Some Tips for Staying Married

I know I’ve written about marriage many times in the past, and because I don’t have a spreadsheet (in fact, I’m not quite sure what a spreadsheet is, nor whether it would be relevant), I could be repeating myself; but if I can’t remember, then surely you won’t. In any case, this is a topic I am very familiar with, since I have been married for more than 47 years. To the same woman!

Yes, I also have a degree in psychology, but it is not clinical psychology. My main experience with therapy is as a client. And, in fact, that leads to my first suggestion for keeping your marriage going beyond those first few crazy-in-love passionate years (or months).

At least one of you should, at least once, see a therapist. Men are notorious for feeling that they can handle things on their own. Listen, guys, I’m one of you, and we can’t. So go! On the other hand, maybe it’s your wife who could benefit from talking to someone beyond her friends, at least one of whom is probably telling her she should leave you. Of course, if she sees a feminist therapist, you’re in really big trouble. So that leads to Suggestion #2.

It’s probably a good idea to see a couples counselor for a “tune-up”at least every two or three years. So many couples wait until their marriage is at death’s door before they seek professional help. But think of your marriage like a car. If you love your car, do you wait until it breaks down before you go to the mechanic? Of course not – you give it regular maintenance with a professional.

If you don’t have the money for a couples counselor, then next time you bring your car in for service, both of you go in and ask the mechanic or someone at the desk for suggestions about your marriage. Chances are he or she is struggling with some of the same issues you are and can be helpful. In any case, don’t try to do it on your own. Once upon a time, extended families helped keep couples together, but now we’re spread out all over the country. Which leads to my next suggestion.

Move. Maybe it won’t help you, but it will help your friends, who are tired of hearing the same complaints about your spouse over and over again over coffee. When you move and make new friends, your stories will be new and interesting to them. Or perhaps you won’t make new friends, and will be forced to accept the fact that now, since your spouse is your only friend, she or he will have to be your best friend. And you won’t have to envy those people who say, and really seem to mean it, that their spouse is their best friend.

Be honest about your needs and wants, and encourage your spouse to do the same. The problem here is – and in my experience, it is usually the wife who is guilty of this – that your spouse may not be honest about her needs because she wants to make you happy. This is a very old-fashioned concept, but still permeates many marriages. One of the chief accomplishments of the women’s movement was to let women know that it was okay, vital, in fact, to express their needs assertively. And a good husband will recognize this and encourage it.

But, of course, old habits die hard. So in my house an interaction could go like this.

I’ll ask my wife, “What do you want to do?”

She replies, “Well, you probably don’t want to do this, but…” (this is her trying to make me happy).

And I’ll say, “No, pretend I’m not here. What do you want to do?”

And she’ll say, “Well, I want to go see this play…”

And I’ll say, “Oh, I don’t want to do that!”

Okay, we still have a way to go, but it’s progress.

Don’t be fooled by how your married friends seem to be getting along so well. When you’re out to dinner with another couple, they usually seem to be doing just fine, don’t they? Okay, sometimes they may bicker a little (and be honest, doesn’t that make you feel good about your own marriage, a kind of marital schadenfreude?). But more often, they are getting along great throughout the meal.

Yes, but they are out in public. I learned long ago that one of the worst things I could ever do is to embarrass my wife in front of other people; and they’ve probably learned that too. You won’t learn anything about your friends’ marriage when you’re out having dinner with them.

If you want to know the truth, ask one of their neighbors.

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