Arts & Culture

A Southerner’s Secrets to Lasting Love

Magic words from Grandma Gunn that will sustain a marriage

Photo: Jacqueline Stofsick

My husband and I got married at the Charleston County courthouse six years ago this month. In the intervening years, we’ve had ups and downs—brought home a dog, made it through health scares, renovated a house and a garden, and celebrated the birth of our son, who was quite the miracle and born in the middle of a blizzard. 

Every morning of our marriage, I’ve been greeted by a framed letter from my husband’s late maternal grandmother, Jo Elinor Board Gunn, that hangs near my dressing room. She mailed the letter, written on an unassuming piece of notebook paper, to us a few days after we eloped. It is, by far, the best wedding gift we received. On it, she listed what she called “The Magic Words”—nine things to say to ensure long-lasting love. 

Grandma Gunn, who was raised in Parkin, Arkansas, learned this simple wisdom during her own marriage to Lundy Reid Gunn, and wanted to pass on the knowledge. Like a lot of their contemporaries, the two met following his service in World War II, when they were at Ole Miss. The Gunns went on to have four children and settled outside of Jackson, Mississippi. 

I first met Grandma Gunn—a pretty blonde, with a beautiful smile—in 2009, when I started dating my husband. She was immediately kind to me, and playfully (sometimes devilishly) funny.  When I read the letter the first time, I was relieved that it made no mention of baking pies and having dinner ready or anything outdated. Instead, her advice was spot on then and spot on now and applicable to any couple. 

Here are Grandma Gunn’s “Magic Words”

1. “I love you.” If not said it can damage the relationship.

2. “Let’s try it your way.” It’s natural to want to be right—for some it is an addiction.

3. “Maybe you are right.” It shows you value the other person.

4. “How can I show you I love you today?” Just think how anyone would like to hear this.

5. “I’m sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me.” Acknowledge the hurt. It comes with a commitment to not hurt again.

6. “How am I doing as a partner?” This shows the relationship is important to you and you are willing to learn.

7. “Winston Churchill said ‘I’m always eager to learn, I don’t always like being taught.’”

8. “Would you like to go out on a date?” Everyone likes to be courted.

9. “I just called to say I’m thinking about you.” Everyone likes to hear this!

Her suggestions are centered around empathy, active listening, validating, and celebrating the person you choose to spend your life with, through thick and thin. 

Magic words, indeed.