that love in the real world is nothing like the romanticized version from film and music. After the first blush of love fades, you won’t be singing “Hello” by Lionel Richie to each other every day.
Writers and directors purposely omit the mundane and humdrum elements of partnerships to make the stories more enticing to the masses. No one wants to watch a couple silently eating dinner, doing household chores, or nursing a crying baby.
Movies, stories, and songs are not created to show reality – they’re supposed to be dramatic, exciting, and fun. We’re purchasing an experience when we consume these forms of entertainment.
Remembering this will lead to healthier expectations in love and not make us run for the hills the minute monotony creeps into our relationships. Here are five ways fiction love differs from real love:
- It shows characters falling in love much faster than couples do in reality.
- It is overly romantic, while real love has a sprinkle of romance.
- It is exciting and passionate, while real love is often steady and calm.
- It does not highlight everyday problems like money troubles and raising kids, but real love requires us to deal with these issues.
- It makes us believe that only the big moments and spectacular displays of love matter when the hundred small, daily acts make a difference in real love.
Does this mean that we can’t experience the joyful anticipation we once had when we met our beaus? Experts say that staying in love is possible, but it requires a shift in mindset and active efforts to keep the flame alive.
We must change our definition of what “being in love” looks and feels like. Famous couples from history have proven that it’s possible to do this and have thrived.
Markers of relationship success: Going beyond the social definition
If real love is not what we see in movies, then what is it? Over the years, relationship experts have been able to identify certain characteristics that are essential to success in relationships.
These factors are essential to the foundation of a partnership: trust, authenticity, kindness, thoughtfulness, compatibility in all dimensions of intimacy (mental, emotional, physical, and lifestyle), communication, conflict resolution, and how you handle adversity.
These traits apply to traditional partnerships but aren’t always present in connections that are unconventional by social standards. Nowadays, different statuses do not follow the regular norms but are still significant for many people. In our laissez-faire world of relationships, we need to expand the list of what makes a relationship significant.
When looking at role model couples, we must view them through a lens beyond the rational mind and social constructs. It’s not how closely they fit into the cookie-cutter idea of the perfect relationship but the intensity, impact, and quality of the love they shared.
Love Lessons We Can Learn from 7 Famous Couples in History
By looking at some of the most famous couples in history, we can better understand what true love looks like and apply that in our own relationships. Here are seven lessons that we can learn from some famous couples from history:
Cleopatra and Mark Antony
Lesson: Love can blossom even in the most difficult circumstances.
One of the most famous power couples in history, Mark Antony and Cleopatra, made their love real despite their circumstances. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and Roman general Mark Antony fell passionately in love amid the power struggles of the Roman republic. Antony was in conflict with Octavian, Julius Caesar’s son, over the succession of the Roman throne after Caesar’s assassination.
Antony built a political and romantic alliance with Cleopatra (and had three children with her) and joined their armies to fight Octavian’s forces in Greece. However, the couple lost the battle and had to leave Egypt. After being deserted by his army, Mark Antony took his own life. Cleopatra followed in his footsteps, committing suicide through the bite of a poisonous asp.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King
Lesson: Love can change the world.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s love story began after a friend set them up in college. After meeting King in person, Coretta called him “a man of substance,” and King said that she had “everything he wanted in a wife – character, intelligence, personality, and beauty.”
After they got married, both would work side-by-side as devoted partners in activism during the Civil Rights movement. Coretta realized that she would be at the forefront of it and said that she felt blessed to be part of such a noble and historic cause.
The couple raised a family against the backdrop of the movement’s active and often brutal events. Their partnership led to a legacy of non-violence to bring about legislative changes to liberate disenfranchised Americans.
Their time together tragically ended when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968. Coretta and her children continued his social justice, activism, and civil rights reform legacy.
Shah Jahan and Mumtaaz Mahal
Lesson: Love is eternal.
The magnificent Taj Mahal is inspired by one of the most touching love stories in history. It was an eternal tribute that the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan made to his beloved wife, Mumtaaz Mahal, after her passing.
He was besotted from the moment he saw the strikingly beautiful Persian princess, Arjumand Banu Begum (Mahal’s maiden name), in a bazaar while she was browsing through Persian rugs. He immediately expressed his interest to his father and married her five years later. After their nuptials, he gave her the name “Mumtaaz Mahal,” which translates to Jewel of the Palace.
Once he ascended the throne, she became his trusted companion and traveled with him during royal visits and military campaigns. He loved and trusted her so much that he presented her with the imperial seal “Muhr Uzah,” the greatest honor possible.
Sadly, Mumtaaz died after giving birth to their fourteenth child. Following her death, the inconsolable Shah Jahan vowed never to remarry and built one of the most stunning mausoleums as her tomb. It took 22 years to build and the manpower of more than 22,000 men.
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy
Lesson: Love does not have to follow tradition.
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are one of Hollywood’s most beloved couples. While the duo headlined nine movies together, off-screen, they were not officially together but were said to have had an affair that stretched for almost three decades.
Although everyone in Hollywood knew about it, the two never openly admitted the bond they shared and kept their romance under wraps. In her autobiography, Hepburn wrote, “It was a unique feeling I had for Tracy. I loved him … I would have done anything for him.”
Tracy, who was married, could not divorce his wife as that option was not available for Catholics at that time. Among growing tensions with his wife and family, he distanced himself and found comfort in Hepburn’s company.
Hepburn stayed by his side as he faced his inner demons of depression and alcoholism until his death. Their love for each other was strong, and their chemistry was undeniable, even if it didn’t fit conventions.
Mildred and Richard Loving
Lesson: Love knows no color and is worth fighting for.
Mildred and Richard Loving were an American couple who challenged interracial marriage laws in the 1950s and 1960s when such unions were prohibited in 24 states.
Both were from Virginia and had to travel to Washington DC to get married, but while the newlyweds were asleep, armed police officers burst into their room and threw them in jail. They were released shortly after and were ordered to leave their home state for 25 years.
They approached the American Civil Liberties Union to fight their case. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor and struck down the Virginia statute that prohibited interracial marriage. After winning the landmark case, the couple moved back to Virginia and lived with their three children until Richard’s death in 1975.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
Lesson: Love should feed your creativity.
There was nothing typical about Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s love story. The infamous pair were rife with extra-marital affairs, messy fights, and they even divorced for one year, only to remarry a year later.
But their passionate and volatile love gave rise to some of the world’s most extraordinary art. Rivera was a pivotal artist in the Mexican mural movement, and Kahlo is best known for self-portraits.
The pair met when Kahlo was an art student looking for career advice from an accomplished painter. Her search led her to Rivera, a well-known painter 20 years her senior. On Kahlo, Diego said, “She had unusual dignity and self-assurance and there was a strange fire in her eyes,”
While Kahlo said to Rivera, “You deserve a lover who listens when you sing, who supports you when you feel shame and respects your freedom; who flies with you and isn’t afraid to fall. You deserve a lover who takes away the lies and brings you hope, coffee, and poetry.”
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt
Lesson: Love evolves and can take on different forms.
The Roosevelts were a power couple in the early 20th century. Both left their own mark in the political and activism realm. While they both supported each other’s ambitions in the spotlight, Eleanor and Franklin’s private lives were less successful.
When they were first married, their love was undeniable, but that ended when infidelity crept into their union. Both Franklin and Eleanor had romantic relationships with people outside their marriage and mainly lived apart.
Their romantic feelings transmuted into respect for each other’s ambitions, and they stayed together to solidify their legacies. They remained husband and wife, but only in name. Their platonic union worked for their political and intellectual aspirations, but they found emotional and romantic fulfillment elsewhere.
The union between two individuals has been a focal point in our social landscape since the time of Adam and Eve. What has changed is the social rules we’ve made around a union. When we strip them away, we can appreciate both the beauty and the mess that defines the special bond that two people share.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Who is your favorite couple from history? What do you like about their story?
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Love is a very specific and individual thing. People look to get different things out of their love and romantic relationships. I think that is a big part of why so many people want and seek out a romantic partner. Finding that special someone who can give that to you is something special indeed.
So very true Joanna! Love is hard to describe because not everyone experiences the same type of love at the same time. I think we need to go back to the way the Greek people did it- they have like a dozen or so different ways to say ‘love.’ They had words that meant a romantic love, sexual love, famillial, lover, friendly or brotherly love, and even self love.