By Sabrina Jeffries
Author of To Wed a Wild Lord
I’ve been married for twenty-seven years (I got married when I was six; honestly, I did!), and my parents have been married for exactly twice that long. There’s a reason I write about Happily Ever Afters: I believe in them. I believe that everyone has someone out there for them, and that relationships can last. My marriage grows richer by the year, and it has survived periods of extreme poverty, layoffs, career changes, surgeries, my son’s diagnosis of autism… you name it, we’ve survived it.
What I’ve learned is that you have to ignore some of the conventional wisdom regarding relationships if you want yours to last:
1) Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Um, no, it doesn’t. Does it make you appreciate your partner more? Perhaps. But it also erodes a relationship if you’re not careful. A constantly absent partner is someone you can’t rely on for those difficult times when you really need a lover and a friend. So you start looking elsewhere—to other friends, to your drug of choice—to the guy/gal who listens to your woes at the post office. That’s how relationships disintegrate.
If you have to be apart for your job, make sure you keep in touch in other ways (thank God for technology). When I’m out of town on business, I call my husband every day. I may only speak to him for a few minutes, but I make sure that we touch base. And he does the same when he travels.
2) All’s fair in love and war. That’s absolutely true—if you want your relationship to be a war. Otherwise, there are rules in relationships. You don’t lie, you don’t cheat, and you don’t hit below the belt. That last one will destroy a relationship faster than anything else. We all know the one thing we could say to hurt our partner deeply, and not saying it is how we show we’re grown-ups in a committed relationship.
3) Love is blind. Nope. It’s not deaf and dumb, either. It does have its moments of that, like when one partner asks, “Does this make me look fat?” and the other says, “You look beautiful” and means it. But you can’t push it. Remember you live with this person; hygiene does still matter, as do courtesy and all those other things you paid close attention to when you were dating. Can you let down your hair some? Of course. Should you take advantage of your spouse’s commitment to you to stop caring about how you look, what you do, and what you say? Certainly not.
4) He who laughs last, laughs best. We-e-e-ll, OK. I admit it’s always fun to win the argument. But being right isn’t going to keep you cozy on a long winter’s night. Sometimes the best thing to do is to stand down. Pick your battles. You’d be surprised how little it matters which way the dishwasher is loaded after you’ve been married for twenty-seven years.
5) Actions speak louder than words. Sometimes. And sometimes you really need the words. Sometimes you really need the sappy card and the sweet goodbye and the corny memory recited in the dead of night when one of you has been awakened by the baby—or a hot flash. So mix it up and do both.
6) You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Sure you can. When my dad found out he might die if he didn’t change his diet, he started eating right and exercising. My husband did, too. Funny how that whole death-staring-you-in-the-face thing can really motivate you. I learned more about myself—and things I’d been doing that put a strain on my marriage—after I’d been married twenty years. You’re never too old to learn; that cliché is absolutely true.
There’s another old saw that’s equally true: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It covers a lot. I think it should be engraved on every marriage license in the country. Then maybe we’d have as many happily-ever-afters in real life as we do in our favorite books!