The Secret to a Good Marriage

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We have all read the standard advice about how to have a good marriage. Strong communication, scheduling date nights, and not going to bed mad are some of the most frequently cited. I agree that these are excellent ideas. However, I have recently discovered what can be described as the purest display of love and devotion, an act that says, “I really care about you.” This pearl of wisdom, this key to marital harmony – leaving a spare toilet paper roll on the back of the toilet when the current one is perilously low. It’s really that simple.

I don’t know when this paying the roll forward started in my house. We didn’t discuss it. We just quietly started doing it. Nineteen years into our marriage and we’ve figured it out. A small act of kindness goes a long way. We’ve all experienced being stranded without a roll. It’s a horrible feeling of helplessness and extreme vulnerability. That spare roll is saying, hey, I’ve got your back – both literally and figuratively.

I was discussing our acts of bathroom kindness with my sister.

She said, “Yes, that is what that Love Languages theory is all about. You feel loved by acts of kindness. So do I. It must be in the genes.”

Gary Chapman, a marriage counselor, came up with this theory. He says each person has a primary love language that we must learn to speak if we want that person to feel loved. They are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. My sister proceeded to tell me that her husband has been doing the dishes lately, a task that she usually took care of. When she asked him why he was so eager to do the dishes, he told her that he knows it makes her happy when he does things around the house without being asked. Flowers and perfume aren’t her thing. Hence, he shows her his love by doing the dishes. What an interesting concept.

So many people routinely test their spouse to see if they remember the right occasions, buy the right gift, say the right things. This is a set-up for failure and disappointment all around. Everyone wants to be a good spouse. Maybe it’s as simple as stating what makes you happy, and meaning it. No hidden agenda or test.

I read an article by Sally Quinn several years ago that stuck with me. She was talking about seating at dinner parties. She suggests that you seat partners apart from each other. It allows each spouse to have a conversation with someone else, to learn something new, which makes for interesting conversation on the ride home. More importantly, it allows you to watch your spouse across a room, engaged in conversation with other people. Perhaps it reminds you why you liked him/her in the first place. We get caught up and focused on the things that irritate us about our spouse. We forget to look at our partner as we first knew them – adorable, witty, funny, personable. Or whatever traits drew you to the person in the first place.

Years of marriage build a bond that can’t always be seen. A look passed between you can speak volumes. You can read each other’s minds.

It’s the small gestures that help build big relationships. One roll at a time.