I have been married for more than forty years and in that time I have learned a few lessons about making things work which I set before you now. If you are just setting out on this marital trail I can only urge you for the good of your marriage to read this article very carefully before acting on it by deleting it completely and studiously ignoring everything I say…
Demands – Never make too many demands on your partner. My own wife has only ever made three demands of me during our entire marriage:
- That I do what she wants.
- That I do it when she wants it.
- That I do it how she wants it.
These three rules apply for almost every household duty, from DIY tasks to pouring the gin. For those of you with a smuttier state of mind, they do not apply to our sex life. In that we have only one rule these days: do it only when there is a reasonable chance of at least one of us remaining awake throughout.
Money – Should not be an important issue in any long term relationship and will not be so unless a) you have some or b) you do not.
Play – Badminton, bridge and Monopoly, nothing leads to accusations and recriminations as surely as ‘play time’. From the early days of deliberately losing to the more mature ‘win at any cost’ phase, games form the backbone of every marriage. Those that play together stay together, the saying goes, but whoever said it was obviously asleep for the Christmas Day game of Newmarket. It is the nature of most games that the winners are smug and the losers are sore and everyone in the middle claims that they’re not really that competitive. It is the nature of married couples that, even when on the same side, they are more intent on beating one another than the opposition. When either partner plays badly, the other believes that they have done so simply to spite them. There is no better feeling than losing when it isn’t your fault.
Shop – Married couples shop together at their peril. What men want from shopping is a pair of comfortable pants*, chocolate and a hedge trimmer that looks as though it might have been designed by NASA. What women want from shopping is food to put on the table, clothes to put on the children and a couple of hours free of the husband. If it was allowed, Tesco’s would be cited in more divorce cases than adultery.
The ‘S’ word – Every relationship has to face spaghetti at some time. Whether you eat it in quite the wrong way, make a terrible slurping sound whilst you suck it in, or distribute sauce over every conceivable surface whilst you chew, nothing contributes to marital strife quite like those little pasta strings. Anyone who has been married for more than three years will tell you that there is only one right way to eat spaghetti: alone and in a wetsuit.
Television – Many happy couples spend hours on end happily watching TV in one another’s company and they are all employed by Gogglebox. The rest of us spend our time moaning that our partner has it on too loudly, or too quietly: that they insist on breathing when it all gets tense; that they insist on talking when it all gets quiet; that they insist of seeing what’s on the other side at the exact moment that the murderer is unmasked. It is impossible to watch TV without resenting the person who has control of the remote control. It is impossible to remain happy with someone who snores right through ‘Bake Off’.
Travel – Travel is a must for binding married couples together. It provides the perfect opportunity to see new sights, experience new sensations and to discover new words – especially when your spouse has set the Sat-Nav. What could be better than a hundred mile journey together in order to get to a destination you had no intention of ever visiting in a time-scale that would have allowed a three-week break in the Seychelles. For many young couples the nuptial journey begins with the honeymoon where traditionally, you discover that you have made a very big mistake indeed and that you really should have listened to your parents when they told you never to trust a man who sells popcorn by the piece, or a woman who insists on calling you babe any time after the age of fifteen. As you get older, you will appreciate that parents are actually responsible for everything that goes wrong in your life – often because they allow you to ignore their advice, or even worse, take it. In the early days of my own marriage road journeys were often accompanied by a loud and detailed examination of each other’s parentage followed by the road atlas being launched across the whole width of the M56 (not that we were aware that it was the M56, of course, as we thought that we were heading for Southend). Today journeys are normally guided by GPS systems that are not so easily thrown through the window. GPS systems will always get you effortlessly from A to B when correctly set – even if you really want to get to C. Sat-Navs are as simple to set as central heating timers – which explains the night sweats.
Words – Words are the trigger in the marital weapon of choice. In my own home, the words ‘I’m just going for a shower’ are the certain trigger for my wife to turn the washing machine on or, if she has no laundry, the lawn sprinkler.
Work – Never work together. By working together you turn marriage into a full time job. Nobody works for pleasure, they work for money. If you have married for money, then all is well. If, however, you have married for any one of the other 1001other reasons, it will not come as a complete surprise to find out that two cannot live as cheaply as one. Whoever said that was either an idiot or married to an inflatable doll. A long marriage, particularly one punctuated by the arrival of children and grandchildren, is all about sharing poverty. Some couples – often to be found in lifts tapping their feet to the muzak, in hotel toilets smelling the soap, or on railway platforms counting the wheels – claim that they both work and live together without ever falling out. It may be true, but I wouldn’t like to meet either of them on their own.
*UK pants = US jockeys. Having a snug pair of jockeys around your groin in the UK will, at least, lead to a double-page spread in the tabloids.
As ever 1000 words does not allow for breadth or analysis. If you feel that you would like to add to this guide, I very much look forward to your contributions.