COLUMN

The new rules for real couples

Most marriages do not founder on the panting shores of sexual performance. That is kid stuff, for newlyweds

WALTER STEWART August 13 1990
COLUMN

The new rules for real couples

Most marriages do not founder on the panting shores of sexual performance. That is kid stuff, for newlyweds

WALTER STEWART August 13 1990

The new rules for real couples

COLUMN

Most marriages do not founder on the panting shores of sexual performance. That is kid stuff, for newlyweds

WALTER STEWART

This is the season of mellow fruitfulness and marital nagging, when the magazines that bulge the shelves of our supermarkets take up Couple Appraisal. Not all the magazines, of course; there are still those that plug away at such tried and true items as “Skydiving Grandma Gives Birth to Twins,” “I Was a Slave in a UFO Labor Camp,” “Graham Crackers Cure Cancer” and that perennial favorite, “Girl Raised by Wolves Astounds Scientists.”

These magazines serve society in their own mysterious way, but do not attempt to uplift, elevate and educate us, couple-wise. For this, we turn to the magazines that run up to, oh, $3.50 a copy, and load us down with the latest scientific poop on the sex front.

“Seven Ways to Keep Your Man,” they say, or “Secrets of a Happy Marriage” or “The Seven Sir : of Wedlock.” You can lay out as little as $3.50 and gain the inside dope on wedded bliss, sexual satisfaction and perennial contempt, and if that isn’t a bargain, I don’t know what is. However, the problem with all of these articles is that they are wrong, dead wrong. Although written by, or with the aid of, experts, they are clearly not written for people who are actually married. (Probably, if the truth were known, they are written for magazine editors, a zany and unstable bunch, who wouldn’t know True Love if it came equipped with a bouquet of flowers and a ring around its finger.)

Most of these fanning-the-flames articles follow the same well-plowed ground. They nearly always contain a number—seven, for choice, but I have seen “10 Bedroom Don’ts” and I wouldn’t be surprised, with inflation, to read, one of these days, an article that gave me “A Baker’s Dozen of Rules for the Ideal Marriage.” They always, always, stress openness and understanding as the keys to continuing bliss—“Talking Things Out is essential,” they tell us, and “Never allow the sun to set on your anger,” and similar totally misleading advice.

Allan Fotheringham is on vacation.

Take this matter of openness and understanding, for starters. O and U are all very well in their place, and I applaud them at meetings of First Ministers, crap games and counting the collection in church, but they are not for the marriage bed. That incident behind the hedge with the shapely brunette in the bikini at last Saturday night’s barbecue has been passed as an attempt to extract a fly or midge which unaccountably flew into the poor thing’s eye. Let it go at that.

If you yield to the urge to explain what was in your heart of hearts at the time, it will not lead to a stronger marriage bond, no sir; what it will lead to is Talking Things Out, except that you will not do much talking, and quite a lot of listening.

By the same token, only the unmarried, or the certifiably bonkers, would actually proffer the advice that the sun should not be allowed to set on your anger. Why not? Time, the great healer, has done more to smooth the roiled waters of sexual discontent than all the marriage manuals ever printed. “Button your lip” may not sound like distilled wisdom from the lips of a sage, but it is.

Finally—this is my real knock against these items—most marriages do not founder on the

panting shores of sexual performance. That is kid stuff, for newlyweds. Long-term marriages turn on really important items, what might be called the Household Appliances of Love.

Put these matters in perspective; the actual fooling-around part of marriage, or, in today’s weird world, partnering, takes up, at most, half an hour or so a day in the opening stages, and declines, as the economists say, over time. It is important, no one denies it, but the standard of performance here, set against, say, a life’s cornpane -ho chews with his/her mouth open, or never dries a dish or lives with the delusion that his/her relatives are perfect, which we know not to be the case—it pales into insignificance.

Sex isn’t everything, you know; and if we are to construct the perfect partnership, we will have to come up with something better than “Try to adjust yourself to the other partner’s moods and attitudes; why not try it with Saran Wrap?” Let us number our own solutions, to keep this scientific, The Seven Keys to Bliss.

1. The toilet paper. This is the big one. Picture the scene; the loved one is perched on the water closet, probably with book or magazine, and reaches, with the left hand, for the roll. Nothing there, and the new roll in the closet down the hall. Or, worse, two sheets left dangling there, in scornful defiance. Our first key, then, is Replace the Roll.

2. Revenge of the toothpaste. If your partner in joy and sorrow always squeezes the toothpaste from the top, this is no justification for squirting the rest of the tube into his/her rubber boots, and awaiting events. Our second key is Forgive the Errant Squeeze, as long as it involves only dental substances.

3. Our third key is Say It with Sulks. Recent scientific evidence shows clearly that about 48 hours of surly silence and bitten lips is better for the marriage than, say, four frank sentences about the loved one’s shortcomings.

4. No Fair Remembering. Certain statements were made during the courtship which have not been fulfilled. Forget them; he/she is not going to climb every mountain.

5. Snoring. Everybody snores; the real division in life is between those who admit it and those who deny it. The way to deal with this is to put a pillow over the bedmate’s head, and let it go at that. The temptation to kick the sleeping partner several times on the back of the legs, and then wonder wide-eyed in the morning where the bruises came from, ought to be eschewed. No Kicking the Snorer is our fifth rule.

6. The Toilet Seat. We are back in the bathroom, and now it is late at night. The Adored One, male, has been here first, and left the seat up. The Adored One, female, now enters the darkened room. There is a splash. There will be words. Replace the Damn Seat.

7. Finally, Hogging the Blankets. Try not to do it. And, if the love partner does it, do not yank them back vigorously across his/her throat. True love can withstand almost anything but chilblains and rigor mortis.

Happy relating.

Walter Stewart is a journalist and author whose latest book is Right Church, Wrong Pew.