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I would never have imagined that I would be married so many years. In fact, when I first met my husband-to-be, I told him that I didn’t know if I would ever get married. It just seemed like such a traumatic, demanding step; besides, who would have me?
But I was wrong—and I’m so glad I was. In meeting my husband, I found a man who is generous, smart, funny, helpful, and kind. He can also be stubborn, determined, and obsessive about detail. But I digress . . .
Today we will be married 45 years, and I thought I would write about the reasons we’ve had a successful marriage. Yes, there are things I could complain about, but I’d have to confess to my own shortcomings and I wouldn’t want to ruin my image. I’m even going to ask my husband to critique this post, and if I’ve distorted anything or left out anything crucial, I’m absolutely certain he will let me know—in a kind way, of course. (Right, dear?) So here are my twelve steps to our successful marriage, in no particular order:
- Take the commitment seriously: honor your words. We were dead serious when we got married and talked about its meaning for us before we exchanged vows. For those who think marriage is a social experiment for their entertainment, trust me—it’s not. It is meant to be a loving commitment for life.
- Respect who the other person is. This rule especially applies to women, many of whom think they can make their husbands over into their idea of perfection. Not only is this effort a waste of time, but it’s insulting; I know. I was one of those women and I was a complete pain in the neck. One day, in the middle of trying to nag him into becoming the perfect man, I stopped myself. What was I thinking? I married him because he was a terrific man and a wonderful human being! Seeking perfection in another person is idiocy. Just love him.
- Pick your battles! This is trickier than it sounds. Sometimes we try to slough off problems and say they’re not important because we’re afraid a discussion will lead to a fight, or we’re just plain afraid. Or we’d rather just seethe about it for a while to build up a full head of steam. Nine times out of ten, it’s really not important. If you think it is, think on it a while before you dump on the other person. Oh, and figure out if you’re just being a stinker.
- Oblige the other’s preferences. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything they want you to do with them. It does mean you talk about how important said activity or purchase or commitment is to him or her. Unless you have some strong objection (I will not fly in an acrobatic plane), consider going along.
- Support the other’s vocations and avocations. My husband didn’t really have hobbies. He worked on his Vette early in our marriage but stopped doing it because it took so much time and he was trying to get a bachelor’s degree at the same time. When he wanted to get a gun, I was not happy, but he let go of badgering me into changing my mind. It took a while, but I eventually came on board and now he calls me Annie Oakley; I shoot pretty well, thank you. He has supported me on countless occasions: practicing Zen, writing a book, going back to Judaism. I’m definitely behind in the number of supportive opportunities I’ve offered toward him. But then, neither of us keeps count.
- Be loving. This is about more than sex. It means saying you love him or her. Often. If you’re not used to doing that, practice doing it. It gets easier. Spontaneous hugs or kisses are great. Praise, expressing gratitude, even for simple things, go a long way to deepening your relationship. Encourage the other to do the things he or she might be reluctant to try, even if you don’t know how it will work out. Finally, say thank you to acknowledge your gratitude for what the other person is doing. Especially for the little things.
- Laugh together. No one knows how to make me laugh more than he does. Especially laughing at myself. I have a roaring laugh. He’s more subtle when I amuse him; if I get a silly grin, I’m a happy camper. My happy dance is particularly effective.
- Be careful about giving advice. I was a terrible nag toward him, and he would try to “fix” things for me. When we both learned that we were married to extremely capable people, he learned to just listen to my rants, and I learned to ask for permission to make suggestions—that’s right. I always—well, almost always–ask myself if he really needs my input. Most of the time I realize he doesn’t. That single time when I think he would really benefit from my brilliant idea, I ask him if I can make a suggestion. If he says no, and sometimes it’s a sensitive topic and he declines, I let it go. Or he asks to discuss it another time. More often than not, he says I can share, and he often goes along. But if he doesn’t, even out of pure stubbornness, I let it go. That part isn’t easy, but my ego will mend.
- Making friends. It’s nice to have friends together, especially people with whom you can discuss lots of things—politics, how to re-pave the driveway, where to go on vacation. They definitely need to know how to laugh with us, too.
- Time together. When we were both working, we didn’t have has much opportunity to be together; for many years, my husband traveled a lot. But now we are both retired, and we have drifted into a routine that makes us available to each other, but in different parts of the house. We have breakfast together, then part to go to our own offices; both of us spend a lot of time on the computer. We eat lunch together and then I go to my office or have various appointments or tasks to do. At dinner, we catch up on the day; that is often ranting about the latest politics: it’s not good for the digestion but it sure stimulates blood circulation. Evenings might be watching TV or reading a book (him) or knitting (me).
- Changing household roles. For many years, I was in charge of many of the household tasks and my husband helped. Now, somehow, he’s doing most of them: prepping and cooking dinner, doing laundry, folding and ironing—well, isn’t that enough?! I must admit that the guilt I experience while he’s busy is a little hard to deal with. But I’m managing.
- Throw this list away. Every relationship is different. Sure, some of the things I’ve listed might be helpful, but a good marriage isn’t about checking off a list: it’s about genuine liking, loving and caring for the other person; accepting them just as they are and frequently reminding them how grateful you are that they are part of your life.
Now go do the laundry or give a big hug!