Greg Behrendt’s first book about dating, He’s Just Not That Into You, created a sensation when it was published in 2004. Its plain-speaking explanation of how women should interpret men’s behaviour was made into a Hollywood film starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Aniston. Now Greg and his wife of 18 years, Amiira, have written a new book that brings the same common sense to married life. Here, the couple share their practical guide — from experience — to a better marriage . . .
TO NAG… OR NOT TO NAG, THAT IS THE QUESTION …
Amiira says: ‘In our marriage Greg is the sensitive, creative person who is often forgetful because his mind is filled with ideas.
‘I like to be organised and never forget anything. There are times when this mismatch can be a nightmare — for example, when Greg absent-mindedly leaves the orange juice out of the fridge next to his keys, which he then can’t find.’
Greg Behrendt and his wife of 18 years Amiira shared advice for a happy marriage including not nagging and making light of certain situations (file image)
You’d be surprised how many divorces are a by-product of being driven crazy by the ‘lost keys loop’. You either have to accept marriage is just helping your spouse find or not find their keys until one of you dies, or agree some ground rules.
‘In our case, we needed a solution that didn’t leave Greg feeling like a scolded child and me like a nag. It took quite some time. These days, I agree to make light of the situation if Greg makes a concerted effort to put the juice back in the future. Above all, I now refuse to help look for his lost keys!’
BAD SEX DOESN’T MEAN A BAD MARRIAGE
There’s a lot written about the implications of not having enough sex, that it will somehow end your marriage.
Well, we disagree. After 20 years, and with two kids, three dogs, a house, work commitments, and different bedtimes, we are rarely both available, awake, or ready for sex at the same time. The interest is still there, but there aren’t enough unencumbered hours in the day.
At some point every married person will wonder if they need to do something to spice up their marriage, or if they’re the only one noticing that the romance has gone. There will be times when all you want to do is figure out when you’re having sex next, and times when you wilfully avoid having to have it. It’s normal to go in and out of sexual phases in your long-term relationship. Not everyone is having a better sex life than you, so don’t fret.
Greg and Amiira believe it’s normal to go through sexual phases in a long-term relationship and therefore a bad sex life doesn’t mean a bad marriage (file image)
NEVER PICK UP HIS CLOTHES
When you’re first married, you want to make your beloved’s life easier so you pick their clothes up off the floor. When you’ve been married a long time you pick their clothes up because it makes your life easier. But whatever the reason, it puts you on opposite sides — one the person who does everything, and one the person who does nothing.
Remember how attractive self-reliance is compared to neediness? Independence is sexy. For this reason, it’s of paramount importance that you protect it.
Greg says: ‘I always used to do domestic chores in a strange order. But it didn’t suit the way Amiira liked things done, so eventually I just let her get on with it. The problem was I ended up turning into a lazy teenager. I had to tell Amiira that while I might do things in a weird way, the dishes still made it into the dishwasher and the table was still wiped. My helping with the chores was important.’
Similarly, even if your partner is happy to let you ‘win’ an argument or a decision, don’t always let them, because it’s not good for either of you. It stops your relationship from being an equal partnership.
This is never more important than dealing with each other’s friends and family. Find a balance where you both feel you are equally yielding and equally contributing to the harmony of the life you establish together.
Greg says it’s important to create something new instead of trying to recreate family life from when you were a child (file image)
GIVE UP THE SANTA SUIT
in other words, don’t try to recreate your family life from when you were a child. You need to create something new, with your partner. Amiira says: ‘Greg grew up in a household that had wonderful Christmas traditions, and wanted to pass those rituals on. I didn’t care about Christmas, but I saw how happy it made him so I tried to recreate what his parents did.
‘There was a Christmas Eve dinner party of feast proportions —which I had to shop for and prepare. Then after dinner, Greg would change into a Santa suit and bring everyone new pyjamas — that I had to shop for and wrap. Then there was the Christmas morning gift exchange and brunch — which I had to shop for, prep, wrap, assemble, and cook.
‘By our third year of marriage, I went from not caring about Christmas to hating Christmas. For ten years the stress killed my Christmas spirit.’
Greg says: ‘I realised how miserable this made Amiira and things changed, but I wish someone had sat me down and said: “What you had is gone. It’s time to create something new. Take off the Santa suit.” ’
Amiira revealed she could’ve been haunted by Greg’s bad proposal and filled with doubts about him if he hadn’t asked with a big gesture (file image)
BIG GESTURES REALLY MATTER
The ‘big moments’ for any couple include anniversaries, proposals and landmark birthdays. Some people believe the ‘real’ test of the marriage comes elsewhere, in long years of mutual companionship.
But we believe milestones like these are crucial to building a solid partnership.
That’s because when you’re questioning why you married each other — and it will happen — a small part of you will flash back to the moment of your engagement, a magical birthday or weekend, and it will be a vital reminder of what the relationship can be like.
We always say a bad proposal is like planting a marriage landmine that will explode again and again.
Greg says: ‘Take my first proposal to Amiira. While I proposed on holiday in Hawaii, it was in an ugly hotel room instead of a beach — and my mother had persuaded me to give Amiira a Christmas tree decoration instead of a ring. Then, because I hadn’t prepared what I was going to say, I didn’t actually ask the question. Amiira had to interrupt: “Are you trying to ask me to marry you?’’ ’
Amiira says: ‘Greg did it again a few months later with his grandmother’s ring, candlelight and a proper question. I know myself well enough to know I would have been haunted by the bad proposal and filled with doubts over him as a man I could depend on.’
Greg and Amiira advise acting on small irritations in relationships to avoid resentment (file image)
DO SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Often we’re told to let little things go — to ignore our minor irritations. But we think it’s vital to act on these.
In the first flush of love, little irritations, whether they’re personal habits, annoying sayings or an aspect of the weekly routine, don’t matter. But in marriage, niggling problems have a way of continually popping up and saying, ‘Remember me?’
Over time, they can take on deeper meaning, and eventually become a brick in a wall of resentment.
For example, we have a friend who loves to play golf at the weekend. His wife used to be completely happy with him spending his Saturdays golfing. But nine months into their marriage, she decided she wasn’t happy. She didn’t want to be a golf widow for the next 40 years. It felt like he was choosing golf over her.
He was completely blindsided by her change of heart, and they both felt resentful. Though they have found a compromise that works for them now, they spent many tense weekends not getting what they needed from each other.
. . . BUT DON’T JUMP ON A PROBLEM
So how should you tackle the so-called ‘little things’? Start by being honest with yourself about what you can live with — and what will make you furious.
Then, find a good time to bring up the issue. We’re firm believers in softening up your spouse before treading lightly into the conversation. Try: ‘I made you a coffee. Do you have a minute? I don’t want little things to get between us, and I’m afraid that they will.
‘I wanted to tell you that there is something I thought I was going to be OK with, that is not feeling OK to me any more.’
The worst thing you can do when problems arise is not say anything — but then make needling comments in front of other people.
We all know this is a terrible idea, but it’s worth a reminder as so many of us continue to do it.
You know what we’re talking about. One partner remarks: ‘He’d forget his own head if I didn’t hand it to him.’ Or: ‘She couldn’t resist a new pair of shoes if her life depended on it.’
These throw-away comments have the underlying sub-text of: ‘He’s an idiot.’ Or: ‘She’s superficial and can’t take care of herself.’ Such passive-aggressive musings fan little nagging sparks — in you and your partner — until they become a fire.
Adapted by Clare Goldwin from HOW TO KEEP YOUR MARRIAGE FROM SUCKING by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola, published by Orion Spring on October 29 at £12.99. © Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola 2018. To order a copy for £10.39 (offer valid until November 29), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P free on orders over £15.