Oprah, Marriage and Sacrifice

By Bill Arbuckle
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a man and woman hold hands during a wedding
Photo by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash
Did Oprah get it right? Does marriage mean sacrificing your goals, plans and identity? Or does marriage offer something more?

Oprah Winfrey is making headlines for an essay published in O magazine. The media mogul, actress and philanthropist explained why she never “tied the knot” with long-time beau, Stedman Graham, despite his marriage proposal in 1993. “I realized I didn’t actually want a marriage. I wanted to be asked. I wanted to know he felt I was worthy of being his missus, but I didn’t want the sacrifices, the compromises, the day-in-day-out commitment required to make a marriage work.”

Winfrey explained that both she and Mr. Graham realized Oprah’s then-daily talk show and her additional media projects took priority. “Had we tied the marital knot,” Ms. Winfrey says, “We would not still be together.” In place of marriage, Oprah Winfrey says the couple has built a “spiritual partnership” which stresses equality and spiritual growth.

According to Ms. Winfrey, the couple’s relationship is a success for three reasons. “He (Stedman Graham) created an identity beyond being ‘Oprah’s man.’ We share all the values that matter (integrity being number one). And … we relish seeing the other fulfill and manifest their destiny and purpose.”

Oprah, Stedman and a growing trend in America

Oprah’s comments will no doubt connect with the nearly 60% of American adults who have been — or are currently in — a cohabiting relationship. (Cohabiting = unmarried couples who move in and make a home together.) Although 53% of American couples marry, the number of cohabiting couples has been growing since 1995. And, popular culture agrees cohabiting is OK, even if the couple has no plans to marry.

The Pew Research Center asked the American public for its views of cohabitation. Nearly 70% of those surveyed say cohabitation is acceptable. The rate was even higher among adults under age 30, with 78% agreeing that living together is acceptable.

Among those who see cohabitation as a reasonable alternative to marriage, Oprah Winfrey’s relationship with Stedman Graham is likely to be viewed as a positive example of a relationship without a formal commitment.

Cohabitation: Why the appeal?

Why do couples move in together? For the same reasons people choose to marry – love and companionship. Cohabiting couples also say that finances and convenience play a part in their decision. Two-thirds of cohabiting couples see their decision as the first step toward marriage. And when it comes to commitment? Sure, there’s some commitment to love each other and be financially responsible. So, what’s the problem? Isn’t cohabitation just “marriage-lite” — a strong relationship without all the time-consuming legal issues?

But what about the sacrifices and commitments?

Did Oprah Winfrey get it right? Does marriage require “sacrifices, the compromises, the day-in-day-out commitment required to make a marriage work.”

Yes.

And a whole lot more. The Bible — in I Corinthians 13 — explains God’s definition of love.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

That’s asking for a lot. A lot of sacrifices, compromises and day-in-day-out commitments.

Why would anyone want to make that kind of commitment?

Because that’s the way God loves us. And marriage is much deeper than a physical relationship or a “spiritual partnership.” Marriage is a living, breathing example of God’s love. Within the commitment or covenant of marriage, God blesses both husband and wife with more than a partnership. He offers unity. A man and wife become one flesh. They are spiritually united. The “sum” of marriage is greater than its parts … especially when God is invited to be a part of the marriage union.

With God’s love as our example and His blessing on the relationship, those sacrifices, compromises and day-in-day-out commitments (though still difficult) become expressions of love for our better half. Why wouldn’t someone want that kind of deep, lasting, life-long commitment?

Marriage has several practical benefits, too

The Pew Research Study “Marriage and Cohabitation in the U.S.” compared marriage and cohabitation side by side. Here’s what they found:

  • Married adults are more satisfied than those living with a partner. (54% of married couples say their relationship is going “very well” as compared to 39% of cohabiting couples.)
  • Married adults are happier with how the household chores are divided. (46% to 37%.)
  • Married adults are happier with how a spouse approaches parenting, with their work-life balance and communications.

Even more important, married adults say their spouse is more likely to stay faithful to them, act in their best interest, always tell the truth and handle money responsibly.

Marriage, magazines and Ms. Winfrey

Oprah is a true American success story. She has lived the rags-to-riches, luck-and-pluck life. We will remember Oprah Winfrey for her influence, creativity and philanthropy. She has worked hard to become who she is today. But — as with any celebrity or influencer — there is something we don’t see: the price of success. Oprah hinted at the cost in her magazine article. “My life with the show was my priority, and we both knew it.”

Whether she married Stedman Graham or chose the path of fame, Oprah Winfrey had to make sacrifices. She’s had to make compromises. She’s had to choose the day-in-day-out commitment to become a recognized influencer and leader.

And here’s a hard truth to consider: Oprah committed herself to success. But success is not committed to her. Fame is fickle. Riches sprout wings and fly away.

In the end, it all comes down to relationships. People. Will we commit wholeheartedly to a spouse? Or will we try to make it as individuals?

God, the Creator of marriage, designed marriage as a life-long commitment. He designed us to work together as helpmates, (Ecclesiastes 4:9) as sacrificial lovers (Ephesians 5:25) and as inseparable partners (Genesis 2:24). And God — through His love — binds us all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)

Which will you choose? A convenient connection or a lifelong commitment?

Marriage — while not as glamorous as wealth or fame — offers so much more.

© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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About the Author

Bill Arbuckle

Bill Arbuckle is a content producer for the Marriage team at Focus on the Family.

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