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This photo has absolutely nothing to do with marriage. It came to me courtesy of Karina Dresses, where summer dresses are now on clearance. While you're there, check out their blog where they share great tips on living well.


***This photo has absolutely nothing to do with marriage. The dress came to me courtesy of Karina Dresses, where summer dresses are now on clearance. While you’re there, check out their blog, where brand ambassadors share great tips on living well. ***

My invitation to New York Fashion Week seems to be lost in the mail. That’s no big deal because I have access to something that’s almost as good as being there.

Every Thursday morning, it will be spread across the ottoman of my chair, having been pulled from the New York Times by my husband, who is usually awake hours before me. It’s the Thursday Style section. In the weeks before and after NYFW, it will be a tomb, and he knows I will want to digest it thoroughly.

This weekly ritual is one of the ways my husband says, “I love you.” We’ve been married for almost 24 years, but it hasn’t been a cakewalk for either of us. Just when we think we have it figured out, some new obstacle is thrown in our path and we have to start all over again. Or so it seems.

What’s kept us together? It’s possible that the main thing we have going for us is a stubborn refusal to throw in the towel. Then again, a few of our dysfunctional strategies could be useful to someone whose marriage is in a slump. It’s is a complicated subject, not easily distilled in a short blog post.

I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but here’s what’s worked for us thus far. One caveat: I’m not a marriage counselor, so please take my words with a grain of proverbial salt.

Find the good. My husband has a long list of complaints about me and vice versa. For every negative trait we have, there is at least one positive. Sometimes your attitude toward your spouse makes this hard to acknowledge, but it’s no less true. During your worst conflicts, you can minimize a lot of angst if you remember that his good traits are part of the reason you’re together.

Accept the fact that marriage isn’t a 50/50 proposition. Over the long haul, maybe there’s a ratio that gets close to this, but day-to-day, it’s not unusual to believe you’re giving your all, while your spouse is operating at zero to 10 percent effort. No matter who you are, it’s easy to slip into a victim mentality when you start running a scoreboard. When you observe members of the 50-plus Club, they all seem to share an expectation that life isn’t easy. That attitude prepares them to stay the course—no matter what—in almost every aspect of life. It’s a point of view that pairs well with marriage, which is truly a bootstrapping expedition. We can’t reach the top if we aren’t willing to take a few tumbles or climb uphill in extreme weather.

Know when to stand your ground and when to retreat. I can’t win the clutter battle that goes on in our home, and therefore our living space will never look like something out of Architectural Digest. I sacrificed that goal for the sake of happiness. On other matters, let’s just say that my “No” is without compromise. That goes both ways. We’ve both learned to recognize bedrock issues and personal limitations where there is very little wiggle room. In those cases, I think we try to respect the other person’s needs even when we think it’s crazy. It isn’t necessary that we wholeheartedly agree on everything, as long as we can make things work.

Have lots of friends. In every marriage, there will be impossible times. Monotony, conflicts, whining, nagging, family complications, job dissatisfaction, illness, parenting, repetitive arguments, addictions and other problems may hint that your relationship is doomed. Sometimes, the journey to the other side is a waiting game. Having a close circle of friends nourishes you through those periods, and gives you a sense of purpose until the good times roll again—and they always do.

Know where the marriage committee starts and stops. When you get married, you may think you’re marrying a person, but you’re actually joining every relationship he has and all the commitments that accompany them. Yes, it’s important to work out those obligations and meld into each other’s lives, but the decision to stay together and the majority of the work in service to that goal involves just three parties: you, your spouse and God. If one or the other is being a jerk, no doubt that’s a legitimate concern to family and friends, but the final decision about the commitment rests with each couple. Here’s the way I look at our marriage: if you’re not on the committee, you don’t get a vote; you can only encourage us through the rough times and/or support us in our effort to make it work. Whether or not we stay married is between us and God. We’ve finally learned to practice the same rule with family and friends.

Fight constructively. Everything you say in a dispute has consequences. In the short term, it may help to blow off steam by hurling insults, making accusations and reckoning for all past shortcomings. Here’s the rub: If you say things that make your partner doubt your loyalty or undermine his ability to forgive, it can leave a permanent mark on your relationship. When you sense that either you or your partner is losing the ability to have a constructive argument, get away from each other as quickly as possible before things get toxic. As far as possible, make every dispute a discrete thing, unrelated to all others.

Realize your differences don’t have to be deal-breakers. My parents grew up in homes filled with strife. They vowed never to argue in front of their kids, and they kept that promise. It was a good idea, but it left me with a somewhat distorted view of marriage. The first time my husband and I had a major dispute, I figured my marriage was defective. I was married for at least a decade before I realized we could have major differences and still remain committed to each other.

Plan relationship maintenance. My husband is important, but I don’t expect him to be everything I need. We work hard at finding the right balance between time together and time apart. Sometimes we fall out of step with each other because we’ve been going in different directions or operating on auto-pilot too long. I imagine that’s a common problem. It sounds so basic, but something as simple as a well-planned dinner and some romantic music rekindles our relationship and helps us remember that we’re still a team. Call it Date Night or whatever you want to call it. “I’m so glad there are still crooners,” my husband said one night over a dinner accompanied by Michael Bublé. His voice brings us back to our beginning when we held hands and made goo-goo eyes at each other for hours. Sometimes, that’s all the marriage counseling we need to keep it together another day.

Our marriage is on its way to a vintage milestone, but it’s as flawed and vulnerable as we are. Any advice for helping us see it through the next 24 years? And by the way, who is your favorite celebrity couple to succeed in marriage? Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart? Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman? Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren? Did you know that Sophia Loren always slept alone? She thought it kept their relationship on a better keel.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.