Lessons from a 35 Year Marriage

A few years back, I had lunch with an old family friend who I hadn’t seen in quite a long time. I mentioned in passing that my marriage had had some rough patches and she looked surprised. “But I thought you two had one of those near perfect marriages,” she said. “After all, you’ve been together all these years and you always look so happy.” This friend was single again after being divorced twice. I smiled and said, “We can be very happy except when I’m so mad I’m chasing him around the back yard with a crowbar in my hand.”

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about marriage. No great revelations, but the truth as I see it, nonetheless.

1) Marriage is not for the squeamish. Be prepared to be miserable at least part of the time.
2) Understand that much of what makes you miserable is not the other person, but rather what you’re telling yourself about that other person. Unless, of course, that other person is physically or emotionally abusive and/or engaging in activities that go against your moral code.
3) Presuming your spouse is not a sociopath, psychopath or sadist, your marriage will improve dramatically when you start giving your wife/husband the benefit of the doubt.
4) A good mantra is, “He/She is a good person who is doing the best he/she can.”
5) The second part of that same mantra is, “I am a good person and I am doing the best that I can, too.”
6) It’s wise to employ a thought stopping technique when you get into a negative, accusatory loop that usually starts with the words, “I can’t stand it when he/she…” Put a rubber-band on your wrist and snap it whenever those negative thoughts occur. Follow the snapping with the mantra from above, which can be repeated over and over.
7) Sometimes a good fight is the best air-clearing method of all. Relish the freedom of saying exactly how you feel without being too mean to the other person.
8) Find a passion that is just yours; find a passion that the two of you can share.
9) Accept that men and women communicate differently and that’s okay.
10) Woman, when talking to your husbands, try using short sentences and concise responses. Men, force yourselves to occasionally listen to long stories and do nothing more than nod or say a periodical Uh-huh.
11) Women, accept that while lovemaking is wonderful, sometimes no-frills sex will make everybody’s day go a lot better.
12) Accept that marriage is a roller coaster ride and holding on for dear life is sometimes all you can do.
13) Trust that at some point, the weight of shared memories, mutual friends/family and the number of years together will shift the balance and what once seemed difficult will suddenly be easier.
14) Understand that marriage at its best involves the death of the ego and the emergence of a better/higher self.
15) Recognize that Grace is a critical component of all marriage.
16) Finally, if a marriage isn’t working – I’ve seen this over the years – then call it quits and move on with the rest of your life. There is much happiness out there to enjoy. Go find it.

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