Back in June Al and Tipper Gore shocked the world with their announcement that they’re throwing in the towel after forty years of marriage. When Chelsea Clinton marries her fiancé Marc Mezvinksy tomorrow, their chances of staying together will be the same as winning a coin toss. This week my wife Amelia and I are celebrating two decades of nuptial bliss (or at least survival) and it’s made me reflect on how we’ve managed to reach the big two-oh without either one hiring a lawyer or hit man. While there’s no recipe for success, here are a few tips on how to weather the storms of life together without jumping ship:
1. Have parents who stuck together. This is not anything we did or had any control over, but I think the fact that both sets of parents have stayed together provided powerful role models for us.
2. Share common goals. Working together keeps couples from drifting apart. I once asked a friend’s parents the secret of their marital success. They said a contractor skipped town with their money and left them with a half-finished house. Building that house was a communal project that drew their family close together for over a decade.
3. Have kids together. It’s a lot easier to leave your spouse than to ruin your kids’ lives. Raising children requires selflessness, putting the needs of others ahead of your own. One time my son said his biggest fear was that his parents would get divorced; I’d rather be his dad than the bogeyman.
4. Grow with each other. A wag once said, “The secret to marriage is for women not to expect their husbands to change after the wedding and for husbands not to expect their wives won’t.” Let’s face it, people change. Adaptation is necessary for survival, not only in nature but also in marriage.
5. Avoid deal breakers, deal with the rest. The deal breakers are the three A’s: abuse, addiction, adultery. If there’s none of these present, the problems are likely manageable and worth the effort.
6. Don’t complain about your spouse to others. This is something I really appreciate about my wife. She’s never aired my dirty laundry in public, not even to her friends and family. Complaints often cause others to commiserate and encourage discontent. If you have to share your marital woes, do so with a pastor or counselor.
7. Be each other’s best friend. I agree with Oscar Wilde’s definition: “True friends stab you in the front.” If you are your spouse’s best friend, they won’t want to stab you in the back and you won’t either.
8. Be too stubborn to quit. Tenacity is a strong adhesive. There’s something to be said for good, old-fashioned commitment that doesn’t consider divorce an option.
9. Have fun and laugh together. Laughter is the best medicine; it keeps a marriage healthy.
10. Share sorrows and cry together. Kahlil Gibran said, “You may forget the one with whom you have laughed, but never the one with whom you have wept.”
Despite the fact that many people don’t make it twenty years as we have, I don’t think the institution of marriage is doomed. Marriage is like the military. Everybody complains but you’d be surprised how many re-enlist.