WARNING: This post has strong, even vulgar, language. If you’re offended by such, read no further. It also has shocking sentimentality, if you’re offended by such, read no further. It also has bumper-sticker advice that can seem smug, if you’re offended by such . . .
Some time ago, a student who was getting married asked me for the “secret” to a happy-long term relationships. I immediately thought of the husband in Frida saying “a short memory,” but I decided to out-source the task and ask around. You can never know. Seemingly great couples split, and you wonder why. Couples who hate each other stay together. But, here are some of the responses I gathered, and I post them as Valentine’s Day approaches.
For God's sakes, don't try to change them.
The three Cs: commitment, communication, compromise.
Clean the dishes, or at least look apologetic when you haven't. A hang-dog expression is useful. Act like you give a shit.
Plan time together and time with others away from each other. Be patient. Do more than is expected of you.
Make money; hire servants.
Being extremely patient and humble helps a lot.
Pick your battles.
I know this will sound like either I am mocking or full of crap, but [my wife] and I have always contended that one of our secrets is that we are able to say "Fuck you" to each other and still be there the next day. I guess the point is -- if we censored ourselves why would we be married?
His wife's response (emailed separately) -- Laughter, intellectual curiosity, strong sense of self, ability to argue hard and make up............ or as [my husband] and I always say, the most important words in a marriage are "Fuck You."
My folks took the question to one of their dining groups where, my father said, most of the couples had been married for over forty years. He said they talked about it for a couple hours and the group decided: Trust, Communication and Similar standards and values (work ethic, manners, ideas about education, parenting, etc.)
As for me, after a dozen years of marriage, my wife began packing my lunch. In part, this may have been because we had kids, and she decided to do mine as well as theirs. (No one wanted me to do it; the kids are nervous whenever I have to.) In part, she was horrified at my casualness. When I “pack” my lunch, it will be a can of soup or a box of instant potatoes stuffed in my computer bag. No silverware. I just open whatever package I have and tip it into my mouth. When my wife does the lunches, they’re much better – pasta, salad, fruit, yogurt – because she wants my life to be better. And, when there’s two dishes, she puts in two spoons or a spoon and fork. The silverware isn’t because she wants me to be more refined – I eat at my desk – but she wants the experience to be more pleasurable. She is trying to take care of me better than I’ll take care of myself.
So, I think one secret is two spoons in a lunchbox. And filling up their gas tank. Polishing their shoes. What my brother calls Acts of service.
As for my wife, when I asked her, she immediately responded: You have to be friends.
And, there is another possibility. My father tells me that my grandfather first saw my grandmother while walking down the street. He approached, lifted his bowler, and said, “My name is Emmet Mills, and I would like to court you.” Apparently, she let him. After they were married, my grandfather liked to pat my grandmother’s butt as she walked past. He did this once in front of a friend and was chastised. Not by her, but by his friend who told him, “Your wife is a fine woman. Refined. Elegant. You shouldn’t treat her like that. It’s low-class.” My grandfather was embarrassed, and he stopped. Some time later, my grandmother suddenly burst into tears and said, “You don’t love me anymore.” When my grandfather asked, “Why would you say that?” she explained, “You don’t . . . touch me the way you used to.” ” He began doing it again and did it for the rest of their lives. So, maybe the secret to a good relationship is consistent pats on the ass.