The look of concern etched across my wife’s face took me by surprise, although it probably shouldn’t have. I’ve known Barbara more than half my life, so I should have known that this was one assignment she was going to be a little dubious about.
After all, it’s not every day that a husband comes home and announces to his wife that he’s going to write about their marriage in a magazine. And if I were married to anyone else, I’d never get away with it. But it is exactly Barbara’s willingness to accept my somewhat strange lifestyle that has made these last five years of married life among the happiest and most stable I’ve ever known.
Trust me when I say that was the last thing I expected as I watched her walk down that aisle on that perfect autumn day back in 2002. In fact, the only thing I remember just prior to “game time,” as my best man liked to call it, was looking for a trap door or an open window or some other way to slip out of that church without anyone seeing me. I mean, married—me? The guy who once joked that the only way I’d ever put a ring on my finger was if someone got me pregnant? This was not possible, and yet there I was, clad in a plus-size monkey suit about to make what I was certain was the biggest mistake of my life.
And now, five years later, I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier to have been so completely wrong about something.
So when Tom Vannah came to me and asked me if I’d be willing to share some of my marriage insights with the readers of this magazine, I said sure—and I was pretty confident that my wife would be thrilled at the prospect that our betrothal would provide something of a blueprint for other blissfully happy couples.
“What are you going to say?” she asked, growing more impatient. “You aren’t going to make fun of me, are you?”
I did my best to quell her fears, which I can’t say were totally unfounded. I’ve used Barbara as a bit of a foil during my radio career. But this was going to be different, because I really think we’ve got this marriage thing pretty much figured out.
Now, before I continue, there are a couple of things I need to make clear from the get-go. First, my marriage is not perfect. There is no such thing. Having said that, it’s pretty damned good, and there are a few reasons why.
COLLINS MARRIAGE RULE #1:
be friends first
This is, by far, the biggest thing my wife and I have going for us, and it by no means came easy.
Barbara and I met when we were sixteen-year-old high school sophomores. It was in a high school science class, of all places. She sat in front of me, and I would purposely give her the wrong answer when the teacher called on her, which I’m sure qualified as some form of foreplay back in the puritanical Reagan era.
It eventually developed into a pretty hot and heavy early romance that probably went farther than it should have much quicker than it should have. But even when we eventually broke up that first time, we were able to remain friends. In fact, that friendship drove my next succession of girlfriends pretty nuts at times because they didn’t understand it, and, in a few cases, never knew about it.
Part of what kept it alive was my close relationship with her mother. But the moral of the story is that when we did, finally, find our way back to each other, we had a solid foundation to work with. And if this matrimonial ride were to end tomorrow, she’d still be my best friend in life.
COLLINS MARRIAGE RULE #2:
married couples are not
I can’t tell you how many times I see people fall into this trap. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a guy I know who’s either married or otherwise involved who hasn’t bitched at least once about being nagged about not spending enough time with the little woman.
I believe this is a major mistake, but one that is totally understandable. The natural reaction, especially early in a relationship, is to want to spend as much time together as possible. But there is a fine line between loving someone and smothering them, and sometimes people forget that.
Time is a big issue in my relationship because I work ridiculous, idiotic, insane hours, and a lot of times when I come home, I’ve got nothing left in the tank. This would infuriate most women, and if I were married to pretty much anyone else, I’d probably be without half my stuff right about now. But I’m fortunate to have a wife who not only supports my career, but also has managed to develop some interests of her own, most notably quilting, a discipline she has mastered.
“I do so much quilting during your naps, I’m thinking of starting my own quilt line called “While You Were Sleeping,’” Barbara joked. “But I’m fine with it, because I like to have time to myself, too.
“Besides, I’ve always felt it’s not how much time you spend together but the quality of that time that matters,” she added.
Do you see why I love this woman?
COLLINS MARRIAGE RULE #3:
leave the drama to the
If you like drama, I’d suggest you watch a soap opera or an episode of ER. Don’t bring it into the marriage. There’s a reason why drama queens wind up alone, and believe me, between caring for aging parents, money concerns, child-rearing issues and just everyday life, you’ll encounter plenty of drama over the course of your marriage. You don’t need to add any more to the mix.
COLLINS MARRIAGE RULE #4:
it can’t just be about sex
This is a tricky area, and believe me, I’m not about to open my bedroom door to anyone.
“You’d better not!” Barbara said.
Having said that, and at the risk of going Dr. Phil, let me just say this about “heat.” If the only time you and your significant other are communicating is between the sheets, you might want to take some time in between sessions to peruse the Yellow Pages for a good divorce lawyer, because you’re eventually going to need one.
Remember the main point. A good marriage needs a solid foundation, and that foundation can’t be built from the missionary position (or from more exotic positions).
COLLINS MARRIAGE RULE #5:
embrace the in-laws
I’m lucky because, for as long as I can remember, Barbara’s family has been like a second family to me. From the time I was sixteen, those people, as we sometimes call them, have been as close to me as anyone in my life, including my own family.
For some others, it’s not that easy. I’ve got friends who would just as soon see their in-laws’ heads planted on top of a Tiki-torch stand in their back yards. And I’ll tell you the same thing I tell them, as someone who watched two parents die, one suddenly and one slowly to cancer: life is too freaking short to hold grudges. If that doesn’t work, remember that this person you love and hope to spend the rest of your life with is the product of these two people. If you can’t find something positive in that, why are you marrying that person in the first place?
COLLINS MARRIAGE RULE #6:
when it comes to chores, go with what you know
I do all the cooking in our house. That’s how I roll. It’s my thing, and I’m pretty good at it. Barbara is not a great cook, and she has no problem handing over the spatula. The thing she’s best at is….hmm…let me see.
“Be careful,” she says, somewhat menacingly.
Actually, Barbara is a yard work fanatic. She loves to putter around outside, planting whatever’s not nailed down, setting up her hummingbird feeder or chasing the cats around. She also seems to love raking leaves in the fall, a task I find repellent in every way.
The bottom line is, we’ve all got crap to do around the house. But rather than nagging each other about it, figure out what you like to do—or at least what is least objectionable—and work together to get it done.
COLLINS MARRIAGE RULE #7:
don’t be afraid to spoil the bejesus out of
THE FINAL COLLINS MARRIAGE RULE:
don’t go to bed mad
This may sound corny, but trust me—the worst thing you can do is hold a grudge for any length of time in a marriage. No matter how stupid the fight, nip it in the bud. Keep the lines of communication open.
And, most importantly, don’t skimp on the make-up sex—which is always important whether you happen to be from Mars, Venus or any of the planets in between.