What I Know For Sure After 40 Years of Marriage

Wedding couple in car decorated with plate JUST MARRIED and cansThis week, my husband Patrick and I celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. To mark the occasion, I booked a room for us at the rustic inn down the coast where we spent our wedding night.

Sitting at a small table by the fire at dinner, Patrick lifted his glass to toast to our many years together. “To us,” he said. “To us,” I replied and at that moment I could see us as newlyweds, at a far table by the window. There we were, young, bright-eyed, naive, in love. So much of life yet to be lived, so much to learn.

Looking at them, I knew they had no idea of the bumpy road ahead, the hard-fought lessons they would learn, the ways they were yet to grow, and the sweetness and depth of connection that their decades together would bring.

Now, at 40 years, here’s what know about marriage that I wish I’d known then:

1. Most people believe that marriage should be easier than it is. The truth is, marriage is hard. It isn’t just you.

2. The ways that you’re different will either make life interesting or drive you crazy. Which of these it is will depend on how open-minded and flexible you’re able to be.

3. Owning up to your own shortcomings becomes easier the more that you practice it.

4. Don’t think having challenges means you’re doing something wrong. All couples struggle. It’s the way that we grow.

5. Every couple writes their own rule book. Who does what. What you can talk about. What can’t be discussed. If you don’t like the rules, make up some new ones.

6. The conflicts you have make sense. They also tell a lot about your strengths and your weaknesses. The sooner you figure out what you’re really fighting about the sooner you’ll actually know what to resolve.

7. Generosity may be the key to a happy marriage. I’m not talking about over-giving or saying yes when you mean no, just to keep peace. I’m talking about saying yes as often as possible because you have plenty to give.

8. No matter how long you’ve been married, no matter how much work you’ve done, you may still find yourself in an idiotic argument about absolutely nothing.

9. More idiotic the argument, the less time you should spend on it.

10. Believing that asking for what you want means you will get it will bring you great suffering. Most things are a negotiation. While it’s important to ask, it’s also important to accept that your partner is not obligated to give you what you want.

11. When saying no, keep in mind point number 7 about the value of generosity.

12. The following words are totally subjective: clean, finished, enough.

13. The chewing noises…knuckle cracking…yawning…sighing…that annoyed you early on are likely to continue to annoy you. Oh well.

Displeasure, Irritation, Dislike, Loathing, Disgust And Annoyanc

14. Learning how to keep your cool when you’re being misunderstood is an essential skill.

15. Never bring your telephone to the dinner table. Same goes for time spent in the car together, watching TV, and snuggling in bed.

16. Blame is a lot easier than being accountable for your role in your difficulties, but I don’t recommend it.

17. Give up on 50-50 and things being fair. Sometimes one person is going to do more of something or not enough of something.

18. Every couple is mismatched in some way. Messy or neat. Early-riser or night owl. Piler or filer. Don’t think for a minute there wouldn’t be some issue with somebody else.

19. Your spouse is not your mother, father, child, or maid.

20. Everything will change over time. Your energy. Your body. Your interests. A long marriage is an exercise in adaptability.

21. A half-assed apology will only make things worse.

22. Forgiveness is important since you’ll both make plenty of mistakes.

23. Any two people can work out pretty much anything if they want to.

24. It’s not sexy to pout or be angry when you’re turned down for sex.

25. What you’re doing now and going to do in the future is as important— or more important— than what you did in the past.

Black And White Portrait Of African American Husband Wife26. If you’ve gotten too busy to kiss hello and goodbye, slow down.

27. Some of your partner’s complaints about you are valid. Some are not. It’s your job to figure out which is which.

28. Saying I love you never gets old.

29. Being told that you’re loved doesn’t get old either.

30. Don’t think for minute that the satisfaction of winning will offset what you lose.

31. In the midst of a heated conversation, surprising things will happen if at the end of every sentence you speak you ask, “What do you think?”

32. When you do this, it’s really important to listen to his or her answer.

33. There’s a big difference between interrupting and “participating” in the conversation. The trouble is it can be hard for some of us to tell the difference.

34. Which way you hang the toilet paper is not a hill to die on. Nor is being the only person who replaces the empty roll.

35. Don’t freak out if now and again you feel hate instead of love.

36. If you hear yourself think, “I have no choice…” think again. The choice you’re facing may be perilous, but resentful compliance is, too.

37. When it comes to making things better in your marriage, don’t be afraid to take the lead. The alternative is saying stuck forever, waiting for the other to go first.

38. Most of us don’t function well under pressure. In all circumstances there’s a really dumb thing to do and really wise thing to do. If we’re able to calm ourselves down, we’re more likely to choose the wise one.

39. There are 101 ways to say “I love you” without saying a word.

40. Forty years will pass in the blink of an eye. The less time you waste on things that don’t matter, the happier you’ll be.

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25 Ways to Have a Better Relationship Starting Today

25499221 - old man embracing woman sharpness on the bouquetIt’s what we all want, isn’t it?

A loving and caring relationship. A lasting partnership. A bond that gets better and stronger over time.

If we only knew how.

While having a better relationship requires effort, it isn’t rocket science. There are actions that build loving relationships and actions that all but guarantee unhappiness.

The good news: it’s easy to tell the difference.

More good news: there’s no shortage of healthy moves you can make.

Here are 25 of my current favorites:

1. You know that thing you do that drives your spouse nuts — the wet towel on the floor, the way you sneak a peek at your phone? Why not make a commitment to stop doing that and see what happens?

2. It’s easy to be committed to your marriage when things are going well. True commitment means keeping two feet in when the going gets rough.

3. We all have those chores that no one wants to do. Put one of them at the top of your to-do list, rather than waiting for your spouse to do it. (Yes, even the dreaded call to the cable company.)

4. Say please and thank you. (Your mother was right.)

5. While you’re at it, I’m sorry also goes a long way.

6. Pay less attention to your partner’s role in your difficulties and more attention to your own — it’s the only thing you can control anyway.

7. Generosity may well be the key to happiness. Be loving and generous whenever possible.

8. Know when to shut up (such as, when you’re about to say something critical or mean, or you’re hell-bent on having the last word.)

9. Know when to speak up. Forget about suffering in silence about issues that need to be placed on the table. Never mind settling or making do with conditions you can’t stand. No one is a better advocate for you than you.

10. Practice the three Cs: Compassion. Courage. Curiosity.

11. Accept the fact that truth comes in versions. (As in: It was Tuesday…No it was Wednesday…What do you mean I was angry?) Spoiler alert: you’re likely to fight a lot less.

23797229 - optimistic young woman with glasses of water, isolated on white12. There may be times that one of you is more optimistic about your relationship than the other. Be grateful to your spouse for being optimistic when you aren’t. Sometimes the only thing that gets couples through hard times is that they never wanted to get a divorce on the same day.

13. As the saying goes, we can either be right or free. As far as I’m concerned, being right is overrated.

14. Turn. Off. Your. Phone.

15. One of the advanced skills of marriage is learning to tolerate being disappointed in your partner and learning to tolerate when your partner is disappointed in you. The sooner you accept this, the happier you’ll be.

16. Date nights are great, but not always easy to arrange. Try “speed dating” — as in taking ten minutes to sit down together and give each other your undivided attention. Tea, wine, candle light optional.

17. Long hard day? Too tired to talk? Why not just sit together on the porch and look at the stars?

18. Give up the notion that marriage is a fifty-fifty proposition. Sometimes it’s sixty-forty. Sometimes it’s ninety-ten. Why not put in your best effort no matter what your partner does?

19. When there’s a winner and loser, both partners lose.

20. Feel free to ask for what you want as long as you’re clear that you’re not entitled to get it just because you asked.

21. Be willing to take risks. If we want to grow we have to step out of our comfort zone. Without growth and change everything stays the same whether we like it that way or not.

22. Find as many ways as possible to say I love you — with words and without.

23. Sex doesn’t stay hot and exciting all on its own. Use your imagination. Change things up.

24. Set a high standard for yourself as a partner and then strive to attain it.

25. Relationships are hard. When things are difficult, lean in to the challenge rather than give up or feel defeated. When things are going well, open your heart and appreciate all that you have.

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My book, IT TAKES ONE TO TANGO, is now on sale! I’ll be giving away one more autographed copy.  To be eligible, tell me, in the comments section, which one point on this list you’re going to start doing.

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10 Everyday Relationship Issues That Aren’t Worth Freaking Out About

One of the best parts of my job as a couples therapist is that I get to deliver good news.

Woman Biting On Her LipCouples come in fearing that their marriage is too far gone to fix, and I get to tell them it’s not.

Yes, some people are in serious trouble and if they keep going in the direction they’re headed, their worst fears will come true.

Still, most couples are simply facing normal and ordinary relationship challenges that they lack the tools to address. Continue reading

36 Things I Know After 36 Years of Marriage

P & W Yosemite 2014IMG_0086 copyNext week, my husband and I will celebrate our 36th anniversary.

Some years we’ve gotten dressed-up and gone out to dinner. Other years we’ve simply marked the day with a kiss.

Once, we were both sick with the flu and I vaguely remember clinking our glasses of orange juice together and then sleeping right through the day.

Then there was the year when we were so embroiled in struggle that we let the day pass without even a word.

That’s what marriage is: richer, poorer, good times and bad. Each year with its surprises and challenges, its hard fought lessons, its moments of sweetness.

To honor our many years together, here are 36 lessons I’ve found most valuable: Continue reading

5 Myths About Marriage That I’m Glad Aren’t True

Couple-Sleeping-in-Bed

Ask ten happily married people, “What’s your key to success?” and you’ll get fifteen answers — many of which contradict each other.

Some will say couples should never to go to bed angry. Others will say it’s fine to sleep on your arguments. For them, World War III or not, it’s lights out at 11.

Many will say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” while an equal number will tout the virtues of talking things out.

Do opposites attract or should we be birds of a feather?

Are we better off lowering our expectations, or setting a high bar?

And do couples really need to be each other’s best friend?

The truth is, many of the widely-dispensed bits of marriage advice are more fiction than fact. Continue reading

7 Things No Spouse Can Be Expected To Do

Business Woman With Arrows And Questions Sign Above Isolated OnWant to guess?

Hint: I’m not talking about the laundry or housework or some wild, exotic move in the bedroom.

And no, this has nothing to do with being able to bake a souffle, or adhere to a budget, or be cheerful about putting your cranky toddler to bed.

The main thing that no spouse can be expected to do is… Continue reading

10 Relationship Skills We Teach Kids That Grown-Ups Often Forget

Kind But Firm“Chew with your mouth closed!”
“Don’t hit your sister!”

So much of childhood is about learning the rules and then striving to follow them — at least occasionally.

While some rules are unreasonable — like being told to sit perfectly still at age five or made to skip recess, as I was, for doodling on my homework —  the basic relationship skills that we learned as children were, in fact, of great value. Continue reading