The One and Only Secret to a Successful Marriage?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Delray Beach, FL.- Andy and I were in our late 20s and beginning our careers in journalism. Elka was in her late 30s, working part-time as an accountant for our small publishing company.

She was beautiful and elegant and spoke with an East European accent that was hard enough to mean business but musical enough to make everything she said sound like it was being channeled from above.

We knew that she and her husband were struggling financially. Yet, though she occasionally mentioned their problems, it was always with a smile. She had nothing but good things to say about her personal life. We never heard her complain.

We were crazily infatuated with her.

One day, and I can’t remember how the conversation took this direction, Andy and I were telling her how much we admired her. We were especially impressed, we said, that despite their many challenges, she and her husband seemed to have such a happy marriage.

“Please share your secrets,” we begged.

“There is only one,” she said.

We leaned in.

“The man must love the woman more than the woman loves the man.”

Because it was Elka, I wanted to believe it. But my rational brain knew it was fundamentally romantic nonsense. Good and long-lasting marriages are based on more practical things like compromise, communication, and reasonable expectations.

Still, in the 40 years that have gone by since Elka told us her “secret,” I have not been able to forget it.

Since then, I have read dozens of books on marriage and observed a hundred marital relationships – friends and colleagues and family members. And although I’ve seen plenty of evidence to support the rational view, I’ve also noticed that in many of the best long-term marriages, Elka’s simple maxim proved true.

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How to Beat the Wrap

This Dave Barry column was originally published Dec. 9, 2001 and is always a great read around the holidays.


This is the time of year when we think back to the very first Christmas, when the three Wise Men — Gaspar, Balthasar and Herb — went to see the baby Jesus, and, according to the Book of Matthew, “presented unto Him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

These are simple words, but if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often-overlooked, theological fact: There is no mention of wrapping paper. If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so: “And lo, the gifts WERE inside 600 square cubits of paper.

“And the paper WAS festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman.

“And Joseph WAS going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him, she saideth, `Holdeth it! That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!’

“And Joseph DID rolleth his eyeballs.

“And the baby Jesus WAS more interested in the paper than, for example, the frankincense.”

But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:

1. They were wise.

2. They were men.

Men are not big gift wrappers. Men do not understand the point of putting paper on a gift just so somebody else can tear it off. This is not just my opinion; this is a scientific fact based on a statistical survey of two guys I know. One is my son, Rob, who said the only time he ever wraps a gift is, quote, ”if it’s such a poor gift that I don’t want to be there when the person opens it.” The other is my friend Gene Weingarten, who told me he does wrap gifts, but as a matter of principle never takes more than 15 seconds per gift.

”No one ever had to wonder which presents Daddy wrapped at Christmas,” Gene said. “They were the ones that looked like enormous spitballs.”

I also wrap gifts, but because of some defect in my motor skills, I can never COMPLETELY wrap them. I can take a gift the size of a deck of cards and put it in the exact center of a piece of wrapping paper the size of a regulation volleyball court, but when I am done folding and taping, you can still see a sector of the gift peeking out. (Sometimes I camouflage this sector with a marking pen.) If I had been an ancient Egyptian in the field of mummies, the lower half of the Pharaoh’s body would be covered only by Scotch tape.

On the other hand, if you give my wife a 12-inch square of wrapping paper, she can wrap a C-130 cargo plane. My wife, like many women, actually LIKES wrapping things. If she gives you a gift that requires batteries, she wraps the batteries separately, which to me is very close to being a symptom of mental illness. If it were possible, my wife would wrap each individual volt.

My point is that gift-wrapping is one of those skills — like having babies — that come more naturally to women than to men. That is why today I am presenting:


— Whenever possible, buy gifts that are already wrapped. If, when the recipient opens the gift, neither of you recognizes it, you can claim that it’s myrrh.

— The editors of Woman’s Day magazine recently ran an item on how to make your own wrapping paper by printing a design on it with an apple sliced in half horizontally and dipped in a mixture of food coloring and liquid starch. They must be smoking crack.

— If you’re giving a hard-to-wrap gift, skip the wrapping paper! Just put it inside a bag and stick one of those little adhesive bows on it. This creates a festive visual effect that is sure to delight the lucky recipient on Christmas morning:

YOUR WIFE: Why is there a Hefty trash bag under the tree?

YOU: It’s a gift! See? It has a bow!

YOUR WIFE: (peering into the trash bag): It’s a leaf blower.

YOU: Gas-powered! Five horsepower!

YOUR WIFE: I want a divorce.

YOU: I also got you some myrrh.

In conclusion, remember that the important thing is not what you give, or how you wrap it. The important thing, during this very special time of year, is that you save the receipt.

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