This summer Katja and I will celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary. This longetivity is not surprising. On our wedding day in 1960 my father took Katja aside and told her that members of our family never divorce. We took this to heart (i.e., it made us very nervous), and we vowed that we would not violate this sacred family tradition. The secret of marital stability, of course, lies in developing open and effective marital communication. To gain a better understanding of Katja and my accomplishment of this, I’ve taken notes in recent weeks of real-life excerpts from our daily conversation. After careful study, I conclude that these examples demonstrate ten principles which, when followed carefully, will virtually guarantee a long and happy marriage. I’ve listed these principles below along with examples from our actual verbal interchanges. You will probably be as amazed as I was.
1. Learn how to make one another laugh and smile.
D (looking at photos of himself for blog): These photos look terrible. I look like an old man with Alzheimer’s.
K: It’s because of how I took them. They look like prison photos. You didn’t smile.
D: You didn’t make me smile. You have to make me.
K: It’s hard to make you smile. You never smile.
D: You can make me smile. You didn’t even try. All you did was say “Fromage”.
K: I don’t know how.
D: Well, we’re married. You ought to be able to make me smile.
K: We’ll try again in the morning.
2. Share relaxing moments of togetherness.
D: You should come in and watch this (the Jack Benny Show on PBS).
K: No. I’m not interested. (Later, from the hallway:) Turn it down. (Pause) Turn it down!
D: (Leaves den, goes into bedroom, turns on other TV, locks bedroom door, turns up sound very high).
K (knocking on bedroom door): Why are you acting like this?
D: Go away! I want to watch Jack Benny by myself.
3. Do not obsess about bureaucratic rules.
K (eyeing D’s fruit bowl from the breakfast bar at Frisch’s): Can I have a peach?
D: No, I’d rather you didn’t.
K: Just one peach?
D: It’s not that I don’t want to give you one. It says on the menu that, if you share, you’ll be charged for two meals. I don’t want to pay for two meals.
K: I’m not sharing. I’m just nibbling.
D (looking around to check the whereabouts of the waitress): O.k., go ahead.
4. Be knowledgeable about the social world around you.
K (just back from Ishmael B's funeral at the Methodist Church): There sure are a lot of Christians. I’d say there are more Christians than Jews.
D: Is that the first time you realized that?
K: No, but the whole place was filled with Christians. They all knew the words to the songs.
D: Were there any Jews there?
K: I’m sure there were, but I didn’t recognize any.
D: Was Ish Jewish?
K: His funeral was at the Methodist Church.
5. Seek harmony in financial matters.
D (after noticing new placemats and new seat cushions in the dining room): It sure is costing a lot for you to host your book club for dinner.
K: It isn’t that much. I got these at Pier One Imports.
D: Didn’t we decide that we should only make purchases that are necessary?
K: This was necessary. I’ve been feeling depressed. Shopping is necessary for my mental health.
D (looking at placemat price tag): That’s a pretty good price. That’s a pretty good bargain. It really is.
6. Don’t blame your partner for your own mistakes.
D (irritated): Did you see that New York Times Magazine that I put on the bannister.
D: It was the one with that political figure on the cover.
K: Newt Gingrich? Maybe it’s in the recycling bin. Or in the garbage.
D (after checking the recycling bin and the garbage): It’s not there. I retrieved it once from the garbage, and I put it on the banister so it would go upstairs.
K: Maybe it is upstairs.
D (returning from upstairs after looking some more): It was upstairs where I brought it.
K: Oh, I’m so glad.
7. Take advantage of opportunities to reaffirm your union.
K: Next year will be our fiftieth anniversary.
K: I would like to redo our vows.
D: Let’s do that for our 75th anniversary.
K: We won’t even be alive for our 75th anniversary. People do that at their 25th anniversary or their 50th anniversary.
D: Twenty-fifth plus 50th equals 75th.
K: We are going to do that for our fiftieth anniversary.
8. Don’t manufacture crises that don’t exist.
D (driving home from the animal hospital): This is so upsetting.
K: Whatever happens we are not putting him down. Mikey is too young.
D: I read on the Internet that most families can’t afford surgery for their dogs.
K: We’ll take out a loan.
D: No more loans. No more loans.
K; Mikey is too young.
D: We shouldn’t even be talking about this at this point. We don’t even know what’s going on.
9. Act like adults rather than tiny infants.
D: I’m looking for my Fitness Center forms. They were here on the bureau dresser.
K: I don’t know anything about them.
D: You cleared off the bureau dresser. They were right here.
K; Maybe I put them in the garbage.
D: These are important! (D takes two large hefty bags filled with trash, unties them, dumps their contents onto the hallway floor, and begins rifling through the massive pile.)
K (observes silently, then gets a waste basket and dumps its contents on top of the file).
D: There’s a lot of things I want in here.
K (watches without comment).
D: Here they are! Here are my forms!
K: Those are just blank pieces of paper.
D: No they’re not. They’re important! (Retreats to the bedroom to put the forms in a safe place).
10. Do your best to keep in touch with reality.
K (at 3 a.m.): David, wake up. Something is making a noise in the closet.
D: What? What?
K: Something is in the closet. It’s making a noise.
D: I don’t hear anything. (pause) Oh, now I hear it. (Rather loud, sort of chirping sound -- perhaps a young bird or a baby oppossum.)
K (after listening some more): It’s coming from your nose.
K: The noise. The noise is coming out of your nose
D (after listening further): Oh. I guess it is. (Both go back to sleep.)
That’s it. Such a testimonial to the virtues of maturity. When we were young marrieds, we sometimes didn’t listen carefully or we were judgmental or insensitive to the subtleties of one another’s feelings. But now we are like finely tuned violin strings, resonating in harmony to one another’s slightest vibrations. Please feel free to pass these lessons along. I think it important that they be made available to the younger people as soon as possible.