My wife Vaune and I will celebrate our anniversary this week. Anniversaries often get me thinking about how marriages succeed over the years. My parents were within striking distance of their fiftieth when my Mom passed away. My wife’s parents are now at fifty-six years. If there’s a secret to marriage success, don’t ask me. I don’t really know.
Once we reached the twenty-year mark, I began making it a point to seek out the so-called secrets of a successful marriage from others. At first, I’d listen to famous people explain how their marriages lasted so long.
Comedian, actor, and director Carl Reiner probably said it best when he answered Johnny Carson’s question about the secret to a successful marriage. His response, “The key is, marry someone who can stand you.”
One morning, while getting ready for work during a business trip, I heard a recently married local television news anchor woman give her advice to a man who had announced his engagement, “All I can say is that when she cooks you dinner, if you think it’s good, tell her it’s great.”
Radio talk show host Sean Hannity told a listener once that if your focus is on making the other person happy, always, then you should never have to worry about whether you’ll have a successful marriage.
I don’t know where I heard this next piece of advice, but it makes a lot of sense to me: never go to bed angry…you won’t get any sleep anyway.
Recently at our church, the priest offered a special prayer to a couple celebrating their seventieth anniversary. After the service, I went up to the couple to congratulate them. I asked the husband what was the secret to a long marriage. Without missing a beat, this ninety-year old plus man looked at me and said, “Learn how to say yes dear.”
I look around me and see the many blessings of long marriages among my family. My grandparents on my dad’s side made it to their 72nd anniversary. Grandma Newvine passed away a couple of months following that anniversary. I’m not sure what either one of them would say was their secret to a long lasting union.
But I remember as a child that my Grandpa used to help give his kids a bath every night. I thought that was unusual given that Grandpa owned a dairy farm that required him to be doing hard farm work twelve hours a day, every day.
As a kid, I wondered why he’d help with what I previously considered to be “woman’s work”. Thank goodness I wised up in time to help my wife with the household chores when our two daughters were being raised.
Maybe that’s the secret to a successful marriage. Not necessarily the spoken word or the written pieces of advice. Success is almost always the unspoken. The knowing that the other person needs you to step up, roll up your sleeves, and tend to the business at hand.
A priest I knew once said he told couples preparing marriage that the key to success is not each person giving fifty-fifty to make a whole. The real secret, he said, was each person giving one-hundred-percent.
I’ll go with that. While I’m sure I haven’t always been able to give everything, one-hundred-percent seems like a good place to start.
Author’s note- a version of this essay will appear in Steve’s new book Microphones, Moon Rocks, and Memories to be published later this year.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced