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WE’RE SITTING ON
the front porch, the missus and me, sipping our Saturday-morning coffee and reading the paper, when I come across something I find interesting.

“Says here that kids are not all that important to a successful marriage,” I report.

She doesn’t say anything.

I press on.

“Isn’t that interesting?” I ask.

“Mmm-hmm,” she says.

“In fact,” I continue, “according to the survey, kids are next to last.”

“That right?” she says, vaguely.

“Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I ask.

“Jim,” she says, “can I read the paper?”

“But —”

“Jim!”

“I just thought …”

“Please.”

“Okay,” I say. “But communication is crucial to having a successful marriage, even though I don’t see that mentioned anywhere in this survey. Sure hope you’re not jeopardizing our chances for success.”

“I’ll risk it,” she says, and turns the page.

LET’S TALK ABOUT what it takes to have a successful marriage.

If I had to guess, I’d venture that Jessica might say ignoring one’s mate while reading the paper is paramount. Fair enough. It’s too bad for her that that category was not included in the survey.

Me? I would suggest that it takes open communication, not only through the baring of one’s soul and by not honestly responding to questions such as “Does this dress make me look fat?” but also through the sharing of interesting tidbits in everyday life, the type of tidbits one finds while reading the newspaper. Which, of course, is a survey category.

Jessica would claim that her objection isn’t to sharing but to constant interruption. I’d respond that constant interruption while reading the paper is sharing.

Given the gulf between us, we do the only thing that a successfully married couple can do: We argue about it.

Of course, for all I know, maybe our marriage is not successful. Maybe we just do what we do, completely ignorant of our utter unsuccessfulness.

If by “successfully married” they mean “not divorced,” then we’ve met that threshold. Jessica and I have been married for 21 years.

But if by “successfully married” they mean having a spouse who listens to you when you have something interesting to say while you’re both reading the paper, then I’m afraid we have a way to go.

But there is a broader point, and it is that I will be sleeping on the couch tonight.

THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLE that I found to be so interesting was based on a study by the Pew Research Center. Herewith are the percentages of respondents who said the following factors are very important for a successful marriage:

Faithfulness — 93%
Happy sexual relationship — 70%
Sharing of household chores — 62%
Adequate income — 53%
Good housing — 51%
Shared religious beliefs — 49%
Shared tastes and interests — 46%
Children — 41%
Agreement on politics — 12%

SINCE THE 1990 PEW study on the same subject, the importance of sharing household chores increased by 15 percent, good housing by 9 percent, and adequate income by 7 percent. And the importance of children to a successful marriage? Down by 24 percent.

What does this mean? It means that between the previous study and this one, many adorable children have turned into teenagers.

I was curious to see what others think, so I called some experts, including my buddy Lou. Lou is married. He also makes the best Italian cream cake and does a hilarious impression of BBC reporters, which, together, make him an expert on pretty much everything.

In an e-mail, he said: “Eat whatever the spouse makes. Even if it tastes like the bottom of an outdoor garbage can at a national park in August. Say, ‘This is really good, honey.’

“Master ESC, or Effective Silent Communication. Get, and act on, the it’s-time-for-your-stupid-friend-to-leave look. Makes for a nicer evening, ride home from a party, etc.

“Accept blame. It’s always your fault, even when it’s not. This is even more beneficial when used proactively.”

I asked his wife, Judy, for her opinion. Judy was divorced some years ago, and my view is that no one knows what it takes to make a successful marriage better than someone who is divorced. She said: “Remember that despite all evidence to the contrary, your spouse is an actual human being. No matter how much your ego doesn’t want it to be true, your spouse isn’t here to make your life better/more cushy, and he/she has his/her own dreams and needs.

“Or at least that’s what I’ve heard — I’ve never tried it.”

Trying to live up to high ideals and to treat your spouse like a person is fine, but I still think most people would say sharing newspaper tidbits is the key to a successful marriage.


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