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Five Ways to Scratch the Seven- (or Six-) Year Itch


It's the season when everyone seems to be celebrating their anniversary. I am, and thus I'm certain everyone else is too. Just call it a reporter's instinct.

I recently observed my sixth wedding anniversary, while my wife marked her fifth. We've just agreed to disagree. She claims to have proof: county court records, credit card bills, sworn affidavits from the reverend, her parents, my parents and 150 guests. But I don't care how many papers she throws at me, my gut tells me it's our sixth.

But what really matters is that we are still together--a fact that astonishes people who used to like me until they got to know me. Many have asked how I keep the vim and verve in my marriage even though I'm as physically and mentally agile now as Ozzy Osbourne.

Here are the five rules I give them:

1) Keep Score

Because if you're not keeping score, then you don't know who is winning.

Most couples already do keep score. They just do it in a seat-of-the-pants kind of way. You see them point out a flaw or shortcoming here, identify a mistake there.

But unless they document each individual error, they're never going to have an accurate tally.

And without that, there's no way to determine who is a better person. Right now, I'm the better person, according to the big scoreboard above our bed--Me: 16,443 shortcomings to Wife: 16,448. Remember, low score wins.

I keep score the old-fashioned way. I record her mistakes minute by minute in one of those cute personal journals sold in the chain bookstores. My wife prefers the Palm. You decide what's best for you. I won't lie to you, it's hard work. Sometimes, we can barely get through a meal because we're both so busy scribbling down the other's screw-ups. But we think our relationship is worth the trouble. Isn't yours?

2) Don't Change

When you marry, you tie the knot with a known quantity. You didn't marry a particular person only for them to become some surprise package you're supposed to unwrap each day. If I wanted to be surprised, I would have married Drew Barrymore, Dennis Rodman or both.

That's why when I married my wife, I promised her I'd be a rock for her. Maybe not a fancy, polished rock. Maybe not the smartest rock in the garden either. But a proud rock, nevertheless, one she could count on, skip across a lake, and even throw at the neighbor's dog if the situation called for it.

Remember, change threatens a marriage. A couple of years ago I noticed an alarming change in my wife. For no reason other than she was being kept awake at night, she started drinking decaf. I accused her of a bait-and-switch. Who was this person I was sleeping with? She never touched decaf when we were dating, now all of a sudden no caffeine? I told her she might as well just shave her head, move to Tibet and become a Buddhist monk.

When she got back, she had changed. But I fell in love with her all over again, despite the stubble on her head. Since she was a different person, I decided we had to get remarried and vow never to change again.

3) Just Fix It

A corollary to the Don't Change rule: If change does occur, you don't have to accept it. You can simply "fix" it. Because if someone doesn't love you enough to be exactly what you want, what's the point?

Summon all your willpower and force your spouse to revert to his or her old ways. Never relent. Just think of yourself as a mighty ocean smoothing out a rough piece of glass. If that doesn't work for you, imagine you're a big tank crushing a soda can under its treads.

4) Listen

The experts tell us that listening is the key to a happy marriage. Sure, it's important, but here's my point about listening: Don't listen to the experts, especially that bald guy on "Oprah."

5) Forgive

Forgiveness may be the most essential component of any successful relationship. We all make mistakes, just make sure your spouse makes more. (See Rule No. 1)

But by all means, forgive. Let bygones be bygones. Because when we hold on to anger, hoard our hurts, it really only injures us. It can even cause an upset tummy. But while you're forgiving, never, ever, ever forget. And never let them forget that you haven't forgotten what it is they've done, particularly in front of company. Remember, all is fair in love and marriage.

Happy anniversary!

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