Miller couple can write of sensible marriages

August 30, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

Sherman N. Miller can remember the minute and the hour and the day that he first realized he loved Gwynelle, the future Mrs. Miller.

It is a long, involved story, and Mr. Miller tells it with great relish -- with dramatic flourishes; with poetic embellishments. This is a tale with irony and humor and enough sudden twists of fate to keep a soap opera running for a good year.

I took notes, of course, but I'll just stick to the highlights of this epic; like when Mr. Miller and his future wife spoke together for the first time. "I had been with other ladies and still been lonely, even when we were together," he says. "But for some reason Gwynelle seemed to fill that void. After talking with [me] for just few moments, she brought a comfort and a compassion into my life that I had never felt before."

Or, when Mr. Miller and his future wife first part company: "She was in the car, driving off, and I looked at her and she looked at me and when our eyes met, it was clear our minds were oscillating in harmony. I turned to my mother and said, 'Someday, I'm going to marry that girl!' "

And so he did -- six months later.

The Millers have been married for over three decades -- they will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary next Tuesday. And they have written a book about what makes marriages work. They are not social scientists: Mr. Miller, 52, has a master's degree in physics and writes a column for a number of black-owned newspapers, including the Baltimore Times. Mrs. Miller, 52, works for a chemical company in Wilmington, Del.

But this book is not about theory, it is about common sense. They call it, "Wedlock . . . The Common Sense Marriage."

"Provocative title," I say to Mr. Miller. I had caught him at his home in Wilmington, which now serves as headquarters of S.N.M. Publishing Company, the enterprise through which they published their book.

"We wanted it to be provocative, that was the whole idea," responds Mr. Miller. "What is the one thing that characterizes the breakdown of the family today? Out-of-wedlock births. Well, the opposite of 'out-of-wedlock' is wedlock. 'Wedlock' connotes a long-term commitment -- a scary concept to a lot of young people, but that's what it takes to make a marriage work."

I was struck by Mr. Miller's optimism, by their sense that marriages can be made to work in these days and times. People I know seem increasingly cynical about the durability of such concepts as "love" and "commitment."

The Millers interviewed couples of many ethnicities and creeds for their book, which was three years in the making. Patterns emerged.

"People who had been married for 25 years or more could tell you the exact instant they fell in love," says Mr. Miller. "Just like me. They all had a romantic story to tell. People in unsuccessful relationships generally couldn't. Often, they listed reasons other than love for getting married."

Love, then, is the first ingredient for a successful marriage, says Mr. Miller. "There is only one reason for getting married: You have to be committed to the happiness of your spouse and they have to be equally committed to your happiness."

The next essential ingredient, says Mr. Miller, is common sense.

"OK, throw out all the sociology. We're talking plain, everyday common sense: Trust, commitment, responsibility, a strong set of moral values. There is no magic recipe."

A local couple, Harlow and Elnora Fullwood of Catonsville, figure prominently in the Millers' book. Harlow Fullwood, an area businessman, describes marriage as a process of "give and take. Some days I've got to give 95 percent, and some days she's got to give 95 percent."

Elnora Fullwood says that "it is important that couples be able to laugh at themselves."

"If there is a role model in [the] book, it is the Fullwoods," says Mr. Miller. "They are a black family that started poor, gained wealth, and now share that wealth with the community.

"When I watch the two of them," Mr. Miller continues, "they seem to operate as one mind. You can see the mutual respect, the partnership, the trust. They are African American, but their example transcends race."

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