By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Now that my wife and I have been married for 30 years, family and friends have suggested that for putting up with me for so long, Sue deserves to be the first living person canonized by the Catholic Church. I, they add, deserve to be shot from a cannon.
What is the secret of our long and happy marriage? The answer, according to researchers at the University of Michigan, is that we get on each other’s nerves.
In a recent study, the researchers found that as a couple ages, a lifetime of closeness rubs up a rash of irritations. Participants in the study, which was presented at the Gerontological Society of America, were asked who in their lives – spouse, children or friends – "gets on my nerves" or "makes too many demands on me." The older the couple, the more likely the answer was "spouse."
But, strangely enough, rubbing each other the wrong way may be the right way to conduct a marriage. One of the reasons that couples quarrel is that they are closer and more comfortable with each other. As we age, the researchers concluded, "it could be that we’re more able to express ourselves to each other."
Sue and I seldom quarrel, not only because I know I will lose but because I am almost always wrong. Even Sue will concede that I am right about this.
Nonetheless, I risked getting on her nerves by conducting my own study on our 30th anniversary.
Being a couple of real swingers, Sue and I celebrated by going out to lunch. Of course, Sue thinks I am perpetually out to lunch, but it was nice to be together without quarreling.
When we got back home, I began my study by asking Sue to list all the things about me that irritate her. I expected her to think it over, perhaps straining to come up with an answer, but she responded immediately.
"You get on my nerves all the time," Sue said. "You are the only person I know who can look busy every day and do nothing."
This rubbed me the wrong way. "That’s a great skill," I replied defensively. "Not everyone could pull it off."
This rubbed Sue the wrong way. "You go upstairs and sit in your office for a while, then you take a shower," she said. "Or you go outside and putz around, then you come back in and take a shower. By then, it’s cocktail time and you’ve done nothing."
"All that putzing and showering can build up a thirst," I said.
Then I asked Sue if I have any good points. This time she didn’t respond immediately. Finally, she said, "When I give you a list of chores, you do them. Only recently did you take the initiative to do the laundry. You do empty the dishwasher and I don’t even have to tell you. And you do vacuum the house. You’re always very proud of yourself and I have to say, ‘Good job, dear,’ and that makes both of us happy."
Sue admitted that I don’t always do nothing and added, "You do have a lot of positives. You are caring and loving and you’re always good for a laugh. And you’re a great father. I love you, dear," said Sue, who asked me what it is about her that rubs me the wrong way.
I could think of only one thing. "You don’t put the cap back on the toothpaste," I said. "Even on those tubes with the attached tops, you never snap them shut. Then you put the tube face down on the vanity, which gets all messed up. It’s really annoying."
"I don’t care about the stupid toothpaste," Sue shot back. "Deal with it."
Another argument lost. But I saved the day by listing all of Sue’s positives, which include being loving, kind, generous, thoughtful and extremely beautiful and sexy. "I love you, too, dear," I said, giving her a kiss. I poured each of us a glass of wine and set the table for a romantic candlelight dinner, even though it was still light out.
Sue had the rest of the chicken salad sandwich she couldn’t finish at lunch and I had some leftover chicken wings that had been in the freezer since the Super Bowl. Afterward, I helped her do the dishes.
That night, just before bed, Sue left the cap off the toothpaste again. I didn’t let it get on my nerves. Now that’s the real secret of a long and happy marriage.
Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima