An item in the news today inquires as to the secret of a happy marriage. Well, I’ve been happily married since 1982, and have some thoughts on the subject.

A married couple are like two moving parts that must operate together, in constant contact, as a working machine. Unlike manufactured parts, however, they are somewhat irregularly shaped, and when they are brought together there is, inevitably, friction.

This can have two outcomes: either the parts are so mismatched as to be incompatible, interact destructively, and the apparatus flies apart, or, over time, the continuous engagement of the two parts smooths away the irregularites, and the machine settles into harmonious and productive operation.

The less friction, the better chance that the parts will manage, over time, gradually to reshape themselves to one another. How then, to provide the necessary lubrication? If there is a single piece of advice I’d give married couples, it is this: choose your battles.

There will always be disagreements: about home, money, travel, friends, food, entertainment, recreation, and a thousand other things. If you want your marriage to last, identify, sincerely and frugally, those things that really, really matter to you — the essential things that you would never be able to give up, or change about yourself, without deep and lingering resentment — and stand up for them. If you can do this honestly, in a spirit of love and generosity, the list will be short. Your spouse’s will be too. This list is also different for each of us, so no one-size-fits-all advice column can tell you what it contains. You have to figure it out for yourself, and it isn’t always easy.

For everything else, give way lovingly, cheerfully, and entirely without anger. You’ve already decided that these are the things that don’t really matter; they are certainly worth nowhere near as much as the happiness of a solid and loving marriage.

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  1. Court says

    Sage advice, Malcolm. Thanks for putting it up.

    Posted April 29, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  2. JO says

    I have been married since 1979-the 30th celebration this year. I will add this advice to any other female readers who might be interested. He won’t want to talk anything to death that relates to emotions or feelings. Learn to shut up. This goes against all the magazines and their advice. They keep advocating communication. Just learn to keep your communicating short and succinct!

    Posted April 29, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm, good advice. I guess that my wife and I are living it since we’re both happy.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted April 29, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink
  4. Charles says

    I haven’t been married for nearly as long, but my advice would probably be exactly the same.

    Posted April 29, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink