The secret to a long, happy marriage
Today is our 30th wedding anniversary.
The most common response when I mention this impending event, has been: ''How on earth did you do that?''
Since I've been doing it - staying married - incrementally over some time, I've never really thought about it all that much. Besides, the minute you start thinking you are some awesome husband-wrangler is the minute your relationship goes to hell.
Also, I doubt whether marital advice transfers all that well to other couples. However, after the 14th response marvelling at the longevity of our marriage, I thought I'd do what I normally do when faced with a column I want to write. I'd set out to do an interview with an expert in the area. An interview with my spouse.
Let it be said that one of the first premises of good journalism is that you should think you know the answers to questions you are about to ask; and any surprise will be a bonus to both you and the reader. But, goodness, there were a few little shocks there for me after 30 years.
Let me share the overview.
My husband says it's easier to list the things not to do, easier to cast the advice in the negative. And his No. 1 tip, surveying all of our friends whose marriages ended? Don't ever have sex with someone who is not your spouse. You will be tempted but you must resist. You will be found out and it will not end well. Or you will be a suspect and that will scent your relationship with the smell of fear and decay. Or you won't be a suspect but you will feel and act guilty and it will be hard to relax.
So this wasn't in my top three tips at all. Never even occurred to me, but there you go.
When I asked myself what my own top tip was, it was so out of place with most relationship advice, I wondered whether I should share it.
My No. 1 tip? Don't avoid conflict. The idea that you can agree on everything is ludicrous, so is the idea that you can just accept another person's authority on all matters. It is OK to argue with each other, at length. You know that advice about how you should never go to bed mad with each other? Why on earth would you set aside your argument because of the time on the clock? Far better to let the disagreement run its natural course and get some middle ground going. Sometimes it has taken us six weeks to get over a fight. Am I stubborn? Sure, but so is he. Some of the best and strongest parts of our relationship have developed from long-running arguments.
Which brings me to the other thing that causes great conflict in relationships: money - another on my spouse's list of what not to do.
Do not, under any circumstance, have separate accounts. Yep, counter to popular opinion. Nothing lets you develop obsessive financial habits more than having individual accounts. Instead, have a joint account where you do your banking together. Yes, every bill, every indulgence, the minutiae of how much money you took out to spend at the fruit shop, all these are then the subject of joint scrutiny. The problem with separate accounts is that they allow you to bury the need to be open about all aspects of your financial character. With joint accounts, you must be transparent about your accounting to both yourself and your partner. Quite confronting but we rarely argue about money any more for this reason. If you came into the relationship with lots of money and the other person didn't, get over it. You are meant to be sharing now.
My turn now. Next on the list: sex. Just do it.
If you don't like it, find out why you don't like it and fix that problem.
Once you've done that, make an effort to develop skills. Remember that expertise in oral sex is not just a dating or honeymoon talent. Kissing is not reserved for the altar. I'd never say that sex and touching are the antidote to all relationship misery but they are not called intimacy for nothing.
Finally, my spouse has another one on his list of what not to do if you want to stay married. Don't live separate lives. If you have married each other, assume that you want to spend more time than just the wedding together. Find stuff you can do together.
This turns out to be very important when the kids leave home. Nothing exposes your relationship to reality more than the prospect of having nothing to talk about. The care and maintenance of children takes up a lot of time and, when they disappear, so does the conversation. Make sure there is still stuff you have in common, or you too will find yourself in that category of people who split up with their partners when the last child leaves home.
I'm getting the last word, here at least. If you are going to have children, make sure you spend a couple of hours without them every single week. Children are adorable but they are also parasites who suck you dry. That's how they grow. But if you feed your spouse, he will always feed you.