By Hedi McKinley
Ah! Valentine’s Day! Hallmark’s bonanza! Such an easy way to put into words what we might feel or wish we felt towards our partners.
But — for the remaining 364 days of the year, a card may not be enough. The divorce rate continues to be up to 50 percent in some areas. We’re just not good at making marriages last. And last is the word!
Fifty, 60, even 70 years with the same partner! Can marriages work?
Benjamin Disraeli said “Every woman should marry and no man!”
Is this still true two centuries later? Yes and no.
Women’s lives have changed immeasurably in just the past few years. Some decide to have a career instead of a marriage. Some take on the responsibility for conceiving and raising children, but many still go the traditional route of marriage and weddings, which might plunge them into debt for years to come.
Here are a few thoughts how married — or family — life might be improved a bit:
— 1. Eat together: Too many of us “grab a bite” as each of us runs off to the gym, courses, piano lessons, etc. Family meals can be treasure troves of bonding, teaching and learning what makes our family special;
— 2. Be modest: Cover up! Few men and even fewer women continue to appreciate barely covered raggedy partners after the honeymoon is over;
— 3. Show affection (non-sexual, that is): Couples frequently have difficulty interpreting (even after years of guessing) when a hug or a kiss is an invitation to sex, and when an expression of affection and pleasure in each other’s company. Discussing it would help;
— 4. Think of birthdays and anniversaries sooner than a day before. Paying attention, listening to the partner, looking around — helps. Forgetting is often equated with not caring;
— 5. Remember not to refer to your children as “mine” instead of “ours.” As obvious this suggestion is, as often it is neglected and leads to fights and recrimination;
— 6. When looking for a home, consider the advantage of two bathrooms. While a great master bathroom with two sinks and whirlpool looks fabulous, many people relish privacy and do not experience intimate behavior as a turn-on. (At least lock the door!);
— 7. Listen to your partner: That, of course, is easier said then done, especially for men who tend to want to fix whatever problem is presented to them.
So, many women prefer to talk to other women who seem to be able to offer sympathy, empathy, hugs, and tissues. Chances are that your partner wants to hear, “I’m here for you” rather than, “What you should do is …”;
— 8. Do not resort to silent treatment: It’s destructive and hurtful. Don’t play “something’s wrong but I won’t tell you because you won’t understand.” A partner’s silence often resurrects old anxieties and fears of abandonment. Present the problem with lots of “I” and few “you” messages. Explain how you feel. Feelings are free; and
— 9. Lastly: Do not expect your partner to “make you happy.” Says Anton Checkov: “If you are afraid of loneliness, don’t marry.” We can hope for love, affection, sex, fun, children, support, even occasional bolstering of our ego. But happiness is for each of us to work on even if it takes a lifetime, which it often does.
Editor’s note: Hedi McKinley, who lives in Altamont, is a clinical social worker in Albany.