Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

5 Essentials for a Strong and Pleasurable Relationship

In good times and bad, these bedrock rules can help keep you together.

1. Learn When to Shut Up.

Yes, this is rather different from what a trained counselor or therapist might tell you, and yet I believe it is the single most important thing I've learned in 23 years of a good partnership—and what I had not learned in five years of a bad one. There are times to let the argument rest; there are times to let the big issue take a deep breath and relax. I know, I know: As a woman, I'm supposed to want to flog the argument until no one is left standing, but I've learned that the tactic is ineffective. Now, this doesn't mean you should ignore emotional pain or live a lie. But it does mean that you should not treat your relationship like a chew toy, something you sink your teeth into every time you get bored, frustrated, or need to sharpen your fangs. It might be better for everybody to go out for a nice walk.

2. Learn to Accept Differences in Expenditure—as Long as You Are Not In Debt. If You Are in Debt, Get Out of it Now.

Your partner just bought his eighth bicycle helmet? If it makes him happy, if he can afford it, and if you have room in your basement to store it, let it go. So what if he never actually rides his bike? Maybe this helmet will make him feel like he should be out there getting some exercise. Your spouse just bought a new set of dishes even though the old set was, with a few chipped and cracked exceptions, perfectly fine—not to mention that if they were good enough for your mother, shouldn't they be good enough for you? Give the old dishes to a charity shop and enjoy the first meal served on the new ones. If, however, either or both of you are in debt, you should sell the helmets, the bikes, and, if necessarily, eat food you grow in your garden off paper plates because you've also sold the dishes. Real debt and serious money worries can corrode a relationship, even one with genuine strength behind it, quicker than almost anything else.

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3. Go to Bed at the Same Time and With Each Other.

There's a reason you aligned yourself with this person: to sleep with this person. Everybody else in your life—your friends, your family, your co-workers, your kids, your neighbors, your on-line friends, the members of your book group—you can talk to, have lunch, dinner, or drinks with, go to the movies with, chat virtually with, and watch TV with when you'd like. The one thing distinguishing a partnership is that the individuals go to sleep with each other and wake up with each other. That's the difference between an affair and a marriage. It's also what makes affairs heartbreaking: In an affair, you don't get the primal, unparalleled intimacy of going to sleep in the same bed every night with the person you've also chosen to spend the rest of your nights sleeping next to—and that's a big difference. Unless you're doing shift work to pay off your debts (see #2, above) don't forfeit this privilege.

4. Don't Say Mean Things About Your Mate to Your Friends.

Okay, we know you're going to when you're in the middle of a terrible time—and even the best relationships have terrible times—but it should not be a habit, a staple of your conversation, or something you do to more than one really, really trusted friend at a time. People who say rotten things about their mates on a regular basis are untrustworthy. They're disloyal. And everybody picks up on that.

5. Laugh Out Loud Together at Least Once a Day—Preferably Three.

I am serious about laughter: Laughing together is as close as you get to another person without actually sitting on his or her lap, and it is important to do it with your loved ones as often as possible. Happy couples are happy people who bring it home. Laughing together is sexy, celebratory, intimate, and fun—the very definition of what makes a marriage happy.

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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