Ask any longtime married couple the secret to wedded bliss and you might get a few answers like “shared interests,” “patience,” or even the occasional “great sex.” However, most marital decathlon winners will tell you the secret to long-time happiness is knowing when to SHUT UP.
Coming from a family of multiple-marriers (brothers and sisters, all 2-3 times; mom, twice; dad, 5 times), the one lesson I’ve learned is that when it comes to “helping” your spouse learn a new skill or sport (tennis, guitar, Spanish), or achieve a personal goal (lose weight, quit smoking), the best thing you can do is applaud, when asked to do so as a show of support, but otherwise be very, very quiet.
Since the dawn of man, no spouse has ever correctly answered, “Do you think I’m getting fat?” A friend could say, “Well, you might be up a little, but you’re still hot,” and we’d hear “You look great. Let’s order another glass of wine.” A spouse could say exactly the same thing, and we’d hear “Yes, because you hoover Oreos like a shop vac, and you might want to dial down the wine, you lush.” Ask a friend, “Why can’t I quit smoking?” and he’ll say, “Those things are addictive,” meaning “It’s not your fault.” If a spouse replied in kind, we’d hear, “Because you’re a spineless loser, and I should have married Bob.” And God forbid we should ever offer advice when asked by our partner on mastering a sport. “My tennis game sucked today. What am I doing wrong?” RUN to the nearest exit. THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER. Happily married couples instinctively know that “I now pronounce you husband and wife” instantly and irrevocably establishes your position as cheerleader, not coach.
In our newlywed years, Kenny decided it would be fun if I learned to play golf. Yeah, no. First of all, I have the patience of a crack-addled squirrel, and secondly, the appeal of whacking the crap out of tiny, recalcitrant ball, trying to drive its reluctant ass into an equally tiny hole a half mile away, eludes me. Acres and acres of green grass that my ball was apparently allergic to because it never landed there. It was magnetically attracted to sand, water, or trees, period. As we trudged from hole to hole (18?? SERIOUSLY???), Kenny was nonstop “helping” with advice that only made sense to golfers, like “Drop your shoulder,” “Relax and swing through,” or “Let me check your grip.” Touch me one more time and die. At the thousandth hole, I finally stopped and snapped, “Here’s the deal. When I write you a check for $60, you can give me all the lessons you want. Until then, SHUT. UP.” We finished the final few holes in blissful silence and made up over a glass (okay, 3) of red wine in the clubhouse.
“You know,” said Kenny, “a lesson might be a good idea.” So the next day, I spent an hour and a half with Rick, the golf instructor. When it was over, I bounded over to Kenny and breathlessly repeated all the advice Rick had given me. “He told me to drop my shoulder, like this,” I exclaimed, “and to relax and swing through, like this. AND he even showed me how to grip the clubs! He’s amazing!” “Gee,” Kenny said, dryly, “I wish I’d said all those things.” “You did,” I replied, “but since I wasn’t paying you, it wasn’t a lesson. It was annoying.”
And so we agreed that from then on, marital coaching would be replaced by cheerleading only. All “help” offered on new sports, skills, or self improvement would hereafter be limited to “Way to go!”
And they lived happily ever after.