After I introduced my wife to the Rocky franchise early in our marriage, she said, “This is a love story.”
I hadn’t ever really thought of it that way before. I mean, it’s about boxing. It’s about not quitting. It’s about that 14th round of the first fight. It is definitely not about winning, but about “how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward”.
Yet, I agree with her. Because even though I hadn’t used that phrase before, I have always felt that Rocky and Adrian are the best romantic couple in fiction.
One of the things that brings me to this conclusion is their soul-baring, brutally honest, all-cards-on-the-table conversations. “Conversations” is really too banal a word. They are more like verbal boxing matches. Whether by design or by a natural flow of the plot of the movies, the fact they reflect the climactic fight scene of each of the movies is perfect.
Probably the most memorable is the one on the beach in Rocky III. Adrian did what no one else could: she got Rocky to admit he was afraid. It’s a poignant, plot-altering, wonderful moment. Much more raw is their face-off in IV after Rocky takes the bout in Russia on Christmas immediately after Apollo’s death1. Adrian asks the reasonable question as only a wife can: “Even if you win what have you won? Apollo’s still gone!” She then obliterates all pretense with a “YOU CAN’T WIN!” haymaker. This not only stuns Rocky but knocked fans like me to the mat. As a result, the conversation is too intense to continue. Rocky rallies to explain his reasoning. But then walks away. They finally resume weeks later, with contrite hearts, in Russia. There are other memorable ones, including in the ubiquitously-panned V, after Tommy forsakes Rocky, and Adrian brings him perspective.
They all ring of real-life to me. Rocky accepted the fight in Russia without consulting Adrian first. I’ve done similar things numerous times in my 6-year marriage. Rocky’s look of devastation after Adrian tells him he can’t win is met with Adrian’s own “I can’t believe I just said that” facial expression2. That resonates with me. Who hasn’t said something to their spouse and immediately regretted it, especially after seeing how it deflated them? I’ll speak for myself. I have.
But back to the beach, this is the one that I consider the most important, and why I am writing this article. Rocky and Adrian’s conversations show how unsightly marriage can be. But they also show how needed unfiltered, intimate communication is when there are problems. Like many jobs, pastoring has been supremely frustrating since March 2020. There were times last year I would be beyond irritated or worn out. And instead of talking it out with my wife, I’d retreat into myself. I had all these feelings and frustrations and I just assumed my wife knew. She didn’t. It took her drawing them out of me. I wish I could say 2020 was the first time this had happened. But it was not.
You’d think after years of being together, most of them married, there wouldn’t be any awkwardness. But the nature of “Rocky and Adrian” conversations is that they are humbling and woefully uncomfortable. They force me to face the worst truths about myself. Even though they remind me of Rocky, with no script and only one take, they are even messier than the movies. In short, they weren’t always pretty. But they were beautiful.
Because they were real. They are what my marriage needs in the worst way. It’s always been fascinating to me how little the Bible gives on specifics on things like marriage and parenting. I think it’s because God doesn’t want us to follow formulas. He wants us to depend on his grace and Spirit, but also for us (and our children) to be who he uniquely created us to be.
For me, without these soul-exposing and ego-crushing interactions with my wife, I will not be the husband God created me to be. I would be consumed by my own selfishness and probably allow anger to become bitterness. Which will corrode me from the inside out. By contrast, the naked and unashamed aspect of these conversations is a lot like exercise or rehab. While painful from start to finish, the end result is a much healthier state of being.
I wish I could tell you know this has made me more apt to seek them out. And I do at times. But like Rocky and Adrian, my wife still has to initiate them too often. She is patient and I am learning. Without a doubt, both things are indicative of true Christian love.
They are a part of our love story. And God’s love story through us.
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