Wedded Bliss: Rules for a Happy Marriage

Thirty years after saying “I do,” this writer takes a decidedly dim view of marriage advice

When my husband and I got married 30 years ago, people threw rice and most presented us with ugly clocks and useless pickle forks. But one fellow gave us a plaque that read “Rules for a Happy Marriage.”

In a nutshell, the plaque said that if we were good and kind to each other at all times of the day or night, we would be happy.

It was so sweet it made me cry.

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But today — after surviving parenthood, a touchy septic system, and do-it-yourself exterminating — the plaque makes me laugh so hard I have to run to the bathroom. (And I don’t always make it.)

It’s obvious that anybody who believes those rules has never been married, and they have never lived in the rural Hudson Valley.

Rule number one has turned out to be especially hilarious: Never both be angry at the same time.

What are you supposed to do? He can get mad on even days, and she gets odd? The rest of the rules seem just as comical to us “old married folk.”

Never yell at each other unless the house is on fire.

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If you have to criticize, do it lovingly.

Never bring up mistakes of the past.

There have been many days when we have broken all of these rules at the same time — and at warp speed. And on no day did it happen more quickly than on The Day the Chipmunks Died — Sort Of.

It was not too long ago.

We had chipmunks running amok in the garage and garden. Poison wasn’t working. He took out the traps and said that after catching them, he would drown them in a bucket so they’d not return.

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I said that was a good idea. Just your ordinary, everyday conversation between two people who live in the country.

The only thing not ordinary was that he’d had eye surgery a few days before and could see about as well as Mr. Magoo.

I wondered aloud if, at the moment, this kind of extermination was a good idea. He grumbled, “I’m not buying a gun and shooting them. It will be fine.”

And it was, for the first few rounds. Then Mr. Magoo realized that chipmunks weren’t the only critters going into the traps and then on to the Bucket of Death. I won’t disclose too many grisly details, but we have recently sent a large donation to the Society for the Protection of Small Birds.

As you can imagine, we were both upset by what happened, and approximately 38 seconds after he broke the news to me about the “mistake,” we shattered every single rule on the “Happy Marriage” plaque.

We were angry at the same time and yelled at each other even though the house was not on fire.

I criticized him in the most unloving way, and (since I was on a roll) threw in “mistakes of the past” — although this was limited to the wildlife category, like the time the squirrels in a relocation program turned up inside our house.

On that day, he’d shouted: “Get out of the way! I’m going after them with a bat!” and I’d shouted: “No clubbing! No clubbing! I just cleaned the carpets!”

Anyway, after all these experiences, I have reached a conclusion about the “Rules for a Happy Marriage” plaque: It is total bupkis.

If you don’t yell, get angry, and say things you don’t mean once in a while, love won’t survive squirrel hunting in the living room and the Bucket of Death in the backyard.

Hmm. Now wouldn’t that make a good plaque?

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