Supreme Court Justice (and Internet star) Ruth Bader Ginsburg certainly had a marriage for the ages. And she dropped some truth bombs about love and balancing work with family during her interview with Kate Couric. In a nutshell: “You can’t have it all at once.”
This isn’t the first time Ginsburg has talked about her partnership with Marty Ginsburg. They were married for 56 years before he died in 2010 of complications from metastatic cancer. They both described their marriage as built upon “mutual respect and equality — and a willingness to share domestic duties,” The Washington Post has noted.
So, in an age of renewed focus on work-life balance, why not listen to Ginsburg talk on such issues? She is judicious for a living, after all. Here is a selection of some of her advice:
On having it all, or not
“You can’t have it all at once,” Ginsburg told Couric. “Over my lifespan, I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time, things were rough.”
She told the New Yorker in 2013 that “it bothers me when people say to make it to the top of the tree you have to give up a family.” And her husband told The New York Times in 1993: “I have been supportive of my wife since the beginning of time, and she has been supportive of me. It’s not sacrifice; it’s family.”
So how does one manage to have it all at different periods of life? “If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it,” Ginsburg told Couric. “I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”
“And Marty was an unusual man,” she added. “In fact, he was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain.”
He later became her advocate. As Ginsburg was seeking to gin up support to get nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve on the Supreme Court, Marty “became my campaign manager,” Ginsburg told The Post’s Robert Barnes in 2013. In a Post Magazine feature, Barnes wrote that Marty “organized a letter-writing campaign so aggressive it earned press attention.”
And of course, love immensely. In a note Marty wrote shortly before his death, he said to his wife: “You are the only person I have loved in my life, setting aside, a bit, parents and kids and their kids, and I have admired and loved you almost since the day we first met at Cornell some 56 years ago.”
Well, there you go.
On the value of earplugs
The key to marriage — and sometimes to serving on the Supreme Court — is to use earplugs when necessary. In an essay for Marlo Thomas’s collection “The Right Words at the Right Time,” Ginsburg relates the story of how her mother-in-law gave her a set of wax earplugs before her wedding ceremony, saying, “In every good marriage, it pays sometimes to be a little deaf.”
Ginsburg writes that her appreciation of that advice has grown over the years, and that it simply means, “Sometimes people say unkind or thoughtless things, and when they do, it is best to be a little hard of hearing — to tune out and not snap back in anger or impatience.”
She repeatedly called upon that advice throughout her marriage and has given it to her own children. “When Marty and I were temporarily miffed by something one or the other of us said or did, I would take several deep breaths and remember that tempers momentarily aroused generally subside like a summer storm,” she writes.
And, Ginsburg notes, those words from her mother-in-law can be helpful when working alongside justices on the Supreme Court.