Advice from Obah-chan (Grand-ma in Japanese) to Mago-tachi (Grandchildren):

20 Things You Should Know to Have a Happy Marriage


“It’s over between us!  I never want to see your face again!!  I’m leaving you!!!”  


With fury, your spouse leaves the room.  The door behind you shuts loudly and he/she, the person you were madly in love with many years ago, is about to leave you.


It can happen to anyone but let’s take a deep breath and be rational.  


Then think about your wedding vow “…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part”?  A distant memory…  Do you even remember saying it?   


These days, divorce is no longer a big deal.   Obah-chan believes that this is the reality because people rush into marriage and consequently get divorced just as quickly.   


Obah-chan will celebrate her Golden anniversary in a couple of years, so she knows a thing or two about being married.  And with this experience, she hopes that she can help some of you who are contemplating marriage or going through marriage difficulties right now.  


First, a bit about Obah-chan herself.  She came from Japan to live with her Canadian husband almost half a century ago.   Not in her wildest dreams did she ever think that her marriage would last this long.  When she married in 1971, the divorce rate in Canada was fairly low, with the only legal grounds for divorce being adultery.  But for mixed married couples like her and her husband, it was much higher, at over 50%.


To fight against the predicted fate, Obah-chan and her husband had to work very hard to be and remain together.   Most of the time, their efforts were rewarded and they were happy.    Of course, sometimes they could not help but cause hurt to each other.    They did not intend to, but that was unavoidable outcome at times.  However, with all their ups and downs, they tried very hard to keep thoughts of divorce out of their minds.  Instead, they focused on identifying the problems at hand and found solutions. These results are what you are about to read.


When Obah-chan thinks about a “happy marriage”, words such asLove”, “Patience”, “Respect”, “Trust”, “Fairness”, Forgivenessand “Good Communication” come into her mind.  However, these words are not specific enough for anyone to know what to do at any given time.   So Obah-chan, based on her own experiences, came up with these 20 ideas that may help you to have a happy and long marriage.   



  1. Good Communication


“Love” may be the most important key to a good marriage, but Obah-chan feels strongly that “Good Communication is nearly as important and, at times, even more so because even the most in-love people can still get divorced if they are lacking in good communication skills.


According to what Obah-chan heard from other people, the communication breakdowns can occur when a couple is too busy with their work or while they are raising their children.   For example, we see many parents who are busy shuttling their children to and from their various sport practices and games.  Although being active is important for childrens’ health, fulfilling the duty of supporting healthy goals for them can drastically reduce a couple’s time together, which results in less time talking to each other.  


What if your spouse/partner is self centered and is not interested in listening to what you have to say?  What if either of you starts to harbour secrets from the other and resort to talking less as a way of reducing the risk of exposing those secrets?


Regardless of the reason, Obah-chan thinks that lack of communication is very dangerous: when you don’t talk, you don’t know what the other person is thinking or doing.   With not knowing, you may start speculating on what is going on.   Your imagination can run wild and you may begin to assume things.  As with any assumption when the facts are incomplete, it is highly likely that the assumption is incorrect and blown out of proportion.  When you finally have the chance to talk to each other, the assumption could have one or both of you so worked up to the point of anger or frustration that neither of you can talk to each other calmly.  By then, it may be too late.  It is important to note the strong tendency for the lack of communication to lead to a lack of Trust.


This is why Obah-chan emphasizes that “Good Communication” is so important.


Obah-chan had similar experiences when she was much younger.  It was at the time Obah-chan was working as a waitress to support her husband while he attended university.   They took turns taking care of their small children and, inevitably, they became too busy just getting things done that they hardly had a chance to talk to each other.   They were not aware of how important Good Communication was at that time, so they often mistook the other’s actions and argued a lot about his/her behavior.

Fortunately, they realized in time that it was actually their lack of communication that was causing most of their problems.   So to help improve their situation, they decided to have a date at least once a week.   For them, a date did not mean going to a restaurant or a bar.   Instead, it was a conscious and deliberate effort to simply spend some time together, perhaps at a coffee shop or go for a long walk, enjoying each other’s company and talking only about themselves WITH each other. That was good enough.  The important thing was to set aside time just for themselves.   The result?  They began to communicate more regularly, they argued less and they regained Trust in one another.



  1. “Please”, “Thank you” and “I’m Sorry” (Respect)


For as long as she remembers, Obah-chan’s husband always insisted that their family members say “please” and “thank you” to each other to show Respect.    Obah-chan is very thankful that he established this, especially between him and her, as she believes that it helped tremendously in their marriage.


We have a tendency to think that if you’ve been married for a long time, we don’t need to be polite to each other.  We form a habit of omission to say “please” and “thank you”.    However, the truth is that when we omit “please”, an innocuous instruction can sound more like a rude demand.    


The same happens after the act, when the doer expects a simple “thank you”.  When omitted, the other person will feel unappreciated and may eventually stop doing you any favors.   If you always say “thank you”, though, the appreciation that the other person feels is small but priceless and will be encouraged to help you again in the future.   To this day, whenever Obah-chan makes dinner for her husband, he says “Thank you. I enjoyed it very much.”   His words make Obah-chan very happy and valued, enough so that she gladly continues to make tasty meals for him every day.    


Similarly, with “I’m sorry”, too many think that it does not have to be said even when they know that they have done something wrong.  Some feel that only the weak would admit to their wrongdoings.  But Obah-chan thinks quite the opposite.  The people who can and do apologize have more strength and courage than those that don’t.   Certainly, admitting to a mistake is uncomfortable, tinged with failure, and tarnishing to one’s image. To Obah-chan, the person who knows they did wrong but can’t say “I’m sorry” should ask themselves why they cannot and promptly overcome it.  In the end, your pride will suffer slightly and only momentarily, but you will come away with an intact relationship, a sense of relief, and perhaps a learning or two.


Through using these words of politeness, Obah-chan truly believes that this is powerful way of showing your Love and Respect to your loved ones.



  1. Three Times Rule  (Good Communication)


An extension to Good Communication, Obah-chan has been following this rule for many years and found many instances that prove its usefulness.  This rule applies to non-family members as well.  


Obah-chan applies this rule when someone hurts her feelings three times in a row with the same action.  Why does she wait 3 times before she does anything?  Because if she pointed out what the other person did wrong each time, it will sound like nagging and loses its effectiveness, reducing any chance at learning or correction of the behavior.


This is how the Three Times Rule works.  Upon the first time getting hurt, Obah-chan views it as an accident.  When it happens a second time, she rationalizes that the other person was too tired or not in a good mood at the time.  After the third time, however, she views it to have been intentional and that the other person should be mature enough to have noticed all the prior instances that the error happened. It is with this third occurrence that she gathers the necessary courage to speak to the person.  She chooses to do this on the third instance and not the fourth or fifth because she desires to keep the problem from becoming a bigger one.  Obah-chan knows that the alternative will be that she will continue to feel hurt and frustrated, and may eventually do something hurtful in return.   


Her recommendation here is for you to develop and maintain patience for the first two occurrences and resolve the problem after the third, which can be challenging.  Obah-chan believes this is the one of the keys to Good Communication especially when it comes to conveying negative feedback to someone.


Once, a long time ago, Obah-chan came home after midnight, after a long shift waitressing, only to find that their apartment was cluttered with her children’s toys and clothing.   Her husband had not spent the time to clean up that evening after the children.  Obah-chan picked up each item from the floor and thought ‘I work so hard for this family. I don’t deserve to come home and have to do this.’ She was too tired to do house chores that late at night and became very annoyed and frustrated that she, not her husband, had been left to do the clean-up.  


But she didn’t say anything at that time, thinking that her husband simply forgot to clean up.  After all, he was attending university classes during the day and took care of their children all night.  When it happened the second time, she remained patient as she thought that he must have been too tired yet again.  But when it happened a third time, she resolved to talk to her husband and conveyed her message very clearly, but gently.


“When I come home late at night, I am very tired and even small things bother me.  Recently, I found both the entrance to the house and the living room cluttered with toys and clothing, so I picked them up before I went to bed.   I know you are very tired from being at school and taking care of the children, too; but would you please take some time to clean up the rooms before you and the children go to bed?  I would truly appreciate it.”


When her husband heard this, he initially looked quite perplexed because Obah-chan rarely complained about anything.  But, faithfully and obediently, he took it to heart and Obah-chan never again had to come home after work to a cluttered home.


It was this direct, but gentle delivery that firmly established where she needed to stand with her husband on something that bothered her enough to speak up.



  1.   Actions after the Three Times Rule (Good Communication)

While Obah-chan was working at an oil company in Calgary, she attended a supervisor’s class which taught her how to give negative feedback to others.   According to the class, you should never blame or criticize the other person, even when you know it is definitely his or her fault.   Instead, you should, first, state the perceived fact, and then state how that fact affected you or other people (for example, how sad you felt or how hurt you were by it).    In this way, since blame is not being put on the other person, it becomes much easier for them to listen to what you have to say.  Even if the other person initially feels anger or embarrassment, he/she will more than likely make an effort to keep calm during your exchange of words.  Both of you can then focus on solving the problem rather than fighting with each other.  This invaluable insight from her course has had many applications in dealings in many aspects of her life.


From that same class, there was one rule that Obah-chan has not followed in her personal life.  The rule was ‘to give the negative feedback right after it happens’.  At work, it is certainly necessary to point out problems immediately because mistakes could cost the company a significant amount of money.  But between your spouse or with your children, Obah-chan recommends applying the Three Times Rule instead in order to avoid the unnecessary emotional stress that direct and immediate feedback can bring and the confrontation that accompanies it.   The family members are very important in your life, so Obah-chan feels that we should approach them in as gentle a way as possible.



  1. Express Love often.   Smile.  Treat others the way you want to be treated.  (Love and Fairness)


For Obah-chan, it is very important to express your love, not only to your spouse, but to your children and to everyone that you care about.  She believes strongly that if you treat others with love, it will eventually come back to you as love, especially if something has caused distance between you. Stated simply: what you give out, you will receive.


Quite often people feel that you don’t have to express love every day.  The thinking is: I live with my family, so I love my family, right?  Why should I bother telling them all the time that I love them?  


Unless they can read your mind, your family members are not always sure about how you feel about them.  You need to express it often.   Do it with a simple gesture or, at best, with a kind word that truly expresses love.


We all know that nothing stays the same.  Things change every day, even your relationships.  Obah-chan feels that it is especially at these times that we should express love for the other.  For example,  we cannot avoid physical changes as we get older.  When a man ages, people sometimes compliment him by saying ‘he looks distinguished with a touch of grey.’   The same consideration is typically not applied to a woman as she ages, primarily since our Western society has conditioned us to view it so.   Because of this, when she finds wrinkles on her skin or grey hair on her head, she rapidly loses confidence in herself.   Every woman feels that she has to fight these changes.   Because of these instinctive womanly thoughts, she doesn’t need a reminder from her husband that she is losing her youthful look.  What she actually needs is a confirmation from her husband that he still finds her beautiful and loves her.    


Obah-chan feels that she is one of the luckiest women she knows because even when she began to have white hair and a wrinkles on her face, her husband still continued to compliment her on how good she looked.  Perhaps there an occasional white lie helped things along, but the majority of his comments have been sincere praises from the heart.  It is for these word bouquets from him that she is truly grateful.

Hugs are another way that Love is expressed.   It is by human nature that if you don’t love a person, you would be unable hug him/her for all but a short period.   Obah-chan learned that a continuous hug of at least 30 seconds expresses to the other person that you love them and gives them confirmation of your own feelings of love for them.  If you are serious about keeping a long marriage, Obah-chan strongly recommends hugging each other for 30 seconds once in a while (but frequently is even better).   Obah-chan herself practices this with her family members whenever she is with them, such as when she has them over for dinner each weekend.  Obah-chan and her husband take time to give each family member a big hug, especially to their grandchildren to let them know how much they are loved.   


With her husband, Obah-chan occasionally stops whatever she is doing and says to him, “The start of a 30 second hug!”, then proceeds to give her husband a hug.   They laugh while hugging each other and it definitely creates a warm and positive atmosphere between them.   



  1. Learn to complement each other even on small things.  (Love)  

Around the time that Obah-chan had her second child, her husband was working as a labourer for a construction company.  It was winter and the temperature outside often dropped below minus 20 degrees.  He couldn’t see any future in that job.  So he decided to go back to university hoping that he could get an office job with better prospects after graduating.   It was at this time they began complimenting each other quite often.  


“I don’t know whether I am good enough to complete university,” Obah-chan’s husband would say, doubting his abilities.  But Obah-chan encouraged him, saying that he could do anything when he sets his mind to it.  After 4 years, he graduated from the university and obtained a teaching degree.  That boost, on more than one occasion, fueled her husband’s drive to successfully complete his studies.


Obah-chan had been working as a secretary at an oil company in Calgary when she decided that it was her time to return to school.  It was her husband’s turn to push her with the encouragement of “You can do it.”


 It took 9 years to finish her degree, choosing to continue work at the office full time while raising their two children.   From the start it was very difficult for her with English as her second language, making it truly a long haul.   But with her husband’s boosting and her own tenacity, she completed her degree and graduated from university.   


Obah-chan is who she is because her husband continued to motivate and compliment her no matter what she set out to do.   Obah-chan reciprocated and continued to embolden her husband by giving inspiring words like, “Look at you!  You are very intelligent and knowledgeable, and have the drive to work hard.   You even have the look of a very important person.  You can become anything you want to become.  I believe in you!”   


Such words must have helped him as he eventually became a director at one of the largest insurance companies in the city: a man born in Hamilton, Ontario, a place known for its steel mills; a man expected to work merely as a labourer for one of the many factories in Hamilton after graduating from high-school.  That was his fate.


Obah-chan truly believes it is necessary to give encouragement and compliments not only to the young, but also to the mature people who perhaps need it even more.



  1. Never blame, criticize, ridicule or embarrass your spouse (or your children) in front of others.  (Love and Respect)


Another important rule that applies not only to married couples, but to anyone wishing to have a solid relationship is this: even in jest, never willingly cast blame, ridicule, destructive criticism or embarrassment upon the other person.   No matter who you are, you could never appreciate another person doing any of these things to you in the presence of others.   Obah-chan believes that if you love your spouse or your child, you should do everything in your power to protect him/her and do your utmost to never be the one to hurt him/her.  


If you have to say something that can cause your spouse or child to feel uncomfortable, wait until you are alone; do not confront your spouse or child in front of others.


Obah-chan once violated this rule.  Obah-chan and her husband were invited to dinner by a distant relative.   Obah-chan’s husband is an excellent talker, but has a tendency to dominate the conversation, especially when surrounded by strangers.   During the dinner, he tried hard to make everyone be relaxed by sharing his funny stories and he was successful, for the most part.  But the problem came when other people finally began to feel comfortable enough to join the conversation; he continued to talk dominantly and didn’t give much opening for the other guests to join in the conversation.  


Ordinarily, Obah-chan would not say anything, but she strongly felt that something needed to be done, so she said to her husband,


  “Why don’t you let other people join in the conversation?”


Without realizing it, Obah-chan hurt her husband’s feelings as he had not expected this from his wife.  Moreover, it was said in front of the other guests.  She could have whispered it to him, but did not.   In so doing, she violated the rule.  To this day she regrets having handled it in that way.


Combining the points 6 and 7, Obah-chan restates them together as a combined rule:  “Praise and compliments build confidence, but criticism builds resentment”.



  1. When falling in love, opposites attract, but the differences have to be learned. (Patience and Respect)


Over the years, Obah-chan has found that many married couples have opposite personalities.  Sometimes this makes her wonder how two people so different in personalities could ever meet and remain together.  The same condition holds for Obah-chan and her husband.  Other than being born in the same year, they have little else in common.   For example, her husband loves sports and is very good in any sport that he plays; whereas she does not.  Another: he is a loner in his personal life, while she is very social.   Yet another: he expresses his emotions easily, especially his frustration; she, on the other hand, generally maintains her calm and rarely shows anger.


At the beginning of their marriage, they often wondered why the other acted the way they did.  However, as they learned more about each other, they understood that their differences in character actually, paradoxically, were helping their marriage and not hurting it.  They learned to lean on each others’ strengths and help them through their weaknesses.  


There was one clear incident which proved this.   When making decisions, Obah-chan has a tendency to follow her heart where her husband always uses his logic.  Once Obah-chan needed to choose whether to remain in the company she had been working for many years or to work for a new company.   Obah-chan’s heart said she should stay where she felt comfortable working.   However, her husband helped her to realize that this wasn’t the right decision by listing all the pros and cons of both choices.  After analyzing this carefully, Obah-chan opted to work for the new company.   Initially, after the move, it seemed to her that she had made the wrong choice as she needed to learn new procedures all over again and had to keep up with the workload, working long hours for many months.  After a few years, however, and after learning the company and how she fit it in with its operations, she realized that she had made the right move and creating a difference in their long term financial position.   She attributes her husband’s logical thinking in helping her make the right decision several years prior.



  1. Don’t make big decisions alone, especially financial ones.  Always be in agreement with other.  If agreement can’t be reached, wait until it is established.  (Patience and Respect)


Obah-chan and her husband have had an unwritten rule since their marriage’s earliest stages: for any big decision, make it together.  This has been especially relevant when it comes to money.  When making purchases, for example, if the purchase price of an item exceeds their mutually decided budgeted amount, they must consult with each other first before proceeding.  Thus, they never fought over who bought what and for how much.   This necessitates being Patient with each other.


On another occasion, when Obah-chan and her husband were in the market for their third house, they couldn’t agree from a shortlist of choices from their real estate agent.   Obah-chan and her husband each had their own choice for a favorite house and could not agree on the same house.  Frustrated by the stalemate, they decided to give up looking for a new house.   The pause turned out to be a blessing, however.  Around that time, their son and daughter-in-law were expecting their second child and asked Obah-chan and her husband if they could live closer to their house.  The proximity meant that they would be conveniently available to help out whenever the need arose.  They decided that this was a good idea and restarted their search for a house, this time with the new parameter of having one located in their son’s neighbourhood.  Eventually, they found an empty lot nearby that appealed to both of them and purchased it.   There they built their new house and are still loving the place even after 18 years of residing there.  This may not have been possible had they purchased one of the other houses that they had considered previously, all further away from their son and family. Their patience paid off.



  1. Passion tends to be less prominent as the years go by.   In its place, learn respect for each other. (Respect)


Unfortunately, the strong passion you felt for each other in the beginning of your marriage tends to dissipate as the years go by.   And your spouse’s existence becomes something that is (usually inadvertently) taken for granted, like the air that you breathe.  When that happens, you seem to stop appreciating your spouse who is right beside you.   But the day will come when you lose him/her and you will realize how important your spouse was in your life.   Your life will become very lonely without him/her, to the point that you feel suffocated without that air.   The truth is that there was love throughout your marriage, a deep love, that persisted even when the passion dissipated.   It is because of this that Obah-chan stresses the importance of learning to respect each other so that, even without passion, you will continue to stay together.


In Obah-chan’s case, as she and her husband attended and successfully graduated from university, they gained a profound respect for each other.  When they struggled at work until both became competent and valuable members of their profession, they gained a new and different respect.  Thus, even though their passion seemed to wane as they got older, in its place was a different but equally important kind of love.   And with this new love, they were able to see the other person in a different and favourable light.  


Obah-chan thinks the person you choose to marry is the most important person in the world.   It is very sad that we can forget that fact as the years go by.    When Obah-chan looks around her, she sees so many people who treat total strangers much better than they treat their own family members.  Obah-chan can’t believe it, especially when she feels so strongly that family is the most important thing in life and should be treated as such.  



  1. Have common goals, but support each other if your goals diverge.  (Respect and Trust)


When they were young, Obah-chan and her husband used to talk and dream about what they wish to achieve in their lives together.   As they were never money-oriented, the common goals in the beginning were very simple - to have a couple of children and own a small house.  After those goals were achieved, they decided to travel around the world and learn about different cultures just as they did before they met each other.   Their final goal was to be financially established enough to not have to rely on their children when they get older.   Thankfully, they worked very hard together and met all of these goals.  Obah-chan and her husband are very grateful that they shared common goals because those goals brought them closer as a couple.  

When they both start working and their goals shifted to fulfilling their desire to travel abroad, some people questioned how they could afford to have such vacations each year.   


          Their answer was:


“We love travelling.  So we decided to save money just for that.  We don’t smoke or drink; so that helps, of course.  Some people feel satisfaction when they purchase a big house or an expensive car, but we don’t really care about material possessions.   Some people prefer entertaining their friends at a restaurant or a bar; if we wanted to spend time with our friends, we would invite them to our home for dinner.   We just happen to value traveling more, that’s all.   That became a priority.”


In addition to their common goals, Obah-chan and her husband each had separate personal goals as well.  The first one was to graduate from university in different fields.  They both achieved this by encouraging and supporting each other.  Obah-chan’s husband wanted to have photography as his hobby when he retired.   Obah-chan supported him to purchase a camera long before retirement so that he could practice the craft while they travelled. Obah-chan wanted to write and publish original songs and write about her experiences with discrimination.  He supported her by helping her to edit her writing and contribute ideas.   

Regardless of their individual or shared goals, the key has always been to encourage and support each other.  Rather than interfering or criticizing your spouse’s pursuits and achievements, you should show your pride in them, which is a reflection of your true love and respect for your spouse.



  1. Remember that both of you came from two different backgrounds.  (Patience and Forgiveness)  


 When you first get married and begin to live with your spouse, it can be very difficult to get used to the other's daily routine and habits, particularly for those whose parents (usually your mother) had a strong hand in taking care of you.  You are used to doing or having things in a certain way, but your partner prefers things in a different, sometimes contrary, way.  Because of this, you will often feel frustrated at the beginning of the marriage and will try to change the other person’s habits or preferences.  To Obah-chan, it is natural to feel this way because you have come from two different backgrounds, perhaps different cultures, and your way is comfortable to you.   The key is to respect the differences and learn to accept the other person’s way once in a while.   It is useful to keep in mind that just because you are used to doing something one way, it doesn’t mean that it is the most effective and best way.


In Obah-chan’s case, she tried hard to learn the Canadian way despite having lived in Japan until she got married.   For example, she knows that most men prefer food prepared the way that their mother prepared it, so she tried to learn how to cook from her mother-in-law whenever Obah-chan and her husband visited her.  Despite all the effort she put into learning about food preparation, there were still other seeming trivial differences that needed to be overcome, such as the way her husband folded towels or how he does the dishes.  But over the years, they learned to respect and embrace these many differences, leaving them intact rather than trying to change them.


This worked well for them throughout their marriage, until something unforeseen appeared as a result of retirement.  Upon retirement, her husband began to involve himself more in house chores.   Obah-chan was very thankful that he began to cook his own breakfast and lunch, to take turns in doing dishes and to participate in many other household chores.  However, as he began to express strong opinions on how certain house chores should be done, this made Obah-chan feel that she was being picked on.  She attributed his new opinionated utterances to suddenly having too much time on his hands and was getting bored staying at home every day.   He had become frustrated with his mundane retired life.   To solve this problem, Obah-chan said to her husband:


“I have been doing this my way all through our marriage and it never caused any problems.   I know it is different from the way you prefer,  but the truth is that it doesn’t make any difference which way we do it.  So I’m sorry but I have no intention of changing my way.   If you still want me to do it your way, please ask me gently so it doesn’t hurt my feelings.  Even better, if you prefer, you alone can do this chore all the time from now on.”  


After that he began to ask more gently about changing the way something needed to be done.  In reply, Obah-chan would do it the way he wanted…most of the time.


Obah-chan thinks that when you get upset at your spouse, one possibility for it is that things aren’t going your way or that you are trying to control the other person.  This indicates selfishness and a lack of flexibility that is very important in a relationship.  Unlike in society or business, where these traits are often viewed as requirements in order to succeed, they are unnecessary and, at worst, detrimental when applied to a personal relationship between two people.   Obah-chan recommends avoiding letting these personal attributes from surfacing at all costs if you are to survive your retirement, let alone your entire marriage.



  1. Don’t expect that marriage can help you change your spouse.  People only change when they want to change.(Patience)


Obah-chan once had a friend who always complained about her fiancé.   Without resolving any issues prior to exchanging vows, she got married and declared, “Now that we are married, he will change.  And if he won’t, I will do it for him.”  


Unfortunately (perhaps, predictably), tying the knot didn’t change her husband at all. Then she announced, “After we have a child, he will change.”  Once again, her hopeful thinking was denied.


As a result, her friend had to live with the same frustrations that she had with her husband before they married and had to do so for a long time.   


Obah-chan knows that her friend is not the only one who thinks this way, that being officially attached to someone will guarantee whatever changes you desire for them.  The frustration when these expectations fail to materialize can often lead to divorce.  But why did the changes not happen?


A simple way to understand why your spouse doesn’t change quickly, if at all, is to look at it from the other side.   Can you change yourself just because your spouse asked you to?   How willing would you be to alter your preferences, opinions, viewpoints as a result of years of habit or upbringing (recall the cultural differences)?   Unless you are the most easily influenced person in the world, you could safely say that this would be difficult at best.  Even those who will change only because they are so madly in love with someone may pause and consider the change if it is outside of the bounds of their own tolerance to change.


So Obah-chan’s advice is if you can’t accept many or most of your partner’s behaviours as is, avoid getting married altogether.   Even if he/she changes, it may be temporary anyway, perhaps in effect only during the courtship or the engagement.   During that time, their desire to change is fueled by their need to hold the attention of someone to whom they are very attracted and not by a genuine desire to own and become that change.  Ultimately, the person must wholeheartedly believe in the change on their own and not because an external influence (whether it be something they took to hear from something they read or an influential person in their life) asked them to make the change.


 People only change when THEY decide to change.  If you still want to get married because you are very much in love, don’t expect the changes to happen right away.   One must take a long term approach.  Small changes can happen in your spouse through your example over many years.  Obah-chan knows that it can happen as she herself has changed during her married life because of the influences of her husband’s and the following poem:


"When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world,
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I  tried to change my nation.


When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town.
I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.


Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself,
and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself,


I could have made an impact on my family, 
My family and I could have made an impact on our town.
Their impact could have changed the nation and
I could indeed have changed the world"


 Author: Unknown Monk 1100 A.D.



  1. Maintain your health as well as your family’s. (Love)

Obah-chan believes that you can do anything when you are healthy in spirit and body.  Being able makes you capable.  Conversely, illness prevents you from being your happy self and will be difficult on your loved ones.   It is challenging to make others happy when you are not happy yourself.   By maintaining your health, through healthy eating and every day exercise, you can contribute to a good marriage since you will be able to focus on what you can do together rather than what you might have been able to do if you were healthy.


Nonetheless, there are times when maintaining good health becomes challenging and at times a burden.   A midlife crisis or menopause are a few types of the hurdles that can be encountered.  During such times, little things that irritate a person can become magnified between a couple, causing them to argue more and snap at each other.   But Obah-chan thinks that it is at these times that you must try harder to understand what your spouse is dealing with.  In addition, realize that you yourself will go through some of the same obstacles eventually.  The empathy you gain will become a valuable resource.  (Patience)



  1. Support each other when raising children.   (Trust)

During their teenage years, there is a high probability that your child will be compelled to rebel against you.   Accept that major hormonal and social changes in their life will cause them to seek conflict with the easiest, most familiar entities in their sphere: their parents.   A strategy that they may employ during conflict is to play one parent against the other to get what they want.   When this happens, Obah-chan thinks it is very important for both parents to remain united--to have solidarity.  It is not unusual for a teenage daughter or son to try to manipulate a situation by pitting one parent against the other in order to boost their position.  It is a certainly a clever strategy, divide and conquer.  For example, the teenager complains to one parent about the unfairness of the other parent, especially when the former parent decided against whatever the teenager wanted in the first place.  


It is important for the parents to support the decision of the first parent involved in the conflict--without question.  If there is constant undermining of the authority of either parent by their partner, resentment can and will start to settle in and their relationship will become very strained.  Establish early in your relationship with your spouse that you will build a united front for your children.



  1. Never regret past events or decisions. (Patience)


Obah-chan thinks too many people say “should have” or “could have”.  But she believes that if you live with regret, you will never be happy.  Thus, it is important to accept your fate and not pine over the life you have led.  She believes that this rule applies to anyone, not just married couples.


Until she was 20 years old, Obah-chan always had remorse or was apologetic for what she had said and done.  As a consequence, she led a very unhappy life.   However, just before she went to Europe, she attended a Catholic retreat, an event that changed her outlook dramatically.  At that retreat, a priest preached the following words to attendees, “Your fate is determined already so try not to regret no matter what happens in your life.”  Young and impressionable, Obah-chan believed everything that he said.   After the retreat, she pledged to stop using the phrases “should have” and “could have” and she is convinced that the change in her thinking has led her to a happier life.   Her life, by any measure, has not been without problems or bad experiences, some of them scary and gut-wrenching.   But she learned to accept that there were good reasons for those unpleasant events to have occurred.   In fact, she is convinced that most of those unpleasant experiences have actually helped her to attain her wonderful life.  At the very least, she has become a much stronger person that is capable of dealing with whatever hardships that life can muster.

There are obvious exceptions.  Should Obah-chan hurt someone such that her actions cause someone’s death, she would definitely have a deep regret for it.  The burden of responsibility would be greater than what most could bear.   It is her hope that she would never have to experience this type of lamentation.



  1. Keep your promise.  Be responsible for what you say. (Trust)


To build trust between two people, Obah-chan thinks that the best way is to keep your promises.  This means that you shouldn’t promise anything to another person unless you are committed to following through.   Without this thinking, it is so easy to lose someone’s trust when you promise but not deliver.   It is much like story of the boy who cried wolf.  Perhaps breaking one promise may not fully erode trust the first time, but in continuing to do so you will not only lose trust, but the respect of others.  Obah-chan believes if you truly want something, don’t just keep talking about it, do it.  Talk is cheap.  But actions are gold.



  1. After a big fight, don’t leave home until it’s resolved.  (Patience)


Early in their marriage Obah-chan had a few big arguments with her husband.   In her anger, she took the children and left their home for a few hours.  All she wanted to do was to go to a nearby park so she could calm down while letting the children play.   However, it made her husband sick to his stomach with worry as he had no idea where they had gone.   After a few times this happened, Obah-chan’s husband asked her never to leave home the way she did.  He suggested that they could still be at home (even in a separate room) until they calmed down. That way they could eventually solve the problem together and not keep the anger inside.


Now when they have a big argument, they wait until they both have calmed down.  Then they talk to each other, discussing various aspects of the argument, until there are no hard feelings between them on that issue. Occasionally, the discussion may lead to compromise or to simply a realization that they will agree to disagree.  This is the most mature way of dealing with conflict.



  1. Take the time to be alone, but learn to appreciate your family members.  (Love)


Unfortunately, when you spend 24/7 with one person, you tend to focus on his/her shortcomings and forget all the good things about that person.   So Obah-chan thinks that it is important to have some time away from each other so you can reflect on the good times and what you have accomplished together.


Obah-chan’s husband used to have business trips and that typically left him alone at various hotels with nothing but idle time.  According to him, those were the times he really thought about his family and felt how lucky and blessed he was to be surrounded by such wonderful people who loved him.    Obah-chan feels that this deep appreciation for his family is one of the reasons that made their marriage a successful one.


Whether it is at a hotel, a food court table, or in the car on the commute home from work, Obah-chan recommends that you use the time alone to reflect on your family and all the blessings you received from having them.  Even simply going for a walk, whether it be in a forest or between office buildings, cultivate these thankful thoughts, with the key to focusing on all of the good aspects of your family.



  1. Consider all the consequences should you choose to divorce 


These days, more and more people choose divorce as the only way to resolve their marital problems.  On one hand, it is nice to know that there is no stigma associated with divorce anymore.   However, the consequences of divorce have not changed much at all.  Children, should there be any, have always suffered when their parents divorce.   Also, the cost of divorce, in time and money, continues to increase.   Obah-chan feels that a divorce causes so much pain in not only among the divorced family but also among relatives and close friends.   There are many valid reasons divorce, when it seems justified, some are even necessary.  If your spouse is physically or mentally abusive, for example, it is better to leave that relationship as soon as possible to protect the well-being of you and your family.


But for less threatening reasons, deciding and carrying out a divorce has very negative effects on a couple’s children.  First, the children can blame themselves for their parents’ divorce.   They will be forced to live with one parent or to live between two households after the divorce.   Obah-chan feels that when this happens, the parents are depriving the children the comfort and safety of living in one home.   This feeling of security can also affect the children when they get older.  When faced with their own marriage, they may harbour feelings insecurity and doubtfulness.   Will my partner leave me at the first sign of trouble?  How will we handle a divorce if we had children?  A vicious cycle starts because of a couple’s decision to get divorced.


Next, consider the financial problems.  Once you decide to get divorced, you have to consider the high cost of legal fees.  You probably have to pay alimony, and if you have children, you also have to worry about payment for child support.  In addition, you waste a lot of time and money going to court and attending meetings with a lawyer and a mediator.


What is the effect of divorce on society?  A man in the U.S. became divorced and at the time he had a high salaried job. The alimony was set according to his income at that time.  Unfortunately, he lost his job and could no longer keep up with the payments, landing him in jail because of the inability to pay the alimony.   Should situations such as this become prevalent, it affects society in countless ways: from the cost of housing people in jail, to substance abuse from stress, to losing trust in others.  Allowing these problems to spread is certainly not healthy for the population in general.


One’s personality defines your preferences and you will have a tendency to fall in love with a type of person.  Even after a first marriage, subsequent marriages may have the same problems which led to divorce in your first.   So if you can’t learn to deal with the problems in your first marriage, the cycle will repeat itself and you may never find happiness with another person.


Besides, Obah-chan feels that just because you are with a new spouse, all your problems from your previous marriage and divorce are not automatically solved.   Obah-chan’s and her husband saw many instances of remarried men regretting their divorces afterword.  This is because even though the first few years seem happy with a new spouse, soon they realized that they couldn’t share all the memories they had in the past with a new partner.   Even if they remarried and found an understanding spouse, a lot of effort needed to be expended to persuade him/her to have the same appreciation towards their past family life.  The new spouse has no connection to this past life.   Sometimes, making reference to this past life may even cause jealousy and puts risk in their relationships with old friends and even their own children.     


Obah-chan is not denying a person’s right to be happy.  If your present marriage is hurting you so much, you may not have any option but to get divorced.  All she is saying is that before you consider a divorce, give more effort to fixing things and remaining together rather than to choose to be apart forever.  


Obah-chan realizes that it in this Throwaway Society, the tendency is to dispose of your problematic relationship in order to pursue your own happiness.  It saddens Obah-chan very much to think that relationships and, by association, people can be thrown away just as easily as obsolete material possessions.


Obah-chan reminds you that no one can avoid getting older and soon will have to face death.  When that time comes, how lonely it would be without a partner who has shared all your memories.


Although Obah-chan and her husband have been together all these years, nothing guarantees that they will continue to have a happy marriage.  As she has already mentioned, things can change.  Knowing this, she still wishes to share her knowledge, hoping that it may one day help you and your spouse.  


In the end, Obah-chan proposes this exercise to you.   Write 50 good things about your partner or your relationship on a piece of paper.   When you have a problem with each other, please reread what’s written on it and remember the good times that you have already spent with your wonderful spouse.


Have a happy marriage!!