A Hundred Days to Happiness #96: The Rules of Engagement – Secrets of a Happy Marriage

At my cousin Rob’s wedding, guests were asked to contribute marital advice.  Herewith are the practical pearls I have gleaned from 22 years of wedded bliss (and the rest of the time).

Some churches require marriage prep classes.  I think all couples should attend them.  A friend, who has found his wife less talkative recently, admitted that they missed out on the session about communication.

At marriage prep class, couples usually learn to talk about their feelings and to listen to one another.  A common trap we all fall into is the assumption of mind-reading.  We assume the other knows what we want or we assume we know the motivation behind an action that upset us.

The key is to communicate your feelings without assigning blame.  It can take a lifetime to master, but you’re supposed to have a lifetime together.

What follows is what I didn’t learn in marriage prep – the rules of engagement that we ought to learn as early as possible.  They come up regularly in my counselling sessions with patients.


The quirky qualities – mispronunciations, silly habits, goofy laughs and crooked smiles – which are cute and endearing during courtship become irritating imperfections and nasty habits as time goes by.

And our emotional reactions, ranging from simmering irritation to roiling rage, are often out of proportion to their triviality.  One patient found that she would get angry when her husband would forget to turn off the basement light.  She learned to extinguish that anger when I asked her to consider how she would feel if he was gone.  She might miss that light in the future.

We all tend to take one another for granted.  The mess and the noise that bother us now might be the very things we’ll cherish in another time.  I find our home too quiet if I come home when my wife and kids are out.


As I’ve said before, children provide the easiest lessons in unconditional love.  The greater challenges can be in continually accepting and loving your spouse and the rest of the package – your in-laws.

As a rule of thumb, listen and sympathize when your spouse complains about her family, but never be critical of them.  If you insult your spouse’s family, your spouse may take it personally.

Part of a successful marriage is valuing or at least respecting what the other values.  Sadly, one man’s treasure can be junk to his wife.  Church thrift sales and the garbage dump have been the burial grounds for many men’s prized possessions, including favourite toys (which may never have been used), collectables (which may be collecting dust) or hallowed, holey shirts.


In our home, the family calendar is the final word.  If an activity or appointment is not written down, it is deemed never to have been discussed.

Its important to agree on how much time each of you need together, alone, with family and with friends.   If a couple doesn’t spend enough time together, talking and listening, their schedules will never feel balanced and satisfying.


I once thought I could judge if a house was female or male dominated by the position of the toilet seat.  Now I’m training my boys to leave the shared toilet seats down.  It just makes sense.

My best friend found that it saved him a lot of cleaning.  It’s also more considerate.  Cold porcelain against bare skin is only a treat during a heat wave.

For the record, toothpaste should be squeezed from the end, and of course, the cap should be screwed back on.  Toilet paper should roll from the top.  That’s the way you see it in commercials, on the package illustrations and in fine hotels.  It is also easier for one-handed tearing.  (My women readers may wish to try this at home if they don’t believe me, but try it from a standing position).  For extra brownie points, fold the corners so that the first panel comes to a point – just like they do it at fancy hotels.


I learned after years of marriage that many women, my wife included, maintain their own secret bank account.  It came in handy when I thought we couldn’t afford our mortgage.

Each couple should find a mutually agreeable way to manage their finances.  This is where differing values can cause a lot of discord.  Tolerance for risk and debt differ widely between individuals.  Communication and respect are key.


Almost all married couples have problems hearing.  This is because we tend to talk to one another without looking face to face, often from another room and sometimes from another floor of the house.  It’s no wonder we don’t remember what we tell one another.

One patient, whose wife asked me to check his hearing, admitted that he would turn off his hearing aid once in a while for some peace and quiet.


My patient asked me last week, “Which sex is more stubborn?”  It depends on whom you’re talking to.

I have found that wives are often correct but they need the patience to allow their husbands to discover that for themselves . . . in the fullness of time . . . without saying, “I told you so!”

As for the clichéd advice about never going to bed angry, we all will do it sooner or later.  The key is to wake up thankful.  Appreciation, that reciprocal emotion, benefits both of you.  If you set the tone for the day with a morning meditation of thankfulness; trivial irritations become insignificant.  If you express your appreciation for your spouse with complements, thanks and loving acts, you’ll strengthen your relationship and the other’s self-worth.  We all need to feel appreciated.



About Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.
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