My husband came out of the bathroom with a mangled tube of toothpaste held high in his hand (the old fashioned kind that collapsed as the contents were squeezed out).
“I’d appreciate it if you’d roll the tube instead of just squeezing it from the middle,” he said kindly.
I looked at him, then at the convicting evidence in his hand. And my defense? “What? We’ve been married 10 years and you’re just now bringing up the toothpaste issue? That’s something most couples cover during the honeymoon.”
No, our marriage is not perfect. I am not a marriage counselor or trained in relationships, but my marriage of 30-plus years is the best thing in my life.
Here are a few of the things we do that keeps it great:
No. 1 rule (I’m sure this comes from a musical somewhere): Put the other person ahead of myself but value the marriage the most. We’ve talked about this. When I’m looking out for him, and he’s looking out for me, it escalates and we both get taken care of without either having to resort to selfishness. I’m not saying I never do something I want to do — like stay up late reading a book — but if I do, I still get up the next morning to make his breakfast and lunch and see him out the door to work.
When he’s having a bad day, I try to keep things calm, encouraging and comforting. If he slips into a pity party, I stamp my foot and make him take me on a hike. He is my best friend. I send him notes, wave goodbye with lots of blowing of kisses each morning — enough to embarrass him in front of neighbors — and welcome him each evening with an engulfing hug. He knows I like him.
And he takes care of my feelings and needs in return.
The second part of that rule is to put the marriage above either of us or any disagreement. When a conflict wedges between us — finances, teenagers or a speeding ticket — and we find ourselves in a festering disagreement, we stop and remind ourselves that more than who is right or wrong, who is coming up short or ahead, or who is most justified, the most important thing is our marriage. Our attachment to each other is to be strengthened, not shredded. We stop and focus on that.
Then when time has allowed the sensitive feelings to abate, we discuss the potentially damaging issue calmly and with concern for the other person.
Another thing that keeps our marriage going forward is lots of physical touch. Years ago, we attended church at my grandparents'. When we were introduced, it came out that we were engaged. The teacher commented, “I should have known — you’re still holding hands.” Perhaps it was the catalyst, but to this day, we still reach for each other’s hand whenever we can. It’s our way of connecting, of reassuring each other that we’re there for them, and of quietly reaffirming how much we like being together.
Shared interests, activities and challenges bring couples closer. My husband and I have diverse interests, but we also have some we share that we indulge in often. Whether it’s trying a new live food treat, reading a book about a common interest or watching an episode of "Dr. Who," we make time to do it together.
We also do chores together when we can. Nobody wants to trim bushes, but when we tackle them in synchronized cooperation, the task goes quicker and we know the other is aware of our labor. Watch for opportunities to do things together and while you’re at it, talk — about each other’s childhood memories, dreams or humorous moments at work. Be mischievous, affectionate and create a memory from what could have been a tedious job.
When we were dating, we valued spending time together. We couldn’t wait for a class to end so we could meet at the library. That same desire is still with us more than three decades later because we nurture it.
These are just a few simple things that have helped my nearly perfect marriage — serving each other, putting the marriage first, physical connecting, shared interests and doing things together as often as possible. We believe in our marriage. We believe it should get better and that our love should deepen every year. There will be tough times, and mangled toothpaste tubes — it is inevitable — but we believe we will get through them better because we are together.
Susan Dayley is the author of various books and blogs regularly at http://susandayley.wordpress.com