The Bliss Doctor Is In

Marriage advice from a guy who loves it so much, he’s done it twice.
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Since June is one of the most popular months for getting hitched, I thought I would offer some advice to all the new brides and grooms around the tri-state. A caveat: While I’m not a counselor or a therapist, I’ve been very observant of other people’s marriages, as well as my own. Both of them. Yes, my first marriage fell apart. But that only makes me wiser, since nothing educates quite like failure. While I can make no guarantee that these tips will keep you out of the doghouse, let alone divorce court, I believe they will increase your odds of finding and retaining wedded bliss across the long haul by a full 37.5 percent (give or take 37.5 percent). Though there is one other caveat that overrides all the advice that follows: None of this will matter much if you consider Tiger Woods’s multiple infidelities no more offensive than jaywalking.

Read Maxim and Cosmopolitan. If you’re young and newly wed, you’re probably reading one of these magazines already. But regardless of your age, you should be reading them. Both of them. It’s a great way for you and your mate to stay up on what’s important to the other gender when it comes to careers, fashion, pop culture, and, yes, sex. For instance, men who read the May issue of Cosmo learned, among other things, that there’s a cute pair of pumps for only $25 that they can order for their wives at gojane.com; that guys with flat asses should wear jeans with flaps or buttons on the rear pockets; and that there is an app that can turn your spouse’s smart phone into a smooth-talking vibrator.

On the flip side, women who read the May issue of Maxim learned that Psycho Donuts in Campbell, California, is a top 10 donut destination in America; that the 911 Turbo Coupe from Porsche is the new male fantasy car (with a sticker price of $132,800); and that men are pretty much clueless when it comes to performing oral sex—which, come to think of it, is probably something you already knew.

While talking about current affairs and family matters comes easy to most couples, Maxim and Cosmo help get the conversation started when you’re exploring sensitive topics. Like if your spouse’s body odor is interfering with your social lives. Or whether or not the “backwards cowgirl” sexual position is going to, uh, work for both of you—or frustrate someone into looking for that iPhone app.

Don’t deny science. Just because men and women are—or at least should be—equals when it comes to respect, responsibility, and “power” within a relationship, that doesn’t mean that we’re cut from the same cloth. There is something even more strikingly different about us than our genitalia: our brains. Guys, your suspicions are right: Our brains are bigger than theirs. But gals, your suspicions are right, too: Your brains are just as powerful as ours. Maybe more. According to science, female brains apparently are smaller but they contain just as many cells as male brains. In other words, women have done a better job packing their gray matter, which will come as no surprise to any guy who has traveled with a woman.

So the differing size of our brains isn’t the issue. It’s how they work. And, boy do they work differently! Women have 11 percent more neurons in the language centers of the brain, which may explain why they often like to talk more than we guys do. And women do talk more. On average, women speak 250 words per minute, while men come in at half that. So, husbands, be patient when your wife seems to use every word in the dictionary when talking about how her sister is spoiled by her mother. And wives, don’t be too hard on your guy when he doesn’t have much to say about a promotion or a funeral. Words come slowly to us. Except when those words are football or boobies.

Oh, and that thing called a woman’s intuition? Well, it’s for real, gentlemen. The areas of the brain that respond to gut feelings are larger and more sensitive in the female brain. Which means that when your wife tells you that she thinks one of your best friends is a closet racist, or that a colleague at work is trying to take your job, or that if you don’t stop spending so much time with your model train set you’re going to be very sorry, believe her.

Look in the mirror, oddball. We all have our own idiosyncrasies. Yet those of our mates seem to imply pending insanity, while our own seem to indicate advanced intelligence. A husband who insists on having guests remove their shoes before they step into his tool shop should not raise an eyebrow at his wife for refusing to eat off of paper plates. Live and let live, otherwise your marriage will collapse over something as silly as breakfast cereal, like one of my friend’s did.

This couple argued, on and off for several years, about the merits and demerits of eating Cap’n Crunch for breakfast every morning. The wife was addicted to the sugary breakfast “food,” which the husband found horribly annoying. For him, it wasn’t so much the cereal’s lack of nutrition than that a grown woman would unapologetically eat kids’ cereal every single morning. This silly “debate” of theirs wouldn’t go away, and on one particularly stressful morning it turned into a major battle. The husband drew a line in the sand, decreeing that the Cap’n was no longer welcome to drop anchor and come ashore in their house. For both of them, this fight came to embody everything that they grew to dislike about each other. They’re divorced now. Moral of the story: Before you shine a spotlight on one of your spouse’s annoying eccentricities, you might first want to step back and ask why, for instance, you insist on having exactly four different shampoos in the shower at all times. Freak.

Get away from each other. You just got married and you feel like you can’t spend five minutes apart without feeling lost and lonely. Well, get over that—and fast. Hopefully, you have another 50-plus years ahead of you, so now is the ideal time to start getting away from each other before you tire of one another. You need to not only encourage guys’ nights out and girls’ nights out, but long weekends, too, so guys can golf, or whatever, and talk about women, and the gals can golf, or whatever, and talk about men. The point is: If you don’t ever get away, even the most entertaining and lovely of people can grow tiresome, some of us faster than others. Just ask my wife.

This advice is particularly important for those “enthusiast couples,” the ones who met because of a shared interest, like dressing up and performing in Renaissance fairs or something even weirder. If you continue to share the same special interest after marriage, you’ll need to work even harder at healthy separation. That’s not just for your own benefit; it’s for friends and family who are sick and tired of hearing about the spiritual enrichment you both garner from pioneer re-enactments, ballooning, or archery ’n such.

Wish yourself luck when it comes to money. Survey after survey suggests that the primary reason married couples fight and divorce is money: how much is needed; how to get it; and how to spend and invest it. Do you bolster the 401(k) or buy that new BMW X5? Do you send the kids to private school or go on that privately guided European vacation? Do you invest aggressively in pork belly futures or buy into a BBQ franchise? Money is such treacherous territory for couples because there’s often no clear-cut right or wrong, because we are so shaped by our own upbringing on these matters, and because no one has a crystal ball but we make money decisions as if we do.

I knew a couple, each of whom had very different ideas about money. The wife saw no issue with the two of them eating out every night. The husband saw this as a gargantuan waste of money. After a year-long fight over the matter, the wife relented and agreed that they would eat at home every night. In fact, because she got home earlier than he did after work, she volunteered to prepare all the meals. What she didn’t tell him was that the only thing she would later claim to know how to cook was rice and beef tenderloin. Which is what they ate, every single night. Both of them sat at the dinner table chewing—and waiting to see who would crack first. Three weeks in, he did. He left the house in a huff and went to a pricey restaurant and ordered a seafood dish. The next day, the divorce proceedings commenced. Now these two both eat when and where they want, though they each have less money to spend on food and, well, everything else.

Which brings me to the best advice I can give you on the financial front: Whatever your perceived money problems and differences may be, remember you’ll have less dough after the divorce.

Don’t let your kids play soccer. Your marriage will suffer and perhaps even come undone if you always put the kids first. I’m not suggesting that kids shouldn’t be the top priority, but they shouldn’t be the only one all the time.

This is why I urge you to try to steer your kids away from playing soccer. It’s now a year-round sport with so many damn leagues and tournaments that, if you’re not careful, you’ll soon find yourself a soccer mom or dad spending as much time on the sidelines as you do at your job. And that’s not taking into account all the time spent shuttling the kids around to all the games and practices.

I’d like to know: When did parents come to believe that this arrangement was smart, necessary, and desirable? Exercise and the lessons of competition and teamwork are, of course, very beneficial for every child. But kids need not be on four different teams or a member of the USA Gymnastics squad to reap those benefits and lessons. Send the kids out into the backyard and let them run in circles chasing squirrels so you and your spouse can tend to the laundry, the financial planning, and perhaps your sex life, which I would advise against doing on the soccer sidelines unless you bring a tent.

Marriage is a beautiful, delightful thing. I’m so happy to be married. But marriage takes a diplomat’s willingness to compromise, a politician’s ability to choose battles carefully, and most of all, a Woody Allen–level of self-loathing and deprecation. Because for every shortcoming you come to spot in your spouse, you have at least two. Probably more. Here endeth the lesson. Now go kiss your honey.

Feeling odd or left out? Contact the author via his website: stevekissing.com

Illustration by Kevin Miyazaki
Originally published in the June 2010 issue.

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