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Secrets of a happy marriage

While honeymooning in the tropical oasis of Jamaica, my husband and I celebrated the first month anniversary of our marriage. We congratulated each other on making it this far over French food in an exclusive restaurant with an ocean view.

If marriage was all champagne and wedding gifts and honeymoons, we’d be all set. I could easily be content unwrapping blenders and thumbing through wedding proofs for the rest of my life. But I am not naive. I have lived long enough and watched enough sitcoms to realize the proverbial road is filled with potholes and unexpected detours. Add to that the statistic that nearly half of marriages in this country end in divorce, and I’d say all married couples face a real challenge.

Very much in love and unwilling to add to the statistic, I decided to seek out the closest experts on marriage I know: my parents.

This past Tuesday was my parents’ 31st wedding anniversary, and while they may have not celebrated at a restaurant in Jamaica, they certainly seem as much in love as if they were newlyweds themselves.

When I called my mother to ask for her secret to a lasting marriage, she was suspicious. She has lived with me long enough to know that anything she says may be used against her in a future column.

“Well first of all, we never put each other down,” she said. “We have gripes, of course, but we always work them out. We have patience.”

I told her that was cute, but I wasn’t interested in her “Hallmark” answers. I wanted the true reason why she thought my father and her had worked out.

“I always give him the remote,” she answered. “Two televisions are the secret to any good marriage.”

My father gave his answer without hesitation. He said that the secret to staying happy all these years was saying “yes, dear,” to whatever my mother asked of him. I made a mental note to tell my husband my father’s secret. I hope he will use it too.

Despite my parents amusing answers, I hung up dissatisfied. I felt they were giving themselves way too little credit for all they have done to create a healthy marriage and family. Over the years I have watched them be there for each other through the stress of changing jobs, moving, health crises, even the death of family members.

I have witnessed them stand strong as a united front, even if they didn’t wholly agree with the other’s viewpoint. (As a teenager, this made me angry. When I was arguing with my mother, it became my father’s business. I was always outnumbered.)

I hope that I have absorbed some of their qualities to use in my own marriage, like my mother’s wit and energy that kept us light as a family, even during dark times. Or my father’s endless patience and kindness.

When I spoke again with my mother late last night, I finally admitted I was writing a column about their anniversary. She was horrified.

“That’s boring. No one will want to read about us,” she told me. “Besides, its no big deal.”

I disagreed. It may not be a golden anniversary, but to be married before MTV even existed seemed like a long time to me. So I say congratulations to you both on a job well done. May the next 31 years be even more happy, more loving. And may you learn to share the remote.
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