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Marriage 101: Eight Classes I Wish Existed

05/10/2013 08:03 EDT | Updated 07/10/2013 05:12 EDT
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Sarah Symonds, mistress to several but wife to none, has recently launched an online Wife School which provides insider information on how wives can ensure their husbands remain monogamous. Her advice boils down to the ESF Rule: "Men need to Eat, Sleep, and Fornicate," she says.

So is it true? Do women need wife school? You bet we do. Divorce rates are nasty and too many women find themselves in unhappy, unhealthy marriages. Yet to me, seeking marital advice from a mistress is kind of like seeking fitness advice from a couch potato. It isn't the most comprehensive resource. Don't get me wrong -- I like a lot of what Sarah has to say. She doesn't pull any punches about the fact that a mistress is a fairly pathetic aspiration, and that any man who has a mistress isn't worth having. I second that motion.

Despite her accountability and straight talk, however, Sarah's school for affair-proofing a marriage leaves out a number of important subjects. After all, she can only speak from her experience as a mistress and, since mistresses exist primarily to provide sex, it isn't surprising that she would think sex is the only class worth teaching. It also leaves out half the student population -- men.

In an effort to tie-up these loose ends, I've compiled a list of eight subjects that, if I found myself Dean of Spouse School, I would recommend as prerequisites to marriage.

1. Personality Traits 101:Recent research has shown that narcissism is on the rise. This "it's all about me" attitude is characterized by a profound lack of humility, impulsiveness and infantile, usually obnoxious behaviour. One need only scroll through the comments of any online article to read any number of self-righteous ramblings. Unfortunately, these less-than-sunny personality types don't log-out when they get home. And if reading their comments turns you off, just imagine living with them. An ability to recognize that this behaviour is unacceptable -- and to either get help or get out of the relationship -- is essential if one is to be happily married. If you marry a narcissist, it doesn't how matter how much "fornicating" you do, or how good you do it. It's their personality -- not a lack of sex -- that leads to infidelity and other problems.

2. Sexual Intimacy 101: Sarah says that women spend too much time in the kitchen and not enough time in the bedroom. Hell, I can't fault her for that message. I'd much rather slip between the sheets with my husband than cook him a casserole, and he's definitely happy with that arrangement. Marriage is a sexual relationship and prioritizing sex is essential for both wives and husbands. It doesn't just feel good, it does good. Sexually satisfied partners are more likely to remain committed to their marriages, both physically and emotionally.

3. Emotional Intimacy 101: This is the flip side of sex. It's all those loving (but non-sexual) embraces, kisses and cuddles on the couch. It's about supporting your partner's dreams and comforting him or her when things don't work out. It's about helping each other with housework and chores, flattering each other, texting XOXO in the middle of the day and conspiring to take your kids on a surprise trip to Disneyland. It's about staying connected and staying in love.

4. Appreciation 101: In almost all troubled marriages, one or both partners will say that they feel "unappreciated" in some way. Make it a habit to show appreciation, in words and deeds, to your partner on a daily basis.

5. Putting Your Partner First 101: Put your spouse's needs, preferences and happiness ahead of your own. There's a catch, though. Both partners need to be doing it. When partners strive -- compete, even -- to make each other happy, they create a spirit of collaboration and adoration that, perhaps more than anything else, makes a marriage rock solid.

6. Respect Your Partner 101: Remember that your partner is an individual. He or she is not on the earth to live up to your expectations or live life the way you see fit. When you speak to your partner, keep contempt, criticism and condescension out of your voice, and never name-call or assassinate his or her character. Don't stare at your smartphone or computer screen while he or she is trying to talk to you. Of all the people you interact with during your day, be sure to treat your spouse the best. After all, this is the person YOU chose.

7. Respect Yourself 101: Do you want to know, bottom line, why some spouses cheat? Because they know they can get away with it. They might have to beg for forgiveness, buy expensive jewelry or attend counselling, but they know, deep down inside, that their partner will take them back. Yes, there may be marriage problems. So what? Many people have marriage problems and manage to avoid getting naked with someone else. My point is this: know your "deal breakers" (i.e.: infidelity, belligerence, abuse, etc.) and end the relationship if they happen. If you are certain about the behaviour you will and will not tolerate, your partner will be certain of them, too. If he or she chooses to break them, you know you are not with the right person. Have some self-respect. Dr. Phil says it best: "You teach people how to treat you." No truer words were ever spoken about marriage.

8. Fun 101: When you and your partner go for a walk, do you hold hands and flirt? Do you goof around and make each other laugh? Do you have shared interests, whether dirt-biking or learning another language? When was the last time you couldn't stop smiling? It's a simple fact of life: People are drawn to those who make life more enjoyable. Be that person for your partner.

So yes, there is more to a happy, faithful marriage than sex. It's important -- very important -- but just as the bedroom isn't the only room in a home, sex isn't the only subject that should be taught in Spouse School.

Check out Debra Macleod's new relationship-saving home programs at MarriageSOS.com

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