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Winifred M. Reilly Headshot

35 Things I've Learned in 35 Years of Marriage

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Winifred Reilly

Like most newlyweds, my husband and I stepped into marriage bright-eyed, optimistic and flat-out unprepared. We'd had terrible family role models and possessed virtually no tools, yet -- let's hear it for young love -- we assumed that our marriage would be a rousing success.

Unfortunately, marriage turned out to be far more challenging than we had imagined. By the time we'd been married five years, many of our friends were already divorced.

Sometimes I feared we were the next ones in line.

This week, we will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. Does that mean we discovered the "secret"?


Have we learned something?


And thank goodness for that.

People often ask long-married couples "What's the key to success?" as if there's a magic ingredient to having a marriage that lasts. When they ask me, I'm inclined to say "stubbornness" and I don't mean that in jest.

Despite flaring tempers, pouting and a mutual tendency to blame, our saving grace may well have been that, come hell or high water, we both kept two feet in.

For some couples, hanging in despite difficulties is not a good thing. In our case, it was.

We learned a lot, grew a lot and, as a result of our efforts, we have much to celebrate.

While this is by no means a definitive list, here are some of the important lessons we learned the hard way:

1. Marriage will teach you more about yourself than you bargained for. Consider this a gift.

2. Don't complain about the cooking when your spouse is the cook.

3. Never decide to get a divorce when you have PMS. (Same principle applies when you have the flu, jet-lag, or you're chronically under-slept.)

4. When people say marriage is hard, believe them.

5. Never start the day off nagging or complaining.

6. An unwillingness to quarrel about something doesn't mean you agree with it.

7. Establish early on whether the question "do these pants make me look fat?" is a true yes or no question.

8. Clean is a relative term.

9. Generosity may be the key to all happiness.

10. Most of your fights are living proof of your immaturity. The sooner you grow up, the happier you'll be.

11. When you think you've tried everything, know that you haven't.

12. Admit your shortcomings. They're obvious anyway.

13. Express gratitude often.

14. Give up all hope of being perfectly understood.

15. Being right will eventually lose its appeal.

16. Many of the things you fight hard for will turn out not to have been worth the fight.

17. Be the first to apologize. Really. It's not as painful as it sounds.

18. It's idiotic to stay up late arguing about being too tired to have sex.

19. Pay more attention to what you're doing to make things go badly and pay less attention to what your spouse is doing.

20. When your spouse's behavior is open to interpretation, ascribe the higher motive.

21. If you're going to complain about something, come to the table with a suggested alternative.

22. Hatred is perfectly normal under the circumstances. Don't freak out about it or take it too seriously.

23. Your definition of sexy will change over time. New definition: husband going out in the pouring rain to latch the slamming back gate.

24. Do not underestimate how irritating your spouse's slightly irritating behaviors will become over time.

25. If you want something, recognize and accept that it's your job to ask for it.

26. The louder your spouse yells, the quieter and calmer you need to be.

27. Disappointment is inevitable. Life gets a lot easier once you accept this.

28. Sometimes you're going to do your unfair share. It's not worth whining about.

29. Forget the nonsense about not going to bed angry. Get some sleep. Chances are things will look different in the morning.

30. There's no end to how much you can love someone if you let yourself.

31. Accept apologies graciously.

32. Being happily married is not the same as living happily ever after.

33. There are no guaranteed divorce-proofing moves. All any of us can do is be a husband or wife our spouse would be foolish to leave.

34. Don't kid yourself into thinking you have all the time in the world.

35. "In love" pales in comparison to love.