Marriage – 4 Things We Did Better in the 1950s

Posted by: Shel 18 Comments

            It was a simpler time – a gentler time. The good old days. Oh sure, life wasn’t perfect in the 1950s. Marriage wasn’t perfect in the 1950s – in spite of what was portrayed on programs like Father Knows Best and The

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Courtesy of

Donna Reed Show. But there was some good stuff there that we can borrow to have more meaningful relationships in 2013. Here are 4 oldies but goodies from the 1950s:

1.    1.     Dressing up for our mates.  It was an era when women made sure their eyebrows were on before the morning lights were on. My mother told me that she would tie her hair back every night with a ribbon that matched her nightwear so she would look pretty when she went to bed. Now I’m not sure how long that lasted, because I don’t remember seeing a lot of matching morning ribbons when I came down for breakfast in the 1970s, but it seemed to be a point of pride for her for however long it lasted. How many of us freshen up before our spouse walks in the door? It only takes minutes for a quick shave, a spritz of cologne, or just losing the shirt with the baby splash on it. Spiffing up for our mates does indeed make us spiffy!

2.     2.   Connecting at dinner. Eating at the kitchen table with the TV off and phones out of reach. Does anybody besides me remember the embarrassment of having a parent answer the phone during the evening meal and stating to your caller – that special someone  you’d been trying to impress – that phone calls aren’t allowed during dinner? Now that I am on the other side of that humiliation, I fondly recall the interesting dinner conversations we had and the clear connection between my parents. Plug in to each other during meal time instead of your iPod.   


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Courtesy of

3.  Turning the TV back on. You’ve seen the pictures – usually in black and white – of a family grouped around the TV, the same eager look on each face. The reason everyone is excited is because it was a novelty.  We can recreate that anticipation and elevate our TV-watching experience by leaving it off most of the time and coming together to watch something special – something we both look forward to seeing. It transforms the mundane into an event.

4.     4.  Sharing root beer floats. Nothing like good root beer with a generous scoop of foaming ice cream to give us a fifteen-minute trip back in time while enjoying each other’s company.  But what about the calories in that sweet mini-retreat? Well, you know what they say – the couple who has ice cream floats together should take a walk together afterward. Yeah – more bonding time!

I know life wasn’t perfect in the 1950s.  Father probably didn’t always know best and Donna Reed likely lost the pearls as soon as she was off the set. But from bygone eras we can resurrect some of those simple gestures and practices that enhance our time with our mates and lets them know they are appreciated.

Do you incorporate old-fashioned simple pleasures into your relationship or have an idea how to do so? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

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  • There are many things about the 50’s that I don’t like, we have progressed in many ways but I agree with this list. Should I HAVE to be a housewife and look pretty all the time, no but is it nice if I choose to do that? Yes! My husband is fine with me in yoga pants everyday but I do notice that he does appreciate when I dress up for him. I did when we were dating and first married, it’s a pretty simple way to show I still care.

    We can still be empowered women and learn something from the past. It’s all about choice. 🙂

    • Shel Harrington

      If our spouses didn’t see us in yoga pants and sweats, they probably wouldn’t appreciate the contrast of our dressing up to make them smile as much! I think you nailed it, Lisa, when you “I did it when we were dating and first married” – most of us could swap out the ‘it’ for a slew of behaviors that have gone by the wayside. It proves we don’t have to dig too deep into the past for our lessons!

  • One leisurely Saturday I grabbed an Oprah magazine while still in my jammies- sweats and an oversized t-shirt. I was horrified to read that men don’t like, um, sweats and an oversized t-shirt! I decided right then and there to do something about that. So now that I’ve read your post (ten years later) I am ready to go all out. I think I am going to skip the matching ribbon tho. Thanks for your encouragement!

    • Shel Harrington

      You’re welcome – I think a little reminder every decade or so keeps us on the ball!

  • Don’t forget the great tablecloths, aprons, and tea towels! I love a pretty apron and freshly ironed tablecloth. .

    • Shel Harrington

      Ah – real linen. Nothing dries a dish quite like it! I love a freshly ironed tablecloths, too – and every few years when my mother comes for a visit (she likes to iron) I have one!

  • No, the 1950s weren’t perfect, but I’m afraid in trying to eliminate the imperfections, we threw out the proverbial babies with the bathwater. We lost “much of the good stuff” such as the points you mention here. Great post. Those pics made me nostalgic, and I’ll admit now that I had a crush on Paul Petersen.

  • Great article, Shel! We walk together a lot. Even when we’re saying nothing it’s a shared experience. And together we’ve walked our way through grief at various times. We have an ongoing joke, since we often watch TV while eating dinner: if remotes aren’t on counter one of us will ask, “No TV? Does this mean we have to … TALK?”

    • Shel Harrington

      We wouldn’t want to overdo it with a walk and having the TV off during dinner! I can see how a walk – especially a quiet one could be quite cathartic. And then, of course, if one had two of the cutest corgis in the world to take on the walk, too, the entertainment factor is so high that it could count as a date!

      • So laughing, but those little corgi legs won’t make it for 3-4 miles. Our walks with them are classified as “ambles.” 🙂

  • Mary Nell Bowser

    Yes, Shel, things were a little different in the 50s – the 40s as well. Was a much softer, simpler time and I never remember being afraid of anyone. Our main fears were polio, wartime and not getting asked to the next party. We married in 1956, but unlike youre mother, I did not wear a matching ribbon in my hair when I went to bed!!! On the other hand, my mother fixed her face and hair the minute she got out of bed in the morning. She never wanted my dad to see her otherwise. My Don just wasn’t that lucky!!!! Your advise was so very true for couples of today. Love your blog!

    • Shel Harrington

      Thanks, Mary Nell! Love your comments. But I have to disagree with one – Don was indeed a lucky (or should I say ‘blessed’?) man to have you in his life for your many married years!

      • Mary Nell Bowser

        You are just too kind. Prayed for you guys today. Love you.

  • I love this post, Shel! I was just discussing this very topic with a coworker today. I think spending time with family or friends without your cell phone says a lot to that person. I’m telling you, I value our time together and I don’t want distractions.

    • Shel Harrington

      This may be redundant – but since it’s not showing anywhere but on my dash, I’m re-posting my response to you, Jill:

      Couldn’t agree more about the phones, Jill. Last night we went to a movie (a rareevening event for us)and a group of (what appeared to be ) friends filed in the row in front of us. They sat and each immediately pulled out a cell phone and played their game, watched their movie, or texted the entire 20 minutes before the movie started. Most put them away while the movie was on. As soon as the credits started rolling they each had their phone in hand (one can only imagine what urgent message they may have missed in the past 2 hours) and filed out reading and texting as they went. If asked, I wonder if they would say they enjoyed the company they were with last night.

      • I’ve seen that often at the movie theater, although I don’t go much either, as there aren’t many worth seeing. When I look around, I see a sea of blue screens glowing. Why go to the movie……..

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