Secrets to an Okay Marriage

Source: Courtesy, Marty Nemko

This won’t be one of those articles offering “Secrets to Super Sexagenarian Sex.” Or “Keys to a Lifetime Storybook Marriage.” If you know those, please pass them my way.

But my wife, Dr. Barbara Nemko and I have been together for 43 years, three “in-sin” and 40 official, with no plans for divorce. While our marriage wasn’t made in heaven, we’ve made it work here on earth. One of our long-time friends said, “Marty, I figured you and Barbara would be among the first to divorce.” Naaah-nah-nah-naah nah.

What are the secrets to our marriage’s long-term okayness?

An outsider might think it’s because we live apart for five days a week. True, that leaves less time for us to grate on each others’ nerves but we did live together seven days a week for 20 years and the ideas I’m about to share did keep us content most of the time.

Nor is it that we work hard on the marriage. We know of other couples that, for years, sprung for weekly couples counseling, each night doing the prescribed homework exercises. We tried that but concluded we’d get more benefit from spending the money on retail therapy and going out to dinner once a week with each of us rating ourselves on the week and committing to doing more of one good thing and perhaps less of some other thing. A third of the time, we broke our promise but it worked well enough.

The key to our feeling okay about our marriage is plain ol’ acceptance. Barb loves to dance, to travel, to laugh. I love to work in my man cave and worry about the world’s woes. Instead of trying to change each other, we accept each other: Barb goes dancing and traveling with friends, platonic I believe but wouldn’t swear.

And if she had an affair(s,) I would not leave her. I really do wish her to have all of life’s pleasures that she wishes. For me, that’s part of the definition of true love. Possessiveness is not.

There are things we both like that don’t require compromise, and we do those a lot: Watching movies while snuggling in our cocoon, playing gin rummy while listening to our favorite music, going to see community theatre plays, taking walks with our doggie Einstein, appearing together on my radio program, and inviting a couple to our home for dinner.

The latter is an example of what we call our “bailiwick system.” Barb is an awesome cook while I’d get fired from McDonald’s. But I’m happy to do shopping, set the table, be the bon vivant with the guests, and clean up. Because we’re not dividing all tasks 50-50, we each can take pride in how we handle our bailiwick, what we’re naturally good at.

The compromises we’ve made to avoid fights aren’t major, or at least we made ourselves realize they weren’t worth hurting our relationship over. For example, Barb is fastidious, I’m functional. So when I come to Barb’s place, I do take my shoes off, put things away, etc. Barb has compromised regarding my tendency to want certain things NOW, notably when I’ve written a draft of one of my Psychology Today articles and am eager to get her feedback. While she dislikes such phone calls in the middle of the day, recognizing that’s important to me, she tolerates them.

What could tear other marriages apart is that I believe I’m a warmer person that she is. No matter how many times over our 43 years I have pointed out the double standard in our behavior, nothing changes. What’s kept that from driving a serious wedge into our relationship is my accepting that she’s just that way. It’s nothing personal…probably. Who knows? But fighting about it will do no good. Once you marry someone, there are some things you’re wise to just accept. That’s one I do work hard to accept, just as Barb has accepted my 60+ hour workweeks.

The takeaway

Accepting each other pretty much as-is is the undergirding principle that has made our marriage work for so long despite our being quite different from each other. Of course, we wish we would have sustained a storybook marriage but when we hear other people tell of their relationships, we’re grateful for our just-okay marriage. Should you accept more about your partner?

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s