The secret of a lasting marriage is…

Husband Crèche
Husband Crèche (Photo credit: dullhunk)

By Caitlin Kelly


My second wedding anniversary, to my second husband, arrives soon — September 17 — here’s a link to a description of that lovely day, with photos.

We’d been together for 11 years already when we finally tied the knot, in a small wooden 100+ year old church on an island in the harbor of my hometown, Toronto.

I loved him, but just couldn’t imagine taking vows with someone so different from me: Buddhist/Christian; American/Canadian; 30 years at the same employer/self-employed; Hispanic/Anglo; passive/aggressive; meticulous/spontaneous.

For many years, we fought, bitterly — two stubborn mid-life journo’s, both long-divorced with no kids. Two people who arrived in New York from cities far away, both determined to make our mark in the most sharp-elbowed city in the world.

It’s not easy to switch at day’s end from being someone able to beat ferocious competitors all day long to being sweet and pliable at home.

We do have tempers, and we were both well-bullied as teenagers.

It left us wary, hair-trigger, thin-skinned.

This blog post at Salon, written by an American woman who admitted she hit her husband, provoked many comments:

My husband and I weren’t even married yet when I first hit him. Afterward, I tried to rationalize what happened. I told myself I hadn’t hurt him. How could my scrawny 5’4” self actually hurt his strapping 6’2” frame, right? I swore it wouldn’t happen. But it did anyway.

My anger became my biggest secret. Whenever I commiserated with my sister or best friend  about our husbands, I would agree that, yes, men are maddening. But I would always leave out the the part about me hitting or slapping mine. I wasn’t lying exactly. Besides, I’d tell myself, it hardly ever happens.

But I knew it was wrong. Being a child who hits inanimate objects is one thing, but being a grown woman who directs her rages into her husband’s face is something else entirely. Each time it happened, I’d apologize profusely. Each time, my husband would forgive me, and I’d vow it would never happen again. But it always did.

Why is forgiveness top of mind right now?

It might be living in New York — where two prominent local politicians both betrayed their wives and got caught, yet both are running for office again.

It might be reaching mid-life, when some once-egregious and unforgivable sins begin to lose some of their power.

It might be the basic realization that none of us is perfect. We will, inevitably, hurt and disappoint and dismay and embarrass the people who adore us, and vice versa. Without the salve of forgiveness, no wound can heal.

It might watching a couple we introduced at our dinner table now divorce.


Our wedding rings.

Yet Jose and I still spat. It’s not nice.

The other day, after a rough week, we went for lunch in a friend’s garden, and the universe decided to teach us both a lesson.

Within minutes — for the first time since our childhoods — we were both stung by wasps, I on the ring finger of my left hand (where a wedding ring usually goes) and he above his right eye, the one he uses to focus when taking photos.

We were in fucking agony!

But all we could do was fuss and coo, fetching ice and aspirin and trying to soothe one another.

It took a wasp’s venom.

But I’m paying attention, dammit.

What has saved your marriage?

45 thoughts on “The secret of a lasting marriage is…

  1. I’m not married, but from what I’ve observed, marriages that work tend to have constant or at least frequent communication between spouses. And the parents of a friend of mine once told me that their marriage has remained healthy because they constantly say “I love you” to each other. As far as I know, they’re still married today.

  2. michelegwrites

    Funny that today I wrote a semi-fictitious piece on how men can be shaped into better partners by their mothers (a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course). It’s just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t touch the responsibility of the wife/partner. But in the end, the way I see it, we must be honest with the person we lie next to at night. Honest in our actions, our words, in how we present to one another. And your blog is a nice example of that.

    1. Thanks. I’ll have to read yours.

      Actually, you’re completely right that women as mothers model the behavior they expect from men to their daughters, sons (and husbands.) If they’re doormats, their sons think that’s “normal.” If they’re treated with respect and kindness, ditto. I know (as we’ve discussed it) that Jose’s mom had a great effect on him (in a good way.) She died many years ago and it’s one of my greatest regrets I will not meet her or know her.

      1. I wonder how many divorces could be prevented if people understood this…”fighting” can be terrifying to people who have never done it or seen it done and think it’s the end, when it might be the beginning of true(r) intimacy.

  3. Some people believe married love should be as a rock — solid, unchanging, eternal. I disagree. Married love is like a tree that must grow to survive; it requires water and sunlight and nourishment, or it will die.

  4. Hi Caitlin. You were a beautiful bride! I cringed at the above insert re the woman who hit her husband – she is a peach. My husband and I are coming up on our 39th wedding anniversary and I tell him I love him every day. Sometimes it is not easy, all these years have not always been easy. We (or more like I) have come to the brink a few times. My take on a lasting partnership is having a sense of humor. We still laugh a lot, lame jokes and all. I realized about halfway through that he is a human being, complex, with feelings and not just a sounding board for me or the target of my frustration. Both partners have to be willing to let the other grow in directions that they may not want to follow but can be supportive of the other’s dreams. And the elephant in the room? Intimacy – for as many years as possible.

    1. Thanks! It was such a happy day…

      Jose and I laugh every day, and the time he starts snorting at work everyone knows he’s talking to me — there’s not a ton of laughing in that newsroom!

      I spend a lot of time reminding myself that he is a separate person with very different wants and needs, in some ways, and very similar ones in others. I know I wouldn’t last a week with someone like me.

      Intimacy can also be emotional, and must be…During the 2.5 years of 24/7 pain with my hip…forget the rest!

  5. That’s terrible. Wasps. Crazy.
    The only thing I can think of as far as “saving” our marriage right now is bills. We have too many. Otherwise, I’d always love him but living with someone so different from me takes its toll.

    1. Bills.

      Hmmm…what you’re really facing is income…lack of it or spending, lack of control over it. We’ve been there and we also battle with this. I’m the saver and he’s the spender, VERY different, and it stresses me. We have plenty of savings, so we are not foolish, but debt of any kind, even a mortgage, stresses me.

  6. Great post, Kaitlin. And a great one of a kind wedding in a neat location – a special couple, you and Jose. Glad to know that other couples have fought bitterly at times, and come out the other side together. My wife has a saying relating to group processes – forming, storming and norming. Or maybe it’s norming, storming & forming . . . 🙂 Good for marraige too.

    Last night as we retired together laying in bed, I don’t know what I said, but my wife Francis said, you can still make me laugh Bruce. We are two very different people, and yet we have a lot of common values, experiences & dreams . When times are tough we talk it out and remember that the patsure isn’t always greener on the other side. We create rules and boundaries. The latest rule is i- f one of us doesn’t feel like talkin, don’t talk . . . until later that is.

    I often recall something Pema Chodron once said and I try to apply this to the marrairge partnership – to remember my vows, refrain from outrageous behaviour, and to practice patience. It is easier said than done. Thanks Kaitlin, for this pause for thought about relationship.

    1. Bruce, thanks!

      I love all the things you’ve said here. It’s very true that people need boundaries. That was one of our very first hurdles; when you’ve been bullied as a child or teen, you have difficulty setting and keeping them.

      Jose’s parents never fought, he said, so when we did, he was very angry with me FOR fighting. All my parents seemed to do WAS fight, so we had very different models. Parents may forget how powerful those models are…

      You’ve made a great point: common values, experiences and dreams are essential. We’ve always shared a passion for our work (and other things), and that’s been really helpful as we totally “get” what we do and why we do it and why we put up with all the stress from it.

      Pema! Jose is a Buddhist so our shelves are filled with texts. I did an eight-day retreat with him, silent, with Lama Surya Das in July 2011.

  7. Steve

    Your friend judyrobinsart gave you some great advice. My wife and I have been married 35 years in October. It isn’t always easy but we have committed our lives to each other and WORK at it. A couple must be willing to work at their relationship and realize that sometimes things just don’t work out the way we want them to. If you can be willing to put your partners needs above your own and trust that he will do the same you can work through any situation, especially if you have kids. We had five rambunctious boys and believe me, we had to work through some ‘situations’. Commitment, trust and a sense of humor will take you far, but never foret how to say you’re sorry, that need comes up often. CONGRATULATIONS!!

  8. I love your honesty about relationships and marriage. We recently celebrated our second wedding anniversary, too.

    What has saved my marriage is patience and understanding. Admitting when we are wrong and learning from our mistakes. But I think the biggest thing that saves our marriage (EVERYDAY) is having the ability and maturity to make room for our shortcomings. This may sound a little odd, but for me, it is refreshing to know I can be myself and make a mistake without having to worry if my husband is going to think the worst of me.

  9. Your wedding photos are so lovely! Congratulations to you both on your soon-to-be second anniversary.

    I think forgiveness is definitely key to a healthy relationship, because without it, you fall into the “keeping score” mentality. I had that with my ex-husband and it was horrible. I don’t do that with my husband now. I think it also helps that when we have a problem, we eventually set our egos aside and talk things out until we come to a resolution of sort, because what is important to us is the health of our relationship, not of being right at all costs or preserving our sense of righteous indignation.

    At the same time I think forgiveness can only go so far. Like, I think there has to be a commitment to keeping the transgression from happening again on the part of your partner for forgiveness to be healthy in a relationship. Otherwise it just sort of becomes…is codependency the right word? Anyway, a partner – such as the woman in the Salon essay – who is granted forgiveness from their partner for terrible behavior but keeps repeating that behavior is almost exploiting their partner’s love and kindness in a way. I used to forgive my ex-husband for the things he did and said to me, but it never actually forced him to change his behavior in the long term. Classic abuse cycle, I suppose.

    Wow, I didn’t know I had so many opinions about relationships, but I guess I do.

    1. Thanks! We were very lucky to have a former student of Jose’s do them…her first wedding. I was nervous about that.

      Keeping score is hopeless…because both people, being human, behave badly. No one is ever perfect.

      I agree! In my first draft of this blog, I discussed abuse and adultery (non-negotiables) as things I would not forgive, and think no one should. It’s very difficult (impossible, really) to force someone to change their behavior. They want to, or they do not. My first husband NEVER discussed things with me and simply refused to negotiate; I accepted it because he paid all the bills. Jose and I negotiate everything and it feels healthy and adult this time. My ex simply married someone else. People change if they wish to, and I think many divorces are the result of pure ego — people who refuse to even consider changing to preserve that relationship. I was shocked and devastated that I, and that marriage, were considered merely disposable. I took those vows seriously. Clearly, he did not.

      I suspect we all do!

  10. I’m so sorry about the wasps! Wow. In a few months we will be 12 years. I think I was smart and stupid at the same time. My hubby is divorced and the good news is that he learned how to be a good spouse by living in a horrible marriage first. So me? I can do no wrong in his eyes. He was more than mature enough to be a good spouse…maybe he wasn’t so much the first time. The other part is an age difference-it has been ok so far but I wonder about it as we get older…I can see little signs of him slowing down a bit and being stuck in his ways, and I realize I’m going to have to get used to some changes to come… As for personality, what has saved us: having our own hobbies. making sure we do not step on each others passions. Similar values. Neither of us are fiery people so our fights are not really fights–more like discussions. And of course, date night every 2 weeks. If we didn’t have that, as parents, I don’t think all would be good–we need to see each other across the table, without interruption, and talk and listen and be “ourselves” together, and not “mom and dad”. Having that time to talk and reconnect is essential. Look forward to looking at your wedding photos!

    1. Congrats! That’s a good long time.

      My father, now 84, was 15 years older than his (now late) wife; sadly ironic that she died first, of cancer. A major age difference really starts to show up after someone is in their 60s or 70s. Right after my first marriage ended, I was dating someone almost 20 years my senior. I just didn’t want to fall into the role of caretaker so young, even thought it likely happens to all of us eventually. My husband is my age.

      Separate hobbies and interests are key.

  11. i loved this post // the thing we tend to forget the most regarding forgiveness is that it does not have to be about the other person, forgiveness is for the self. i remember reading the dalai lama’s the art of happiness as a teenager & realizing that everyone is only after happiness {& sometimes they get it wrong} — that was so freeing.

    congrats on your anniversary! your wedding photos are beautiful–you are both glowing! i admire your honesty & openness. i am not yet married, but i understand the communication tango // my boyfriend & i are figuring out how to communicate more effectively during conflict — it’s tough when we were raised so differently {i read one of your above comments, & each of our set of parents mirror how yours were}, but i am confident we will figure it out. what we do have down pact is a friendship, trust, & we laugh together. i wish i could remember where i heard this, but someone said the key to love & marriage was the three “l’s”: laughter, lust, & loyalty. i dig it.

    1. That’s a whole other blog post…and very true indeed. I am very bad at that piece of it.

      Thanks! I loved our pix…tough to photograph a pro photographer, (jose) and as his former student! I think Marie did a great job.

      Conflict is tough on so many levels. Some people feel certain you must NEVER argue…really? Maybe if someone is heavily medicated or no one ever dares express an opinion. My family did little but that, so it’s challenge for Jose and I. We’re both bossy and like to be in charge, so someone does, eventually have to submit, or agree.

      I like your three Ls!

      1. i love that his former student took those photos! // how cool! & she did a great job.

        it’s so true what you say about conflict. life is boring without conflict & perfection is not very relatable.

      2. I was VERY nervous — she had never shot a wedding or met me or been to Toronto. But she IS a talented news photographer (as is Jose) and that’s what you need…someone with terrific instincts, unobtrusive and moves FAST. My absolutely fave image — as it sums me up perfectly — is me walking barefoot in the grass to get to the front of the church, holding my brand-new Manolos. Elegant hippie. 🙂

        But so many people think it’s the ideal?!

    1. It was a VERY painful wake-up call. 🙂

      Acceptance is huge. I once read that every marriage has a few issues that will NEVER ever be resolved. You just have to accept that your husband or wife is different.

      1. I would agree with that statistic! It also goes back to not trying to change a man. Those annoying habits that make me cringe–hand always in the pants when on the couch! I’m still learning to accept them as a part of the man I love and have chosen to spend my life with.

  12. Love this post and your wedding photos. The one of Jose bowing to your father made me emotional for some reason. I can’t comment on what makes a marriage work right now, but I do like reading what everyone has to say, especially about forgiveness, communication and laughter. I hope I get a second chance. Congrats on your second anniversary!!

    PS. the book arrived yesterday. Thank you. 🙂

    1. Thanks! The inclusion of Buddhist traditions in a Christian ceremony was (!) the suggestion of the minister, who we had never met but loved as soon as we met him…ponytail, Birkenstocks and a lovely person. We even borrowed a singing Tibetan bowl we struck in the middle of the ceremony. And it was the minister who insisted (!) my father not “give” me away.

      Enjoy! I’ll be very curious to hear your thoughts…

  13. We’re married 42 years and are so different, it is a wonder how it lasts. What we do have in common is values and neatness and somehow the rest works. I’m still looking for your wedding pictures?

  14. Wasps – bringing people together for centuries! This post made me laugh out loud. I would add to forgiveness the ability to say ‘I was wrong’. That is a relationship saver all by itself. If you can throw in a genuine ‘I’m sorry’, there aren’t many fires that can’t quickly be put out.

    1. Laugh?! You heartless wretch. The pain was INSANE!

      But yes, apologies are the glue of any long-lasting relationship IF, and only if, the nasty behavior is not repeated, followed by yet another apology.

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