Secrets to a Long-Term Marriage
“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”
There is a class of recognition that I’ve come to think of as “Dubious Distinction Awards.” You may have one or two of them packed away and disintegrating in a box under your attic eaves. I count among mine citations for “Perfect Attendance” and, my favorite, from a cooking contest, an award for “Oldest Contestant”. In both cases, all I had to do was show up, and I guess the just showing up part, helps to explain why I’m asked for advice about long-term marriage.
Bob and I celebrated our 57th wedding anniversary this year and the number of years we have been together leads some to believe I know more about marriage than I really do. Actually, I’m as awed by that number as they are. Bob is a scientist, and while I am many things, no one has ever accused me of being scientific. A friend once observed that if Bob and I were asked to chronicle the end of the world, Bob’s final entry would be, “Destruction began at zero ten-thirty as a shock wave traversed the planet,” while mine would read, “O God, the humanity.” Suffice it to say, we are very different people. We married young and the odds against our marriage lasting even five years were pretty slim. I think they stopped short of casting lots, but few thought our marriage would last as long as it has. Everyone except us.
We had some things going for us. We were raised to believe that marriage was forever. The only escape hatches were labeled addiction, abuse, and adultery. Vows were taken seriously, even by the young. As I look at marriage today, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would commit to it, if not for forever. A marriage requires work and no one leaves it without scar tissue, so I’m a firm believer in living together until there is a reasonable assurance that your affection and devotion to one another can withstand difficult times and be forever.
If I had one piece of advice to share with those contemplating marriage, it would be to make sure you both don’t go crazy at the same time. There is a lot of crazy, even in the happiest of marriages, and the scales of give and take rarely balance. Marriage, no matter what the experts tell you, is not a fifty-fifty proposition. One of you will always give more and work harder than the other to make your marriage work, but in a good marriage the person bearing the weight shifts back and forth.
Male or female, try not to get lost in your marriage. Give each other lots of elbow room and keep on learning. Ten years into a marriage, the person sitting across the table from you will not be the same person you married. If you’ve kept up with each other, there will be activities and friends you still share, but it is important to grow and retain a healthy sense of self apart from one another. It will make you happier and more interesting, but despite having said that, it is also important to “work” on your marriage, remember how to flirt and keep those shared interests on the front burner. Never allow yourself to coast.
Make it a point to set aside or create “we” time. You will need that when children come. Head into parenthood on the same track and agree on what you want for them and how you want them to develop. If you exhibit it no where else in your life, create a united front when dealing with the children. They will chew you up and spit you out, if they can play you against each other. One of the greatest periods of strain in a marriage occurs when the nest empties, so in the years leading up to that deafening silence, make sure that husband and wife can still be found beneath the mask of mom and dad.
Above all else, laugh lots and develop a healthy sense of humor. Work on developing a sense of balance and learn to separate the wheat from the chaff of married life. Pick your battles. In my own search for balance, I’ve developed a personal mantra that I have, on occasion, been known to say through clenched teeth. At any rate. in hopes that it will contribute to your sense of equilibrium, repeat after me, “In the light of eternity, this is a small thing.” Sometimes it actually works.